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Ahoshta: A Comical Tragic Character?

Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut

A line from The Horse and his Boy struck me afresh recently.

I am afraid that Aravis did not feel at all sorry for the Vizier.

I used to just find that a humorous line, but on reflection, it strikes me as an interesting bit of nuance. Maybe Aravis really should feel more sorry for Ahoshta. Not that she should want to marry him or anything. But think what a hard situation he's in. He always has to be able to produce an elaborate piece of flattery for the royal family at any moment and one of member of that family is Rabadash. If he doesn't, he loses his high position (which he's probably spent his whole life struggling for, being "of base birth") or maybe even his life.

What do you think? Does Ahoshta deserve more pity than Aravis, for all that she's our heroine, gives him?

For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen check out my new blog!

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Topic starter Posted : July 26, 2021 8:29 pm
Cleander
(@the-mad-poet)
NarniaWeb Junkie

I imagine Lewis probably meant it that way. The idea of sympathy for and forgiveness of people we don't particularly like shows up quite a bit in his more serious writings (Mere Christianity, for starters). 

In this case, I'd definitely say yes, he does deserve a bit of pity. Ahoshta is in a hard place, for all the reasons you pointed out. His marriage to Aravis is a dreadful idea, but perhaps it was the best means available to secure his high status. His wrongdoing comes from disregarding Aravis' wishes ( and, um...  trying to marry a minor Worried ). Horrible of him,  to be sure, but it's important to see what might be driving him to do it so one can avoid writing him off as a malicious, one-dimensional person. 

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Posted : July 26, 2021 10:24 pm
Courtenay liked
Mrs Smooshy
(@mrs-smooshy)
NarniaWeb Regular

I still read it as a comical line, to be honest.  Lewis has a lot of harsh opinions of the adults in the series and he had to know kids would be eager to laugh at the adults.  And the adult readers need to learn to laugh at themselves.  It seems that under normal circumstances you would pity Ahoshta but he was so despicable himself you can't help taking some pleasure in what happens to him.  There may be some pity for him but it's also clear he brought it all upon himself and it serves as a warning.  Get yourself into trouble after being miserable and unkind and others are less inclined to feel sorry for you or help you.  But I still feel hesitant to read too much into that moment.  I really do think it was meant for comedic effect.    

 

What was interesting was that my son really didn't like reading about Ahoshta being kicked as it was "mean" but my daughter thought it was just and funny because "he looks like an ape".  I think she really was on Aravis' side there.  haha

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Posted : September 5, 2021 12:55 am
coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

It struck me, as I reread the thread, that Lewis does not have great respect for people who crawl and flatter their way up unsafe ladders in life.

His other fiction includes people who wanted to get into the in-crowd, or to succeed in a career that required unethical behaviour.

Perhaps the funniest and strangest example is Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters, whose very life depends on the evil work his superior is mentoring him in. 

We can laugh at such people when they have become ridiculous and usually no longer a threat to the characters we like. 

Yes, he is a laughable character in his grovelling state, but uncomfortably reminds me another such creature who served evil lords, and who we meet in The Last Battle!

There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

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Posted : September 5, 2021 2:36 pm
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Friend of NarniaWeb
Posted by: @col-klink

A line from The Horse and his Boy struck me afresh recently.

I am afraid that Aravis did not feel at all sorry for the Vizier.

I've always read that as an example of Lewis's classic British (and Irish!) ironic sense of humour. I actually do that myself — use phrases like "I'm afraid that..." or "I'm sorry to say that..." when I mean I'm NOT sorry at all. It's pretty standard over here. Which would mean in turn that Lewis is counting on his young audience to catch his drift and side with Aravis, because they can understand very well why she doesn't feel at all sorry for Ahoshta.

Of course, in this same story we also have a prime example of Aravis having no compassion when she should have had it — not caring that her slave girl was whipped after Aravis drugged her and escaped. That lack of mercy is taken so seriously that Aslan himself inflicts the same wounds on Aravis because she "needed to know what it felt like". But the slave girl in this case was being punished for something that clearly wasn't her fault. Ahoshta, on the other hand, is presented as a totally unsympathetic character — he's purposely flattered and wheedled his way to the top of a system that is inherently corrupt (as @coracle points out), and he has to deal with the consequences.

Aravis, interestingly, was born into that system (the Calormene upper class), which Ahoshta wasn't, but by the time she's on the verge of adolescence, she starts seeing through it and rejecting it, even though that means having to reject great wealth and status and all the material comforts she's grown up with (in complete contrast to Lasaraleen). She does have a lot to learn about humility and empathy, but that's what she progressively learns on the different path she has chosen. Lewis always puts a lot of emphasis on how people's choices shape their character and their future — and Ahoshta himself presumably could have made different choices when he was younger, but he didn't.

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 5, 2021 3:11 pm
Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut
Posted by: @mrs-smooshy

I still read it as a comical line, to be honest.  Lewis has a lot of harsh opinions of the adults in the series and he had to know kids would be eager to laugh at the adults.  And the adult readers need to learn to laugh at themselves.  It seems that under normal circumstances you would pity Ahoshta but he was so despicable himself you can't help taking some pleasure in what happens to him. 

Posted by: @courtenay

I've always read that as an example of Lewis's classic British (and Irish!) ironic sense of humour. I actually do that myself — use phrases like "I'm afraid that..." or "I'm sorry to say that..." when I mean I'm NOT sorry at all. It's pretty standard over here. Which would mean in turn that Lewis is counting on his young audience to catch his drift and side with Aravis, because they can understand very well why she doesn't feel at all sorry for Ahoshta

That's how I've always interpreted it in the past. But C. S. Lewis also wrote a book called Till We Have Faces in which the characters tend to be kind of complicated. (I'm sorry for referring to a book not everyone has read or necessary will have liked it they have read it. I find it's necessary to find explain the thought process behind my original post. LOL )

Spoiler
Till We Have Faces spoilers
For example, the main character's sister, Redieval, is initially presented as immature, annoyingly boy crazy, spiteful and generally pathetic. But as the story goes on, we kind of start to feel sorry for her because of how pathetic she is. And I feel like at the end, we kind of wish she and her sister could have mended their relationship. The main character's father is also a big jerk, abusive, selfish and misogynistic. But one of the things he says to the main character-that there's no way someone as ugly as herself could have much love for a pretty half sister-which initially just sounds like more of him being sexist, turns out to be kind of true, if not quite in the way he assumes. There's also a very minor, but important, character, who, in his one conversation with the narrator, mostly seems kind of dumb. He can't really answer any questions people have about his religion and just repeats the party line. But his penultimate line of dialogue ("You may be sure they would have plenty to say for themselves. The Jealous often have.") throws everything we've read so far in the book into question! The book also raises the question of whether someone can be a good ruler without being a good person.

The characterizations in the Narnia books are, of course, much more black and white than that. But, hey, it's not like C. S. Lewis was incapable of nuanced characters and maybe some of them aren't so black and white if we stop to think about it. 

For better or worse-for who knows what may unfold from a chrysalis?-hope was left behind.
-The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen check out my new blog!

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Topic starter Posted : September 5, 2021 9:11 pm
Mrs Smooshy
(@mrs-smooshy)
NarniaWeb Regular

I'm sorry to say 😉 I still laugh heartily at that line.  

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Posted : September 9, 2021 11:12 pm
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