Friday, July 9, 2010

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

I’m working my way through The Chronicles of Narnia. Although I’m familiar with several of the books in the series, the storyline of The Horse and His Boy was completely unknown to me. Of the four books I’ve read so far this story has had the least appeal. Ironically, it has been one of my favorite books in terms of hard-hitting truths.

Shasta is a poor fisherman’s son from the southern kingdom of Calormen. In order to avoid being sold to a cruel master, he flees “to the North and to Narnia”. He is aided in his escape by Bree, a talking horse, and Aravis, a princess escaping an arranged marriage. Their adventures (including several encounters with Aslan) make up the bulk of the story.

I like a book where the characters are flawed yet willing to learn and grow. This is certainly the case with both Shasta and his companions. I loved the scene where the great warhorse, Bree, realizes that he hadn’t been as brave in danger as the young boy who had been riding him. He lies down in despair, declaring he has lost everything. “My good horse,” said the hermit, “you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit….If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great horse you had come to think… But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole.” (p. 146)

The theme of theodicy is introduced in chapter 11. Shasta, tired and lost, complains out loud that he’s “the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world.” Suddenly a voice behind him asks him to share his troubles. “ And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.”

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?”said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean?”I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –“
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,”said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own.”
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it. (p. 157-159)


Janet said...

The passage you conclude with is one of my all-time favorites.

I find I've had different favorites books from the series at different times of my life.

Heather VanTimmeren said...

A year ago, I would have agreed with you that this story has less appeal, less magic, than some of the other Narnia books. But a few months ago I listened to an audio version (unabridged, not the dramatic version) that completely changed my mind. For some reason, listening to it made me realize how well crafted the story is, and now it's one of my favorite of the series!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your provocative review. Another reason to reread the CON.

Anonymous said...

Your review was provocative. I've had a reread of CON on my list for a while, I've just bumped it up and esp this one book. Thanks!

Vintage Reading said...

I've never got beyond Prince Caspian. I'd like to read the chronicles in order.