Ah. A Horse and His Boy, my favorite entry of the series as a kid. I was okay with The Magician’s Nephew, and meh with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, but this was the book I would always listen too. I’d listen to its cds all day. This was definitely my favorite novel. The question is though, is it still my favorite?
I realize many of you will have either 1: Not read the books in a while. Or 2: Have never even read them in the first place. So I’ll give you all some perspective with a short gif recap, after which I’ll go into my Thoughts On It Now section. So if you want to skip this, just scroll down to there.
We are introduced to our first Protagonist, Shasta. He is the son of an abusive fisherman in the land of Calormen, just south of Narnia and its sister country Archenland. This story midquel as it taking place during the Pevensie’s rein as Kings and Queens of Narnia.
Shasta, a fisherman’s son, is just minding his own business
when a Tarkaan, who is like a feudal lord in Calormen society, demands to stay in the fishermen’s hut. It is then the Tarkaan offers to buy Shasta. Because, here’s the twist,
Shasta isn’t actually the fisherman’s biological son, he was actually adopted. Which explains why he’s is the only white dude in his village.
Apparently adoption doesn’t mean much, and the Fisherman will happily sell his son to the Tarkaan.
Shasta hears all of this, feels pretty unfazed to find out he’s adopted, and thinks about his new life as a slave.
However, he’s surprised to find out that the Tarkaan’s horse, Bree, is able to speak.
Turns out Bree is a Narnian, obsessed with returning home, and sees that Shasta is obviously too fair to be a Calormen, and says they should both escape back to Narnia Together!
Shasta agrees to fulfil his Hero’s Journey™, and they ride off(with some difficulty) away to Narnia and the north!
Bree and Shasta encounter little drama until they are besieged by two Lions. In the ensuing chase they meet up with two other riders, Aravis the Tarkheena and Hwin, another Narnian horse,
and they’re also escaping to Narnia. Aravis gets along with Bree but mostly ignores Shasta. As far as she’s concerned, he’s just a lowborn common boy. (Her classism is sort of her theme.) They both agree to continue with each other.
But before they begin we get a bit of Aravis’ backstory. She is promised to marry Ahoshta Tarkaan, despite her being around 14 and him being around 60.
However, she’d rather commit suicide, so she, under the guise of a ritual, goes to the forest and tries to stab herself. Fortunately Hwin stops her
and convinces her escape to Narnia with her instead. Aravis agrees they run off with her. So Aravis hatches a plan to escape involving some trickery using letters and drugging her slave. Her plan succeeds and she runs off, not caring about the consequences of her actions.
“And what happened to the girl – the one that you drugged?” asked Shasta.
“Doubtless she was beaten for sleeping late,” said Aravis coolly. “But she was a tool and spy of my stepmother’s. I am very glad they should beat her.”
So yeah. She has some serious Classism issues.
Anyway they agree to travel together. But they have the issue of getting through Tashbaan undetected. So they argue the best way through, until Hwin comes up the best plan, disguises! So they, disguised, get through Tashbaan without issue.
Until Shasta is abducted by some Narnians who see him in the crowd. So he’s kidnapped leaving Aravis and the horses. He’s taken to the Narnian’s temporary house. Turns out he’s been mistaken for the prince Corin, who ran away. And it just so happens Shasta looks exactly like him.
Shasta is there when the Narnian’s explain why they’re there. So Susan was thinking about marrying prince Rabadash. So she and Edmund decided to check this dude out at his home. Turns out he’s an ‘ass’.
And he’s going to force Susan to marry him! Fortunately they plan an escape and in the process Shasta learns the best way to Narnia from Tashbaan. So the plan is created, there’s some food, and Shasta is set into his room.
Then the prince Corin shows up.
He and Shasta then switch places and Shasta sets out to the tombs, where he plans to meet up with Aravis. There he snuggles with a ‘cat’,
and then wakes up. He then wakes up and surprise! Its Bree and Hwin, but no Aravis!
We then backtrack and meet up with Aravis and the horses when Shasta last left them. It turns that she was also recognized by an old friend, Lasaraleen, who instantly recognizes and screams out at Aravis.
Aravis then jumps into Lasaraleen’s litter, closes the curtains, and bluntly tells her the entire situation. Lasaraleen is excited by all of this and takes Aravis home. There she fusses about giving Aravis a bunch of stuff she doesn’t want until eventually she helps her figure out how to escape.
She then escorts the horses to the stones, and separately Aravis into the House of the Tisroc and they go into the old palace to get to a secret opening to the river outside the city. But then someone’s come upon them and they hide.
Turns out the Tisroc, his son Rabadash, and Ahoshta are there to scheme. They then plan how to take Narnia and make Susan marry Rabadash. Then they leave having served their expositional purpose and Aravis continues her plot.
The two friends say goodbye forever and Aravis rides away in a boat called a punt.
Then she meets up with the other three and they ride off to Narnia and the North.
Eventually they are chased by yet another Lion, and Aravis is attacked while Shasta tries to save her by screaming at the lion to stop. For some reason it works. And skedaddle into some random Hermit’s house to heal.
From this point Shasta is pinballed around Narnia and Archenland,
he meets the king of Archenland, who looks at him wistfully, mopes around and feels bad for himself, and meets up with The Great Lion Aslan who reveals that, wait for it, all of the lions Shasta’s met along his journey were only one lion.
Not only that, but Aslan was that Lion!
He saved him as a child, scared him through Calormen, and scarred Aravis. After he explains this, he then ditches Shasta.
Shasta then meets some forest critters, sees Corin again, is persuaded into sneaking into a battle along with Edmund and Lucy(who is now an archer and fighting this battle! #takethatsexism) against the Calormen, and is so miserably at fighting, that he falls off his horse.
Then Lewis realizes how terrible Shasta is as a POV for this battle, and takes us back to the Hermit’s house where everyone watches from a sweet third person perspective, as narrated by the Hermit himself.
Through grit, the Narnians wins, and Rabadash fails miserably in taking Narnia.
Shasta is then taken aside by the king and compared to Corin, and finds out something amazing…
But then the narrative shunts the reader back into the Hermit’s house. There Aslan shows up, gives Bree some wisdom, compliments Hwin after she says he can eat here (it sorta makes sense in context?), and tells Aravis why he attacked her. So she could know what she did to her slave. Although when she’s then curious about what’s happened to her, Aslan states that he can only tell her her story, no one elses. He then pops out, but later then someone else ‘surprising’ shows up.
Shasta pops in and reveals to Aravis, Bree, and Hwin something amazing! His real name is Cor, he is the twin brother of Corin, and he’s the long lost king of Archenland.
He invites Aravis to live in the castle and she accepts. In the final chapter Rabadash shows up and makes an ass out of himself in the face of mercy. Then Aslan show up again and gives Rabadash chances to avoid his doom. He brushes off Aslan’s mercy, and is then turned into an literal ass
and is sent back to Calormen. There he is turned back and is forced to be a peaceful Tisroc. Aravis and Cor become so good at arguing and making up they get married and have a son.
Bree and Hwin get married to other horses and everyone lives happily ever after!
Thoughts On It Now
This is still a very enjoyable book to me. Alex Jennings sells his lines. He is the reason this book is so good, and shows that a good actor can really elevate the source material. He instinctively changes his inflection and manipulates the dialogue. He elevates the text to something amazing. If you ever want to read this series, don’t. Instead, you should just listen to Jenning’s soothing voice.
The first topic I’ll tackle is race and Calormen. I think it’s fair to say Calormen is following the general idea of ‘Arabia’, and the religion seems to be a proxy of sorts to Islam. But I don’t know enough about the religion to comment on the books accuracy. I do feel prepared to talk about race though.
It could’ve been so easy for Lewis to write all Calormen as these evil Middle Eastern brown people, but I’m pleasantly surprised. His Calormen characters actually have some depth, well, at least the female ones. I’m talking about Aravis and Lasaraleen. Aravis is Not Like Other Girls™, an excellent planner, and true to her word. She is also rudely blunt and incredibly classist. Lasaraleen is like other girls, an excellent planner, and cares for her friend’s greatly. She is also superficial and can lose focus of what’s important. These women are a bit complex.
Sadly all of the Calormen men are all completely negative. I suppose Shasta is ethnically Calormen being raised by a Calormen fishermen. Yet I’m hesitant to count him as a shining example when the emphasis is that he’s Narnia and isn’t Calormen. This leaves the fisherman, Rabadash, his father the Tisroc, and Ahoshta Tarkaan, who are shown to be unabashedly evil. Rabadash who wants to force Susan to marry him. His dad the Tisroc who wants to completely dominate Narnia because the country annoys him. Ahoshta who is spineless and weak. It would’ve been nicer if Lewis had included a more rounded Calormen men. They didn’t have to perfect examples of humanity, but instead just a have bit of nuance like Aravis or Lasaraleen.
Speaking of Aravis and Lasaraleen, their friendship is my favorite part of this book. They are almost complete opposites. Aravis is tomboy. She wears armor, will run away from her marriage, and loves swimming and dogs. Lasaraleen wears the prettiest dresses, is happy to be married to a Tarkaan, and loves parties and gossip. (She even has a pet monkey. She’s pretty awesome.)
On the surface they share nothing in common. So when they interact it seems like they’ll hate each other, and Aravis will be shown to be cooler than Lasaraleen for not being like other girls. Instead they are great friends, and Lasaraleen does everything she can to help Aravis out of Tashbaan. She uses her social connections and knowledge to smuggle Aravis into the House of the Tisroc. She cares about Aravis and wants to take care of her to the best of her abilities. This mean giving her the best dresses and baths. She’s also shocked Aravis doesn’t want to marry Ahoshta. A marriage with him would give Aravis a great social standing like Lasaraleen and insure that they would get to hang out together.
Aravis wants none of that. She wants to escape this system. Lasaraleen, despite everything, respects Aravis and helps her through with her escape. And despite their differences, Aravis still respects Lasaraleen and even compliments her dresses and house. Aravis hopes she has a good life, while acknowledging that it wouldn’t suit her. She then hugs her before saying goodbye forever.
It makes me happy that these two women, despite being so different, are still great friends. Both still respect each other and maintain an affectionate friendship. Even better is that Aravis still appreciates her friend, and doesn’t hate her for being girly. She may think of her as silly and completely disagree with Lasaraleen, yet she never hates her.
Another aspects of Aravis’ arc concerns her classism. She ignores Shasta as he’s nothing but a commoner to her, she doesn’t care about the consequences her slave will face, and she is specific how Ahoshta is baseborn as a Tarkaan. This all comes to a head when she is attacked by Aslan. Shasta runs back to Aravis to save her, and Aslan uses his claws to wound her pain for pain as her slave was punished for sleeping late. This makes her reflect on how she treated Shasta, and later wonders what happened to her slave after she was punished.
While I like that Aravis got this cool arc about looking beyond class, I have some hesitation calling it amazing. All of this stems from Aslan hurting her as her slave was hurt. I understand that Lewis was going for understanding the pain you put others through and respecting that. That’s a great way to understand other people’s pain. Yet I don’t like that Aravis had to be brutalized to learn her lesson. So on one hand I’m torn between liking what he was going for, and being unsure about how he went about it. Then again, it also allowed Shasta to help Aravis overcome her classism. I just don’t know.
Speaking of Shasta, there isn’t as much to say about him. He has a prototypical heroes’ journey. He’s also a cinnamon bun. He is also incredibly dorky and endearing. But beyond that, his growth was mostly just something like, “My life isn’t so bad. Yay.” He’s well written. I just didn’t find him as interesting as Aravis.
Bree is an interesting showcase of pride with a mixture of competence. We see his pride turn against him when his personality of rolling around in the grass clashes with his idea of the dignified free north. Lewis is showing us how people comprise themselves to fit a cultural ideal they don’t want to. It’s an interesting stance against cultural imperialism. My only complaint is it isn’t as developed as it could be, but again, its just personal taste.
Hwin is one of the best characters of the book. While she’s mostly in the background, I’m never forgetting she exists like I did with Susan. Unlike Bree, she has a complete understanding of who she is and won’t comprise herself. Whether she be a Narnian horse or not, she is Hwin. She’s also a competent planner, and was the one who come up with the idea to get through Tashbaan.
I love how much more feminist this text is too. Yes Susan is still a bit bland, but Lucy got to attack with the archers in this books battle.
Overall this is a much better text than The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Even with all of the problematic race issues and how Aravis learned her lesson, this is still my favorite book so far. It’ll be interesting to see how much Lewis improves in the next book, Prince Caspian.