Hot, endless sands and curved scimitars. Swarthy princes and the giant, four-armed false god Tash. A young boy and girl seek escape from the only land they have ever known. These elements may seem foreign to the C.S. Lewis fans familiar with the dense forests, crystal seas, and sometimes snowy landscape of other Narnian tales. This is for good reason.
The Horse and His Boy, Lewis’s third installment in the Chronicles of Narnia series, takes its readers outside the realm of Narnia into the vast and dangerous southern kingdom of Calormen. Besides the change in setting, new readers may also be surprised by the identities of the main characters of the story.
These delineations from the more common Narnian setting of Lewis’s chronicles provide a unique opportunity for readers to glimpse the world outside of Narnia. We learn intimate details about the culture of the Calormen people which could never be gleaned by reading the other six books in the series.
This departure reminds us of the scope Lewis had in mind when writing these books: it’s not just about the Narnians; Aslan is interested in people from all over that world. It also gives Lewis the chance to exercise regions of his imagination that would otherwise be missed.
This novel takes place, as its opening line reads, “in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him.” Yet the four Pevensies are not the central characters of this adventure. Instead, a young slave boy, Shasta, and a runaway princess named Aravis join together with two talking horses in an effort to escape to the North in search of freedom.
Along the way, the four companions must learn to overcome their various prejudices. Not only are they forced to abandon their biases against one another, they must also lay aside the pride which inflates their egos. The vagabond band encounters many external hardships as well. Be it thirst brought on by the environment or the conspiracies of kings, they are seldom more than a hair’s breadth away from perishing.
Readers who believe that no Narnia book is complete without the appearance of the mighty lion Aslan will not be disappointed by The Horse and His Boy. Aslan shakes his mane more than once in these pages and executes judgment, justice, and kindness toward the characters of the novel. He is the same untamed lion as in the rest of the Narnia novels.
This story is a romance in a particular meaning of the word. It is infused with suspense and surprise for the reader and the characters, which they endure for the sake of following a desire drawing them northward. The story is so well-told that Lewis can be likened to a professional tale-teller or Arabian Nights contributor.
As is to be expected from Lewis’s novels, there are jewels of wit, wisdom, and drama between its binding. Whether one is looking for a Christian worldview embedded in a fantastic story, or a tale of Arthurian proportions in a unique setting, The Horse and His Boy will not disappoint.