The events in The Horse and His Boy take place during the latter time period in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the four Pevensie children are kings and queens in Narnia.
But Shasta had never heard of Narnia. Shasta was a boy living in Calormen with a poor fisherman whom he called his father. When a stranger arrived to lodge with them, Shasta listened at the door while the stranger bargained with the fisherman about buying Shasta! Shasta was shocked, but relieved, for he had felt uneasy about not really loving the fisherman as a father.
Shasta strolled out to where the stranger’s horse was grazing to think over his predicament, only to discover that the horse is a talking horse from Narnia named Bree. Bree convinced Shasta that they must both escape to Narnia.
On their way they encountered another escapee, Aravis, on another talking horse, Hwin. Aravis was proud daughter of a lord of Calavar and is escaping an arranged marriage.
They had to go through a great city, but in the process Shasta was absconded by a group of Narnians who mistook him for someone else while Aravis recognized a friend and hid away with her. Through these situations they learned the best way to get across the desert, but they also learned of a planned attack on a neighboring city of Narnia. When they met up again, they hasten on to Narnia now not just for their own reasons, but to warn them of attack.
I had read the whole Chronicles of Narnia some time ago, but I didn’t remember much of anything about this story. And while I wouldn’t say it’s a favorite story of the series, I love the richness of the themes.
One obvious theme is identity. Shasta discovers he is not who he always thought he was and exclaims, “Why, I could be anybody!” He’s even more surprised when he does learn who he actually is. Bree and Hwin could not express their true and full identity while in captivity. Aravis has to hide her identity to escape, and when she meets up with her friend she sees her former lifestyle in a new light. Rabadash, the proud, jilted prince who leads the attack against Narnia’s neighbor as a foothold toward Narnia itself, becomes in form like the identity he’s portraying. And when Aslan identifies himself to Shasta, Shasta is “no longer afraid” that he would harm him, “but a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.”
Another theme is finding one’s true homeland (Bekah develops this theme beautifully here in Groping for another land.)
A third theme echoes many Biblical admonitions that those who humble themselves will be exalted and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Shasta comes from a humble background yet Aravis later has to admit, “I’ve been snubbing him and looking down on him…and now he turns out to be the best of us all.” Aravis has to take responsibility for her actions and determines “I think it would be better to stay and say we’re sorry than to go back.” Bree realizes his proud folly as well, but at first holds back, being almost too proud in his abasement to go forward. The Hermit tells him. “But as long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole.” Rabadash refuses to humble himself and faces the consequences.
Still another theme is Providence (which I didn’t know when I started the book, but it dovetails nicely with my concurrent reading of Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God by Layton Talbert. I’ve just finished that except for one appendix and hope to review it later this week.) When Aravis remarks to the hermit she has taken refuge with that she’s had luck, he remarks, “I have now lived a hundred and nine winters in this world and have never yet met with any such thing as Luck.” When all the characters meet up with Aslan, they learn he had been with them, watching over them, guiding circumstances. Shasta’s situation, in fact, is reminiscent of Joseph’s in the Bible, being sent ahead to later save others. Related to Aslan’s providence towards individuals is his repeated admonition that he tells each one no story but their own when they ask about what’s going on in other people’s lives. And when Shasta is telling the story of how he came to be in Calormen, he remarks that Aslan “seems to be at the back of all the stories.”
This is one of those books that has me still thinking, making connections, realizing themes and truths long after the book is closed. And that’s one mark of a good book.
Instead of writing a separate wrap-up post for the end of the Narnia challenge tomorrow, I’ll just wrap it up here by saying I also read The Silver Chair (linked to my thoughts) for this year’s challenge. I always enjoy breathing Narnian air and look forward to finishing up the last two books of the series next year.
Previous Narnia-related posts are:
Narnian Magic (not a book, but a hammering out of my thoughts on the use of magic in the series.)
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)