- Book: A severely used copy of the 2001 The Chronicles of Narnia omnibus by HarperCollins. The front cover curls up delightfully.
- Books Read: 7/7
- Pages Read: 767/767
And that’s Narnia Week, folks! I finished up The Horse and his Boy yesterday afternoon after class and promptly perused through its various TVTropes pages (kiss your productivity good-bye!). It was a mild and pleasant surprise. I’d never thought I would say this, but I’m all burnt out on fantasy at the moment, guys. I leaped into Narnia Week after finishing up a nostalgic reread of Firebirds–and there’s a reason my one rule (the, uh, other two fell to the wayside–I’m not a poet and sometimes you just gotta grab a book!) is that I can’t read the same genre twice in a row. This burnout is that very reason. Of course, I’ll bounce back fairly quickly–I am, after all, the girl who will continue to eat Shocktarts well past the point I’m just injuring myself. But I am looking forward for a refreshing and restoring dip in the nonfiction waters with David Grann’s The Lost City of Z.
The Horse and his Boy is an anomaly in The Chronicles of Narnia; it’s set during the reign of the Pevensies, that Golden Age of Narnia, and in Calormen, the country that invades Narnia during The Last Battle. Its heroes are Shasta, a Narnian-born boy raised by a poor fisherman in Calormen, and Aravis, a Calormene noble escaping an arranged marriage with a man in his sixties, and the novel spends no time in England, like The Last Battle–but unlike the last book, England is completely irrelevant. That combined with no shaky worldbuilding makes The Horse and his Boy sort of the ultimate Narnian adventure.
I was a bit surprised to encounter Aravis, a girl of color, in The Chronicles of Narnia, which is one of those essentially English properties in popular culture. And while I was feeling dour about the depiction of the Calormen after The Last Battle (where their god is revealed to be the opposite number of Aslan), I was actually surprised by the depiction of Calormen here. Perhaps I was a pessimist about it. Yes, it’s fairly racist–Narnia (and, of course, Aslan) is presented as a promised land for Aravis. In fact, in one of his last last letters (according to mighty Wikipedia), he explicitly stated that The Horse and his Boy is about the “conversion of a heathen“, indicating that all Calormen are heathens except for the “good” ones, like Aravis and Emeth. It’s highly problematic, and there’s no two ways around it–so, naturally, I was a bit nervous about a book set mostly in Calormen.
But Calormen is interesting, and, in a way, a place where women can be women any way they please. While the Calormen keep slaves and live in a very hierarchical society, there’s a touching moment between Aravis and her friend, Lasaraleen, who is reluctantly helping her escape. Aravis is a tomboy who makes her first appearance in her dead brother’s armor; Lasaraleen is a happily kept nobleman’s wife, who delights in frippery and clothing. Lewis dryly notes that both girls consider each other quite silly, but Lasaraleen wants to help her friend. When they finally do part ways, it’s affectionately–Aravis wishes Lasaraleen a happy life in the way that she’s chosen. And, while it may be a side-effect of the stereotype of the lusty woman of color, the Calormene women in the text also express their desire (albeit for white Narnian men); Lasaraleen comments on their attractiveness and Aravis, in a more roundabout way (she is, after all, Lewis’s “convert”), finds them attractive too. Compare this against Susan and Lucy–Lucy is considered to be better than Susan because she’s “as good as a man” (pg. 290) because she’ll fight when Susan won’t, and although most of the plot occurs when Susan rejects a Calormen prince, the only desire she’s felt is invalidated when the prince turns out to be a boor. (While I was reading the novel, I wondered if this was any sort of commentary on interracial marriage, but Aravis ends up marrying a Narnian.)
And it’s the boorish prince, Rabadash, who is the most demonized and is, in a way, condemned by his people. When Susan rejects him, he appeals to his father in a furious rage–and his father lets him go on a stealth mission in an effort to kill him off, in order to protect his throne. He’s punished by Aslan to be turned into an ass, and can never leave home to fight wars–thus, his historic reputation is ruined. Of course, there’s plenty else–the Calormenes are superstitious, the elite speak very formally, and Lewis pokes fun at their culture. But there’s something wonderful about female community in Calormene, who appear to have their own deity in Zardeenah, the Lady of the Night and Maidens, whom Aravis is expected to make offerings to before her marriage. Of course, all of this is looked down upon by the text, since Narnia is presented as superior, but it’s still there. Hmm.
After finishing The Chronicles of Narnia, I have to admit that the order HarperCollins is pushing on us is, well, silly. The Magician’s Nephew assumes you’ve read or at least known of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as do several of the other books. Yes, it’s technically chronological, but I think it would be much more cohesive to go along with the publication order, since they were written in more or less the same order. (The Horse and his Boy was written before The Silver Chair.) Here’s the reading order I recommend:
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Prince Caspian
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- The Silver Chair
- The Horse and his Boy
- The Magician’s Nephew
- The Last Battle
And you can switch The Horse and his Boy and The Magician’s Nephew with no ill effects.
Well, that’s all (except today’s review!) for Narnia Week–thank you all for playing along, whether you’ve been posting, commenting, or just reading. I’ll try and pick up Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book when I return home for the winter holidays, which inspired me (well, okay, required me) to do Narnia Week. And if you’ve got any challenge ideas, please pass them along–I love doing things like this!
If you’re participating in Narnia Week, don’t forget to add your posts to the Mr. Linky! And don’t forget about the #narniaweek hash tag on Twitter. Thanks!