Saturday, 30 July 2011

A busy week

It seems like forever since I last typed a  post especially for my blog. Most of my recent posts, were copies of stuff from TLC that I thought my non-TLC friends might like to see.

All my writing in the last week or so, seems to have been in the form of long forum posts or comments on other people's blogs. So now, just for the sake of it, is something for my own.

It's been a busy week - or rather a busy few weeks. I've got just under two months now before I leave for Oxford and the "organising" never stops. Earlier this week I completed my visa application. I would never have guessed it was such a complicated process to get permission to enter the country where my grandfather and great-grandparents were born. And it seems even harder for my father, who is a generation closer and only staying there for 10 days. On Thursday I went for my appointment at the Visa Application Centre. Besides almost forgetting my passport at home, and making a mistake with my passport number on the online application - everything went smoothly and (assuming I didn't forget to submit some important document) it should be processed in the next 10 days or so.

My favourite part about the visa application was that there was no need to get my hands inky when having my fingerprints taken. Hooray for modern technology!! I've seen a thumb-print scanner before (from when I got my drivers' license) but not one for the whole hand. They are rather nifty. I did discover, however, that I  there's something odd about by small finger on my left (i.e. my dominant) hand. It refused to lie flat on the scanner and I had to use my right hand to push it down.

A few weeks ago, I met a lady I know from my church while I was shopping. She said she knew someone whose family was in Oxford and who would be going there herself in the next few months. During this last week, I was given her details and I arranged to meet her yesterday for tea with my mum. She's in South Africa for the moment until she gets their house sold Then she and her adorable black miniature poodle (who seemed confused as to whether he was French or Scottish, wearing a red tartan dog-coat) will be joining her family over there.

A short way into the conversation, we discovered that she and her family are not based in Oxford - but in Cambridge. (Oops :-p) It wasn't as much of a disaster as it could have been, though. She was still very helpful in that she could give a South African's view of living in England, give me tips and answer questions. Though I have been in contact with quite a few people living in Oxford over various text-based internet forms of communication, it was really nice to be able to talk to someone in person. She is also a strong Christian and could give me some advice on the more "spiritual" side of things for when I arrive.

Going back to the earlier part of this week, my old University here in SA has just reopened for the second semester. So I went in for a visit on Monday and Wednesday. They weren't completely leisure-based visits. I needed to get a copy of a letter from the scholarships office and to borrow some of the 32 books on the pre-semester reading list I got from Oxford. Thanks to one of the staff member/lecturers (who conveniently studied in Cambridge and therefore has a number of the books on the list) I have been able to get started on that (just started - I'm still on the first book).

It was rather strange visiting my old Uni. I've been there the past 4 and a half years. But suddenly I feel a little like an outsider. Because it was only the first week back, my student card and LAN logins still work (they will only be reset when late registration for the semester is complete). But already I'm not allowed to borrow books from the library (I can pay a fee as a past student, but I'm hardly willing to pay the annual fee for the two months that I will be here). I also no longer have an office of my own, and have to wait and make sure my friends and former colleagues are around to let me into the offices. They were rather kind about the matter, and even let me have a cup of tea in a borrowed mug! But I still felt very much like a nomad, in what has been my second home for such a long time. I sat in on a tutors meeting for the second years. Because of a swap of first and second year tutors (long story) I was the only one there who had actually taught these students last semester. Which made it really odd, knowing I'd not be part of the second half of their year.

One other exciting thing happened this week. I received an envelope in the post which contained (supposedly) my student contract from Oxford. I love receiving post. Post with Oxford stamps and "Airmail" written on them are even more special (here I reveal my nerdiness ;-) ). When I opened the envelope, I noticed that it had been sealed with sellotape, but didn't think much of it. (I know people will do that if the envelope refuses to seal properly). But then I took out the contents. All it contained was the letter explaining that my contract was enclosed and another empty and addressed envelope for returning the contract. No contract.

And so it would seem that someone in postal services (whether on the British or South African side I can't say) saw fit to confiscate my contract. I think it will be rather funny should that person attempt submitting the contract in the hopes of a free entry to Oxford (:-p) Anyway, I emailed the lady at the linguistics department immediately, and she emailed me another copy of the contract so the crisis has been averted.

I think that covers everything I have to share about this past week, although a discussion of this week would be thoroughly incomplete without a mention of the weather in South Africa. For those who don't live here, or haven't already had me tell them, we've had one of the coldest weeks in the past couple of decades. No snow on the coast of course - but there was enough of it to force closures of major roads. Johannesburg and Durban were completely cut off for a day. I heard later on the news that they were using graders to try clear the snow in some of the mountain passes. I guess it makes sense that we don't have more appropriate equipment. The need for it is so rare that no one would care to maintain such vehicles to be used once in 10 years. I'm still trying to get my mind over rain in July. Yesterday morning it was not only pelting, but I even heard some thunder.

I'm not quite so vain (okay, perhaps I was for a bit, but then realised how silly that was) as to think that God ordains the weather purely for my own benefit, but I am certainly thankful that I should experience one of the coldest winters in South Africa shortly before leaving for an even colder winter in the UK. Even yesterday's rain was seemingly appropriate. I told myself "I need to get used to the rain." In the past I've found rainy days rather miserable, but I'm using these rainy times to change my mentality. If I can convince myself that "it's just water" and find in the patter of the rain soothing comfort rather than dreary depression, I think I can conquer it.

And there it is. A complete rambly post - it involved no plotting or prethough on my part. Hope you my followers (yes those people I like to kid myself that actually read my posts) enjoyed something of it.

Ajjie >'.'<

Saturday, 23 July 2011

My Hedgehog Collection - Part Three

It's taken me a while, but here I finally post the last of my hedgehog collection: All my Mrs Tiggy-winkles and Pindsvin - a very special Danish hedgie.

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

The largest is a knitted one we found at a flea market. It's not the best workmanship, but she was rather cheap, so we bought her. She's actually grown on me the longer I've had her.

The second largest was originally bought for me by my mother. About 6 months later, one of my best school friends gave me the exact same one for my birthday. We phoned the shop where my mum had got mine from and they let us exchange her for another Beatrix Potter character. There wasn't much choice, but I came home with a sweet Goody Tiptoes. The one in the middle, was a another one my mum found to make up for her one having been replaced.

The Tiggy holding the number 5 was birthday present a few years ago. You may have seen her in one of the photos of my shelved hedgehogs in part 1. There's nothing significant about the number 5, it just happened to be what my parents found. If you look very closely, she is shaking hands with a little mouse.

The final ornament one was my graduation present in 2010 for my bachelors degree and lives in a display cabinet.


This is one of my most special hedgehogs. My mother has a number of Royal Copenhagen (the Danish version of Royal Dalton) porcelain figurines, which she inherited from her Danish grandmother and mother. My parents had this hedgehog specially ordered from a supplier of RC for my 21s Birthday. I call it Pindsvin - the Danish name for "hedgehog".


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Narnian Summer Challenge (3)

Reflections on the Horse and His Boy

Here is my last set of reflections

Chapter 11


Chapters 12
Why the fuss?

I don't write poetry as much as I used to, and the rhythm may be a bit out - but here's a little poem. It expresses the thoughts of the hedgehog (yes, I had to do something about him - he is after all the only hedgehog that actually speaks in all the Chronicles) as he ponders over Shasta's news.

Why the fuss?

Oh Narnia fair is safe and warm,
Since the day that the Kings and Queens came.
They defeated the Witch on a fair spring morn,
And we need never fear the harsh winter again.

So why is this boy, alone in the wild,
So worried and speaking of armies?
He speaks of strange lands, the poor daz├ęd child.
Much travel has made the boy balmy.

He speaks of the land of rich Calormen
Many miles o'er a great sea of sand
He's says that an army of wild savage men
Is attacking our friends Archenland.

Why the fuss, why the fuss, on this bright summer's day?
I would much rather snuggle in bed,
Why worry 'bout things that are so far away?
Let the great people worry instead.

We are now at peace, and the land is at rest,
And King Peter's in northerly realms,
Trouncing giants he is, doing what he does best,
We care not for weapons or helms.

Don't come interfere and mess up our lives,
Don't disturb our good happy dwelling
We live and we play with our children and wives,
As the old folk great stories are telling.

Armies and wars, belong to those tales
And to places that are far away,
Not in our lifetime will the peace ever fail,
We shan't live to e'er see that day.

And so, dear boy, though you story is grand,
It is time for a comfy day's nap.
I'll leave you to tell those who do understand,
Fare thee well, neighbour, there's a good chap.

Chapter 13
Anvard Besieged

King Lune glanced around him. He sat in his council chamber, with his chief advisors seated and watching.

"What are your orders, Sire?" asked Lord Darin.

The King sighed. It was not like the jolly king of Archenland to feel so miserable and be without a plan. He hadn't felt so lost since the day the news came that his son Cor was not on board that traitor Bar's ship. Until then he had had everything under control. But the moment he realised that his plan had failed and his son would not be so easily returned, he had despaired. He remembered still the depression he had felt.

But he had recovered from that tragedy. The joy watching of his other son, Corin, grow up, had eased the hurt. Even his wife's unexpected death had been bearable as he saw her smile in the eyes of his son. He had learnt to deal with loss.

But this time...this time it was different. His own castle was under attack. The castle at Anvard had not been built to withhold a siege. The treaties with its neighbours and its isolation by desert and mountain meant that a siege was never a real risk. If war were ever to come to this peaceful mountain kingdom, they had their fort in the mountains and there would be plenty of time to retreat.

But now this. An unexpected attack from the Calormene Empire. Not an attack led by the Tisroc himself, but by his son Rabadash. None of it made sense to the king.

The last he had heard, ties were good between the northerly kingdoms and Calormen. Why, the Prince himself had asked for the hand of Queen Susan. Lune had allowed his son to accompany her on her visit to the capital - had he been a fool to let him go?

His son...where was he now? No news had reached him other than that of this strange boy whom he had met while hunting yesterday, and who had commanded them to flee to Anvard just in time for Rabadash to engage them in battle before the castle.

What had happened to the Narnian expedition? He could only hope and pray that out of love for Susan, the Narnian delegation had been spared from whatever mad frenzy had caused the prince's attack on Archenland. His heart, however, told him that he was wrong - and that their visit had had something to do with this unwarranted attack. Though what might have gone wrong, he could not imagine.

And to make matters worse, there was now the boy in the mountains to worry about. He felt so foolish for letting a strange boy ride along without an escort, on the pack horse too - which was known for being lazy. It was because of that mist that he had gotten lost; a very strange mist which had come on them as unexpectedly as the attack by Rabadash. That poor boy probably didn't make it through the night. And what was worst of all was that boy's face.

It wasn't the first time he'd met a boy Corin's age and wondered if he was not his lost son. Almost every time he caught sight of a golden head, he had allowed himself to hope. But that was at the beginning, and he'd since learnt it was better not to get his hopes up. While he always held that his son was not dead and would one day return to fulfil the centaur's prophesy - he was sure it would be as an adult; probably long after he had handed the throne down to Corin. Then, as a man, he might return to save Archenland, but now was too soon.

Nevertheless the eyes of that boy haunted him, and he tried to brush away the pang of guilt and regret.

The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming and as he perceived the eyes of his lords on him, he knew he needed a plan. They had fought off Rabadash's forces well enough last night. Could they hold out a few more days for the messenger to reach Cair Paravel? It was possible, but he had no idea who was at Cair to receive the message.

Edmund could be locked up in Calormen - or worse. Peter was away in the North. Lucy was Valiant, and would do what she could, but it might take time for her to gather a force. And what was going on in Narnia anyway? For all he knew, the Tisroc could have sent a larger force there by sea. The whole request to marry Susan might have been a ploy so that Cair Paravel would be empty of all but its youngest ruler.

He couldn't rely on Narnia to bring aid immediately. He had to assume the worst and that they were in this alone.

His thoughts were interrupted by a deafening boom that shook to the heart of the palace. What was that? Thunder? A quake? A chill ran up Lune's spine.


There it was again. What ever it was, it did not bode well.

"My Lord!" One of the guards from the gate tower came rushing into the chamber, not waiting for permission to enter. "My Lord," he repeated, panting. "It's the Calormenes. They're ramming the gate."
Chapter 14


Chapter 15
Rabadash the Ridiculous

A number of characters in the story are taught humility. We have discussed Bree and Aravis in a number of previous posts. What differentiates these two from the third character, is that they are willing to learn their lesson.

It is a hard battle, and Bree takes time to overcome it, forgetting his lessons occasionally (not long after the Hermit's speech about him not being quite so important as he thinks he is, he goes back to worrying about his tail, and whether he can roll and what the other Narnian horses will think about him).

But he and Aravis accept their lessons, Bree summing up in the words "I'm afraid I must be rather a fool."

But Rabadash is different. Beaten in his own foolish plan, he refuses to admit defeat. He is so proud that he will not even accept a gracious conditional pardon. But would rather fight to reclaim his honour (a right Lune says he had lost with his unsolicited and cowardly attack).

Having refused the pardon of the Archenlanders, he even refuses pardon from Aslan himself. Unlike the other two who - the moment they met Aslan - realised their folly and submitted humbly, he continues to rage and even curses Aslan.

Aslan gives him 3 chances, before meeting out his punishment:

    "Rabadash...take heed. Your doom is very near, but you may still avoid it" "Have a care Rabadash...The doom is nearer now: it is at the door: it has lifted the latch" "The hour has struck!"

And even then, he does not treat him as his sins deserved

    "Now hear me Rabadash, justice shall be mixed with mercy. You shall not always be an ass."

This story about Rabadash being turned to a donkey has always reminded me of that other great ruler of an Empire (in our world) who was humbled by being made like an animal.

    “But all these things did happen to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendour.’ “While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’ “That same hour the judgement was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. Dan 4:28-33

In the same way that Rabadash learned something (only something - he was still too proud to allow others to go to war on his behalf) and became a better kind for it, so Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson - in part anyway. He probably lapsed at a later stage, but for a while at least, he acknowledged God for who he was.

    “After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshipped the Most High and honoured the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’ “When my sanity returned to me, so did my honour and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honour than before. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honour the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” Dan 4:34-37

All illustrations are from covers of various editions of The Horse and His Boy

See Also (other reflections on HHB)
On first meeting Aslan (Shasta)
On first meeting Aslan (Bree)
On first meeting Aslan (Aravis) 

Summer Challenge 1

Thursday, 14 July 2011

On first meeting Aslan...

Musings from The Horse and His Boy, by CS Lewis (Part 3)

The Horse and His Boy is a unique book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. In this book, all four main characters (two children and two horses) have spent most of their lives in Calormen, the pagan land to the south of Narnia. As a result, they have grown up knowing very little, if anything, about Aslan. When each of them meet him, their response is different, and yet meaningful. These scenes shed light on who Aslan is, and by extension, on the One he represents.

3. Aravis
the meeting
Of the four main characters, Aravis is something of an outsider in the sense that she is the only member of true Calormene descent. We don't know much about Shasta's earlier beliefs (I doubt very much that Arsheesh was a particularly religious man, and imagine Shasta simply picked up a little here and there about the Calormene gods - he does wonder if he is descended from one of them).

Aravis, however, would have had a much more serious upbringing in the ways of the Calormene religion. She had been taught that her family was descended from the god Tash. She was also taught to utter the words "may he live forever" after any mention of the Tisroc (presumably also considered one of Tash's descendants.)

We don't know how she truly felt about her gods, and one could surmise that she had reverence, but no love for them, as was the case in the polytheistic societies with whom Lewis would have been familiar (such as the ancient Greeks and Romans).

After Hwin convinces her not to kill herself and suggests they escape to Narnia, Aravis swears by the Calormene gods.
In the name of Tash and Azaroth and Zardeenah, Lady of the Night, I have a great wish to be in that country of Narnia.

As part of her plot to run away, Aravis told her father that she would be going
With one of my maidens alone for three days into the woods to do secret sacrifices to Zardeenah, Lady of the Night and of Maidens, as is proper and customary for damsels when they must bid farewell to the service of Zardeenah and prepare themselves for marriage.
We can guess that whatever she might have thought about the gods, she was familiar enough with the practices of Zardeenah's followers, and considered a pious enough follower by her father, to convince him of this lie. It also suggests, however, that she was not afraid of risking the goddess' wrath by lying about worshipping her. Perhaps she believed that, as the goddess of maidens, she would protect Aravis' escape from an unwanted marriage.

In addition to her worship of the Calormene gods, Aravis also believed in the Calormene rumours of spirits (or ghouls) that live near the tombs - which caused her to share the superstitious fear that all Calormenes have of that place.

So unlike Shasta, whose religious knowledge was probably limited, and Bree who knew about and believed in Aslan, though he did not understand who He was, Aravis was a true pagan (in the historic sense of the word).

We know that she had heard about Aslan, because she says to Bree, when querying him about why he swears by the Lion,
All the stories in Tashbaan say he is [a lion]

We also have a fair idea of what these stories were, since the Tisroc himself mentions them to Rabadash,
It is commonly reported that the High King of Narnia (whom may the gods utterly reject) is supported by a demon of hideous aspect and irresistible maleficence who appears in the shape of a lion.

I guess it makes sense that there would be such blasphemous rumours about Aslan circulating in a land of numerous gods, who represented much of what Aslan did not. And before now, Aravis had had little cause to disbelieve them.

She clearly wondered, however, who exactly he was - hence her cross examination of Bree's words. Though she does not say it outright, it seems that veiled behind her query is the question: "If the stories in Tashbaan are true - why do you swear by this great evil lion?" She doesn't, however, get a chance to put this question to Bree. For Bree is still trying two answer her first question when Aslan himself appears.

The book tells us little of Aravis' thoughts on first seeing Him. How she must have felt after all she had heard and believed, added to the fact that she still bore the scars of the previous day's lion-attack, is hard to imagine.

And yet somehow, all that seems to fade away when she meets him face to face. There must have been something in his eyes, in his voice that causes her to realise that everything she's ever heard about Aslan was a lie.

Perhaps because of all the other things that she had learnt in the last few days: that her father would put his own interests above those of his daughter, that the Tisroc was a cruel hard-hearted man who would likely not live forever, that the life she had always wanted was shallow and meaningless (reflected in her friend Lasaraleen's behaviour), that a simple silly slave boy was true-hearted and courageous - these things may have made it easier for her to accept that the story of the demon-lion was just another lie that those in her old life had been feeding her with.

Whatever it was, she accepts Aslan's words of reproof without questioning:
Happy [the human] who knows that [she is a fool] while she is still young. Draw near Aravis, my daughter. My paws are velveted. You shall not be torn this time... It was I who wounded you. I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings... The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your step-mother's slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.

Aravis accepts this calmly. No excuses. No "Why me?", "I did it for a good reason" or "She deserved it". The injuries must have done their job and she understood completely. She asks only one question.
Will any more harm come to her because of what I did?

Aslan's reply is the same one he gives when Shasta asks him why he tore Aravis' back:
No one is told any story but their own
what we can learn
So what does Aravis' first meeting with Aslan teach us?

For one thing, it reveals to us the power of God to change a person's heart. Despite the fact that she had been brought up believing all the wrong things, especially about Aslan - it takes only a moment of divine revelation and her heart is changed forever.

Sometimes we underestimate the power of the Spirit to convict and change lives. We think that it takes some clever arguing on our part or that a person must be treated to a full range of bible and deep theological teachings before God can work in their lives. Not that these things are unimportant, but often we find we are praying and working for the wrong thing. At the end of the day, it is the revelation of God - that comes from his Spirit and not from our clever argument - that leads to a person's salvation:
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

  But God has revealed
them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 1 Cor 2:9-10, 13

Having said this, while it was true that Aravis' heart was changed in a moment, (she had just been quizing Bree about this lion-spirit that was rumoured of in Tashbaan, when he appears and she immediately drops and rejects those beliefs) Alsan had been working in her life for a long time.

All the previous events (bringing Hwin the talking Narnian horse to her, causing her to meet Shasta, perhaps even the marriage to Ahoshta itself,) all these and many more incidents had occured to lead her to this point. This is the same when it comes to salvation in our world. We, and those we meet, may be brought to God in a moment (although this process happens only with some people - by no means all), there may have been numerous small events (seeds and waterings) which prepared that person for that moment.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 1 Cor 3:6

Another, different lesson that is brought out from Aravis' meeting with Aslan is, strangely enough, an Old Testament principle which many would say was done away with in the New Testament.

Aslan explains to Aravis that he scratched her so that she would know what it was that the slave girl had suffered because of her deceitfulness:
The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your step mother's slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.

When God gave the Law to Moses, one of the key elements of it was restorative justice.
But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Ex 21:23-25
The Jews are shocked in the New Testament when Jesus says what appears to be the opposite:
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. Matt 5:38-42

But it is not really the case. We, like Aravis, deserve punishment that equals the harm caused by all the wrongs we have done. There is a reason we are spared. Jesus took that punishment so we would not have to.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. Is 53:5
Why was Aravis not spared? There could be various explanations. The Chronicles are not set on earth and so sometimes things happen a little differently. But I think that the answer is that she was spared. She was punished for only one of the wrong things she had done, but there were certainly more that she had done and was still to do. This one "small" punishment taught her a lesson she would not easily forget, and most likely made her a better person. It was a lesson. Aslan said she needed to "understand" - not to suffer for all her sins.

Although all who are saved through Jesus will be spared the ultimate punishment for what we have done wrong, we still have to suffer consequences for our actions in this life. These consequences are often naturally occurring results of what we have done. But sometimes they may be (or may also be) a form of discipline from the Lord. They are there to teach us a lesson - to help us "understand" the harm we have cause and why it was wrong.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,
   and do not resent his rebuke,
 because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
   as a father the son he delights in. Prov 3:11-12

See Also (other reflections on HHB)
On first meeting Aslan (Shasta)
On first meeting Aslan (Bree)

Summer Challenge 1 
Summer Challenge 2 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Narnian Summer Challenge (2)

Reflections on the Horse and His Boy

Here are my next two reflections:

Chapters 7 & 8
Narnia's Trojan War

Chapters 7 and 8 are particularly interesting because we get a small window into world of the Calormene nobility - from the inside. In these chapters, we get to see exactly what kind of life Shasta, had he become a slave to a Anradin, and Aravis, had she married the Grand Vizier, is escaping from. We get to meet Aravis' colourful and dizzy friend, her potential husband, and both Prince Rabadash and the Tisroc himself - in their own nest, as Sallowpad would say.

These characters are cleverly developed by Lewis (even if they are a little stereotypical) and their conversations cleverly crafted. Even though we sigh with relief that our heroes (along with Susan herself) will be spared from this life, the chapters are enjoyable to read. The Calormen characters, though hardly loveable people or the kind we would ever want to emulate, are likeable in their ridiculousness. We laugh at their silliness, and perhaps tremble a little at what disasters they might bring about through their foolishness.

At the university where I did my undergrad degree, not many people major in Classics. Quite a few, however, take individual classical subjects as electives. As a result, those few (like me) who take a full major's worth of courses must suffer a fair amount of repetition. This is never more true than for the Trojan War. In almost every course I took, including not only Greek 1a, but also Latin 1a, we learnt about this most famous of Greek legends. And I suppose it is hardly surprising, since this is the legend that makes up the theme of the first-ever book to be published in the history of European literature.

2500 years later, this story still enthrals the world, and was last made into a major motion picture as recently as 2002, and in many books even after that.

It is not a stretch, therefore, that CS Lewis (a man well versed in the Classics, and who himself began to write a novel covering events after the end of the Trojan War, and a translation of the Roman epic, The Aeneid) had this great legend, The Trojan War, in mind, when penning chapter 8 of The Horse and His Boy.

Thankfully, CS Lewis was more interested in writing an original story for children than retelling the age-old classic, and what we have is a very different story. But bear with me as a present some evidence that the Trojan war may have been at the back, if not the front of his mind, as he penned this chapter. There is more similarities between these two stories than simply that both have something to do with Horses.
"Nothing, I say, will seem as pardonable, if not estimable, in their eyes as this - er - hazardous attempt, especially because it is undertaken for the love of a woman..." Ahoshta - HHB
Some key events in lead up to the Trojan War could be summarised as follows: A Trojan Prince goes to visit the King of Sparta in Greece. The visit is successful, and it would seem that ties between the two counties, and bonds of friendship will be strengthened by this visit. But while there, the Prince falls in love with the Queen of Sparta. He contrives to have her kidnapped and sails away with her in a daring escape back to his city of Troy. Queen Helen's husband Menelaus is incensed. He convinces his brother, King Agamemnon of Argos and the other kings and leaders of Greece to join him in battle as he sets out to reclaim his lost queen. To many, this is seen not just as an act of love, but an excuse to subdue the city of Troy, an "unseemly blot" to the might of Greece.

Our Narnian story bares a few similarities. A Calormene Prince goes to visit the Royal Court of Narnia. He is received well and his behaviour is lauded by the Narnians. But while he is there, he falls in love with Queen Susan of Narnia. Unlike Paris, he does not have her kidnapped immediately, but sends messengers requesting her hand (she is, after all, free to marry and not another man's wife). She and her brother King Edmund travel to Tashbaan as she considers the suit. In Tashbaan, they see the Prince for who he truly is. Susan not only makes up her mind not to marry him, but they realise that the Prince will not easily allow her departure. In a daring escape she, with Edmund and their entourage, sail back their castle at Cair Paravel. When Rabadash realises she is gone, he is incensed. He convinces his father to let him march to Narnia and take her by force. His move is not only because of his passionate love (or should I say lust) for the Queen, but also seen as an excuse and means for subduing Narnia, "an unseemly blot on the skirts of [the] empire."

Obviously the differences between the two stories are apparent. As I said before, Lewis was writing his own story. While in the Trojan account, the Queen is already married, in the Narnian one she is not. In the Trojan story she is immediately kidnapped, in the Narnian one she is not. In the Trojan story, it is her husband and his allies that launch a rescue attack, whereas in the Narnian one, it is the spurned lover who launches an attack by which he plans to kidnap her.

But I think you will agree, there are a few similarities. This may be stretched, by an over-active mind swamped with far too much teaching on the Trojan War than any one person should endure. But I find the few links as they are interesting.

With a few changes, some of the words spoken between Rabadash and his father, may pass as those spoken between Menelaus and his brother as an argument for launching the Trojan War:
"Compose yourself, O my brother," said Agamemnon. "For the departure of guests makes a wound that is easily healed in the heart of a judicious host."
 "But I want her," cried the King, "I must have her. I shall die if I do not get her back - false, proud, black-hearted daughter of a dog that she is! (okay, Menelaus may not have referred to Zeus as a dog - but I'm sure he would have called her some or other names) I cannot sleep and my food has no savour and my eyes are darkened because of her beauty. I must have my Queen."...

"I desire and propose, O my brother," said Menelaus, "that you immediately call out your invincible armies and invade the thrice-accursed land of Troy and waste it with fire and sword...killing the King and all of his house except the Queen Helen. For I must have her back as my wife, though she shall learn a sharp lesson first."
Of course, in the Narnian story, the Tisroc declines giving aid in open war and the Prince must win her back with his own small force. It is interesting that the Tisroc fears Narnia because of the legends around it. Troy had some legends of its own - the walls had been built by Poseidon himself and would never be conquered from without (though these were not quite so powerful legends in the minds of the Greeks so as to prevent their war).

Thankfully, the outcomes of the two wars are also very different. During the Trojan War, the Olympian gods are said to have played an important role. Olympus was divided with half the gods favouring the Trojans and the other half the Greeks. This is part of the reason the war remained a deadlock for ten years. The Narnian situation is different. Rabadash thought he had the gods of Calormen on his side, but we read nothing of them (for we know that, thought limited in power, there was some real creature or spirit behind at least one of their gods). Tash however has no interest, so far as we can tell, in Rabadash's affairs. And even if he had, I doubt he would dare to take on an attack on Narnia and Archenland, knowing that Aslan was behind its kings and queens all the way.

And therein lies the difference. Rabadash had not factored in Aslan, and Aslan's use of of a runaway slave boy and Calormene girl. As something seemingly harmless, the Trojan Horse, was what brought about the destruction of Troy, so Aslan used the most unlikely of people to accomplish his plan and save Narnia from sharing Troy's fate. In a sense it was Shasta and Aravis, with the aid of the horses that served as Narnia's "Trojan Horse".

Rabadash would have done well to heed his father's warning, mistaken though it may have been in part:
"It is commonly reported that the High King of supported by a demon of hideous aspect and irresistible maleficience who appears in the shape of a Lion."
He was no demon, but something far more dangerous to any who would seek to destroy Narnia - he was the creator of Narnia and Archenland and Calormen himself!

Chapters 9 & 10
Refreshing Water

Chapter 9 well describes the harsh reality of desert travel:

    "jingle-jingle-jingle, squeak-squeak-squeak, smell of hot horse, smell of hot self."

I don't know if any of you have been in a desert. I drove with my family to and around Namibia in 2006. Only part of the journey was in the "true desert" and we were on well maintained dirt roads in an air-conditioned car. So I cannot really empathise with what our four heroes experience on their journey.

Except when it comes to time. Time drags in the desert. You have to travel miles before you get anywhere, and the terrain is so flat and unchanging that you can go a long way and feel you've travelled only a little. Our first night's stop was an experience in itself. It was dark long before we arrived at the little "town" of Seeheim (consisting of the farmhouse/hotel where we stayed and a petrol station). There were no street lights on the road - only mile after a mile of dark road and twinkling stars. We even began to imagine we saw trees lining the side of the road - some mysterious trick of viewing dark nothingness through car windows. I have yet to figure out what caused it.

Later on our holiday, we travelled through the desert to see the famous Welwitschia plants that live for thousands of years, have only two leaves which are never shedded for their entire lifespan and are found only in the Namib desert. The drive to the most famous (one of the largest) of these plants is a long monotonous one through the desert reserve. It took us half of the day just to get there and see it, then to turn around and make the long trek back along the same road. It was worth it, but a tiring drive, and probably the closest I've experienced to what our heroes felt on their desert trip.

For me, it is the end of this chapter which is the most worth commenting on. When they finally get to the end of the desert and find a river and refreshment. The feeling of relief is palpable.

    Before them a little cataract of water poured into a broad pool, and both the Horses were already in the pool with their heads down, drinking, drinking and drinking. "O-o-oh," said Shasta, and plunged in - it was about up to his knees - and stooped his head right into the cataract. It was perhaps the loveliest moment in his life.

The water from the river and this pool was just what they needed at this particular point in time. They had had a hard journey and "were almost in despair" when they found it.

We too have moments like this in our lives. We may go through times of harsh toil, when everything is a struggle and life is one unforgiving day after another. But the Lord knows our needs, and when the time is right - often when we feel that we cannot go on any further, when we cannot survive another day - we are brought the refreshment we so desperately need.

This is not the last time in the book, and certainly not the last in the Chronicles, where a stream is provided providentially. The other two occurrences (in chapter 11 of this book, and at the beginning of SC) link the stream directly to Aslan - pointing out that he is the source of refreshment and revival.

    Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water... Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:10, 13-14)

Going beyond our strength

The theme of refreshment was the first that struck me as I read these chapters. The refreshment of the stream and later relaxation (at least for three of the characters) at the Hermit's place.

But there is another theme that I noticed. I'm not sure exactly how to phrase it, but these chapters are packed full of "lessons" about physical ability and what is expected of us.

It is interesting to note, that the stop for water and refreshment is not the end of the journey or a reward for their hard work. It is simply an opportunity for the characters to catch their breath and refuel for the last leg of the journey - which will be even harder and more demanding than the rest (be it in the hills of green Archenland and not the desert).

The children and horses make the mistake of thinking it is an excuse to slow down and take things easy. They oversleep and don't travel as fast as they could, and barely make it in time. They suffer for this. Shasta has no time to rest before setting off on the next leg of the journey. Aravis comes out wounded, and the horses suffer extreme exhaustion. Had they carried on at a sensible pace, Aslan would not have had to push them so hard at the end of their journey.

We too must not allow times of refreshment to make us lazy. I know many a time that I have been working so hard at something. I convince myself that I "deserve" a break (or maybe am even granted a break - for example an extension on an assignment). I regard this as my due, and stop working as hard as I was beforehand. As a result, I still end up finishing late the night before the deadline.

That is a minor example. I think there are times in life when we are like that too: I've been to Church every Sunday in the last month - I deserve to sleep in for once; I've been helping out with Friday Night Youth, why should I sacrifice another evening for Bible Study? I've worked so hard for the Lord on this missions trip or that Bible Holiday Club, that I can afford not to help out at the church fundraiser.

I'm not saying that it's wrong for us to take a break now and again, and we should not over-tax ourselves to the point where our lives, or relationships with God and others suffer. But I think there are times, when it's easy, like the characters in the story, to feel that we have done what we can and worked hard and now we can either rest or take it slow.

Of all the characters, it is Hwin who understands this fully. When they have refreshed themselves at the river and are ready to sleep, she is the one who says:
    "But we mustn't go to sleep. We've got to keep ahead of that Rabadash."

The next morning, when Bree says he needs a break from his saddle and some breakfast, she says,
    "I feel just like Bree that I can't go on. But when Horses have humans (with spurs and things) on their backs, aren't they often made to go on when they're felling like this? And then they find that they can."

Lewis, through Hwin, is making an important point here. Sometimes we think that we are incapable of doing something - but is only our fear or self-doubt that prevents us. Given enough reason to do something, given no choice, we find that we can - because we have to. "Necessity is the mother of invention" goes the saying. There should be another like it (and may well be though I can't think of it) that expresses this idea; that when we are forced to do something we normally would refuse to do - we find we can do it.

I hate speaking on the telephone - but have to sometimes (especially know with sorting out my scholarship and move to Oxford). My mother struggles working with computers, but I hope, and am sure, that she will be able to work with emails and skype once I am overseas. When we have no choice but to do the impossible - we often find that it was never so impossible in the first place.

This is an encouragement but also helps us to understand the unexpected troubles we face. It is encouraging because it means that we need not fear the impossible. When I say that "we find a way" to do things we thought we couldn't, it is often rather that God grants us the ability and strength to do it ("his strength is made perfect in my weakness"). On the other hand, it may explain some of the struggles we go through in life. Sometimes, we may not understand why we are suddenly in a difficult or uncomfortable situation. Like Hwin and Bree, running for their lives from the Lion - that pressure may be God's way of pushing us to do that which we thought we could not do.

Look at how pressure is required for Bree to race at his full potential. When they first set out from their sleeping place by the river, it says
    "Bree took things much more gently than yesterday".

Later, when they see how close Rabadash's army, it says:
    "And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which is not quite the same thing."

Finally, when the Lion is chasing them down, it says:
    "And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast - not quite as fast - as he could."

Sometimes we need a bit of pressure to show us just what we are capable of. Shasta is taught a similar lesson. He arrives at the Home of the Hermit, only to be told that the journey is not over, and he must advance alone to Anvard.

    Shasta's heart fainted at these words for he felt that he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward is usually to be set to do another and harder and better one.

Despite this his sheer exhaustion, he finds a way to do it. He simply puts one foot in front of the next, and runs in a straight line as commanded.

And so let us not be like Bree, that is is our "right" to take things slowly, but let us be like Hwin, ready to do what ever is required (regardless of our feelings). Let us be like Shasta, and put one foot in front of the other until our mission is complete.

All illustrations are from covers of various editions of The Horse and His Boy

See Also (other reflections on HHB)
On first meeting Aslan (Shasta)
On first meeting Aslan (Bree)
On first meeting Aslan (Aravis) 

Summer Challenge 1

Friday, 8 July 2011

Narnian Summer Challenge (1)

Reflections on the Horse and His Boy

Here are my posts from the first three days of the challenge:

Chapters 1 & 2
Of cultural differences and belonging

At first I wasn't sure what to write for these two chapters. Something of a back story could work well - about Shasta's youth, or Bree's adventures in the wars, or Aravis' childhood or Hwinny's capture. But with a bit of a headache and not too much time to spare, I decided to do something a little different. A common theme which struck me while reading is that of cultures and belonging. There is a broad mix of cultures and norms thrown into these first two chapters. Both prejudice and lack of understanding/respect for those who are different are expressed throughout these chapters. Here are my thoughts.

The Horse and His Boy is a unique book in the Chronicles as it immediately thrusts us into a new world and culture, hitherto unknown (except for a brief mention in VDT, when reading in published order). The Calormene culture has a very different favour to that of the Narnia which we are familiar with. Without getting too caught up on the niceties of their culture or their resemblance to certain cultures in our world, I will simply say that we are given a very unique setting. Here is a young boy, who lives with only his "father". They live very simple lives, that of fishermen, and both hard work and harsh discipline make up the main part of this boy's life.

This boy, however, is dissatisfied with his life. He wants to know more, and has a yearning to learn what lies beyond his isolated world. When he discovers he is not Arsheesh's son, but was simply rescued by him at birth and considered something of a slave, the description of how he felt is telling:

    The story about his own discovery in the boat had filled him with excitement and a sense of relief. He had often been uneasy because, try as he might, he had never been able to love the fisherman, and he knew that a boy ought to love his father. And now, apparently, he was no son of Arsheesh at all. "Why, I might be anyone!" he thought.

As a Christian, I sense in Shasta the same response we feel (and it is one I feel particularly acutely when I look around me) "I don't belong here". This world is not my home. I am made for some other place. CS Lewis phrased it beautifully in Mere Christianity:

    If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world...I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find until after death..I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.

And the relief when we discover it is powerful. It is blessed relief. Unlike Shasta, however, it is not yet time to leave this world. I must live in it for some time longer. But the day will come, when I can leave it all behind - and head for my true home. I love Shasta's response to Bree's suggestion that they travel North in their flight: "I have been longing to go to the North all my life!" To Narnia and the North!

In a way, I am a little more like Bree. Bree too is far from home, living in a land that is not his. He is forced to live like this for many years. And he is forced to hide who he truly is. I thank God, that, though I am a stranger in a foreign land, I do not have to hide my true identity. I live in a country where I am free to express and confess my faith. I think and pray for those many Christians in the world who are not able to do so. They, like Bree, risk unwanted public attention, and must practice their faith in secret.

There is another way in which Bree expresses the issue of cultural belonging and identity. He knows that he is a Narnian horse, but does not know exactly how Narnian horses behave. After Shasta laughs at him rolling on the ground, he says with fear, "It would be dreadful to find, when I get back to Narnia that I have picked up a lot of low, bad habits." He worries here (and in other places in the book) how Narnian horses will judge his behaviour. This may be seen both positively and negatively.

While on the one hand, we as Christians should not conform to the behaviour of the world, but be recognised by the fact that we are different, Bree's attitude also brings up a more negative theme found in various places in the book - the question of prejudice and cultural superiority. When certain behaviour is practised simply because it is "tradition" and not for a moral purpose, we run the risk of feeling culturally superior, which leads to prejudice and judgemental attitudes - both things that do not reflect the example of Christ which Christians try to follow.

Not only does Bree fear the judgement of Narnian horses, but he too shows some prejudice in his attitude towards Shasta. He laughs at him for having only ridden the donkey, and cannot understand why humans can't eat grass, "I suppose, like all humans, you won't eat natural food like grass and're rum little creatures, you humans." Elsewhere, he says to Shasta, "You can't get very far on those two silly legs of yours (what absurd legs humans have)."

Another passage I enjoyed, which relates somewhat to the issue of prejudice is the quips between Shasta and Bree when they first share names with each other. Shasta declares, without trying too hard, that Bree's full name is far too difficult to say and immediately gives him a nickname. Bree responds to Shasta's name with: "Well now, there's a name that's really hard to pronounce."

I can relate to this name issue very well. When you live in a country with 11 official languages, the issue of names and the difficulty in pronouncing them, is very real. In the bad old days (by which I mean up until 20 years ago), the speakers of European languages didn't even try to learn the names of their African-language servants and domestic workers. They would simply give them a European name to which they must respond. Thankfully times are changing. I do not have too much trouble pronouncing the names of my African language students (except when they have clicks, but I'm starting to get that too). The problem still remains, however, and names with which you are not familiar will always have a strange ring to them. Though I might be able to read and pronounce them, I certainly find them harder to remember.

In this brief exchange of names, CS Lewis touched on a world-wide, centuries-long phenomenon. The question of different sounding names (often as an extension of different languages) has and will continue to be an issue of cultural difference, which can in turn lead to complications in inter-cultural relations.

Bree is not the only one with cultural prejudices. Just as Bree thought humans strange with their two legs and inability to eat grass, so the humans had a the view that talking horses were possessions, like slaves.

    "Why do you keep talking to my horse instead of to me?" asked the girl. "Excuse me Tarkheen" said Bree..."but that's Calormene talk. We're free Narnian's, Hwin and I, and I suppose, if you're running away to Narnia, you want to be one too. In that case, Hwin isn't your horse any longer. One might just as well say you're her human."

Part of the reason Shasta and Aravis get along so poorly at the beginning is that they are on opposite sides of the cultural spectrum. Bree and Hwiny, who are both Narnian talking horses, kidnapped in the North in their youth, and in the ownership of a wealthy Tarkaan in Calormen before their escape, get along right from the start. Shasta and Aravis, however, despise each other. She is a wealthy Tarkheena. A member of the Calormen nobility, supposedly able to trace her descent from Tash himself, and used to luxury and getting her way all her life. Shasta was the slave of a poor fisherman and had recently discovered that he was probably not Calormene at all. She despised his poverty, he her wealth; he her nobility, she his slavehood.

Apart from the obvious destinies for which Aslan brought these four together, he almost seems to have had a secondary purpose. Through their journey, and all they have to go through together, they are able to overcome their prejudices and change some of the stubborn beliefs they clung to so hard at the beginning.

And so I can draw two lessons from these chapters. The first is the reminder that those of us who are Christians are strangers in a foreign land. The second deals with a phenomenon that occurs amongst all human cultures and groups; that of judging others who are different - be it the different food they eat, the different way they walk, the fact that they are poor or rich or that they view things slightly differently. As citizens of the heavenly country and not of this world, we must not behave like the world. One way we can do this, is by analysing our prejudices and attitudes. I'm not saying that we should compromise our faith, or water it down. We simply need to ask ourselves, when we have opinions and practices that are different from those around us - what is our motive? Do we have a moral or scriptural reason for disapproving of certain behaviour (example theft or murder) or is it simply tradition that determines our attitude? And even if there is a moral reason - we are still (as runaway slaves from sin, who were once as sinful as the next person) not to judge them with arrogance.

Chapter 3
Hwinny: An unsung hero

Of the four main characters, Hwinny is by far the one given the least attention. As the four set off on their journey together, she is the quietest and shyest. And yet this chapter reveals that behind this quietness lies wisdom, common sense and humility. Although, like Bree, she has lived much of her post-Narnian life in the company of the Calormene nobility, and although both horses get along quite well at the start with their common Narnian origin, it is Aravis and not Hwinny who becomes Bree's partner in conversation during
their travels.
    Shasta thought it had been much pleasanter when he and Bree were on their own. For now it was Bree and Aravis who did nearly all the talking...he knew a great many of the same people and places that Aravis knew...Bree was not in the least trying to leave Shasta out of things...People who know a lot of the same things can hardly help talking about them, and if you're there you can hardly feel that you're out of it.
We don't know how Hwin felt about all this, and how much of the conversations she could follow. While she must have been familiar with much of the places and people Aravis and Bree discussed, I imagine she also felt a little left out when they were discussing wars and warriors. It says of her "Hwin the mare was rather shy before a great warhorse like Bree and said very little."

And yet Hwin was just as much a hero in her own right. It was she who had saved Aravis from killing herself twice, and who provided her with a means and place of escape - Narnia. She had risked all and given away the secret that she could speak before a girl who could have abused that knowledge and make a spectacle of her. I imagine that it was only love for Aravis (who may have treated her kindly, but would have treated her as a possession possibly and possibly even lashed her at times) that made her speak up. She could easily have let Aravis kill herself then and there and, and then made a run for it on her own. Of course she was at risk riding alone through Calormen, but I dare say that was a lesser risk than giving away her secret.

It almost seems in this passage, that Aravis does not fully appreciate what Hwin had done for her. Again, it was probably not an intentional neglect (as Bree did not intentionally exclude Shasta), but Hwin seeks no extra praise for herself. She is the example of a true servant.

At the end of this chapter, it is Hwin who comes up with a plan for them to get through Tashbaan. Bree and Aravis are reluctant to adopt the plan because it means humiliating themselves by dressing like beggars. They criticise her too for not thinking it through. Her reply reveals her character so well:

    I know it's not a very good plan...but I think it's our only chance. And we haven't been groomed in ages and we're not looking quite our selves (at least I'm sure I'm not).

Later when Bree objects to them arriving in Narnia looking bedraggled with cut tails:

    "Well," said Hwin humbly (she was a very sensible mare), "the main thing is to get there."
    Unlike Bree and Aravis, Hwin is willing to suffer a little humiliation for the sake of security. She really is a very sensible mare. Her plan also reveals that beneath her shy and humble exterior lies a firm courage. She is not at all afraid to take risks (as we had already seen when she first spoke to Aravis).

    Finally, I see in Hwin, a strong sense of concern for the underdog. Shasta had been having a hard time since the four met up, yet she is the one who reaches out to and encourages him. As they they approach the ridge of the last hill before Tashbaan, Shasta turns to her and says "I do wish we were safely past it". Like a gentle mother, in a similar way to how she had comforted Aravis in her most desperate hour, she says fervently back to him: "Oh, I do, I do."

    Sweet Hwin is an example to all of us. She represents humility, courage and comfort. She seeks no glory for herself, but watches out for others. She is wise and practical. She really is a sensible mare.

    Chapter 4
    Stuck in Tashbaan

    For this chapter I'm going to write something a little different. Some of you may have heard this story before, but I repeat is for those who have not, and tell it in a slightly different way.

    In the same way that Tashbaan becomes the "spanner in the wheels" of our heroe's journey to Narnia, Tashbaan (and this chapter in particular) was the cause of delay on my early childhood trip to Narnia.

    When I was in Grade 4, we read The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in class together. I enjoyed them so much, that I took out the next book, The Horse and His Boy from the school library. I got as far as Chapter 4 and got stuck in Tashbaan. For some reason (I can't say for sure what it was) I got no further.

    I found the crowded streets and the complex maze of terraced roads terribly confusing. I couldn't picture what was happening and got lost in the business and crowdedness of the city. At that point, I gave up on the book, and on the series.

    It would take another five years, before I would resume my journey to Narnia. After watching the BC LWW one day in Grade 9, I returned to the series, read it and fell in love with it. Three years later, Walden Media began to make books into films.

    I often wonder what my life would have been like had it not been for that delay in Tashbaan. I can't answer that. As Alsan would say, "You can never know what would have happened, only what will happen." But I believe there was some reason for that delay. Perhaps I was too young (I know it sounds odd for a children's book series). But perhaps my appreciation of Narnia today would have been spoiled had I become familiar with it too soon. I can well imagine I would have scorned it completely, when I went through my "everything with the slightest hint of magic in it (yes everything, from the series that will not be named to The Wizard of Oz) is evil" phase in Grade 7. The delay meant that Narnia was spared from, and perhaps helped to bring about an end to that phase of my life.

    Thankfully, for Shasta and his friends, their delay in Tashbaan is a lot shorter than mine was. And from that delay came at least two good things - they learned of the short route to Archenland via Mount Pire, and of Rabadash's plan to invade Archenland and then Narnia.

    Delays and seemingly unnecessary hold-ups occur often in our lives. And often we can't see the reason for them. But God is perfect in his will and timing - and a hold-up might be just the thing we need at that moment in our lives.

    Chapter 5
    The Lost Prince

    Corin watched as the boy's hand disappeared from view. “What a strange boy,” he thought to himself, “What a strange city this is.” He was looking forward to returning home.

    Just then, he heard the clop of Mr Tumnus' hooves as he entered the room. “My young prince, you should be lying–” His sentence was cut short when the boy turned to face him and saw his eye. He stared at Corin for a moment, taking everything in. His first suspicion was that the boy had run off into the streets the moment he had left him, but then he noticed his clothes.

    “What, by the Lion's Mane, is going on young man? Poor Susan was worried enough about your condition. Either my eyes are deceiving me, and I am bewitched or you are not the same Prince Corin that was here earlier! I do hope the Grand Vizier did not have my food laced with some !” The faun sat down in despair and gripped his horns in frustration for the second time that day.

    Prince Corin walked over to him, and smiling, placed a hand on the faun's shoulder. He had been tempted to let his Narnian escort wonder for a while, before revealing the whole truth as he had promised the other young boy he would. He was most disappointed the boy had not stayed so they could pull off a few pranks.

    Seeing Tumnus in such a state, he realised how this city was working on everyone's nerves and understood that now was not the time for games. “It's okay, Mr Tumnus,” he said, as the faun raised his head and looked into his eyes. “I am not the same Prince Corin you saw earlier today. Your eyes do not deceive you.”

    Instead of the expected sense of relief in the faun's face, he saw instead further puzzlement. Corin sat down next to his dear friend and told him the whole story; how he had snuck out of the place they were staying, his adventures in the streets of Calormen, his waiting through the night, and his arrival back into that very room, only to find a young boy who looked almost exactly like him waiting there. He explained how the boy had been in a hurry to leave and of how he had some crazy idea of crossing the dessert. Corin had not had time to inquire any further before they had heard Tumnus' approach and the other boy had made good his escape.

    Tumnus sat quietly and listened. He could tell from the Prince's tone that he spoke the truth and was not up to some trickery. “How strange,” he finally said, “that we should find a boy who so closely resembles your Highness amongst all the dark faces and heads of Calormen.”

    “He said he thought he was Narnian,” answered the Prince, “Although he didn't seem entirely sure or even convinced of that fact. He also claimed to have some or other talking horse. Say, you don't think he was a spy, do you?” He added the last comment as it suddenly occurred to him, his young mind running wild. What's to bet he wasn't sent by Rabadash to make sure Susan marries him. That prince is crazy, I saw it in his eyes when we met him the other day.”

    “Calm down, your Highness,” answered Tumnus, trying to stay calm himself. His suspicion was that the young boy was simply a beggar, overwhelmed by being mistaken for the prince. Tumnus had seen no malice, only confusion in the boy's eyes. But something told him that there was more to it. The resemblance to the Prince was uncanny. In fact, that boy almost looked more like the Prince Corin he knew than the one that stood before him now. But he knew for certain that this was the real prince from the way he spoke. The other one had not spoken enough to reveal his identity.

    “Come, your Highness,” said Tumnus finally, “We must work out this puzzle at some other time. We must make our way to the ship.”

    So as not to arouse suspicion, the various members of the Narnian contingent were to take different routes to the ship. Tumnus led Corin though a tangle of streets and past some vendors where they collected the oranges and apples he had ordered earlier that day. “Did you know that they imported Narnian apples here?” he said, by way of conversation, “How appropriate for our feast to honour the prince.”

    The remainder of the trip was completed in silence. Once on board the Splendour Hyaline, Tumnus took the prince to Susan's quarters, explaining briefly what had happened. Susan's eyes opened wide with wonder, and she hugged the prince, ordering an attendant to fetch ointment for his eye. She also bade Tumnus bring Edmund and Peridan to her cabin.

    When the men arrived, she asked Corin to retell his story of the strange boy again. He told them everything.

    After a while, Edmund spoke up, “There's nothing to it,” he said. “We will have to trust that the boy was not a spy, we cannot change our plans now.”

    “But what if he was,” said Susan, worriedly. You yourself said the Prince was getting suspicious. What if he planted him? Perhaps the boy did not even know he was hired as a spy, and now they'll beat him to get the truth out of him. He heard our entire escape plan! And the secret of crossing the dessert to Archenland!” For the second time that day she regretted her decision to come to Calormen and felt that this was all her fault.

    “Your Highness need not fear the boy,” spoke up Lord Peridan. Everyone turned to look at him, but despite the subtle hint in his smile that he might know something the others didn't, he gave nothing away. “I believe that he was correct in telling young Corin that he is of Northern stock. Why ever would he make up the story of having a talking horse.”

    “But if he spoke the truth, and really has befriended a talking horse,” said Susan, a new worry in her face, “how dare we leave a fellow Northerner in this forsaken city. He stands little chance of making it out alive. What if someone else mistakes him for one of our party and harm comes to him on discovering our escape?”

    “I hear you, your majesty,” replied Tumnus, but what could we do? If we were to send out a search party now, we would have to delay our escape, and our attempt at escape might be discovered. We would be putting the whole Narnian party at risk for a young boy that would have us believe he was Prince Corin, and made a fast departure the second the real Prince appeared. The boy said he had a plan, is it worth us interfering at the risk of our own?”

    Peridan had been watching this exchange closely, uncertain of what to do. He turned now to Edmund, deciding to risk a few moments discomfort. “May I have a word with your highness in private,” he whispered. Edmund looked up at him in surprise, but nodded and stepped outside the room with him.

    “Your majesty, I do not mean to exclude any of the present company, and your royal sister deserves to hear this as well as you. But I fear to upset her further in her present state, especially not unnecessarily. There is something I think you should know...”

    Peridan began to tell the king, who was at this time completely ignorant of the matter, of Prince Corin's twin brother. The boys were born a couple of years before the Pevensies first arrived in Narnia. At this time, Archenland had been long isolated from her northern neighbour, cut off by the power of the White Witch and her perpetual winter which made the mountain pass into Narnia impossible, despite that fact that Archenland herself was largely spared from the harsh weather. It was not long after Prince Cor's capture that the Pevensies came to power, but by the time contact was made between the two nations it had been decided that it was prudent that Corin's brother, the lost prince, never be spoken of in Archenland or elsewhere.

    This was by the advice of the same centaur who had predicted Cor would one day rescue Archenland. Lune made his way with Peridan's father (one of his most trusted advisors) back to the centaur after Cor's kidnapping. The centaur said that the future of the boy had become dark and he did not know whether the prophesy could still reach fulfilment. King Lune always believed that his son was not dead and would one day return to fulfil his prophesy. The centaur bade them never to speak missing prince openly again.

    “Since joining the young Archenlander volunteers who came to serve in your court, your majesty,” concluded Peridan, “I have never once thought of the lost prince until this day. There is a fair chance that that young man we mistook for Corin, was in fact his lost brother Cor, though neither boy would have known it.”

    Edmund was speechless, “A well kept secret indeed. I have heard not the slightest rumour of it before. But was it prudent, I wonder? Had we known this, we could have prevented his escape.”

    “We might still not have known the boy was not Corin until it was too late,” countered Peridan. “Also, we do not know that this is the lost prince. We have no guarantee the boy ever survived.”

    “Oh dear,” sighed Edmund, “Whatever shall we do? I want not a word of this whispered to my sister, she is too emotionally vulnerable as it is. In fact, we will keep this between ourselves for the time being.”

    “What are you going to do?” Peridan could see that the king had some plan. “We will go ahead with our escape as planned. Summon Lord Reilaf immediately. He is trustworthy, but has been little enough seen in public that he will not be recognised. With his dark hair, he can disguise himself as a Calormene. I shall leave him in the city to scout for the boy. If he can by any means find him, he will do so. If the boy is no spy, but indeed a northerner, prince or not, he will contrive a way of escape for them both. It is the best I can do at such short notice. If he truly is the prince, and has survived this long unscathed, I do believe that he can take care of himself. Who knows but that he might be safer in the city than on board our fleeing vessel. Aslan be with us all this night and in the days that lie ahead.” 

    Chapter 6
    Fear among the tombs

    Reflecting on chapter 6, I find that this is a chapter about fear. Not that I'd call Shasta a coward, but in this chapter, as he sits alone among the tombs, brings to light both his ignorance of how the world works, and with that the things he fears most.

    As I said, Shasta is no coward. He would never have gotten this far if he were. And if anyone is in doubt of his bravery, one need only continue to read the book to see how courageous he really is. But with the knowledge of the rest of the book and what is to happen next (knowledge Shasta does not have) he really appears quite foolish in this chapter.

    But when you are alone, in a place steeped in superstitious rumours, even the bravest soldier may fear. The irony of this chapter, however, is that Shasta fears the things he need not fear, and does not fear the things that he should. These are a result of his ignorance about the world - something that is really not his fault, so much as a consequence of his isolated life.

    He fears the rumours of ghouls among the tombs. Despite the fact that Bree had dismissed these rumours as "Calormene nonsense." But Shasta has grown up as a Calormene and so, what might be considered "nonsense" to a Narnian horse, is a real fear to this young boy who has lived among Calormenes his whole life.

    The second thing he fears is betrayal. Twice he fears that the others may have gone on without him: when he first arrives and finds no sign of them, and the next morning, while washing in the river. This second time, his fear makes him foolish and he sprints back to the tombs "so that he was all hot and thirsty when he arrived and so the good of his bathe was gone".

    The third thing he fears is the lion. On the one hand, this lion, revealed later in the book to be Aslan himelf, should be feared as God should be feared (he is not a tame lion). But what Shasta does not realise is that of all lions, he need not fear being eaten alive by this one. As a matter of fact, the lion whom he fears has actually just saved his life from the jackals howling in the distance.

    And here we see his folly - where he does not fear something he should fear. Not knowing exactly what these beasts were, he did not realise his real danger. He feared the thing he did know about (ghouls) more than the thing he knew nothing about (jackals).

      I suppose that if he had been an entirely sensible boy he would have gone back through the Tombs, nearer to the river where there were houses. But then there were...the ghouls...It may have been silly, but Shasta felt he would rather face the wild beasts.

    The final thing which reveals his ignorance is the desert itself. Convinced that the others have either gone on without him, or will never come, and afraid of spending another night among the tombs, he decides to brave it alone in the dessert.

      It was a crazy idea and if he had read as many books as you have about journeys over desserts he would never have dreamed of it. But Shasta had read no books at all.

    Ignorance is a dangerous thing, as is letting our imaginations and rumours take hold of us. We run the same risk as Shasta of being quite foolish by fearing the things we need not fear and not fearing the things we should.

    We, however, have the privilege Shasta did not have. Although we do not know the future any more than he, we do have access to far more knowledge than he had had in his isolated life. More importantly we have the knowledge that we are not - never - in this alone. Had Shasta only known that the cat which brought him comfort was Aslan himself, and had he known that Aslan was in control of everything, he would have been a far more sensible boy.

    We have that knowledge, and the Bible. It teaches us what we ought to fear and what we should not fear. And it teaches us that we have someone with us every step of the way - there to protect us from the jackals and to comfort us in the dark. And that someone is not, as Shasta thought, simply a warm but unintelligent someone - but someone with all the wisdom in the world who understands our greatest fears more than we do.

    Let us make use of the knowledge and not behave foolishly as Shasta did.

    For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Tim 1:7

    All illustrations are from covers of various editions of The Horse and His Boy

    See Also (other reflections on HHB)
    On first meeting Aslan (Shasta)
    On first meeting Aslan (Bree)
    On first meeting Aslan (Aravis) 

    Summer Challenge 2