Monday, March 26, 2012

Lent and Narnia (5)

The Horse and His Boy features the deadly sin of pride. Three characters are particularly infected.

-Bree, a captive talking Narnian war horse is overly concerned with how he looks and what other horses will think of him

-Aravis, an escaped princess of Calormene, is prideful to the point of manipulative narcissism; even as a runaway she demands to be treated as royalty.

-Prince Rabadash, however, the heir-apparent of Calormene’s throne, is Lewis' supreme example of pride. Lewis parodies him in a comic way to demonstrate the absurdity of his pernicious pride.

If pride is indeed the most devilish of the deadly sins, then Lewis advice about dealing with the devil becomes relevant to his treatment of Rabadash. He takes Thomas More’s counsel that "the devil . . .the prowde spirit . . . cannot endure to be mocked" and Martin Luther's that "the best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to the texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flount him, for he cannot bear scorn."

This is exactly what he does with the poor Prince. And that reveals the heart of pride – it is a tragi-comic parody of human beings taking themselves way too seriously and seeking position and power not rightly given to any human being. That they make fools of themselves, or better, that we make fools of ourselves, in the process creates the opportunity for the mocking and jeering that routs pride.

I only have space here to look at Lewis’ treatment of Rabadash and leave Bree and Aravis to the side.

Rabadash, his pride wounded by Queen Susan of Narnia’s refusal to marry him, attempts to attack Narnia. Unfortunately for him, Rabadash is captured in a most unusual and embarrassing way. Atop a wall he tries to leap into the battle raging below him. Here’s Lewis account:

“And he meant to look and sound-no doubt for a moment he did look and sound-very grand and very dreadful as he jumped, crying "the bolt of Tash fall from above." But he had to jump sideways because the crowd in front of him left him no landing place in that direction. And then, in the neatest way you could wish, the tear in the back of his hauberk caught on a hook in the wall . . . And there he found himself, like a piece of washing hung up to dry, with everyone laughing at him.”

Things go from bad to worse for the forlorn prince. Defeated, he arrogantly refuses the Narnian terms for surrender. The great lion Aslan confronts him and says: "Forget your pride (what have you to be proud of?) and your anger (who has done you wrong?) and accept the mercy of these good Kings." Rabadash, however, curses Aslan in every way he can think of. Aslan finally warns him, “. . . have a care . . . Thy doom is nearer now: it is at the door: it has lifted the latch." Still Rabadash refuses to relent. And Aslan turns him into what he has made himself, an ass: "'Oh, not a Donkey! Mercy! If it were even a horse-even a horse-e'en-a-hor-eeh-auh, eeh-auh.' And so the words died away into a donkey's bray. . . Of course the Donkey twitched its ears forward-and that also was so funny that everybody laughed all the more. They tried not to, but they tried in vain."

Gluttony turned Edmund into an enslaved fool (“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Lust turned King Miraz into an unfit and unjust steward of his people’s resources (“Prince Caspian”). Greed turned Eustace into a dragon (“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”). Sloth turned Jill Pole into a witless follower who, save for the grace of Aslan, nearly bungled the task given her. Here in “The Horse and His Boy” Rabadash, whose pride makes him act like an ass, gets turned into one.
The scripture tells us "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling" (Proverbs 16:18). Rabadash is Lewis’ tragi-comic exemplification of this truth.

The gift of Lent comes round each year offering us a grace-filled time to take a hard look at how pride has affected us. Let us be grateful for this time in which we can allow the truth to be revealed in the confidence, as Paul put it to the Ephesians, that “everything that is revealed by the light is light” (Eph.5:14). Thanks be to God!

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