Narnia: The Trumpet at Last

[Narnia Content Note: War]

Narnia Recap: Shasta has united with the Narnian army and Corin has strong-armed him into being his "bodyguard" for the upcoming battle. Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.

The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 13: The Fight at Anvard


Deep breath.

We're going to try to finish this chapter today. I'm sorry it's taken so long.

I've struggled with this chapter because it feels fundamentally wrong. All the elements that have got us here have been summarily discarded and the result is a literary mess. We have an Animal army and yet so much of this battle has nothing to do with the Animals on the Narnian side. We have a besieged castle and yet so much of this battle has little to do with siege warfare or any sort of castle defenses on the Archenland side. We have a Helen of Troy who is a crackerjack shot with a bow, and yet she is Sir Not Appearing In This Battle.

This battle ought to combine all the elements we've seen thus far into a glorious crescendo of literary beauty. Bree, the war stallion, should be here--as should Aravis, in her brother's armor. They should be vital and necessary to the story, using their knowledge of Calormene tactics against the invaders. Instead they are Chekov's Guns who go unfired, and all their knowledge of battle and tactics and hunting could've been replaced with an interest in knitting for all the impact it has. Susan is shoved into a closet. Some token effort is made to reveal Shasta as the True King, but since he looks exactly like Corin, the only real mystery to the reader is why it took everyone so long to work out the bleeding obvious.

This is, in short, a climax which is flatly anti-climactic and all we can do is slog through it.

   Here the army halted and spread out in a line, and there was a great deal of rearranging. A whole detachment of very dangerous-looking Talking Beasts whom Shasta had not noticed before and who were mostly of the cat kind (leopards, panthers, and the like) went padding and growling to take up their positions on the left. The giants were ordered to the right, and before going there they all took off something they had been carrying on their backs and sat down for a moment. Then Shasta saw that what they had been carrying and were now putting on were pairs of boots: horrid, heavy, spiked boots which came up to their knees. Then they sloped their huge clubs over their shoulders and marched to their battle position. The archers, with Queen Lucy, fell to the rear and you could first see them bending their bows and then hear the twang-twang as they tested the strings. And wherever you looked you could see people tightening girths, putting on helmets, drawing swords, and throwing cloaks to the ground. There was hardly any talking now. It was very solemn and very dreadful. “I’m in for it now—I really am in for it now,” thought Shasta. Then there came noises far ahead: the sound of many men shouting and a steady thud-thud-thud.
   “Battering ram,” whispered Corin. “They’re battering the gate.”
   Even Corin looked quite serious now.
   “Why doesn’t King Edmund get on?” he said. “I can’t stand this waiting about. Chilly too.”
   Shasta nodded: hoping he didn’t look as frightened as he felt.

Honestly, this confuses me too.

Apparently the Narnian army is vaguely within range of Anvard but are hidden from sight by a "low ridge".  The Calormen army on the other side is trying to batter the gates of Anvard down. So Edmund decides to line his army up in a nice straight little line so they can all march over the ridge together. Why? How?

If Rabadash's army is not wholly occupied with fighting at the moment--and they are not, per the fact that they're battering at the gates--then why doesn't he have scouts on that ridge? And why are the only sounds of battle a ram? Where are the archers on the Anvard side, where are people leaning over the walls to drop heavy and/or hot stuff on the invaders who get too close?

I pause here to note that the larger questions of why Rabadash is attacking Anvard at all, and why he is attacking them in this specifically inefficient way are chalked up to hubris and I must say this feels a bit like cheating. Hubris is an appropriate character trait for flawed heroes and can even be judiciously employed to handwave one-and-only-one terrible decision by the villain; usually the card is used to explain why he has the hero brought before him rather than just mowed down by mooks.

Here Lewis is using the hubris card several times over to make Rabadash laughably easy to defeat by (a) attacking a city he didn't even care about (his father did, but Rabadash is here for Susan, not Anvard), and (b) attacking the city in the most inefficient manner possible, (c) while he knows he's under a time constraint (d) in hostile territory (e) with only a fraction of his usual army. Meanwhile, he's (f) set no scouts or otherwise protected his rear and (g) done nothing to secure a line of escape in case of counterattack. Later, his hubris will be what literally defeats him when he leaps into combat and his armor snags on the wall.

That's the hubris card used eight times to make the villain extra-super-easy to defeat. Wow, such drama. So suspense. (And obviously carrying racist overtones given all the other stuff going on here!)

So, okay. But Rabadash and his people didn't see an entire army coming down over actual mountains because... why? And now Edmund pauses to line everyone up in a tidy order? He doesn't send his own scouts--flying scouts, I remind you--over the Anvard walls to find out how the Narnian army can best help? Even assuming that would be too dangerous or would give away the element of surprise, this sequence seems strangely lacking in any kind of urgency. Everyone just sort of mills about and puts shoes on and Shasta frets.

Granted, I've never been on the front lines of a medieval army before. And I guess they have more time than usual given that they've been rendered invisible and inaudible to the entire enemy army.

   The trumpet at last! On the move now—now trotting—the banner streaming out in the wind. They had topped a low ridge now, and below them the whole scene suddenly opened out; a little, many-towered castle with its gate toward them. No moat, unfortunately, but of course the gate shut and the portcullis down. On the walls they could see, like little white dots, the faces of the defenders. Down below, about fifty of the Calormenes, dismounted, were steadily swinging a great tree trunk against the gate. But at once the scene changed. The main bulk of Rabadash’s men had been on foot ready to assault the gate. But now he had seen the Narnians sweeping down the ridge. There is no doubt those Calormenes are wonderfully trained. It seemed to Shasta only a second before a whole line of the enemy were on horseback again, wheeling round to meet them, swinging toward them.
   And now a gallop. The ground between the two armies grew less every moment. Faster, faster. All swords out now, all shields up to the nose, all prayers said, all teeth clenched. Shasta was dreadfully frightened. But it suddenly came into his head, “If you funk this, you’ll funk every battle all your life. Now or never.”

Wait. Wait. Wait.

*rubs forehead wearily*

We're blowing a trumpet because surprise attacks are overrated, I guess. I'm terribly impressed that the Calormen got a battering ram long enough for fifty men, which is a quarter of their fighting force, to wield; somehow I had imagined most battering rams to be smaller than that. I'm not sure how Shasta can see that the portcullis is down if the gate is shut and being battered at, so presumably the portcullis is on the other side of the gate being battered? And they're far enough away that the Anvard defenders on the wall--why are they on the wall if they aren't doing anything? if they aren't shooting or throwing or pouring things on the attackers, shouldn't they be down on the ground waiting for the gate to stove in?--look like tiny little (white) ants, but close enough that the Calormen are there in a heartbeat as soon as they come over the ridge.

And then Shasta is struck with Bravery (TM) because.........why? Why does he expect more battles to come? Shasta's entire arc until now has been about surviving by running. He ran from his abusive father. He ran from the Narnians and Calormen over a desert. He ran away from King Lune (sorta) to go warn Narnia and muster their forces. Running has worked out really well for him! Suddenly, out of the blue, he's struck with the belief that running is morally bad and fighting is morally good and he needs to get used to this because it's going to be a thing he does over and over again. WHY?

I mean, I know why. He's struck with ManlyFeels because Lewis can't imagine the idea of a good king who is also a coward and lets other, more competent men do his fighting for him. Fighting is a virtue for him, one a king must have in order to be a good king. A king who is disabled and unable to fight, or has a phobia of fighting, or just realizes he'd be a liability on the battlefield would be bad king in his opinion, no matter how good they otherwise were at kinging. The lion can lie with the lamb, but it still better be ready to tear someone's head off or it's not a real lion. Toxic masculinity at its finest.

So despite the fact that Shasta has had zero training and has every reason to turn tail and run, he fights here and now because a good king stands his ground, yada yada.

   But when at last the two lines met he had really very little idea of what happened. There was a frightful confusion and an appalling noise. His sword was knocked clean out of his hand pretty soon. And he’d got the reins tangled somehow. Then he found himself slipping. Then a spear came straight at him and as he ducked to avoid it he rolled right off his horse, bashed his left knuckles terribly against someone else’s armor, and then—
   But it is no use trying to describe the battle from Shasta’s point of view; he understood too little of the fight in general and even of his own part in it. The best way I can tell you what really happened is to take you some miles away to where the Hermit of the Southern March sat gazing into the smooth pool beneath the spreading tree, with Bree and Hwin and Aravis beside him.

Shasta is bad at fighting, which is a nod to realism! But it's so bizarre to see Lewis then shy away from the idea that maybe Shasta shouldn't be in a battle. That maybe amateurs on the battlefield can endanger their own side. That maybe it would be better--braver, even--to stay on the sidelines rather than rush in because of your own hubris and (in doing so) get others hurt or killed as they try to protect your inexperienced ass.

It's just so weird that Lewis can simultaneously point and laugh at Rabadash's hubris, yet never once notice that Lune and Edmund and Shasta and Corin are hubristic in the same dangerous ways. What, really, is the difference between a proud prince who gets his army killed because he insists on a flashy battering ram over practical ladders (more on that in a moment) and a proud prince who gets his army killed because he insists on leading the charge in a flashy way with a flashy trumpet rather than a more practical sneak attack coordinated by semaphore flags?

I'm going to cut here for the day since we're about to experience a major point of view shift and I'd like the comments to be separate for each post. But I'll try to post the follow-up to this in a shorter time period than usual. Wish me luck!


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