on 24 October 2012
[Throughout the years, I have written a number of reviews that have never been published online on Amazon. These writings comprise two types of reviews: unfinished reviews, abandoned during various stages of composition, and completed reviews that for life reasons were never posted. Of the later type, back in September 2001 I wrote a cache of work, a full sixteen reviews* of several different C. S. Lewis books which have never been released. I have issued these reviews in October 2012 on Amazon.com, over a decade after they were initially written. However, these reviews were heavily edited and in several instances radically and drastically revised. I am publishing these reviews now for the first time in their original, unrevised format as written in 2001, with bracketed additions added for occasionally necessary clarification. Mike London 10-23-2012]
The Horse and His Boy stands as the only book referred to by name in any other [Narnia] book. The Silver Chair, although published fourth, was actually written fifth. Another thing that should be said about The Silver Chair is the great leap in characterization of Jill, who, it can be argues, is the most realistically drawn girl in the whole Narnia series. The Horse and His Boy is referred to earlier in book when Jill and Eustace are still in Narnia. A feast is being held, and a minstrel comes and sings the lay of The Horse and His Boy.
One of the most peculiar elements in this book is that it is the only story in which humans from our world are not cast as the main heroes or heroines. Looking at it from a compositional viewpoint, which is absolutely essential in fully understanding The Chronicles of Narnia, it seems Lewis is not quite ready to leave the Golden Age of Narnia without another story.
Calormen and Archenland needed further exploration to establish the relationship between these two nations and Narnia. Whether he had The Last Battle in mind or not is unknown, but this book certainly establishes a context for that novel.
Some of the key themes here are the dangers of vanity, the quest for identity, and the fact that no matter what happens God is always there. All thee of these are interrelated to one another and tied into each other with an expert touch. Bree, although knowing his true identity, is fettered by vanity. He becomes so focused on his own looks that he misses entirely the point of being in Narnia. Narnia is his home, and he cannot be expected and should not be expected to know the fashions of his long lost home. Even if he does not coincide with the fashions, what does it matter? It is shallow indeed if, when the prodigal son came him, his father would not accept him because of his appearance.
This ties into the theme of the quest for identity. Bree is Narnian born and he has the right to live there, long tail or no. Shasta, however, the best example of identity. He turns out to be the long lost son of King Lune, and he takes his rightful place as being the King of Archenland when he has grown. Aravis also represents the quest for identity, but sense this is going to be the focus of my other paper [included as bonus content down below], I will not go to in-depth here. But these three, along with the gift of providence, is Lewis's tools for showing God will be with us and he will get us where he wants us if we just let him.
[I am including as bonus content to the review proper a paper I wrote regarding the quest for identity in "The Horse and His Boy", written around the same time as the review back in 2001. 10-7-2012]
As C. S. Lewis's fifth novel in his fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy stands as a pivotal search for identity in times of crises. In each of the four main characters, Lewis gives us a portrait of how humanity can become enslaved into slavery and the quest for each character directly ties into one another. Lewis's prime intention in this book is to describe, by illustrating two ways people come to God and two ways people endure trials with God's help, how God has created for each of us a unique identity and we cannot walk in this identity without the initial discovery and journey toward God.
The central thesis of "The Horse and His Boy" argues that God, if we allow him, will guide us into our proper stations and our true identities, and then Lewis details the four places we can be with God in this quest for identity by each of the four characters. Whether you are a pagan but have a very intense longing for something more (Shasta), a pagan who must escape their situation not for religious searching but for practical reasons (Aravis), a Christian who has, because of sin, gone into a series of trials that God wants to lift them out of (Bree), or a Christian who simply must endure a trial for not really knowing the reason why (Hwin), God will place certain people in our lives to aid us in coming closer to him until we finally meet. Although each character ties into this theme, due to space this paper will only be looking at Shasta.
We shall start with Shasta, who is very reminiscent of John from "The Pilgrim's Regress" in that he also has this desire, but in that book Lewis uses an image of an Island for his purposes there. Shasta finds himself almost a slave in the house of his father, though Arsheen lies in this manner for he is not Shasta's true father. Shasta has a very keen desire to go north, but he does not know why. The longing is very intense, but whenever he asks his father, Arsheen tells him not to think of such things or else beats him.
This is a very important portion of Lewis's main theme: the world we live in is not our home, and the masters of our lives do not care for us in the least, but instead are interested in exploiting us. Like Shasta, people start out believing that this realm is their home, but they are aliens to it by the very longings they experience. Arsheen's equivalent in our own world would also have these longings but will not allow themselves too, being only focused on the matters that directly concern them in the concrete, physical realities. Here, Arsheen is only interested in practical matters and will not allow himself the healthy and vital activities of inquiring minds.
It could be argued that he stands as the same type of character as Devine from the Space Trilogy: interested only in creature comforts and what will get him ahead in the world. It is through Arsheen's greed that we learn clues of Shasta's real destiny: he is not Calormen born at all, but was rather discovered by Arsheen in a boat. Like Devine, Arsheen will sell Shasta into slavery for the wealth Shasta can bring him. An important truth comes to the forefront of the text: Shasta now feels relieved for not being able to love Arsheen as a son does to a father. We are travelers through this world and it is not our home. This is not Shasta's father, and he should not bear him any of the love that is reserved for the father-son relationship. Shasta feels quite happy for realising that his identity is not of the country he finds himself in but rather that of what he has been longing for, although he does not discover this fact about his true identity until he meets Bree.
Because he has been desinsitized to his true identity, Shasta is quite surprised that Bree can talk. If he had grown up in his homeland then this would not have surprised him at all. It takes Bree telling him he must be a northerner to explain his longings for the north. As Bree and Shasta and Bree join together, Shasta learns the behaviors of a Talking Horse. Although he does not know it yet, this will help him because he will be the King over Archenland and many of his subjects will be Talking Animals. Because of this fellowship with Bree, he develops sympathy for Bree and Aslan uses this to cultivate a love and exposure that Shasta needs, and while his knowing the rational beasts in Archenland would also do this, escaping together with a Talking Animal is a much more effect tool for teaching respect of them. Here, Shasta must rely on Bree quite a bit to in escaping. These memories build a fondness and a respect for the capabilities of the Talking Animals.
One of the most significant themes that ties into the quest for identity that is the central theme of The Horse and His Boy is that of chance vs. destiny. When Aravis talks about luck, the Hermit says in his one hundred and nine years of living he has never encountered such a thing. What often seems unpleasant and also very unnecessary circumstances are indeed the very tools that God is using to build your identity. When the four main characters are united for the first time it is because of the roaring of lions, seemingly two but in actuality only one although they do not discover this until much later on. One of the most telling remarks about Shasta is that, seeing Aravis is a noble born, he too attempts to adopt high manners, but because a fishing hut is not the type of place to learn this his attempts come off miserably. Like any one out in the world, Shasta's true identity has been suppressed. His twin brother would have had training in this area, but because he has been kidnapped, Shasta cannot behave in this way.
Another important truth Lewis is giving his readers is that Satan and his followers do not care about your true talents and Satan knows if you begin using them the way God intended you for or cultivate them to the point where God can use them it will only spell trouble for him. Satan would rather have you toiling your life away in his service to further his own kingdom rather than God's. Yet, at the same time, when there are things that a person does not understand, in the end God will receive glory from it. Shasta would never have guessed that Aravis, this proud and haughty woman who is bereft of compassion, would one day become his wife and help him rule over Archenland and that their son would be the one of the greatest kings Archenland. Lewis has them get married to show the readers that if you are following God, He will direct you to your spouse. Your family makes up a very large part of your identity, and God will take care of this part of your life.
When the two humans and two horses make it into Tashbaan, Shasta is mistaken for the missing prince, which he is missing but not in the sense that either the king or Shasta is presently aware of at this point in the tale. These people, walking in the identity God has given them, elevate Shasta into the identity he should be walking in, although neither parties are aware of this. However, if it were not for this encounter, he would not be aware of the similarities between Corin and himself. Lewis also uses this to show that Christians, when walking in their true identity, will aid others in discovering theirs even though the Christians may be unaware of this aid they are supplying to the people who are in the process of discovering themselves. It may also be a Biblical allusion, although it does not fit perfectly, into the fact that when God addressed Gideon he addressed him as a man brave and a great man of God.
God speaks of things as if they do already exist, when indeed they do not. However, the Narnians are not God, but it may be an allusion to it. Because Shasta is now walking in his true identity, he has the mindset of the Calormen. He feels that the Narnians will kill him if they discover that he is not the true prince. The Narnians would not kill him for that is not who they are, but it would be the proper thing to expect of the Calormen, which leads us to the point that if you have not yet made the decision to become Christian, to walk in that God created you for, you cannot think with the mind set of righteousness. A person can be aware of what righteousness is, but to have that mind set one cannot expect to fully walk in it. You must daily submit yourself to God for this mindset to develop, and even then it will never fully be perfect in this fallen world. So Shasta escapes with his brother's help.
The reason he escapes is because he still has obligations to his three companions, although Shasta is tempted to go with the Narnians and leaving the real Corin here. However, Corin himself destroys this impossibility by showing up, and Shasta discovers they become friends in the short time they are together. Shasta also recognizes the goodness in the Narnian royalty as well.
As they meet in the tombs, Aravis tells Shasta of the invasion that Rabadash is launching against Archenland, and it is because of the Narnians that he discovers the route past the desert. Who you fellowship with shapes your identity, and because of the being with the Narnians, Shasta becomes equipped for aiding his country. Also of importance is Lewis notes Shasta's doubting Aravis when they are detained for the night in Tashbaan, because he fears that she would go on without him, but Bree would not, and then he even has second thoughts about this. This doubting reminds the readers of Shasta's doubt about the other Narnians. He doubts Aravis because she has not accepted the identity that is to be hers, but is being guided toward it as Shasta himself is. But Shasta doubting Bree, who does believe in Aslan and Narnia but has fallen away himself, is of more interest. Shasta could not have known about the invasion by Rabadash without Aravis being in the chamber of the Tisroc and could not have walked in his true identity, which is a king who has saved Archenland from invasion.
God brings people together for reasons that we cannot know, or generally do not know, until long after the events. Another element that ties into this theme is the fact that, even though the man who kidnapped Shasta meant it as harm, instead this action brings about the very fulfillment of the prophecy that he shall save his land from invasion. This harkens back to the prophecy of Oedipus, the man who killed his father and married his mother. This, however, is the Christian version of that concept, but the book makes it quite clear that God is at the back of everything, and even when an a person has evil intent for a specific action, in the end it will aid God's purpose.
As demonstrated quite clearly, Shasta's return to his kingdom fulfills the prophecy, and, by things he does not understand at the time, becomes attached to people who would shape this identity. By letting his longing for the north take full fruition, Shasta is able to gain his true identity, as well as his true name. The other three characters are also tied into this identity theme. Lewis's central beliefs on identity found expression in this work.
[I also wrote two sections dealing with words in the Narnia books and use of colour which were not originally part of the review but relevant to "The Horse and His Boy"]
FARCICAL HUMOUR IN NARNIA: One of the best examples of farcial humour in Narnia is the scene where the animals in Magician's Nephew are trying to determine what Uncle Andrew is. It also plays on the animal vs. humanity theme that Lewis had such a fondness for. Because Uncle Andrew blinded himself he could not tell the inherent kindness one should posses toward animals. He feels they are just roaring and should be disposed of. Another example is with the two girls, Aravis and Lasareleen, as they are trying to hide behind the couch when the Tisroc and his son and Grand Vizeer have their own councils.
USE OF WORDS IN NARNIA: The Deplorable Word in The Magician's Nephew is the word that leveled Charn. This word, with the mere utterance, Jadis killed all of the inhabitants as well as herself. She was so obsessed with power that she no longer cared about anyone other than herself. If she could not possess the throne, no one could. Just like Uncle Andrew and his attitude toward the guinea pigs, Jadis did not give her subjects any humanity. They were things, not people, to be ruled over, and that is it. Another significant use of words in the Chronicles is Shasta, whose real name is Corin. Aslan speaks of the importance of names in LWW. The true theme of The Horse and His Boy is the quest for identity, and your name has a lot to do with who you are. There is power in names. There is also Biblical basis for this belief, for there are numerous times when God renamed someone in the Bible.
*(These reviews covered all seven books of "The Chronciles of Narnia", the three novels of "The Space Trilogy", "The Abolition of Man", "The Four Loves", "A Preface to Paradise Lost", a revised version of my 2000 review of "Till We Have Faces", "Surprised By Joy", and "The Screwtape Letters".)