C. S. Lewis, the Oxford and Cambridge professor who wrote several works of fiction and non-fiction, is mostly remembered as an author for his novels. These, like his works of non-fiction, articulated and defended Christian truth. The most popular of these are the seven novel fantasy series for young readers in which children from England have adventures in a magical world called Narnia. The BBC adapted the first four of these for television in the 1980s and Walden Media produced the first three of them as big screen films starting with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005. Another company is currently working on the fourth.
Both sets of adaptations followed the order in which the books were originally published. Had the BBC continued the series The Horse and His Boy would have been next. It is highly unlikely that any movie company would be willing to make a movie version of this and if, by chance, one were to do so, the original story would almost certainly be unrecognizable in the film.
In this underrated novel, first published in 1954, the Tisroc, ruler of Calormen, a desert country populated by turban-wearing, scimitar-wielding people of dark complexion plots the conquest of Narnia and Archenland with his heir Prince Rabadash who desires to make Narnia’s Queen Susan his bride by force. Narnia and Archenland, situated to the northwest of Calormen, are free countries, populated by talking animals, magical and mythological creatures of various sorts, and governed by people of light skin and fair complexion. Narnia and Archenland are loyal to Aslan the Lion, while Calormen is an idol worshipping land, the chief idol of which is the demon Tash. The title characters are Bree, a Narnian talking horse, and Shasta, a highborn Archenlander boy. Both were captured and taken to Calormen when very young and are now attempting to flee to the lands of their birth. They join forces with Aravis, a Calormene princess who for reasons of her own is trying to escape her own country, and her talking mare Hwin. When they discover the Tisroc’s plot, their escape attempt becomes a race to keep ahead of Rabadash’s army so as to warn Narnia and Archenland in time.
For obvious reasons The Horse and His Boy is not going to win any awards for political correctness. It is interesting to compare and contrast this book with The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail. The original French edition of this latter volume came out nineteen years after The Horse and His Boy was first published. The largest similarity between the two is that in both, civilized, free lands with light-skinned people are threatened with invasion from lands to their southeast populated by dark-skinned people. There is a major difference in how the story turns out, however. At the risk of giving away the endings to both books, in The Horse and His Boy Shasta succeeds in his mission, the forces of Narnia and Archenland defeat the invaders, and Rabadash receives his comeuppance, but in The Camp of the Saints, Western civilization succumbs to the invasion and disappears.
Some might explain the significance of this difference as being that between an optimistic and a pessimistic outlook, others that it is the difference between an idealistic and a realistic outlook. I suggest that the real significance is that it is a difference in how the real world in which we live is meant to be reflected in the fictional worlds of the two novels. Narnia is a world of the imagination, the France of The Camp of the Saints is a fictional version of the France in our world. This, of course, means that Narnia is a step further removed from our real world, but it is nevertheless the case that Lewis intended for us to see truths about our world through the imaginary world he has portrayed for us. In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, we are obviously intended to see the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in that of the Lion Aslan.
To the extent that the Narnia and Archenland of Lewis’ imaginary world reflect the Western Civilization – or better yet, Christendom – of our world, they are pictures of our past, inspired by history. When the early Islamic Caliphate sought to conquer Europe, and the forces of Abd-er-Rahman were decisively defeated by Charles Martel’s Franks in the Battle of Poitiers in 732 AD and when the Ottoman Turks marched against the Holy Roman Empire to be defeated before the gates of Vienna in 1683 AD – these historical events from our world have an echo in the defeat of Rabadash in the world of Narnia.
It is a different episode of history that is fictionally re-enacted in Raspail’s novel. When, at the end of the story, Western Civilization has been reduced to twenty faithful defenders besieged in a small village overlooking the Riviera, among them are a Constantine Dragasès and a Luke Notaras – the names of the last Byzantine Emperor and his military commander when Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 AD. The vision of our world that we are presented with in The Camp of the Saints, is not of our past but of what, at the time, was a possible future, one in which all of Western Christendom falls as Constantinople did.
Today, the novel reads not so much as a picture of a possible future but of an all too real present. Much of it is coming true before our very eyes. Minister Jean Orelle’s press conference in chapter seventeen, in which he announces that France is ready and willing to “assume the humanitarian obligations incumbent upon all men of good will in these truly unprecedented times” by taking in the migrants from India, and “asks only one thing…that she not stand alone” has taken on flesh in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s throwing open Germany’s borders to the migrants claiming to be Syrian refugees, while expecting other European countries to help cover the cost of her compassion. The media’s one-sidedness, dishonest coverage, and emotional manipulation have been so close to what Raspail described that one can almost hear Albert Durfort telling us “we are all from Kurdistan now”.
Sadly, the church too has been behaving as if Raspail’s novel were a script to follow. Pope Francis’ lecture to the American Congress last week sounded like it was lifted from the papal Good Friday address in the thirty-third chapter of the book. The Protestant churches are behaving no better. Virtually every official ecclesiastical statement on the “refugee crisis” conveys an attitude of “we are rich and they are poor therefore we need to bend over and take it” that is enough to make one vomit. It comes straight out of the pages of The Camp of the Saints.
In The Camp of the Saints, Raspail depicts a church that is walking around after it is already dead. Corrupted by liberalism and leftism, her clergy have abandoned her old ways, traditions, and faith and her people have abandoned their churches. When the Ganges fleet approaches the Suez canal the Muslim world take to their mosques and call upon Allah. Raspail’s narrator muses about what would have happened if the people of Europe had returned to their churches and begun to call upon God in earnest once more. Only twelve Benedictine monks are faithful to the old ways and march to the sea carrying the Blessed Sacrament in the hope that it will repel the invaders. These are all that remain of the religion that moved men like Charles Martel and Jan Sobieski to take up arms and fight off the invaders of Christendom in the past.
The spirit of that religion, or at least of its fictional otherworldly counterpart, is alive and well in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia which is why, when Shasta arrives in the nick of time, King Lune of Archenland does not then sit down with Lord Darrin to discuss the ways in which they can make Rabadash and the Calormenes welcome, but instead sets about defending his castle and fighting off the invading army.
In Lewis’ novel, the invaders come on horseback armed with swords. In Raspail’s novel, and in real life today, they come armed with their own poverty and seemingly desperate conditions, which are much harder weapons to fight against as they are effectively designed to penetrate our defences and hit us where we are weak. We will never be able to fight such a weapon unless we recover the old-fashioned Christianity of C. S. Lewis, with its fighting spirit and will to live and abandon the sappy, liberalism that has taken its place, that apologizes for the Crusades, and embraces the cultural and ethnic death of the peoples of the West and their civilization.
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