11.25.2010

Narnia and the North

I'd say A Horse and His Boy ranks- alongside The Last Battle, but for vastly different reasons- among the least familiar of the Narnia books. Factors for this are probably due to it being an intertestamental story set during the Golden Age of High King Peter. You can appreciate the adventures of the Pevensie-Scrub-Poll children just fine without it. Therein, for me lies its charm. Practically self-contained it is as close to a MacDonaldian fairy tale as you are to find in Narnia, on par with the adventures of Tangle and Mossy in the Golden Key or even an extended Grimm Maerchen.
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Lewis's first challenge was to create a believable and contrasting society to that of the Narnian/Archenlanders. I believe here he relied heavily upon his knowledge of Medieval literature and highlighted the values of Arab culture. Like Tolkien we get a distinctly European world view with the bad guys living in opulent cruelty in the hot, skin darkening southern lands. While this is an important and delicate issue (and one which will probably never get A Horse and His Boy made into a movie) it brings up an interesting literary dichotomy which has a particular function in the fairy tale genre. No longer do you have the device of the magical wardrobe, or Susan's Horn, or the portal through the painting. The journey from Telmar to Archenland to Narnia lies on the same sphere if you will. It is akin to Grimm tales when all one needs to do to encounter the supernatural is to enter "the woods". Heaven is connected to Earth, it's just across the desert. The story gets a certain metaphorical/symbolic flavor to it, similar to Pilgrim seeking the Celestial City. The amoral, harsh, and muling society of Telmar acts more like Our World which usually lies on the other side of the wardrobe door, more like the pitiless London of At the Back of the North Wind or the prideful and twisted Numenorians. Any society pales in comparison to the Golden Age of Narnia and it's made all the more apparent that it is a matter of a determined and Aslan-ordained journey to get there.
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The Tombs outside Tashbaan are described in much the same way as the frightening barbarism of the Temple of Ungit in Til we have Faces. It's given a more Egyptian flavor given the milieu, the jackals, and even the protecting cat.
The disguised presence of Aslan in the form of said cat and a terrorizing lion "swift of foot" is a wonderful concept and allows the journey from Earth to Heaven to take place. I am intrigued by the extent of the disguise, the seeming contradictory signs of love (ten scratches- can we detect a little Ten Commandment allusion here?). For me such hidden and lofty ways of love make it all the more a matter of utter helplessness when reading passages such as Romans 13 in which we are commanded to love one another to fulfill the law. Love comes in so many different guises and its application and practice are always a matter of sloppy pantomime on our parts. Constant and renewed humility in the face of this mighty love we are commanded to imitate seems the best response.
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