Once again I’ve been delighted by my journey through Narnia with my son. Like all the others, we finished The Horse and His Boy in a week because neither of us wanted to put it down. (Though not moving on to math had something to do with it, too, I’m sure.)
Though late in the series, this book jumps back in time and takes place during the rein of the four Pevensie children. Lewis begins his story far south of Narnia, in the savage land of Calormen where a young orphan boy (Shasta) who is about to be sold into slavery meets a talking horse (Bree) and together they decide to make an escape to freedom in Narnia via its friendly neighbor, Archenland. They meet up with a young Calormene girl (Aravis), who is fleeing a forced marriage, and her talking horse (Hwin). During the course of their escape, they mix in with the Narnian court’s unpleasant visit to Calormen and discover a Calormene plot to overthrow Archenland. These elements give the plot a boost, but it’s the mix of characters that makes this one fun.
Shasta is actually a white-skinned child, which marks him as a northerner and not a Calormene native at all. But Shasta has grown up poor and ignorant and does not realize this. Bree, however, a noble war horse who’d been kidnapped out of the north as a foal and seen much of the southern world, does know it. Where Shasta is quiet, meek, and unassuming, Bree is an excellent leader. Their escape across the dessert is successful in large part because of his strength and courage. He does tend to be prideful, however. So does Aravis, who is giving up a good deal of wealth. It’s particularly tough on her when she has to sneak through the great city of Tashbaan, knowing full well she should be carried in on the backs of slaves. Hwin, the mare, is also quiet and meek, but wise.
Though Hwin and Bree were born in Narnia, none of them the four knows quite what to expect upon reaching their destination. And their first meeting with Aslan proves life-changing. It is these deep moments with the great cat, the Narnian diety, that are always the best. My favorite scene in this book is when Shasta crosses the pass between Narnia and Archenland in fog and darkness with something padding along beside him. When Shasta finally finds the courage to speak, he mourns that he’s the unluckiest boy ever. When asked, he then recites a list of all the terrible things that had befallen him on his adventure. The Lion, still unseen by Shasta, replies with quite a different perspective:
“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.”
All this time, unknown to Shasta, Aslan had been guarding his footsteps. It reminds me a bit of the poem, Footprints in the Sand. And when Shasta recrosses the pass in daylight the next day and sees the narrow path and steep drop-offs he navigated in the night, he realized that even as he and Aslan spoke, the lion had been protecting him from danger. *Shivers!*