The Horse and His Boy

by C. S. Lewis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 747

Much of The Horse and His Boy takes place in Calormen. Back in year 180 of Narnia's existence, Prince Col, the younger son of King Frank and Queen Helen, founded the mountain kingdom of Archenland, just south of Narnia and just north of the Desert. In the year 204, some Archenlanders migrated to the south of the Desert and founded Calormen, a nation that enjoys a warm climate. The farmlands are bountiful and Calormenes ship their fruits and vegetables throughout most of the world. However, Calormene society is based on war, not farming. Sometime in their history, these descendants of Narnia and Archenland invented a pantheon of gods, with the demon Tash as the chief god, and they came to loath and fear Aslan.

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Among the evils that Calormen visits on the rest of the world are war and slavery. The size and shape of Calormen must change often during its history because it is usually at war with its neighbors; Calormen has become a large empire through conquest. The talking horse Bree tells a little about the battles in which he has fought against nations and city-states to the south and southwest of Calormen. It is because Calormen expands through conquest that warriors are exalted over other people, and it is because successful generals are the most esteemed of all that Tisrocs—the kings of Calormen—fear their best generals, even when the generals are their own sons.

In Calormen, women are merely property, to be exchanged among men. Thus, even though Aravis is the daughter of a rich aristocrat and enjoys many comforts, she has no choice in the person she is to marry. As few rights as women have, the slaves have even fewer. In The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," Caspian discovers slavery in his province, the Lone Islands, and when he puts an end to the vile practice, he is warned that Calormen may start a war because of his actions. Calormen imports slaves apparently from anywhere it can; in The Last Battle, one of the first things the Calormenes do is begin shipping Narnians as slaves to work in Calormen's mines in the western mountains. It is this trade in slaves that allows a nobleman to assume that he can buy Shasta from his supposed father, simply because Shasta's hair is fair and makes him look like a northerner rather than the son of a local fisherman.

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Shasta, Aravis, Bree, and Hwin travel from southern Calormen through hills, woodlands, and farmlands. Some areas are still wild, with lions on the prowl. Others are densely populated. Calormen has a vigorous economy and trade cities at crossroads tend to be well populated. The capital city of Calormen is Tashbaan, located on a large island in the middle of the river that winds between the fertile lands of the south and the desert of the north. Tashbaan is a mountain island, with houses and palaces rising on terraces along the mountain's sides. Roads weave around the mountain, and the only traffic rule seems to be that those of lower classes must get out of the way of upper classes. The docks from which Susan, Lucy, Edmund, and other Narnians escape are along the southern side of Tashbaan.

Shasta spends a night in an area to the northeast of Tashbaan, among the huge hivelike tombs of ancient kings. Lewis does not explain who these kings were, but their tombs seem to be respected by the Calormenes. It is among these tombs that Shasta is visited by a golden cat who keeps him company and allays his superstitious fears. Beyond the tombs is the Desert, an expanse of arid land with only one known oasis. If it were not for Bree's skills at traveling under duress, Shasta, Aravis, and Hwin may not have survived the trek north to Archenland.

Archenland spans east to west, the mountains along the southern edge of Narnia, and the northern edge of the desert. Winding Arrow River supplies the region with water. "The Chronicles of Narnia" tell of only one war in Archenland—the one told in The Horse and His Boy. Apparently, Archenland has known mostly peace and prosperity, even when Narnia has been at war or was in the grip of the one-hundred-year winter imposed by the White Witch. It is a place regarded as a safe haven for good people; in Prince Caspian, it is the place to which the prince tries to flee for protection from his uncle Miraz.

Literary Qualities

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The structure of The Horse and His Boy illustrates a simple and universal pattern in literature, that of a journey. Basically, a novel structured around a journey has a starting place and a goal, in this case two starting places, Shasta's home among the coastal hills in southeast Calormen and Aravis's palace home in south-central Calormen, with the goal being Narnia. The attractions of a journey narrative are the events that occur during the journey. These can be very complicated, as in Homer's epic The Odyssey, in which the main character Odysseus takes ten years to reach home while he encounters various predicaments and ingenuously solves them. In The Horse and His Boy, Lewis builds his narrative around a series of markers: Aravis and Shasta's homes, their first encounter with lions, Tashbaan, the Desert, the Hermit's home, and Anvard, with each having its own adventures and representing a step in maturity for one or more of the characters. For example, Aravis and Bree learn something about humility at Tashbaan, with Aravis having to pretend to be a lowerclass girl and Aravis having his fine tail cut raggedly to make him look more common.

Of particular interest are the encounters with the lions, as well as one domestic cat. Bree and Shasta first encounter lions northwest of Shasta's old home, and Hwin and Aravis encounter lions at the same time to the west of Bree and Shasta. The lions have the effect of driving the four together into one group with a common goal: to reach Narnia, where there are no slaves, talking horses have rights, and girls are free. Later, at the tombs of ancient kings, Shasta is comforted by a cat. When Shasta has the foolish notion of setting out across the desert by himself, the cat sits between him and the desert, offering enough comfort that Shasta falls asleep against him. When the travelers are in Archenland, a lion chases them to the Hermit's home, clawing Aravis slightly, while Shasta shows courage by trying to defend the others against the lion. When Shasta is lost in the mountains of Archenland, enveloped in fog, he hears three voices speak to him, and then he sees a gigantic lion walking beside him.

Each of these events represents Aslan taking a hand in the lives of the characters. It was He who originally guided the rowboat on which the baby Shasta was stranded to a shore where he would be discovered and cared for. The lions who pushed the travelers together were actually one Lion, Aslan. As four working together, Aravis, Hwin, Shasta, and Bree had a better chance of escaping Calormen than they had while traveling separately. Each brought something to the journey that helped the others. The golden cat at the tombs was Aslan, again, this time acting as the Comforter, soothing the unhappy spirit of Shasta. The fierce Lion in Archenland was Aslan again, driving the travelers to the Hermit's home and exacting a price on Aravis for her having left her servant to take a whipping.

Each of these instances is meant to show Aslan's hand in people's lives. The incident in the fog is somewhat more metaphysical. The three voices Shasta hears are meant to represent one of the central mysteries of Christianity, how there can be one God in three forms. There is the high voice of the Holy Spirit, the medium voice of Christ, and the deep voice of the Father. The giant lion who emerges from the fog is the embodiment of all three; it is Christ, Aslan's name on the earth. These instances reveal Aslan (Christ) the Guide, the Comforter, the Judge, and the Mystery. The anticlimax of the novel reveals Aslan the Merciful; the law says that Rabadash may be executed for his crimes, but Aslan's judgment leaves Rabadash with his life and a chance to repent and become a good man. Of those who witness Aslan turning Rabadash into a donkey, it is Edmund who knows that only by Aslan's mercy was Rabadash able to mend and become a good man.

Social Sensitivity

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Much of The Horse and His Boy is concerned with dignity. Much of Shasta's journey from his fisherman's home to Anvard involves his learning his own self-worth and earning the respect of others. For Aravis, the process is somewhat more complex. Hers is a culture in which women are commodities, pieces of property to be indulged, mistreated, and traded at the wishes of fathers and husbands. Aravis prays to a female deity for help, apparently not realizing that if women can be traded among men, the deity has been a very ineffective protector of women. Her rebellion is motivated in part by the man her father has chosen for her—the chief advisor to the Tisroc. To Aravis, the man is a sniveling sycophant and he is too old for her. How women are treated in Calormen may seem alien to some young readers, but there have been and still are cultures in which women were and are entirely circumscribed by what men said they could and could not do, and Lewis is very likely entirely conscious of this as he describes Aravis's life, and he plainly prefers the spirited, independent Aravis, dressed in commoner's clothing and aggressively finding her freedom.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

Bingham, Derick. C. S. Lewis: The Storyteller. Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1999. This book is an engagingly written fictionalized version of Lewis's life, intended for young readers.

Coren, Michael. The Man Who Created Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994. This is a well-illustrated and well-rounded account of Lewis's life, intended for young readers.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. This reference for "The Chronicles of Narnia" is more for adults than for youngsters. It is an alphabetical listing of characters and themes, with some sharp, insightful explanations of major issues.

Lewis, C. S. C. S. Lewis Letters to Children. Edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead. New York: Simon & Schuster, Touchstone, 1985. Lewis had an extensive correspondence with children, who wrote to him from all over the world. He made a point of replying to every letter he received, although near the end of his life he needed the help of his older brother Warnie. This book is a selection from his many letters written to young readers. He is charming, but he gives serious answers to youngsters with serious questions.

Wilson, A. N. C. S. Lewis: A Biography. London: Collins, 1990. In this biography, Wilson sorts through the legend to uncover the real C. S. Lewis, explaining much of Lewis's private life, as well as his public career. It is a very good study of the very complex man.

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