Of all the books that make up C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” this one, “The Horse and His Boy” is perhaps the most unusual. In every other book, the main characters start in Earth and come to Narnia through some magical portal to learn some important lesson. In this one, although the main characters do not live in the land of Narnia, they start in the same world. They come from a land south of Narnia on the Narnia map in the land of Calormen.
From the descriptions of the people, the actions they take, and the language they use, Calormen seems to me to be a metaphor for the Arab nations of Earth and their views of the great Tisroc might be construed as a metaphor for Islam. I’m not sure about that completely as I am not fully conversant in Islam or C.S. Lewis’ scholarly background. But it seems likely. As such, there is a developed contrast between Narnia (Christianity) and Calormen (Islam/Arabia) and as C.S. Lewis is a Christian, Christianity comes out clearly as the winner in this book. Personally, I do think Christianity has an edge over Islam (but again, I’m not fully conversant in Islam), but my views are not relevant to this review or the work as a whole.
Anyway, the four main characters of this novel are: the young boy, Shasta, the young girl, Aravis, and the two Talking Horses, Hwin and Bree. The book starts with Shasta living a desperate life of servitude in Calormen and the story, as a whole, generally revolves around him. In the beginning, he’s pretty much a slave-boy to his “father,” Arsheesh, a poor fisherman. Then one day, a nobleman comes to his father’s hut, and, seeing the boy, wants to buy him as a slave. His “father” and the nobleman begin to barter. That night, now in even more desperate straits, Shasta escapes on the nobleman’s horse who just happens to be Bree, a Talking Horse from Narnia who is pretending to be a dumb animal wishing he could return to Narnia.
Shasta and Bree take flight north towards Narnia. Along the way, they encounter Aravis and her Talking Horse, Hwin. They team up and begin their journey.
Another unusual aspect of this book is that this story takes place before the end of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It happens sometime during the reign of the two kings and two queens of Narnia from that book. Shasta and his company encounter King Edmund and Queen Lucy several times during the book. Or is it Queen Susan? I’ve forgotten already. Anyway, I won’t reveal the ending.
It’s a decent book for kids, morally speaking. It embraces the Christian ethos while providing an intriguing, fun adventure story.
I was having some issues while reading the latter half of this book, so I don’t feel comfortable giving it a precise ranking, so I will give it a range. I think it is about three and a half to four stars out of five, inasmuch as it’s a children’s book. Adults probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much (I know I didn’t: these Narnia books are becoming something of a challenge to finish).
This review was originally published on Shelfari.com on 12/30/12.