We finally meet Aslan. Also, a discussion about violence in literature.
People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.
That’s what Narnia in general (and this book in particular) is about in a nutshell: It takes people, even children, to a world where spiritual warfare is physical and tangible, so that they can grapple with the terrible goodness and attractive villainy which can be so difficult to tell apart in our own world.
I thought about splitting this chapter into sections about each of the three children, but then I realized that this chapter is basically all about Peter, so there really wouldn’t be any point in that. Still, Peter does get some nice character development for all that.
“But where is the fourth?” asked Aslan.
“He has tried to betray them and joined the White Witch, O Aslan,” said Mr. Beaver. And then something made Peter say,
“That was partly my fault, Aslan. I was angry with him and I think that helped him to go wrong.”
And Aslan said nothing either to excuse Peter or to blame him but merely stood looking at him with his great unchanging eyes.
Again, I love how quick Peter is to admit that he’s at fault (even if his anger was warranted, one should never let the sun go down on one’s anger). Anyhow, Aslan agrees to do all he can to save Edmund, and then tells Peter that he’s going to be the High King in Cair Paravel since he’s the firstborn. Then the titular battle occurs, when Susan and Lucy are harassed by the wolves that the White Witch had sent after the party.
All three of them are understandably frightened. Susan only managed to escape by climbing up a tree, barely out of reach of the wolf’s jaws, and she’s just about ready to faint when Peter gets there, which is probably about as much as I could do in the same circumstances, so I can’t really blame her. Peter’s scared, too! But he’s the only one around to fight the wolf, and manages to stab it in the heart.
Then came a horrible, confused moment like something in a nightmare. He was tugging and pulling and the Wolf seemed neither alive nor dead, and its bared teeth knocked against his forehead, and everything was blood and heat and hair.
Somehow, this description of Peter’s fight is almost more frightening than many an epic battle in The Lord of the Rings – which isn’t to say that there aren’t some really scary moments in there, too, but it stands in such stark contrast to the rest of the book (or even the rest of the chapter). And really, that’s just one of the reasons why Lewis didn’t need to come out and say “Girls shouldn’t get involved in battles” – this scene alone makes it obvious that it’s not an enviable duty.
That’s rather unique about Lewis’s treatment of violence, though: A lot of modern stories that are made for/about children find some excuse for the hero to never kill anyone, except maybe the amazingly evil supervillain (looking at you, Harry Potter). I suppose some might argue that Lewis goes to the opposite extreme of making killing “casual”, but does the above scene sound casual? On the contrary, having been in a war himself, Lewis is keenly aware of what fighting does to a person. There’s no superweapon that makes killing “easy” in Narnia; they fight with swords and claws and maybe bow & arrow, so you’re forced to look the person you kill in the eye. Death is simply part of life, and it serves to make the danger all the more tangible when you know that if the hero doesn’t kill his enemies, they won’t hesitate to kill him. Even in war, killing is an oddly personal thing, and that’s something which is often forgotten in this day and age.
Then, after a bit, Susan came down the tree. She and Peter felt pretty shaky when they met and I won’t say there wasn’t kissing and crying on both sides. But in Narnia no one thinks any the worse of you for that.
Until next time…