Narnia: Narrated For Your Convenience

[Narnia Content Note: War, Animal Cruelty]

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

When we last left Narnia, Shasta was tangled in his horse's reins and I was boggling at just how wrong this chapter is; I refer you to all my other posts on the subject but first and foremost I'm still angry that Shasta isn't riding a Horse or a Centaur who can protect him from this battle.

We know Shasta being on an unhelpful lowercase-h horse isn't because That Just Isn't Done, since there are people riding on Horses for this battle--it was mentioned in-text earlier--and we've seen children ride a Centaur in a previous book. We can quibble over whether "protect the kid who looks just like Archenland's lost heir" is a valid enough emergency to break social mores, but those mores have been shown to be negotiable.

Anyway, Lewis wants a bird's-eye view for the battle, so we zip over to the Hermit and I can't help but feel this was literally the only reason for the Hermit to exist in the text. He patches up Aravis and tells Shasta where to find Lune, but neither of those things were strictly necessary; what he really brings to the table is a big screen television. Bree will be the color commentator for this game.

   For it was in this pool that the Hermit looked when he wanted to know what was going on in the world outside the green walls of his hermitage. There, as in a mirror, he could see, at certain times, what was going on in the streets of cities far farther south than Tashbaan,

Thereby rendering the entire plot useless, yes? The Hermit lives within a stone's throw of Anvard, could have seen Rabadash's army assembling way back at Tashbaan, and additionally it was possible to visibly-see-with-the-naked-eye Rabadash and his riders passing in the valley below from the Hermit's house.

A "we need to get there and warn them!" plot is already pretty shaky when you have an omniscient god-lion who regularly interferes in events and is apparently not blocked by any opposing magic or supernatural powers. But if we want to be generous, we can say that Aslan is interfering, just in his own way by herding the kids to Lune rather than speaking to him directly. An author can get away with one capricious magical being who doesn't solve the plot despite easily being able to do so. I don't think he can get away with two.

   [...] or what ships were putting into Redhaven in the remote Seven Isles, or what robbers or wild beasts stirred in the great Western forests between Lantern Waste and Telmar. And all this day he had hardly left his pool, even to eat or drink, for he knew that great events were on foot in Archenland. Aravis and the Horses gazed into it too. They could see it was a magic pool: instead of reflecting the tree and the sky it revealed cloudy and colored shapes moving, always moving, in its depths. But they could see nothing clearly. The Hermit could and from time to time he told them what he saw. A little while before Shasta rode into his first battle, the Hermit had begun speaking like this:

I find it vaguely amusing that Bree and Aravis can't see the action because it means they're basically trusting that this random Hermit guy isn't just making shit up out of his ass. But I'm irked that Anvard is a brief ride away--close enough that Lune's hunting grounds are a short run from here--and there's no question whatsoever that Aravis and Bree and Hwin might... go... help?

Aravis might still be wounded and Hwin isn't a fighter, but Bree is a fighter and Hwin and Aravis could at least still be useful as healers or helpers or even potentially as tacticians (they both have more experience with Calorman tactics than Lune and Edmund have!). Lewis went to a lot of trouble to put Shasta in the middle of a battle because Good Kings must attend battle! Toxic Masculinity for the win! and yet... the other characters don't need to attend because meh whatever?

   “I see one—two—three eagles wheeling in the gap by Stormness Head. One is the oldest of all eagles. He would not be out unless battle was at hand. I see him wheel to and fro, peering down sometimes at Anvard and sometimes to the east, behind Stormness. Ah—I see now what Rabadash and his men have been so busy at all day. They have felled and lopped a great tree and they are now coming out of the woods carrying it as a ram. They have learned something from the failure of last night’s assault. He would have been wiser if he had set his men to making ladders: but it takes too long and he is impatient. 

As a child I took this as Word of God, but can anyone weigh in on the Ladder vs. Battering Ram situation here? Rabadash has only 200 men, with no backup whatsoever. Given his limited resources, it would seem every life in his army is precious. A battering ram has no risk of casualties here since the inhabitants of Anvard are apparently uninterested in throwing things at their attackers and they have no bows. (Even for hunting? I guess they all hunt with falcons? I have no idea.)

Whereas on the other side of the equation, ladders seem like you're going to lose some folks. You get to the top of the ladder, you get stabbed. The value of ladders would appear to lie in overwhelming a small defensive force with a large attacking force. Rabadash doesn't have that situation here. The battering ram is being presented as proof of his hubris (and possibly a joke about over-compensation and penises, though I may be giving Lewis too much credit there) but while it is slowing him down in a time-critical situation, it honestly seems like the more cautious choice here given his limited troops?

   Fool that he is! He ought to have ridden back to Tashbaan as soon as the first attack failed, for his whole plan depended on speed and surprise. Now they are bringing their ram into position. King Lune’s men are shooting hard from the walls. Five Calormenes have fallen: but not many will. They have their shields above their heads. Rabadash is giving his orders now. With him are his most trusted lords, fierce Tarkaans from the eastern provinces. I can see their faces. There is Corradin of Castle Tormunt, and Azrooh, and Chlamash, and Ilgamuth of the twisted lip, and a tall Tarkaan with a crimson beard—”
   “By the Mane, my old master Anradin!” said Bree.
   “S-s-sh,” said Aravis.

No, okay, wait, they do have bows! It seems a little odd that we haven't heard them mentioned before now, and it seems additionally rather amazing that they've only taken down 5 of the 50 men on the battering ram (and 200 troops total) but maybe that's a realistic sample size for the numbers involved. Query: Why don't the Calormen seem to have bows so they can return fire?

Later it will be mentioned that the Hermit's magic pool doesn't involve sound, so I'm somewhat fascinated by how he know the names of these Fierce Trusted Lords. Presumably their names aren't emblazoned on their chests. Does the Hermit read lips really really well? Does he get down to Tashbaan to rub elbows with the nobles? Who is this guy and why does he know what he knows?

Side-note: I continue to be furious that the only time we see any kind of disfigurement in these books, they're always on the side of evil. Ilgamuth of the Twisted Lip, I see you.

   “Now the ram has started. If I could hear as well as see, what a noise that would make! Stroke after stroke: and no gate can stand it forever. But wait! Something up by Stormness has scared the birds. They’re coming out in masses. And wait again … I can’t see yet … ah! Now I can. The whole ridge, up on the east, is black with horsemen. If only the wind would catch that standard and spread it out. They’re over the ridge now, whoever they are. Aha! I’ve seen the banner now. Narnia, Narnia! It’s the red lion. They’re in full career down the hill now. I can see King Edmund. There’s a woman behind among the archers. Oh!—”
   “What is it?” asked Hwin breathlessly.
   “All his Cats are dashing out from the left of the line.”

"If only the wind would catch that standard"? Who else could it be? Literally who else is there? To the north of Anvard is Narnia and then some loose unconglomerated collection of giants who exist to stir up excuses for Peter to not appear in this novel. And how in the seven hells does this guy recognize every man in the universe--Edmund, Peridan, Rabadash, Corradin, Azrooth, Chlamash, and Ilgamuth--but he doesn't know what Queen Lucy of Narnia looks like?

*sets this book on fire with my mind*

There, too, goes any hope for quiet background gender equality. There's "a" woman among the archers. The rest of the archers are, apparently, not women. Lewis, in all sincerity: fuck you.

   “Cats?” said Aravis.
   “Great cats, leopards and such,” said the Hermit impatiently. “I see, I see. The Cats are coming round in a circle to get at the horses of the dismounted men. A good stroke. The Calormene horses are mad with terror already. Now the Cats are in among them. But Rabadash has re-formed his line and has a hundred men in the saddle. They’re riding to meet the Narnians. There’s only a hundred yards between the two lines now. Only fifty. I can see King Edmund, I can see the Lord Peridan. There are two mere children in the Narnian line. What can the King be about to let them into the battle? Only ten yards—the lines have met. The Giants on the Narnian right are doing wonders … but one’s down … shot through the eye, I suppose. The center’s all a muddle. I can see more on the left. There are the two boys again. Lion alive! one is Prince Corin. The other, like him as two peas. It’s your little Shasta. Corin is fighting like a man. He’s killed a Calormene. I can see a bit of the center now. Rabadash and Edmund almost met then, but the press has separated them—”

This introduction is back to front. First the Hermit observes they are children, then he observes they look similar, then he drops their names. It ought to be the other way around. 

The Hermit knows who these kids are. It is unthinkable that he wouldn't be able to recognize Prince Corin as quickly and immediately as he recognizes Edmund and Peridan. And he knows who Shasta is and what he looks like and that he's the friend and beloved companion of the three people he is currently narrating to. He knows that Bree and Aravis and Hwin are anxious about the boy they haven't seen since he ran off with a message they didn't know (until now) was delivered.

The first words out of the Hermit's mouth ought to be "ah, there's your friend!", then Corin's presence ("and Prince Corin is with him!"), then their obvious similarity ("like him as two peas!"), and then his marveling at King Edmund bringing them into battle when they're only children. For Lewis and the Hermit to tackle all this in the reverse order is just weird and awkward, not least because at least one of "the children" he doesn't seem to recognize at first is disguised as a dwarf in dwarven armor.

   “What about Shasta?” said Aravis.
   “Oh the fool!” groaned the Hermit. “Poor, brave little fool. He knows nothing about this work. He’s making no use at all of his shield. His whole side’s exposed. He hasn’t the faintest idea what to do with his sword. Oh, he’s remembered it now. He’s waving it wildly about … nearly cut his own pony’s head off, and he will in a moment if he’s not careful. It’s been knocked out of his hand now. It’s mere murder sending a child into the battle; he can’t live five minutes. Duck, you fool—oh, he’s down.”
   “Killed?” asked three voices breathlessly.
   “How can I tell?” said the Hermit. 

Update: I do not like the Hermit at all.

   “The Cats have done their work. All the riderless horses are dead or escaped now: no retreat for the Calormenes on them. Now the Cats are turning back into the main battle. They’re leaping on the rams-men. The ram is down. Oh, good! good! The gates are opening from the inside: there’s going to be a sortie. 

What... the actual hell? Am I understanding correctly that it was Edmund's strategy to have the Cats kill the Calormen horses so that the rider couldn't escape? That seems... incredibly and unnecessarily brutal? Yes, medieval warfare was heavily focused on taking captives for ransom but counterpoint this is supposed to be heavenly medieval warfare and Edmund has just escalated a fight in such a way that the Calormen opponents are now more likely to fight to the death rather than run away.

Why? What actual value is there in this decision? In addition to more Calormen lives being lost, more Narnian lives will be lost! A cornered enemy who can't flee is going to kill more of your side than one who tucks tail and runs, or even one who is distracted by considering whether or not to run. Edmund maneuvering the Calormen into a position where they can and will single-mindedly fight until they die seems like the worst decision ever--as well as incredibly bloodthirsty!

And I just... given the entire conceit of this novel, this is horrifying because what if some of those horses were Horses? What if Bree and Hwin were down there? One hopes that the Cats would exercise some restraint if the Horses called out to them, but can we assume that the Horses would? Bree and Hwin spent years staying silent through everything that happened for fear of what would occur if they spoke. For Lewis to forget all that in order to needlessly slaughter horses is just gruesome. Did he even think through the implications here??

   The first three are out. It’s King Lune in the middle: the brothers Dar and Darrin on each side of him. Behind them are Tran and Shar and Cole with his brother Colin. There are ten—twenty—nearly thirty of them out by now. The Calormen line is being forced back upon them. King Edmund is dealing marvelous strokes. He’s just slashed Corradin’s head off. 

Again I have to remind everyone this asshole couldn't pick Queen Lucy from a crowd but he knows literally everyone in Anvard by name, rank, and serial number. (I would say he doesn't know the names of the women in Anvard, but I'm pretty sure there are no women in Anvard.)

I think it's worth noting that the Hermit doesn't even seem to be trying to pick out Shasta in the crowd or tell what's become of him. That seems rude, for a host. There's no real reason why this group of four people--Hermit, Bree, Aravis, and Hwin--need a "big picture" view of the battle. They can't intervene from here and there's literally no way they can affect the outcome. Of course, Lewis is using this as an opportunity to describe the battle to the readers, but by focusing the Hermit on what he/Lewis wants to see rather than what Shasta's friends want to see, it creates the inescapable impression the the Hermit is more interested in his own desires than in that of his anxious guests.

   Lots of Calormenes have thrown down their arms and are running for the woods. Those that remain are hard pressed. The Giants are closing in on the right—Cats on the left—King Lune from their rear. The Calormenes are a little knot now, fighting back to back. Your Tarkaan’s down, Bree. Lune and Azrooh are fighting hand to hand; the King looks like winning—the King is keeping it up well—the King has won. Azrooh’s down. King Edmund’s down—no, he’s up again: he’s at it with Rabadash. They’re fighting in the very gate of the castle. Several Calormenes have surrendered. Darrin has killed Ilgamuth. I can’t see what’s happened to Rabadash. I think he’s dead, leaning against the castle wall, but I don’t know. Chlamash and King Edmund are still fighting but the battle is over everywhere else. Chlamash has surrendered. The battle is over. The Calormenes are utterly defeated.”

I cannot understand why the Calormen troops--who were supposedly hand-picked for this battle and are the best Tashbaan has to offer--are running into the woods where they genuinely believe they will be killed by supernatural creatures and talking animals... nor can I say with any certainty that this won't happen, that they won't be killed by supernatural creatures and talking animals. But they are retreating into the Archenland woods and I suppose that is that.

Nor do I understand in the general scheme of things where those woods are and whether any of them lead to the Hermit's house and whether Aravis and the Horses are in danger of being set upon by soldiers desperately seeking a means back home, but it seems Lewis does not care to explore that either. The Calormen have exited stage left.

   When Shasta fell off his horse he gave himself up for lost. But horses, even in battle, tread on human beings very much less than you would suppose. After a very horrible ten minutes or so Shasta realized suddenly that there were no longer any horses stamping about in the immediate neighborhood and that the noise (for there were still a good many noises going on) was no longer that of a battle. He sat up and stared about him. 


   Even he, little as he knew of battles, could soon see that the Archenlanders and Narnians had won. The only living Calormenes he could see were prisoners, the castle gates were wide open, and King Lune and King Edmund were shaking hands across the battering ram. From the circle of lords and warriors around them there arose a sound of breathless and excited, but obviously cheerful conversation. And then, suddenly, it all united and swelled into a great roar of laughter.

We here pause to let your esteemed blogger giggle at the idea of Lune and Edmund shaking hands with a giant bloody tree between them because No Homo. I hope they're both covered in foliage from this recently chopped down tree that they couldn't be bothered to walk around.

   Shasta picked himself up, feeling uncommonly stiff, and ran toward the sound to see what the joke was. A very curious sight met his eyes. The unfortunate Rabadash appeared to be suspended from the castle walls. His feet, which were about two feet from the ground, were kicking wildly. His chain-shirt was somehow hitched up so that it was horribly tight under the arms and came halfway over his face. In fact he looked just as a man looks if you catch him in the very act of getting into a stiff shirt that is a little too small for him. As far as could be made out afterward (and you may be sure the story was well talked over for many a day) what had happened was something like this. Early in the battle one of the Giants had made an unsuccessful stamp at Rabadash with his spiked boot: unsuccessful because it didn’t crush Rabadash, which was what the Giant had intended, but not quite useless because one of the spikes tore the chain mail, just as you or I might tear an ordinary shirt. So Rabadash, by the time he encountered Edmund at the gate, had a hole in the back of his hauberk. And when Edmund pressed him back nearer and nearer to the wall, he jumped up on a mounting block and stood there raining down blows on Edmund from above. But then, finding that this position, by raising him above the heads of everyone else, made him a mark for every arrow from the Narnian bows, he decided to jump down again. And he meant to look and sound—no doubt for a moment he did look and sound—very grand and very dreadful as he jumped, crying, “The bolt of Tash falls from above.” But he had to jump sideways because the crowd in front of him left him no landing place in that direction. And then, in the neatest way you could wish, the tear in the back of his hauberk caught on a hook in the wall. (Ages ago this hook had had a ring in it for tying horses to.) And there he found himself, like a piece of washing hung up to dry, with everyone laughing at him.

I didn't cut any of that for a couple reasons.

One, since Lewis is entirely willing to just step into a third-person omniscient narrator, why did we even need the Hermit and his pool and the trio's few brief interjections? Indeed, it is fascinating to me that Bree and Aravis and Hwin actually hardly speak at all, because I had mentally edited them to be co-narrators for the battle since that would at least use their Chekovian skills in some way. But, no, they can't even see the battle--they literally see less of the battle than Shasta does!--because the pool only works for the Hermit. So Lewis cut from Shasta to have the Hermit lecture at Aravis and Bree and Hwin and then cut from there to give us a third-person account of his own. Consistency.

Two, that infodump is more worldbuilding and detail than we have received in pages. We still have no idea what Anvard looks like. We have only the barest sketch of how to get into Narnia from here. (Some kind of mountain pass? Which takes almost no time to cross? Which is not how mountains usually work?) There's sort of some kind of woods over there *waves hand* and some kind of desert in that direction I guess *flails* and there's a Hermit shack with goats in uhhhh a direction of some sort.

But this scene, with Rabadash flailing around in the most unlikely series of coincidences ever to pile up, this scene is what is given the lavish detail. Lewis thought about this scene of humiliation and punishment. A lot more than he seems to have thought about such things as "what does Aravis look like" and "how old is Shasta" and "how does the Hermit know everyone except Lucy".

That says a lot about his priorities. This book isn't badly written because Lewis couldn't write detail, but because he poured that detail into the humiliation and emasculation of a virile brown man over literally anything else in the book. That is troubling.

I have more I want to say about this chapter, but I need to wrap here and come back. Thank you all for being patient with my slow pace.


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