Our first (and I think last?) glimpse of Ahoshta Tarkin is the fulfillment of four chapters of speculation of the man whose hideous visage and personality drove Aravis from her land. And it really does not disappoint. He plays the role of Iago very well – literally crawling on his belly like a snake, slithering when kicked, and hissing with a forked tongue as he eggs Rabadash on to a suicide mission.
Although on paper alone, Prince Rabadash’s plan does sound brilliant – absolutely villainous and completely against all rules of engagement – but brilliant all the same. The story itself confirms its feasibility: Cor’s Prophecy hinges on his intervention being the only thing that saves Archenland from Rabadash and his two hundred horses. And this is a plan that the Prince apparently comes up with in less than a day. It certainly excuses Susan (and Peter and Lucy?) being initially taken in by him. Heck, maybe Ahoshta isn’t far off the mark thinking that she might have been moved by his passion for her. Although a lot of that passion seems less that of a young man for a beautiful woman and more of a spoilt brat who is being denied a toy he wants. His very first words are spoken with the undertones of ‘tantrum’ in them. Knowing what eventually happens to Rabadash in the story, I wish I could know what kind of person he’d have been if he had been brought up with a great deal less indulgence.
Of all the Narnian books, I suspect that this one has the greatest number of villains. Even after taking out the lesser menaces like Anradin, it’s hard to decide who the Arch-Villain of this story really is. Rabadash is the most obvious threat – with his two hundred horses and bloodthirsty lust. Yet Ahoshta is the puppet-master in the shadows, as slimy as a snake and just as poisonous. But then I consider the Tisroc as villain and I have pause.
As an antagonist, the Tisroc is at once the most unthreatening and the most deadly you can encounter in a story book. For all that he goes on about the sun being darkened in his eyes every day; he doesn’t mind enough to do anything about it. He doesn’t seem to care for much beyond his throne, his head, and his stomach (if the recalled pardon to the third chef is any indication). He’s capable of just about anything to secure those three comforts: even fratricide. Even patricide, if his speech about trigger-happy Crown Princes is anything to go by. This would explain his extreme wariness of Rabadash.
I strongly suspect that the Tisroc knew exactly what the Narnians were up to when Rabadash first ran to him, crying for pursuit; and he delayed his son on purpose because he just couldn’t be bothered.
The Tisroc’s definition of “Free”- Idle, disordered and unprofitable – makes me wonder about the economics of Narnia. Archenland plays a big role in this, of course, as their longest standing ally and nearest trade partner. But there really is no mention of money or currency in Narnia and though the Dwarfs, for example, are specially gifted smith, they seem to build purely for the sake of the work itself and not for any form of barter. (I vaguely recall a mention of industry and institutions in Prince Caspian so I’m not certain of this.)
More reasons are given for Calormen’s long-standing reluctance to invade Narnia: The superstitious fear of Aslan and the Talking Beasts, as well as the sudden liberation from the White Witch’s Winter. Rabadash’s statement about the “natural occurrence of the stars” and his father’s about “enchantments needing strong magic” make me wonder if Lewis isn’t making a sly dig about the Evolutionists vs. the Creationists debate. That aside, considering the rest of the world as revealed in “The Dawn Treader”, Narnia seems positively tame in terms of denizens and general weirdness and Calormen’s mundane-ness (for lack of a better word) is even more striking. Perhaps the message there is that there is a correlation between spirituality and magic as the lands nearer to Aslan’s Own Country are more mythical than the rest.
Words of Wisdom from Calormen:
The departure of guests makes a wound that is easily healed in the heart of a judicious host.
Deep draughts from the fountain of reason are required to extinguish the fire of youthful love.
As a costly jewel retains its value even hidden in a dung-hill, so old age and discretion are to be respected even in the vile persons of our subjects.
Sons are in the eyes of their fathers more precious than carbuncles.
Nothing is more suitable to persons of gravity and decorum than to withstand minor inconveniences with constancy. (The Tisroc to Ahosta to being kicked in the butt by Rabadash. My personal favourite. )
Next: Across the Desert. The title says it all!