Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Narnia Trinity

After reading the first three books of the C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series I can't help thinking of them as a special kind of trilogy: a trinity—an illustration of the Holy Trinity, in fact.

The Magician's Nephew introduced Aslan as the Creator. We first saw him singing Narnia into existence. With his song the day, night, the land, water, plants, and animals were brought to life. He determined who would rule in this land, and he knew its future.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe he more clearly represented the Son. He saved Edmund from his sins of treachery and saved all of Narnia by allowing himself to be sacrificed on the Stone Table by the White Witch and her minions. After being watched over by Susan and Lucy throughout the night, at sunup they found him gone. He then reappeared and presented himself to Susan and Lucy. They feared he may have been a ghost but he was alive. He and his believers went on to overcome and destroy the witch and her evil army. (Lewis also made it plain in this volume that Aslan is but the son of the Emperor beyond the Sea.)

In The Horse and His Boy Aslan's role changes again and models the function of the Holy Ghost. His activities are often in the background. The story’s characters—and often the readers—do not know what Aslan’s purposes are. He appears as early as the second chapter but we are not aware it is Aslan until much later. Usually he comes in some unexpected form and does something that seems unrelated or perhaps even harmful to the characters. It is as though he is ever-present, always knowing, but seldom in a form that is understood or recognizable to the participants of the events. This “guiding spirit” aspect of Aslan’s character—the third manifestation of the Godhead in the Trinity—warrants further discussion.

In chapter two, Bree—the Narnian horse who has helped the young protagonist, Shasta, escape from Calormen—hears what he believes is another horse and rider. He comes up with a plan to avoid them but before he can execute it a ferocious lion chases them. Then another lion appears to be chasing the other party. Against their plans and wishes Bree, Shasta and the other travelers—Hwin, another Narnian horse, and Aravis, a young Calormene girl escaping an arranged marriage—are forced together. They decide to form an alliance in order to get through Tashbaan and other obstacles that lay ahead. This will ensure that together they will work to reach Archenland in spite of separations and many trials along the way.

At the time they think it is only chance that has brought them together; but this is just the first of many times in the story that Aslan intervenes in order to direct events. They only believe they have been attacked by lions, not that they are being divinely led. Aslan even appears to be two lions, to chase the two pairs together.

Aslan appears in other forms as well. Shasta becomes separated from the rest of the group in Tashbaan. He makes his way out of the city to the group’s agreed-to meeting place—the Tombs on the edge of the desert. Here Shasta is frightened and alone. He goes to the desert side of the tombs to wait for the rest of the group, but it is a very lonely and frightening place with the ghostly tombs behind. A large cat appears and this familiar-looking animal provides comfort and company in the lonely night. Although the cat is not overly friendly, he provides a warm back for Shasta to lean against.

Later, approaching jackals waken Shasta. Suddenly a huge animal appears and scares them off. Shasta is afraid it is another lion and that it will eat him, but then he sees again that it is only the same large cat. In this case Shasta, although frightened, doesn't know what the jackals are or the danger they present, or that it is Aslan as the cat who appears to repel the threat. Another point of faith: dangers aren't always perceived, nor are blessings—in this case the blessing of Aslan the Comforter.

Aravis also has lessons to learn, and one of these is to overcome the arrogance and lack of compassion engendered by being raised in a privileged and extravagantly wealthy environment. Slavery and ill treatment of others who are considered beneath them are common and expected patterns in her world. In order to make her escape from her father (and an arranged marriage), she drugs the servant girl assigned to her by her stepmother. Aravis coolly states that the girl was probably beaten for sleeping late, but it's okay because she was a tool and a spy of her stepmother. “I am very glad they should beat her,” is what Aravis tells her companions.

This haughty attitude is brought down later in the book when another lion attacks them as they hurry through Archenland. The lion chases Aravis and Hwin and claws Aravis' back. Again, this is Aslan directing events. Later when Aravis finally meets Aslan he tells her that it was he who tore her back so that the wounds would match those received by the servant girl. “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 stepmother’s slave.” He did this because Aravis “needed to know what it felt like.” Through this lesson, although harsh and painful, she does understand the consequences of the pain caused by her presumptuous and haughty actions.

Even though Aravis' cause to escape her father was justifiable—and the servant girl may indeed have been a spy—it was wrong to let someone else suffer because of her own actions, and worse to feel no remorse. By causing events not understood at the time, Aslan helps Aravis to realize her arrogant attitude and she learns compassion.

Bree also benefits from Aslan’s teaching. Because he is a talking horse from Narnia and has also been the steed of a Calormene officer participating in many battles, he also is arrogant and often heedless of danger and the needs of others. Shortly after the four join together they must come up with a plan to get through Tashbaan undetected. Shasta suggests they use disguises. Hwin says they might be less likely to be detected if they went directly through the city because they would draw less attention in a crowd, and she agrees that they should use disguises. She suggests the children dress in rags and pretend to drive the horses so people will think she and Bree are packhorses. Aravis says this is ridiculous because no one would believe Bree was anything but a warhorse. Bree haughtily agrees, but in the end it is Shasta and Hwin’s plan that is employed.

Bree also puts the party at risk when he says they should all sleep after traveling through the desert and into the canyon approaching Archenland. Then, even though they oversleep, he insists that they eat before moving on because he thinks they must be ahead of Rabadash’s army. Bree’s rationalized self-centeredness nearly costs them the advantage of their lead over Rabadash. When they do realize how close Rabadash is and they are racing for Archenland, Aslan appears again as the ferocious lion and attacks them and goes after Aravis in particular. When she is wounded, it is the boy, Shasta, who courageously goes back to try to help her while Bree runs for his life. Realizing this, Bree is brought low; but he learns humility and will be a better creature for it.

But the race to Archenland isn’t just about Bree’s pride. Although all four travelers (and Bree in particular) believe they are exhausted, they find additional reserves when they believe they are under attack. Aslan guides the party’s members to reach inside themselves in order to persevere and overcome the trial at hand. Throughout the story, events occur that make the way difficult and dangerous. It is through these trials that all of the travelers grow and become stronger, wiser and more humble.

Shasta also has lessons to learn. In chapter eleven, Shasta goes ahead to find King Lune of Archenland and him warn him that Rabadash is coming to attack his kingdom. It would appear that Shasta has done his duty and will be safe with King Lune’s party. But as they travel, Shasta and the ordinary horse provided by King Lune cannot keep up with the King’s party. Shasta is not a real horseman and is lost in the fog. Aslan once again appears. He is a bodiless voice in the fog—but though unseen, he is protecting Shasta by preventing Shasta and his horse from riding off the trail and over a cliff.

Aslan reveals himself to Shasta, but only upon being invited. Shasta asks who he is. Aslan replies in a fashion that is like a trinity itself. He responds three times, “Myself.” It is reminiscent of how God responds when Moses asks what he should say to the Israelites when they ask who has sent him. God responds in Exodus 3:14, “This is what you are to say to the Isaraelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Once invited, Aslan the Guide and Comforter assures Shasta that he is real even though he cannot be seen, and he says to Shasta, “Tell me your sorrows.” Shasta tells him all of the hardship in his life including not having a mother and father and growing up sternly with the fisherman in Calormen. He tells Aslan about his escape and all the trials he and his companions have been through along the way up until that moment. Finally Aslan reveals that he was there all along. He was the “two lions” that brought the two separate parties together. He was the cat at the tombs. He was the one who chased them and gave the horses new strength to outrun Rabadash. He was even the one who, when Shasta was a child, pushed the boat he was laying in to shore so it would be found by the fisherman.

What’s more—and though Shasta does not realize it until morning—Aslan helps guide Shasta into Narnia while they are talking. Shasta meets several of the creatures living there and a couple of them have the good sense to notify the royalty at Cair Paravel so they can come to the aid of King Lune of Archenland. Also, it is here that Shasta is fed and is restored. He is able to march back to Archenland with this army from Narnia, accompanied by Prince Corin of Archenland—who is revealed to be Shasta's twin.

Aslan also appears in Archenland after the battle is won. Through all his direct and indirect participation, a prophecy is fulfilled: Shasta, who is actually Prince Cor of Archenland, has returned to save Archenland in its most dangerous hour.

And here we find that not everyone is prepared to be guided by Aslan’s influence. He offers mercy to Rabadash, who has been captured. But Rabadash, ever the arrogant disbeliever, refuses it and even attempts to frighten Aslan and the others at his “trial.” Aslan warns him to accept the offer but Rabadash will have none of it so Aslan turns him into a donkey. Even then he grants Rabadash some mercy and explains to him that he can become human again if he goes to the temple of Tash and stands before the altar at the great Autumn Feast. Once returned to human form he will stay that way only if he does not go more than ten miles from the temple. If he does, he will be turned back into a donkey and that change will be permanent. Consequently, once Rabadash eventually becomes ruler of Calormen, he will not wage war because he cannot leave to fight and he fears that his army will turn on him if it is abroad fighting and he is not there to direct it.

So what we find in The Horse and His Boy is an illustration of how God’s Spirit moves in our own lives. While most of the story seems initiated by the principal characters, the events are always changed and governed by Aslan. Eventually, all things work out according to his plan and to the benefit of those who grow by his direction. How many times in life must we also have faith that certain things happen for a purpose, all evidence to the contrary—just as the Bible tells us?

Often we must extend our faith, must be reminded that we may never know exactly why things happen. In this story, Shasta is fortunate enough to find out what Aslan has done, and to discover his own role in Aslan’s plans. But most of us are still in the middle of our own stories. We must take it on faith that the events of our life have taken place for a reason; and we must rely on that faith in the worst times of our life—even if we never know or understand the purpose of what has happened.


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