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Matt Mikalatos

The Horse and Her Girl: C.S. Lewis and Aravis

We tend to take questions like “Was C.S. Lewis sexist?” and place it in a binary: yes or no. We could do that, certainly, and we would have a simple and rather uninteresting answer, because if we’re going to boil right down to it, yes, for sure, obviously, much of Lewis’ work matches nearly any definition of sexism we’d like to use.

We could also spend a great deal of time putting Lewis’ views of women into the various contexts which he inhabited and investigating why he may have come to the conclusions that he did: the age he lived in, his lack of regular interaction with a diversity of women at various times in his life, the death of his mother when he was a child, the world of elite scholars in the 1940s and ‘50s in Britain, or how shaped he was by medieval and, yes, Christian thought.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“A Second Rabadash” — C.S. Lewis and Dangerous Leaders

C.S. Lewis had strong political opinions and in many ways they undergird his work, though he’s slow to make them overt, unless he’s talking about the way schools are run. His earliest works (the world of Boxen that he invented with his brother) is filled with stuffy politics, mostly because he thought that’s what the adult world was: people endlessly talking about things he himself found boring. But as we saw in Prince Caspian, Lewis’ political thoughts often came down to a question of order versus disorder: Is the right person in charge and are they rightly responding to those in authority above and below them in the organizational chart?

In The Horse and His Boy we get an interesting and rather detailed look at Lewis’ ideas of the dangerous political leader, and what the most effective responses are in the midst of the disordered world that comes as a result of bullies and peacocks in power (Lewis, of course, says “pajock” rather than peacock). Nowhere is this clearer than in the poor young man named Rabadash.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Growing Up in Narnia: The Pevensies as Young Adults in The Horse and His Boy

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the first anniversary of this column! Many thanks to everyone for creating the wonderful and interesting community that’s been building around the comments here over the last year.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells us in the final chapter that our main characters—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—grew to be adults in Narnia, and lived their lives as kings and queens. This all takes place in the space of a few paragraphs, and though it’s referred to often enough in other books, the “Golden Age of Narnia” mostly unfolds between the stories recounted in the books, not within them.

Except in The Horse and His Boy, where we see the siblings (save Peter) as royal adults in Narnia. It’s a fun and inventive bit, giving us a little flavor for what we missed of the larger stories through our former heroes’ generous cameos in this tale.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Aslan the Demon: Religious Transformation in The Horse and His Boy

“I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.” That’s what Jack “C.S.” Lewis wrote to one of his friends when he was 17 years old.

Lewis told us, years later, that The Horse and His Boy is the story of the “calling and conversion of a heathen.” He doesn’t mean the term “heathen” as something offensive, and would of course put his past self in that same category. He was also—when he was an atheist—sensitive to the arrogance of religious people who talked as though they had found the truth and he had not. Never one to shy away from strong opinions, he didn’t seem to take it personally when others thought him arrogant in the same way after his conversion.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Ethnocentrism, Heathens, and Heretics in The Horse and His Boy

“The calling and conversion of a heathen.”

So many questions we have about The Horse and His Boy are answered in this short phrase. Why are the Calormene people presented as they are? If they are meant to be roughly Middle-Eastern, why are they polytheist instead of monotheist?

More questions may be answered by remembering Lewis’s audience: young, white, British children. We’ll talk in a moment about ethnocentrism, and the “center” in this case is clear and undeniable: it’s the Pevensie kids. They are both the stars and the target audience.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

 “Narnia and the North!”: The Horse and His Boy

C.S. Lewis loved horses. He once said, “I’d sooner have a nice thickset, steady-going cob that knew me and that I knew how to ride than all the cars and private planes in the world.” (He’s no Judith Tarr, though! Be sure to check out her excellent SFF equines series here at Tor.com!)

Lewis wrote the entirety of The Horse and His Boy in 1950. So this book, the fifth of the Narnia books to be published, was the fourth to be completed (The Silver Chair was written partially before, but finished afterward). It’s also the third chronologically, taking place during the final few pages of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. He and his publisher considered a few other titles, including Shasta and the North, Narnia and the North, Over the Border, Cor of Archenland, The Horse Bree, and The Desert Road to Narnia. It seems to me they chose wisely.

[We could spend a lot of time debating exactly what this book is about…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Living Water, Resurrection, and Aslan’s Golden Back: Biblical Allusions in The Silver Chair

People come to Narnia from many different places. Some find the religious metaphors overwhelming, others don’t notice them at all. Some people love them because of the spiritual underpinnings. When we started this series, one thing I wanted to do was make the many allusions to Christian theology a little clearer for those who don’t come from a Christian background. In this article we’re going to look specifically at the moments when Jesus, uh, I mean Aslan, shows up in The Silver Chair.

There are a lot, and I mean a lot of Biblical allusions in this book. When Aslan walks in, Lewis piles them on top of each other until you could feel like you’re reading Bible fanfiction. This is no particular surprise, as Lewis loves to cobble together his mythology from a variety of places, and in Silver Chair we have references to Plato, Dante, Arthurian legends, Shakespeare (Rilian looks “a little bit like Hamlet”), and I’m guessing a whole lot more that I didn’t catch.

[It all starts when Eustace and Jill do a little magic spell…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Saving the Lost: Quests, Signs, and Unclear Instructions in The Silver Chair

The battle against the forces of darkness is, first and foremost, a rescue operation. Or so Jill Pole is told. Aslan advises her that her quest is to seek the lost Prince Rilian, “until either you have found him and brought him to his father’s house, or else died in the attempt, or else gone back into your own world.”

Her job is not to destroy the Lady of the Green Kirtle—Aslan doesn’t even mention her—or to prevent war in Narnia, or to bring justice for those talking beasts who have been eaten by giants. Jill has one clear job, and Aslan has specifically called her and Eustace here to do it.

[Let’s talk about Aslan’s four “signs”…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Who We Fight Against: The Silver Chair and Knowing Your Enemies

In a battle we must know our enemies.

Lewis tells us unapologetically that the core idea of The Silver Chair is “war against the powers of darkness,” and since this is war, it would be interesting to make sure we know who these powers of darkness are, exactly. There are people we think are allies but are not in this story, as well as those who we assume to be our adversaries but turn out to be fellow victims. If we are to be effective warriors against the powers of darkness, surely we need to be able to discern who is an ally and who an enemy.

Let’s start with the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Lewis gives us contextual clues, drawn from some of his favorite classical work, hinting at who or what the Green Lady is.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Silver Chair: The Lady of the Green Kirtle, Fake News, and Enchantment

Poor Prince Rilian. His mother—the still unnamed wife of King Caspian—is killed by a serpent “green as poison” and when he sets out to find the foul worm to destroy it, he finds instead the Lady of the Green Kirtle. She is “the most beautiful thing that was ever made” according to Rilian, though our old friend Drinian can’t help but notice that she is dressed in a thin garment as green as poison and, “It stuck in Drinian’s mind that this shining green woman was evil.”

I know the first question in everyone’s mind: what exactly is a kirtle? The short answer is that it’s women’s clothing, either an underdress or an overdress depending on the years we’re talking about and the social status of the woman wearing it. We will soon learn that this particular Lady is of high status indeed: a Witch Queen from the far Northern parts of the world who intends, of course, great harm to Narnia.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Silver Chair: War Against the Powers of Darkness

The Silver Chair was the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia to be published, but the fifth Lewis wrote, and the sixth chronologically (whew!). I had almost no memories of this book from reading it when I was a kid (they started to come back as I read), which is pretty on-brand for the themes of The Silver Chair. Having said that, I enjoyed it! It’s a straightforward adventure novel with some fun moments along the way, and the confrontation with the main villain in particular resonated with me.

The Silver Chair starts out in a terrible school (all of Lewis’ schools are terrible) called Experiment House, where we find a poor, bullied young woman named Jill Pole. Someone comes along to check on her, and it’s none other than our newly chivalrous and kind-hearted Eustace Scrubb, who gets up the guts to do something the Pevensies never really did: he tells a stranger about the beautiful world of Narnia, and how maybe they could escape the cruelties of their world to go there. He leads her in a magical incantation (a sort of prayer, really) that opens a gateway to Narnia, just as the bullies come running up on them.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“Eustace Was a Dragon All Along”: Aslan and Spiritual Growth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about our spiritual journey, and the transformation we experience along the way—nowhere is this clearer than in the changes in Eustace Scrubb. As we learn in the first sentence: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” And in the last, “…back in our own world everyone soon started saying how Eustace had improved, and how ‘You’d never know him for the same boy’.”

Lewis believed that humans could continue to improve spiritually until they became something “like God” or could devolve spiritually until they ceased to be human at all. In Dawn Treader we see both the potential pitfalls of the spiritual life and the potential victories. And all of them, it turns out, have one thing in common: Aslan.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Seven Gifts of Aslan: Sacraments in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Did you ever wish that Father Christmas would show up in the middle of an adventure and give you the exact gifts you needed for the road ahead, just like he did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? That pretty much exactly aligns with the Christian concept of the sacraments—there are seven sacraments in the teaching of the Anglican church (the church C.S. Lewis attended), and all seven appear in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Lewis told us that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about spiritual journeys. At the core, it’s a book about how human beings grow. How do we become better people? There are places where Aslan shows up and helps the characters to progress (we’ll look at these in two weeks), and there are gifts that Aslan has given us that help along the way, too.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

On Grief, Joy, and Saying Goodbye: Reepicheep and Aslan’s Country

In the end, Reepicheep dies.

That’s something I didn’t understand when I read Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a kid. Lewis wouldn’t—indeed, didn’t—say it that way. In fact, he says the opposite, right in the text of the novel: While no one can claim to have seen Reepicheep from the moment he crested the great wave at the end of the world, Lewis says, “my belief is that he came safe to Aslan’s country and is alive there to this day.”

This particular article was originally meant to be the last in our series on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, rather than the second, but in the unique space we find ourselves at this moment, I decided to write it early. This novel is, in many ways, about the preparations we make for the moment when we reach world’s end, and Lewis’s ideas and thoughts about it may be helpful for us.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The World Beyond Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my least favorite Narnia book as a kid, but on this re-read it climbed the charts toward the top. I even shed a few tears before closing the book.

My problem with Dawn Treader as a kid was, well, nothing really happened. The Pevensies (plus one) appeared in Narnia, ran around on a ship for a while, then went home. There were adventures, sure, but it felt like one of my school buddies reciting their oral report at the end of summer break: I went here and this happened, and then I went here and saw this thing, and then I went home.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

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