In C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series of novels, Calormen (pronounced [ˈkaːlɔ(r)ˌmen]) is a large country to the southeast of Narnia. Lewis derived its name from the Latin calor, meaning "heat". When used as an adjective Lewis spelled the name with an 'e' at the end (e.g. a Calormene (pronounced [ˈkaːlɔ(r)ˌmiːn]) soldier). Narnia and Calormen are separated by a large desert and the country of Archenland. In The Horse and His Boy Calormen is described as being many times the size of its northern neighbours, and it is implied that its army is always either conquering more land or keeping down rebellions, in wars with which neither Narnia or Archenland are involved. The border of the Calormene Empire extends from the Western Mountains to the Great Eastern Ocean. The Calormene capital city is Tashbaan, a vast, walled metropolis near the northern desert separating Calormen from its northern neighbors, located near the mouth of the Calormen River.
The origins of Calormen and the Calormenes are not made clear during the Chronicles. According to the Narnian timeline published by Walter Hooper, Calormen was founded by Archen outlaws, who traveled over the Great Desert to the south some 24 years after Archenland's founding; however, some have disputed the 'authenticity' of that timeline. The Calormenes speak a flowery version of the standard English favoured by both human and animal Narnians, which might support this argument; however, Jadis also speaks English. The reason for the ancient Persian, Mughal, and Ottoman Turkish aspects of Calormene culture, or the origin of their religion, has not been satisfactorily explained; this might be seen as supporting an argument that Calormen was founded, at least partially, by an independent group of travellers from Earth, who possibly intermarried with the English-speaking Archenlanders and took their language.
Throughout the times covered by the Chronicles of Narnia, Calormen and Narnia maintain an uneasy, albeit generally peaceable, coexistence. The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle contain plot lines that focus on Calormen, while some of the other books have peripheral references. In The Horse and His Boy the main characters (one a young member of the Calormene nobility) escape from Calormen to Archenland and Narnia whilst the Calormene cavalry under Prince Rabadash attempts to invade Narnia and capture the Narnian Queen Susan for his bride. The rather small (200 horse) Carlomene invasion force is rebuffed at the gates of the Kingdom of Archenland. In The Last Battle, some level of trade and travel exist between Narnia and Calormen, and a successful invasion by the Calormene military precipitates the end of the Narnian universe.
Calormenes are described as dark-skinned, with the men mostly bearded. Flowing robes, turbans and wooden shoes with an upturned point at the toe are common items of clothing, and the preferred weapon is the scimitar. Lavish palaces are present in the Calormene capital Tashbaan. The overall leitmotif of Calormene culture is portrayed as ornate to the point of ostentation. The people of Calormen are concerned with maintaining honour and precedent, often speaking in maxims and quoting their ancient poets. Veneration of elders and absolute deference to power are marks of Calormene society. Power and wealth determine class and social standing, and slavery is commonplace. The unit of currency is the Crescent. Narnians hold Calormenes in disdain for their treatment of animals and slaves. Conversely, Calormenes refer to the human inhabitants of Narnia as "barbarians".
The ruler of Calormen is called the Tisroc and is believed by the Calormene people to have descended in a direct line from the god Tash, whom the people worship in addition to other gods and goddesses. Calormenes always follow a mention of the Tisroc with the phrase "may he live forever" . Below the Tisroc are his sons (princes), a Grand Vizier, and the nobled class, who are addressed as Tarkaans and Tarkheenas. The nobility have a band of gold on their arm and their marriages are usually arranged at a young age. Beneath them are soldiers of the empire's vast army, merchants, and the peasantry, with slaves being the lowest rung on the social ladder. The Calormene leaders are portrayed as quite war-like, and the Tisrocs generally seem to have a wish to conquer the "barbarian" lands to their north.
Interestingly Calormenes disparage Narnian poetry, contending that it is all about things like love and war and not about useful maxims; however, when the Calormen-raised Shasta and Aravis first hear Narnian (or Archenlandish) poetry, they find it much more exciting. Calormen also prizes the art of story-telling, which, according to Lewis, forms part of the education of the nobility. The talking horse Bree, though not fond of most things Calormene, thoroughly enjoys a story told in Calormene style by Aravis.
For in Tashbaan there is only one traffic regulation, which is that everyone who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important; unless you want a cut from a whip or a punch from the butt end of a spear.He also reveals the motivation for Calormene attempts to invade Archenland and, ultimately, Narnia, as a refusal to abide the thought of free countries so close to the border of the Calormene empire, as illustrated by this speech given to the Tisroc:
"These little barbarian countries that call themselves free (which is as much to say, idle, disordered, and unprofitable) are hateful to the gods and to all persons of discernment".In contrast, the kings and queens of Narnia and Archenland, as rulers of free people, hold themselves responsible for the well-being of their subjects. As King Lune tells Shasta/Cor:
"For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.
[For Lewis] “Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it”
The racism critique is based on a representation of the Calormenes as enemies of Aslan and Narnia. The Calormenes are described as "Darkies" (in The Last Battle) who live in a desert, wear turbans and pointy slippers, are armed with scimitars, and use the crescent symbol on their money. Such descriptions have been compared with the historic attire of peoples throughout the Middle Eastern and Asian regions, upon whose physical appearances the Calormenes were obviously based. The Calormene also conform to a number of racist stereotypes of Arabs as well - they are cruel, greedy, cowardly, backstabbing, lazy and prone to gross indulgence, as well as owning slaves. However, they are praised for their storytelling, compared with the 'essay writing' of Western cultures.
The Calormene religion does not seem to be modeled on any of the monotheistic religions - such as Islam or Sikhism - that are commonly practiced in these regions--though there may be similarities in pre-Muhammad Arab religions. Instead, the Calormenes are polytheistic and worship a plethora of gods, including the primary god Tash (meaning "stone" in Turkish), who is portrayed as a corporeal, stereotypical Satanic being requiring human sacrifices from his followers. The religion of the Calormenes seems more likely to have been based on early Canaanite and Carthaginian religion, which also required human sacrifice, and was portrayed as the ultimate in diabolism in G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, a book which Lewis admired. The unimaginative and business-minded nature of the Calormenes may also have been based on Chesterton's portrayal of Carthage. In the purely literary sense, however, the depiction of Calormene religion may owe something to the bogey image of Islam found in medieval romances: see Mahound and Termagant.
The Chronicles have a British Victorian era flavour that was much in fashion during his lifetime, but may now be seen as politically incorrect. Of Lewis, Kyrie O'Connor writes: "In his time, people thought it was amusing to make fun of other cultures. We don't. Read the stories, ask questions, and remember that the person who wrote this story was altogether too human. Claims of racism can be seen as countered by Lewis's positive portrayal of two Calormenes and the lack of racism shown to them by Narnian nobility. In The Horse and His Boy, the female protagonist Aravis is a Calormene noblewoman who is accepted whole-heartedly by the Archenlanders and Narnians, and comes to marry Cor, a prince of white ethnicity; a progressive and bold statement by Lewis in a time when mixed-race relationships were neither as common nor accepted as they have been in more recent years. In The Last Battle, the Calormene Emeth is deemed a worthy person by Aslan regardless of his skin colour and despite the fact that he was a worshipper of Tash. Indeed Lewis goes on to mention in The Last Battle that those who worship Tash and who are virtuous are in fact worshipping Aslan, and those who are immoral and who worship Aslan are in fact worshipping Tash:
I and [Tash] are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.