The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis is my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia (difficult as it is to pick a favorite!). From childhood I have loved the characters: humble Shasta, proud Aravis, conceited Bree, and sensible Hwin. The plot is very tight and not a word is wasted in these short fifteen chapters. The way that the events of the story cause the characters to change is extremely well-written and entertaining. Before there was the fantasy cliché of the long-lost heir of the kingdom, Lewis wrote Shasta’s adventures, and the tale remains as fresh and enjoyable as it did when it was published fifty years ago.
In this story, Shasta is raised in a small fishing village in Calormen by the fisherman Arsheesh. When a Tarkaan lord arrives one day and offers to buy Shasta, Shasta wonders aloud to the Tarkaan’s horse what kind of a man the nobleman is. To his surprise, the horse speaks; he is a Talking Horse from Narnia who was captured in his youth. Together the two make plans to escape to the North. Along the way they meet Aravis Tarkheena and Hwin the Talking Horse, who are fleeing Aravis’ arranged marriage. As the four make their way through Calormen they become entangled in the secret plans of the Calormene rulers to march suddenly upon Archenland and from there slowly take over Narnia. Shasta and the others must reach Anvard in time to warn the Archenlanders of the pending attack. Woven throughout the story are lions, at almost every step of the way… forcing the four to meet up, chasing the jackals from Shasta as he sleeps alone outside the city of Tashbaan, giving the Horses the fresh speed of fear on the last leg of their journey.
One of my favorite things about this book is the spiritual applications that Lewis, a Christian, infused into the story. I understand that there are many people who enjoy the Narnia books who don’t share Lewis’ beliefs, and that’s perfectly fine. The books are grand fantasy literature of themselves and do not need spiritual parallels to make them meaningful. But for Christians, those other layers of meaning add even more to the experience. I love how Lewis keeps bringing up Luck in this tale; he has the Hermit of the Southern March say he had lived “one hundred and nine winters in this world, and never met any such thing as Luck,” and later Shasta first attributes his safe passage over the narrow mountain pass in the night to luck, but changes his mind when he remembers his Companion. When we get to the chapter when Aslan tells Shasta “I was the Lion,” all the pieces fall in place and you can see how Aslan’s sovereign plans have been worked out in the lives of the characters. For Christians this is a very comforting thing as we trust that God’s plans are always for the best in our own lives.
I do recommend that this book be read in publication order with the rest of the series; HarperCollins’ chronological re-ordering of the series is all wrong from a purist’s standpoint and must be subverted by whatever means possible. I have an old pre-1994 set of the Chronicles and they are in the correct order (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; The Horse and His Boy; The Magician’s Nephew; and The Last Battle).
If you haven’t yet visited Calormen in a quest to reach Narnia and the North, you’re depriving yourself of a wonderful trip. Highly recommended.