Shasta’s ability to see the mountains of Archenland from Tashbaan really drives home the fact that this is indeed a flat world.
I clued in that the cat was Aslan the first time I read this book but I remember not being 100% convinced about this. It’s funny thinking about it now, but even though I read the ‘Magician’s Nephew’ and the Creation of Narnia a.k.a. Aslan’s 1st Symphony, there was a part of my mind that couldn’t grasp the concept of Aslan existing out of Narnia. Which brings me to think about the reasons why Lewis wrote some of the stories he did – like Narnia and the Space Trilogy and Till They Have Faces where he links Christianity with what most people would have termed pagan mythologies. I remember when a schoolmate friend of mine said that Allah was not a word in the Hausa vocabulary and certainly did not mean ‘The Almighty’. It meant something else. (I will not repeat it). I remember how repulsed at what she was saying without really being able to understand why. But I think I’ve also been guilty of thinking in that way some times in my life: the idea that ‘my’ God is not the same as that other fellow’s; the idea that our different paths aren’t converging lines to the same centre, but parallel lines. Which dovetails back to my initial mind-block about Aslan in Calormen: that there was nothing there from Him.
The passages describing Shasta’s adventures in the Tombs are narrated almost completely from the 3rd person omniscient. All the Narnia books are written this way, as a matter of fact, but as these two pages are almost devoid of dialog, Lewis is given free rein to speak to the readers and it’s lovely.
In my experience, the 3rd person omniscient narrative style is usually looked down by in fan literary circles. The reasons are obvious: there’s the tendency to do more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ and for the writer to preach his opinions on the readers. I think that these very reasons – the fact that it’s a difficult style to get ‘right’ – make it even more appealing. When done right, it’s a very entertaining and gripping way of storytelling. (One can also argue that the pit-fall of ‘telling instead of showing’ and ‘authorial philosophizing’ can and has been fallen into by stories written in the conventional 1st PoV style.)
Lewis, in this book at least, certainly gets this style right. Lewis tells us this about Shasta: ‘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, and wild beasts would be less likely to come. But then there were (or he thought there were) the ghouls.’ But he’s also showing us Shasta’s not being sensible at the same time as he’s telling us this.
The insight into Aravis’s character is almost pure telling: ‘In this idea about Aravis Shasta was once more quite wrong. She was proud and could be hard enough but she was as true as steel and would never have deserted a companion, whether she liked him or not.’ There’s nothing to show within the course of the book if her steadfastness to her companions Shasta, Bree and Hwin, is part of her integral character or something that she’s only exhibiting in this particular situation. This is the kind of thing that fandom could have debated over for many years. I like the fact that it’s stated as unequivocal fact. And since I haven’t said it before, I really like the fact that this book was written by a man that was not in the least bit fandom-conscious and it shows. Most importantly, I love the fact that nothing in the story contradicts this statement.
The more I think of it, the more I believe that one other reason the 3rd PoV works is that apart from being technically good at it, Lewis uses it honestly, for lack of a better adverb. It’s in the way that he doesn’t out-rightly say the cat is Aslan but he doesn’t out-rightly lie about the possibility either: ‘And whether he really had been dreaming or not, what was now lying at his feet … was the cat…’ You just know that the better part of the story for him is the ‘journey’ of the story and not the ‘big reveal’ at the ending. He’s more interested in the story than in pulling the wool over the head of the readers.
Sights and Sounds of Calormen
The Tombs give some clue to the mystery of How Calormen Was Founded. I find more parallels between the Tombs and the Pyramids of Egypt than between the Tombs and Stonehenge (even though it’s the latter that appears to be the visual inspiration). So I think we can assume that 12 Tombs imply 12 Tisrocs. Even if the Tombs weren’t built until Tisroc #4 or thereabouts, he could have had the Tombs of his forbearers built posthumously. This makes sense if we consider the fact that the flat world of Narnia and Calormen has existed for over one hundred years. Giving Jadis a.k.a. the White Witch two hundred years to break the protection of the Tree of Life and Power, etc, that is about three hundred years. Enough time for Calormen to be founded by Narnia immigrants who crossed over to the other land by sea, or by people from our world that fell into like the Telmarines. Or even by human immigrants from Narnia who escaped it at the first signs of the White Witch’s campaign of Human genocide. Or perhaps a mixture of all three.
Isn’t it great the fact that the origin of the Tombs is never explained and no big mystery is made out of them? Their purpose to the story is as the scary landmark at the exit of Calormen and they serve it magnificently. The rest is left freely for fan speculation and somehow the lack of explanation makes the world even bigger. Contrary to conventional opinion, an overload of minutiae does not good world building make. The world of Narnia becomes even ‘truer’ because like our own, it is impossible for one writer to tell all the stories of its history.
‘After that, he went down to the riverbank, but not too near the bridge, and had a drink. The water was so nice that he took off his hot, dirty clothes and had a dip.’ Nothing unusual there, you might think. It’s something that occurs regularly in every other Enid Blyton book about children and hiking through the woods, etc. But boy, does it never fail to freak me out the way those kids seem to think that bathing and drinking from the same (constantly moving, I know, but even then!) body of water is not as frighteningly unhygienic as it sounds.
Next: Aravis’s adventures!