Sunday, February 3, 2013

St. Hwin of Narnia, or Bree has an encounter

I post this in the realization that it only adds to the catalog of posts that make many of my readers say, "Duh!"

The penultimate chapter in C.S. Lewis' A Horse and His Boy is entitled "How Bree Became a Wiser Horse." Of course, Bree, along with Hwin, is a talking horse from Narnia who had been taken captive and led away to Calormen as a young foal. Bree served with distinction as a war horse for a Tarkhan, which is what the great lords of Calormen are known as in the Chronicles. Cutting to the chase, Bree became a wiser horse by experiencing a direct encounter, thus not requiring an event he has to decipher.

Just prior to Aslan making himself manifest to Bree, Hwin, and Aravis (the daughter of a Tarkahn who ran away to avoid being married off to another, much older, Tarkhan) Bree was answering a question posed to him by Aravis about Aslan. Aravis asked her question in response to one of Bree's many exclamations, "By the Lion's Mane." She asked, "Why do you keep on swearing By the Lion and By the Lion's Mane? I thought you hated lions."

Bree confirms that, indeed, he does not like lions. "But," he replies "when I speak of the Lion, of course I mean Aslan, the great deliverer of Narnia who drove away the Witch and the Winter. All Narnians swear by him."

Aravis wonders, "is he a lion?" To which Bree, "in a rather shocked voice," responds, "No, no, of course not." Aravis points out that all the stories she has heard about Aslan in the Calormen capital of Tashbaan indicate that Aslan is a lion, a real lion. She adds, "And if he isn't a lion why do you call him a lion?"

Bree plays the worst card in his hand when he says, "Well, you'd hardly understand at your age," but then more humbly admits that he "was only a little foal" when he was taken from Narnia and doesn't fully grasp it himself. As he makes that admission, out of nowhere, Aslan appears on the wall of the hermit's garden where Bree, Aravis, and Hwin are talking. Not seeing him, Bree continues his learned theological discourse: "No doubt... when they speak of him as a Lion, they only mean he's as strong as a lion (to our enemies, of course) as fierce as a lion. or something of that kind. Even a little girl like you, Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he's a real lion. Indeed it would be disrespectful. If he was a lion he'd have to be a beast just like the rest of us."

It seems pretty clear that what Lewis here is pointing at is the scandal of the Incarnation, the scandal of the Godman, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, taking on human flesh.

Just as Bree is finishing his abstract discourse, he feels one of Aslan's whiskers tickle his ear. Hwin, upon seeing Aslan draw near (she and Aravis saw Aslan when he first appeared, but could not speak), says to the Lion, "Please, you're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you than be fed by anyone else." "'Dearest daughter,' said Aslan planting a lion's kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, 'I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours."

Then, turning back to Bree, in a scene that is beautifully reminiscent of Jesus' resurrection appearances in the Gospels of St. Luke (24:36-49) and St. John (20:19-29), Aslan tells the proud, but insecure and somewhat shaken horse to draw very near to him. Aslan tells Bree, "Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast."

As noted in my last post on The Chronicles of Narnia, in his encounter with the Lion, Shasta, who is shortly to be revealed as Prince Cor, heir to the throne of Archenland, asked why he had wounded Aravis. Refusing to tell the boy the story of another, Aslan deferred. At his point, which comes later in the story, after reassuring Bree, Aslan turns to Aravis and says, "Draw near, Aravis my daughter. See! My paws are velveted. You will not be torn this time." To which Aravis quizzically replies, "This time, sir?" Aslan reveals to her "It was I who wounded you," before asking her if she knows why he did it. She does not. "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 because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like." Then, out of concern, Aravis asks if the servant she set up will have to endure any more injury. As with Shasta's inquiry about Aravis, the Lion repeats, "No one is told any story but there own."

This is not the law of karma, but a brilliant literary attempt by Lewis to explain how justice and mercy meet in the person of Jesus Christ. As Pope Benedict wrote in his second encylical, Spe Salvi:
Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened (par. 44)
We were delayed in finishing, but not deterred from doing so. On to Prince Caspian!

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