Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Horse and His Boy

In my recent reading I came across The Darkside of Narnia a critique by Philip Pullman. Here is an essay which has had raised some very heated responces. A common thread seems to be to say that If you think this than you musn't have read the books. I don't think this retort is justified, and it would be very poor form to publish such an essay without reading the matirial you are critiqueing.

I can't speak for Mr Pullman, but I have read the books (ok I didn't get to the end of the last one) and I have to agree with him. Let Us take 'The Horse and his boy', which until I read it a second time had been my favorite of the Narnia books. So here we go with some questions

Is it racist?
Very much so. The Calormenes are depicted as dark skinned, turban wearing and following a religion based quite clearly on Islam. Every single Calormenian male depicted is a shrewed dishonest and evil. so much so that Shasta cannot conceive of anyone being charitable and honest. The only female Calormenian (other than Aravis) is portrayed as a twit who is interested in nothing other than cloths and parties. I believe in the last book Susan is condemned for having smiler interests.

Mean while all the honorable Humans are White, and Aslan fearing.

Are there literary shortcuts?
Rule number one of fiction is show don't tell. Lewis tells constantly. Aravis tells the start of her journey. Later one of the Narina's describes to Shasta exactly how to get to Narnia. Note he is not doing this deliberately, and any inteligent person would not divulge this information in enemy teritory, but he does so simply because the story demands it.

Rule number two: the Author should not speak directly to the reader. Lewis does this a few times as well, once to compare to contrast Calormenian story telling and Essay writing (as taught to the assumed audience) and again to urge his audience to also read "The Lion the Witch and the wardrobe", In case they have not done so already.

Rule number three: the Protagonists should not rely on the Caverly to save the day. Well the Story is driven by Aslan roaring. He herds the children together, and protects them form wild animals, and guides them every step of the way.

At the end of the day the evil are punished, the good (those who accept Aslan's will) are rewarded, and in true cristian fasion the Proud horse becomes humble. Instead of the expected growing attraction between the protagonists they get married in the future for the sake of convenience. While there would be no call to make that the main focus of things, some subtle hints of romance would not have been out of place, holding hands even.

All in all there is no character development over and above the intended moral lessons. So Pullmans critique is spot on. Narnia really is nothing more than thinly disguised preaching from the pulpit. The plots may be good but there is nothing holding them up.

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