The Horse and His Boy

by C. S. Lewis

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Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1214

Shasta is the main character of The Horse and His Boy, although other characters are well developed. At the beginning, Shasta is a boy serving the only father he has known, a fisherman. Fair-haired while the local people tend to be dark-haired, he stands out as unusual. A passing nobleman is certain Shasta must be descended from northerners and cannot be the son of the man with whom Shasta lives. Much of the narrative of The Horse and His Boy involves Shasta learning to shed his slave mentality and to think independently and act freely. When Bree suggests that they flee together, Shasta acts more out of fear of the nobleman than out of a desire to be free.

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On the other hand, Bree wants to be free. He remembers being kidnapped from Narnia when he was a colt and forced to serve Calormen in wars. He has a great deal of self-discipline, for he has avoided speaking for all the years he has been captive, knowing that he would become all too interesting to his master and others if they knew he could speak and think. Even so, he is somewhat arrogant and has some learning of his own to do. He has been a magnificent warrior, but the horses he has faced in battle were unthinking beasts, not talking horses like those found in Narnia, and they have been easy for him to overcome. By the time he reaches Archenland, he realizes that to be just one talking horse among many will present him with challenges he has not faced before; he will not be superior to them but equal.

Hwin seems to be a sensible horse. Like Bree, when she sees a chance to escape Calormen, she seizes it. It is Bree's reasoning that a horse and a boy will not excite much interest in Calormen, whereas a horse by itself or a boy by himself might be very interesting to people who might want to capture a stray horse or boy. Hwin has much the same idea about Aravis; she proves a steadying influence for the girl when the girl contemplates suicide, and she is a steadying influence for Bree and Shasta as they go through the emotional upheavals that accompany their growth from slaves to selfmotivated, liberated beings.

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Aravis almost steals the show from Shasta, the boy to whom the title refers. She is passionate and strong-willed, unlike other girls of her social class such as Lasaraleen, who thinks being given in marriage to a rich old man is wonderful. Sometime, somehow, Aravis got it in her head that she should be able to think for herself and to make her own choices. This is admirable, but it comes encumbered with the ruthlessness of the nobility of Calormen; Aravis leaves a servant girl to be whipped for having let Aravis get away. She also has contempt for those of lower classes, which she expresses toward Shasta. Like Shasta and Bree, she has some growing to do, and while Shasta learns to be his own master and Bree learns to live among equals, Aravis learns that anyone who has courage and a good heart is worthy of her admiration and should be treated courteously.

Of interest for "The Chronicles of Narnia" as a whole are the depictions of Susan, Lucy, and Edmund. High King Peter is off fighting against the evil giants to the north of Narnia and therefore does not appear in The Horse and His Boy. Susan has for a short time been impressed by the physical courage of Rabadash, son of the Tisroc, who while visiting at Cair Paravel showed himself to be a master horseman and warrior. Although Susan can be a bit silly at times, she is smart enough to realize that the Rabadash she sees while she visits Tashbaan is a cruel man who would abuse her, as he would abuse any woman. After all, women are little more than the property of men in Calormen.

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Latest answer posted September 8, 2015, 1:04 pm (UTC)

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Significantly, when Narnia sends troops to fight the Calormenes in Archenland, Susan stays behind at Cair Paravel. Although she is an amazingly good archer, she shrinks from fights. By contrast, Queen Lucy not only joins the battle outside the gates to Anvard, capital of Archenland, she leads the contingent of archers. She takes them to a spot above the entrance to the city and has them rain arrows upon the Calormenes who are trying to break down the gates. This commanding presence is seen early on in The Horse and His Boy; when Lucy and the other Narnian visitors to Tashbaan realize that they are almost prisoners of Rabadash, she avidly joins in the planning of their escape. The grownup Lucy of The Horse and His Boy is worthy of the young Lucy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." She is tough and determined, and she relishes a good adventure.

Edmund is also interesting, but as a contrast to the boy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In that novel, he betrays his siblings to the White Witch, and to save his life, the great lion Aslan must give his own in exchange. Edmund the man seems to have fully understood what Aslan did; when someone suggests that Rabadash would never reform, Edmund quietly mentions that he knew of a bad person who did— meaning himself. He is a titan in battle, leading the Narnian army into the midst of the Calomene warriors at Anvard, but he is also merciful. He is also bossy and prone to making overwise statements ("But a boy in battle is a danger only to his own side"), a trait he retains in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader."

The villain Rabadash is undoubtedly courageous, but that does not make him a good man. In battle, he commits himself to the danger as much as anyone else, and he is very good at fighting the enemy, yet he is without the qualities that make Edmund both a courageous warrior and good man. When Rabadash and his warriors are about to attack Anvard, he tells them that they must kill every male there, even the dayold babies, and in exchange they may divvy up the wealth and women among themselves. This is pure villainy, and it is notable that this vile aspect of Rabadash undercuts the value of his courage worthless. Aslan has an interesting punishment for Rabadash, who refuses to repeat his evil and who calls Aslan bad names: Rabadash is transformed into a donkey, and he can only be transformed back into a man in the chief temple of Tash in Tashbaan. Furthermore, he cannot travel farther than ten miles from Tashbaan without permanently turning back into a donkey. Thus, he is transformed from donkey to man in a very public place, so that all his future subjects learn about what happened to him, leading to his being known as "Rabadash the Ridiculous," but he cannot lead warriors into battle against his neighbors. Successful generals are threats to replace Tisrocs, so as Tisroc, after his father's death, Rabadash avoids wars and uses diplomacy to resolve disputes with Calormen's neighbors, bring his subjects into a great era of great peace.

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