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The C.S. Lewis Files - The Horse and His Boy

The C.S. Lewis Files - The Horse and His Boy
Introduction to the Book

The Horse and His Boy was the fifth of the Narnia Chronicles to be published (in 1954) but is usually read as the 3rd out of 7 and follows The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lewis said his story writing started from pictures in his imagination, rather than with a Christian message he wanted to communicate.  But he also believed that story writing allowed truth to be smuggled in - in order to reach those who might be resistant to a direct approach. For example, in a letter to Cynthia Donnelley in August 1954, he explained his thinking like this:

“ whose Christianity is latent may do quite as much good and may reach some whom the more obvious religious work would scare away. The first business of a story is to be a good story. When Our Lord made a wheel in the carpenter shop, depend upon it: It was first and foremost a good wheel...

 By the way, none of my stories began with a Christian message. I always start from a mental picture - the floating islands, a faun with an umbrella in a snowy wood, an ‘injured’ human head. Of course, my non-fiction works are different. But they succeed because I’m a professional teacher and explanation happens to be one of the things I’ve learned to do.

The story in a few sentences

The story tells how a poor boy, named Shasta, runs away from the land of Calormen with a talking horse, named Bree.  Soon they meet a girl (Aravis) who is also running away from Calormen along with her talking horse (Hwin).  Their escape route takes them through Tashbaan, the capital of Calmormen, where Aravis discovers a plot by the wicked prince Rabadash to invade Archenland and Narnia.  They cross the desert to Archenland, just in time to warn of the impending invasion.  Aslan appears at various crucial points along the way. 

There is a lot in the book for the reader to enjoy and mull over:

1. Vanity, vanity:

Lewis was keenly aware of the spiritual sins of pride, vanity and conceit and frequently wrote about them in his stories and in his non-fiction work.  Often, he describes a process of humbling which may sometimes, but not always, lead the person to a better place.   In The Horse and His Boy, Rabadash is an example of someone who refuses opportunities to change direction and comes unstuck.  Bree’s vanity (about his appearance and pedigree as a great horse) is splendidly painted by Lewis in colours we can all recognise and the modest humbling he endures is accompanied by wise advice for all Lewis’s readers:

“My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit.  No, no, cousin.  Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me.  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, from living among poor dumb horses.  Of course, you were braver and cleverer than them.  You could hardly help being that.  It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia.  But as long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.

2. Identity revealed:

In Chapter 11 (“The Unwelcome Fellow Traveller), Shasta finally meets the One who has watched over his life and brought him through various difficulties, and some pain.  The moment when Shasta asked his name reminds me of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3.

“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 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.

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost.  But a new and different sort of trembling came over him.  Yet he felt glad too.

Chapter 11 (indeed the book) contain a fictional, but rich, illustration of providence – the care and control of God, over the circumstances of life, and even of His presence in terrible events.  

If you are interested to read more about Lewis’ understanding of providence you might want to try “A Severe Mercy” - Sheldon Vanauken’s autobiography about his love and marriage to Jean, friendship with C S Lewis, conversion to Christianity and Jean’s early death.

3. Poking fun at liberals, and two encounters with the real Aslan

C S Lewis is well known for popularizing the phrase “mere Christianity” – the beliefs that Christians through the ages had shared, across many different traditions.  But he was no liberal and sometimes poked fun at those inside the church who sought to “demythologise” the faith by stripping out the supernatural.  Maybe this was in Lewis’ mind when he wrote Chapter 14 – “How Bree become a Wiser Horse”.  The chapter gives an amusing description of Bree’s encounter with Aslan.   Bree had said that he believed in Aslan, but didn’t think Aslan was a real lion at all.  And he is explaining his beliefs to the others in rather superior and condescending terms just as Aslan drew close:

“But when I speak of the Lion, of course I mean Aslan, the great deliverer of Narnia...”

“But is he a lion?’

 “No, no, of course not,” said Bree in a rather shocked voice.

“All of the stories about him in Tashbaan say he is,” replied Aravis.  “And if he isn’t a lion why do you call him a lion?”

“Well, you’d hardly understand that at your age, “said Bree.  “And I was only a little foal when I left so I don’t quite fully understand it myself.

(Bree was standing with his back to the green wall while he said this, and the other two were facing him.  He was talking in a rather superior tone with his eyes half shut; that was why he didn’t see the changed expression in the faces of Hwin and Aravis.  They had good reason to have open mouths and staring eye; because while Bree spoke they saw an enormous lion leap up from outside and balance itself on the top of the green wall....)

“No doubt,” continued Bree, “when they speak of him as a lion, they only mean he’s as strong as a lion or (to our enemies, of course) as fierce as a lion.  Or something of that kind.  Even a little girl like you, Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion....  Why!” (and here Bree began to laugh) “if he was a real lion he’d have four paws, and a tail and whiskers...

Then Bree is touched by the real lion, Aslan.

Hwin’s encounter with Aslan is rather different from Bree’s and is too good to not to repeat here as a shining, fictional, example of what happens when someone actually encounters the Living God for the first time:

Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh, and trotted across to the Lion.

“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful.  You may eat me if you like. “I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”

“Dearest daughter,” said Aslan, planting a lion’s kiss on her twitching, velvet nose.  “I knew you would not be long in coming to me.  Joy shall be yours.”

Then Aslan turns his attention to Bree (in shades of doubting Thomas perhaps?)

Then he lifted his head and spoke in a louder voice:

“Now Bree,” he said “you poor proud frightened Horse, draw near.  Nearer   still, my son.  Do not dare not to dare.  Touch me.  Smell me.  Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers.  I am a true beast.”

“Aslan,” said Bree in a shaken voice, “I’m afraid I must be rather a fool.”

“Happy the Horse who knows that while he is still young.  Or the human either...”

4. No sense of humour: 

Whilst the film, Shadowlands, is worth watching, Lewis’ portrayal by Anthony Hopkins misses the mark in several respects – missing the point that Lewis was a sociable man with a lively sense of humour.   This extract will surely bring smiles to many married couples:

Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I’m afraid, even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again; so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently.

I’ve enjoyed “The Horse and His Boy”, what’s next?

The next (and fourth) book in the Chronicles of Narnia, is Prince Caspian.....


Christopher Simpson

Chris Simpson lives in Sheffield, UK, with his wife where they are members of Meadowhead Christian Fellowship. Chris is well-known for his interest in C S Lewis.

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