The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis

Illustrated by Pauline Baynes

Summary:  Shasta has grown up in Calormen believing an old fisherman to be his father.  One night, however, he overhears a nobleman offering to buy him as a slave and learns that the fisherman found him in a boat, a survivor of a shipwreck.  Realizing that he comes from the North, Shasta resolves to escape.  With him journeys Bree, a Talking Horse enslaved in youth and also determined to return home.  Their journey will set into motion a series of events which will decide the fate of both Archenland and Narnia.

(Note that the review assumes that you have read the book and works more as an analysis than as a review.  If you don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t read on!)

Review: Though set in a land of cruelty where the people do not know Aslan, The Horse and His Boy proves one of the most beautiful books in the Chronicles of Narnia.  Its beauty stems from our gradual realization that Aslan himself is the Author of the story. He has been with Shasta and the others from the beginning, turning the evils in their lives into good, and prodding them into the right direction when they begin to stray from their purpose.  Even when the other characters fear him out of ignorance or try to drive him away, he never abandons them.  And, incredibly, they ultimately discover that their wills and Aslan’s overlap, that what Aslan wants for them is what will truly make them happy.

None of this, of course, presents itself to us immediately.  We may even find the portrayal of Aslan in this book sterner than in the others.  He brings mercy, but also justice.  He personally swipes his claw across the back of Aravis, so that she knows the harm she inflicted upon her stepmother’s slave.  When Rabadash refuses to accept the mercy of the kings, Aslan turns him into a donkey.  Still, I have never heard that anyone found Aslan truly frightening or even unfair.  We recognize that both Aravis and Rabadash brought their fates on themselves.  Aravis, however, accepts her punishment and repents; Rabadash does not.  Aslan desperately desires to save both from harm, but both have free will.  He chastises only with reluctance and we know that he does so only because the punishment helps his children turn back to him.  Rabadash’s first rejection of love means that something greater is needed to prod him in the right direction.  His transformation into a donkey makes him one of the most peaceful kings ever to rule Calormen; we hope this helps reduce his pride.

Since Lewis presents pride as one of the central themes of the story, it is worthwhile for us to investigate its presence in the book more closely.  Aravis, Bree, and Rabadash all exhibit pride.  Aravis refuses to travel with or speak to a social inferior, Bree fears Horses in Narnia will think him silly, and Rabadash cannot stand for others to laugh at him.  Their pride threatens their relationship with God as well as with others.  In Mere Christianity, Lewis explains why.  He notes: “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself.  Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, now yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all.”  Since we are all members of the Body of Christ, it is also difficult for us to be in a right relationship with each other if we do not know God.  Lewis, however, gives us hope.  Aslan forgives those who have harmed him and welcomes them back to himself with joy.

Lewis will continue to explore the nature of forgiveness and the road back to God in The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle.  It has appeared as a running theme throughout the series, beginning with the treachery of Edmund, but everything culminates in the Great Story without end.  The Horse and His Boy offers us a glimpse of that joy on earth when we humbly present ourselves before God and act in accordance with His will.

Published: 1954

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Krysta 64

4 thoughts on “The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis

  1. David says:

    Nice analysis here. This was always my favorite of the Narnia books; it was exotic, had more straight adventure, and felt fresh and different. It’s been years since I’ve read them, though, just as it has been years since I’ve read The Lord of the Rings. So many books, and but one busy lifetime…sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair! But then I remember that after this lifetime comes a very wonderful eternity, in which we will get to explore and enjoy the realities of which our present good books are but shadows.


    • Krysta says:

      Thank you! I have to admit The Horse and the Boy was one of least favorite Narnia books when I was growing up. I associated it with vast spaces of empty desert, which made it unappealing to me. When I reread it this year, however, I realized that it is truly one of the most beautiful books in the series—perhaps surpassed only by The Last Battle. Lewis has profoundly shaped my idea of eternity and I think it’s a testament to his skill of a writer that he can simultaneously paint a world so beautiful and promise us that even greater beauty lies ahead.

      In my opinion, The Lord of the Rings is the greatest book ever written, but, unfortunately, its sheer size prevents me from rereading it every year–which is exactly what I’d do if I had the time.


  2. George says:

    Very nice review. THHB has always been one of my favorite Narnia books. For many of the reasons you mention. Aslan is definitely at the back of the story, so to speak, & it is his providential care & mercy which tie everything together. A kind of literary exposition of Romans 8: 28.


    • Krysta says:

      One of the things I love about Lewis’s works is that I see new things with each rereading. I’ve never linked The Horse and His Boy to that particular Bible verse before, but there really is a connection! Thanks so much for commenting.


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