Tag Archives: the horse and his boy

Flying to Narnia

Something wonderful happened last week, aside from the fact that we started Prince Caspian, book 4 in our read of The Narnia Chronicles: N learned to ride a two-wheeler.

This is something we’ve been trying to teach her for years, but even a bike with training wheels proved to be an enormous challenge for her. Each summer we’d haul it out, plunk her on it, and she’d go rigid with fear. “Don’t let go!” she’d plead. “Whatever you do, don’t let go!” And this was with the training wheels. Every excursion ended the same way — N dissolving into whines, or maybe tears, the grown-ups growing increasingly frustrated, and finally all of us losing our temper and stomping home. Walking the bike, of course. The only fun times we could manage were with “the doubler,” which was fun indeed, but independence seemed a long way off.

And then.

At the bus stop a while back, AW, a friend of N’s asked if she’d like to go bike riding that Saturday morning. My ears perked for N’s answer. “Sure!” she said with enthusiasm. And when AW skipped away, N scooted over to me and whispered “I’ve got to learn to ride by Saturday, Mom!”

So out came the bike. Every day after school she practiced and whined and told us she couldn’t do it. She would never be able to do it. Everyone else could do it except her. I asked her how she learned to do cartwheels, to skate, to play piano, to speak French, to read? But she sat on her bike, looking dejected, as three boys tore by on their bicycles, practically soaring. They looped around the block and came whizzing past again and again as N inched forward with a crumpled expression, just like the one I wore at her age, when I rode leaning into the one training wheel I would not let my dad remove. Clinging to it like a drowning person clings to a lifebuoy.

But every day she got better. Every day she whined less.

By Friday, though, she had still not mastered it, and she was sick with the thought of her Saturday morning bike ride. But when we woke up, there was thunder and lightning, and it was teeming rain. N, of course, was delighted. The bike ride was moved to Sunday, and Saturday evening, when the rain ceased, we squeezed in a bit more practice — she was definitely improving, moving herself forward with her feet and ever so tentatively lifting them to the pedals for a second or so at a time. When she made her first complete revolution, she turned to me, beaming, and said, “Mom — I felt like I was flying!”

But she was still not really riding by Sunday morning. So (sorry to say) she was doubly delighted that poor AW had fallen ill overnight, and the excursion was cancelled.

That day, she did it. She put her feet on those pedals and wobbled forward, and we stood in the street behind her, hooting and hollering and clapping our hands. What a sight, to see her zooming away from us with not-exactly-confidence but courage and determination. I told her she reminded me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  When the wizard admits to being a good man but a bad wizard, Dorothy and friends are dismayed, realizing he can’t give them what they came for.

“How about my courage?” asked the Lion anxiously.

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”

So it is with my bell-ringing N. The more riding she does, the less she wobbles. On the weekend, we all got on our bikes, and went on a lovely ride — a family bike ride! — up the West Toronto Railpath, all of us smiling. At least I think N was smiling — she was so far out in front I couldn’t tell. I watched her cycling along with her head a little bit tilted, and I realized she must be humming, because a tilt always goes with her hum, and I thought my heart might burst with happiness. I glanced at my compass-bell and saw we were going north-ish, and I thought of Bree and Shasta in The Horse and His Boy. They couldn’t wait to get to Narnia, where all creatures were equals. So I shouted their rallying cry: “To Narnia, and the north!”

And we all cycled on, separately, but together.

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Chronicling Narnia

Tineida by Ernst Haeckel, 1900

School begins again. N claimed there were monarchs and luna moths in her belly this morning — big ones. She’s going into Grade 4 French immersion, so this will be her first year with some English instruction in the curriculum. I’m curious to see how she does with it. As much as I appreciate the opportunity for her to learn another language as part of her schooling, I’ve missed our own language being part of the mix.

I remember being a kid, and recognizing the crazy spelling patterns of English, and the exceptions too. I loved grammar — I remember thinking I get this, and not knowing why I got it — understanding that I had a feeling for the language from a very early age. And because I was not a child who excelled at a lot of things, it felt wonderful to understand at least this in a deep and natural way. When to use I or me. Color vs colour and zed vs zee. The sing-song rhymes that help you remember odd rules: i before e, except after c.

Reading with N as much as we have over the years has given her a good grounding in the language. She already has a rich vocabulary, and she’s curious about meanings. The other day she heard something on the radio about a “chronic illness,” and she said “Mom, mom, chronic! Get it? Chronic-les of Narnia!” So we talked about the connection between chronic and chronicle as things that go on and on.

We’re reading The Horse and His Boy right now, the third in the series of seven if you follow the story chronologically rather than in the order the books were published. We chose to read that way just because that’s how the series we bought was packaged, but it’s quite a debatable topic for fans of Narnia. According to wiki:

When Harper Collins took over the series rights in 1994, this numbering was revised to use internal chronological order at the suggestion of Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham. To make the case for his suggested order, Gresham quoted [C.S.] Lewis’ 1957 reply to a letter from an American fan who was having an argument with his mother about the order:

I think I agree with your [chronological] order for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.

Scholars far and wide seem to disagree with this view, and suspect Lewis was just being gracious to his fan when he replied this way. “The only reason for reading The Magician’s Nephew first,” writes Peter J. Schakel, “is for the chronological sequence of events, and that, as every storyteller knows, is quite unimportant as a reason. Often the early events in a sequence have a greater impact or effect as a flashback, told after later events which provide background and establish perspective. So it is, I believe, with the Chronicles. The artistry, the archetypes, and the handling of Christian themes all make it preferable to read the books in the order of their publication.”

Well — too late for us. But we are enjoying the series nonetheless. We liked The Magician’s Nephew, and we loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, though I must admit there are long passages in The Horse and His Boy that are difficult to get through.

For those who don’t know the story, a poor young boy named Shasta escapes from his cruel father-who-isn’t-really-his father with a talking horse named Bree, who longs to return to his native land of Narnia, where animals and people are equals. Along the way, they encounter a rich girl named Aravis, on her talking horse, Hwin. Aravis is running away because her father wants her to marry a wealthy and powerful old man with a hump back, who talks like this:

“How blessed is Calormen … on whose ruler the gods have been pleased to bestow prudence and circumspection! Yet as the irrefutable and sapient Tisroc has said it is very grievous to be constrained to keep our hands off of Narnia.”

When these passages come up (and sometimes they go on for a whole chapter), I steal glances at N to make sure I’m not losing her. I try to read as clearly as possible to  make sure she understands. And for the most part I’m pretty impressed. She gets what’s happening. But I can see she’s less engaged than she was during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

N’s response to Aslan’s death in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was extreme. As we read the chapter that saw Aslan sacrificed by the witch on the stone table, I could feel N tensing beside me. When they shaved his mane, hit him, spit on him and called him names, she gripped my arm a little tighter. When they bound and muzzled him, even though he wasn’t resisting, she looked up at me to see if I was getting what she calls “touchy.” And  when the witch finally killed him and told him to “despair and die,” we closed the book and laid together a while.

“So he’s dead?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

She paused. “I’m going to brush my teeth,” she said, and she scooted from the room and closed the bathroom door behind her. A few minutes later she came rushing back and wrapped her arms around me. She was sobbing and sobbing, inconsolable.

The only fix was staying up late and reading the next chapter, to see him rise again.

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