Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Horse and His Boy


Is the excitement building, or what? Just last night the trailer for this December's cinematic Narnia release made its historic, world-wide debut. And the film's vision is pretty epic.

Oddly enough, the Chronicles of Narnia themselves, in book form, don't really begin to get the epic feel so early in the game. Not until this third chronological story, published fifth of the seven books, does the sweep and scope of author C.S. Lewis' vision become so apparent.

This month in the Hollywood Jesus Narnia coverage, Kathy Bledsoe provides a synopsis of the basic storyline of The Horse and His Boy. Jenn Wright then presents a summary of what makes this particular book so effective and how it amplifies the Narnian vision; and George Rosok wraps up with a look at the unique dimension of Aslan that the tale presents.

Story Synopsis: Once Upon A Time In Calormen

On the shore of a country called Calormen lives a very poor fisherman named Arsheesh—and Shasta, a boy who “calls” him father. Life (catching and selling fish) is very hard, and depending upon the state of commerce Arsheesh is either basically good-tempered toward Shasta or takes out his frustration by beating him. It is easier to find fault with Shasta than to look for things to praise. Curiously, Shasta finds that he has no interest in being an active part of Calormene culture and is constantly dreaming of whatever might lie to the far north. When he seeks more information he is most likely to receive a blow for his inquisitiveness.

One day, a strange man rides in from the south on a fine specimen of dappled horse. The visitor has very dark skin, as most Calormenes do, and Arsheesh immediately recognizes that this man is a Tarkaan or “great lord” because of the amount of gold he is wearing. The Tarkaan forces himself upon Arsheesh’s hospitality for the night so Shasta is ousted from the cottage. Being unready for sleep, he sits outside by a crack in the wall and listens to the conversation inside. The Tarkaan demands that Arsheesh sell Shasta to him, and in the negotiation process Shasta hears a story that fills him with great delight: Shasta is not Arsheesh’s son but an orphan baby rescued by the insomniac Calormene from a boat on an incoming tide. At last Shasta understands why he has never been able to feel real love for this man, and why his own fair skin and hair make him so out of place in Calormen. He knows that Arsheesh, because of his greed, will end up selling him—so he goes to the stable where he will most likely spend the night and pauses to pet the Tarkaan’s beautiful horse. Musing out loud, he speculates on the kind of man his new master will be and wishes that the horse could talk and tell him about him. To his great wonderment, the horse answers and Shasta is introduced to a real Narnian talking horse who was kidnapped as a foal and made a slave to humans in Calormen. He reveals that the Tarkaan’s name is Anradin and advises Shasta that death would be better than serving in the Calormene's house as a slave. Between them, they hatch a plan to escape to the north and freedom in Narnia—the horse needing a rider to keep from looking odd by traveling alone, and Shasta needing more than his own two legs to flee with any speed. Shasta has a fleeting moment of bittersweet regret after the arrangements are made, but this passes quickly and after a few quick lessons in horsemanship, the two are off into the night, putting in as much distance as they can before either is discovered missing. After setting up a false trail to the south and “home,” where a “normal” dumb horse who broke loose would return, Shasta and the horse (whose long unpronounceable name gets shortened to “Bree”) gallop off into the night.

Shasta awakens the next day at noon and realizes that a) he has been asleep on the ground, b) he no longer smells fish, c) he is on higher ground than he has ever been, and d) that he is so sore that he really doesn’t want to climb back up on Bree ever again. To continue, of course, he eventually has to get back on Bree’s back—and so begins a journey of several weeks filled with tales of Bree’s exploits as a war horse that give way to his longings to forget those days and be a truly free Horse again. They are traveling toward the great city of Tashbaan, the capital of Calormen and the gateway to the north, as Bree sees it, because any other route would take them inland into unfamiliar territory. As they move along across a plain, Bree and Shasta sense that they are not alone. There seems to be another horse nearby. Panic-stricken at the thought of being followed, Bree gallops off inland until the roar of lions forces him to change direction several times. The other horse is now galloping beside them and Shasta sees that the rider is quite small and clothed in chain mail. The horses crash and splash across a sea inlet and pause to blow on the other side as one last angry roar draws their attention to a great and terrible lion crouched on the other side. The strange horse speaks, the strange rider tells her to be quiet, and Bree and Shasta discover that the horse, Hwin, is also a Narnian talking horse ridden by a young girl—and that both are also attempting to escape to Narnia. Bree suggests that all four travel together, a suggestion which is roundly approved by Hwin; but animosity between the girl and Shasta threatens to kill the partnership before it begins and Bree suggests a rest and a time to share stories.

Aravis Tarkheena, a member of Calormene royalty, tells her story. Here’s the gist of it:

  • Mother died and father remarries to a woman who hates Aravis. (Naturally!)
  • Father promises Aravis (14 years old) in marriage to Ahoshta Tarkaan who is 60, humpbacked, and looks like an ape. (That’s appealing to a 14 year old!)
  • Aravis rides to the woods and prepares to kill herself rather than marry the ape-face.
  • Aravis’ horse talks and prevents her from the suicide.
  • Aravis and her new found friend, Hwin, devise a plan to escape for the freedom of Narnia and the north. (Hmmm… where have we heard that before?)
  • Aravis forces an old and trusted slave to write a letter for her—which she later sends to her father from Azim Balda (some town) —the contents of which are written as if coming from Ahosta saying that he discovered Aravis in the forest and HAD to marry her immediately! This, hopefully, to buy enough time to make good the escape.
  • Aravis and Hwin meet up with Bree and Shasta.

The next day, the four continue on toward Tashbaan hiding by day and traveling by night. They agree to meet at the Tombs of the Ancient Kings on the northern side of Tashbaan if they get separated. On the outskirts of the great city, Shasta and Aravis dirty themselves up and get some peasant clothing for Aravis, bundling the horse equipment to look like packs, and they all proceed into the city—the horses being “driven” by the two “peasants.” With admonitions to go straight through the city, the children join the huge, pressing crowd of humanity that occupies it. The quickest way through Tashbaan is up one side and down the other, crossing the river on both sides. (The city is an island in the middle of a river, you see!) They are not even half way through with the upslope before Shasta is mistaken for a runaway by a group of visiting (Narnian) royalty and is whisked away to “safety” while being called naughty (and by the name of Corin—the son of the king of Archenland). He is taken to a palace where, mute with fear, he learns that Narnia’s Queen Susan is in Tashbaan to become the bride of Prince Rabadash, son of the Tisroc (“May he live forever”—you have to say that every time you say his name!) and direct descendant (ahem!) of the god, Tash. But Queen Susan has decided that Rabadash is a creep, and so yet another escape plan is in the making.

As Shasta listens to the Narnians devise a way to return safely home without leaving Queen Susan behind, he hears of a secret pass across the desert that leads into Archenland, which affords access to Narnia beyond. Shasta also hears of the plans to escape aboard the Narnian ship Splendour Hyaline, and so feels that he cannot possibly reveal who he really is without being punished as a spy. Left alone to rest, Shasta falls asleep until awakened by a ruckus at the window. The real Corin, who is an indefatigable adventurer, falls into the room, realizes what has happened with Shasta and helps Shasta get away, telling him to go to his father, King Lune of Archenland. Shasta completes the trip out of the city expecting to find his companions at the tombs, but darkness falls—and after searching around every tomb, he realizes he will be spending the night alone. A very large cat appears from nowhere and leads Shasta to the edge of the desert where it sits facing Narnia. Shasta falls asleep with this cat at his back until awakened by the cries of jackals. The jackals are driven off by a huge lion that Shasta is sure will eat him. He closes his eyes to wait for the teeth, but when nothing happens, he opens them again to see the cat lying at his feet. The next day is long and hard as Shasta waits to see if Bree, Hwin, and Aravis will show up. Just before sunset, he sees the approach of two horses being led by a man… no Aravis in sight.

Meanwhile… Back in Tashbaan
After seeing Shasta grabbed by the Narnians, Aravis grabs the ropes of both horses and proceeds through Tashbaan. Alas, she is apprehended by an old childhood friend, Tarkheena Lasaraleen, who has married well and who whisks her away for a visit, telling her that her father is in town to visit Ahosta and his new bride as Aravis’ letter had suggested. Aravis demands that Lasaraleen help her escape and sends Bree and Hwin ahead with a servant. As the two girls sneak through the Tisroc’s palace to access a boat in which Aravis may cross the river they are forced to hide behind a couch in a room off the stairs as the Tisroc, the Grand Vizier and Ahosta himself enter and plot to invade Narnia, force Queen Susan to marry Rabadash, and thus extend Calormene rule over all the northern lands. Eventually the three leave and Aravis is able to complete the passage to the boat, cross the river, traverse the same road as Shasta had earlier, and finally meet her three companions at the Tombs. The group begins the arduous trip across the desert, Shasta leading because he has been told where the narrow valley is located at the foot of Mount Pire. The valley is found and, true to the tale told by Sallowpad the Raven, it continues widening until opening into a pleasant valley from which can be seen the pass that leads from Archenland into Narnia. They realize that they are in Archenland, across the river called the Winding Arrow, and everyone is so relieved that all want to sit down and relax and revel in their freedom. But that is not to be. Rabadash’s army is moving quickly and is already at the river. King Lune must be warned. Anvard must be reached. Another mad gallop is the order of the day and though both horses are sure they are running as fast as they can (well, at least Bree is sure!), they find even more speed when suddenly they are once again chased by a huge, snarling, roaring lion. As they run, Shasta sees a great green wall ahead, with an open gate framing a long-bearded, tall man. Looking back, Shasta sees that the lion is almost upon Hwin and he jumps from Bree to go back and help Aravis—but before he can get to her the lion rakes her shoulders with his claws. The four pound through the gate into a circular turf enclosure and meet the Hermit of the Southern March, who tells Shasta to run on and warn King Lune. Shasta leaves and the Hermit cares for Aravis and the horses. Bree descends into a pity party because he was too afraid to go back and save Hwin from the lion, but the Hermit helps him to see that he has only been humbled and made to lose the high-flown opinion he held of himself.

Meanwhile… Shasta is running!
As he runs, Shasta runs right into King Lune’s hunting party. King Lune mistakes him for Corin, but Shasta tells him he is not the prince and explains that Rabadash and two hundred cavalry are on the way so he had better get to Anvard and shut the gates! Shasta is put on a horse to ride with the party, but since he never learned to ride a “dumb” horse he has no equestrian skills and quickly finds himself separated from the others. A dense fog has descended and soon the road divides into two directions. Shasta has no idea which way to go, but is forced to make a choice to the right when he hears Rabadash’s army coming up behind him. He overhears the plan to lay waste to Archenland, killing every male in the land and leaving nothing between the wasteland and Cair Paravel in Narnia. Rabadash’s troops move on and Shasta realizes that even though he now knows how to get to Anvard, he can’t go that way safely so he continues on the path he has chosen. Now it is time for Shasta to mount his own pity party, and while he is crying he realizes that someone or something is walking beside him. This is the great and real meeting between Shasta and Aslan, who explains that he has been with Shasta throughout his journey: forcing him to join with Aravis, comforting him as the cat among the Tombs, driving the jackals away, giving the horses new incentive to run harder—even long ago pushing the boat of a child near death to shore where a fisherman could find him. The Lion names himself as “Myself” and displays his glory in a shining, beautiful light that causes Shasta to fall at the lion’s feet. Their eyes meet and then Aslan is gone. Shasta is inclined to pass the whole encounter off as a dream until he notices that a large lion print fills with water and becomes a stream flowing down the hill. He drinks and is completely refreshed. As the sun rises, Shasta realizes that he has traversed the mountains between Archenland and Narnia and has arrived in that northern land of which he has dreamed so long. He quickly meets a talking hedgehog and a rabbit, a Red Dwarf named Duffle, and a stag named Chervy who is picked to take the news of the attack on Anvard to Queen Lucy at Cair Paravel while Shasta is taken to the home of Duffle to eat, rest, and recuperate. After sleeping all day, Shasta awakens to the sound of trumpets and the army of Narnia, led by Lord Peridan and accompanied by King Edmund, Queen Lucy, and Corin. Everyone is amazed to see the similarity between Shasta and Corin but time is short and the march to Anvard must continue. Corin and Shasta are told they will not be in the fight but Corin causes the Dwarf Thornbut to be injured and unable to participate. In the hubbub, Corin gets Shasta into Thornbut’s armor and onto his pony. They both hang back on the end of the column and proceed with the army to Anvard.

Meanwhile… At Anvard’s Gates
Rabadash and his army have made a battering ram from a tree and are attempting to break down the gates. The Narnian army arrives and charges down on the Calormenes. Shasta finds himself completely inept at fighting.

Meanwhile… Back at the Southern March
The Hermit sits by his pool under a beautiful tree and watches the battle reflected in the water, giving a play-by-play of the conflict to Bree, Hwin and Aravis, who can see only vague shapes in the water. The might of the Narnians—great cats, giants, centaurs, fighting men—prevails over the army of the Calormenes until so many of Rabadash’s great warriors are dead or captured that the rest surrender.

Meanwhile… Back at Anvard
Every citizen of Archenland and Narnia is laughing at Rabadash who has managed to get caught by his hauberk on a hook in the wall and is thrashing around like an angry puppet because he can’t get down. He is taken down, bound, and carried into the castle. Corin brings Shasta to King Lune, who astounds Shasta by hugging him and kissing him on both cheeks.

Meanwhile… Bree, Aravis, and Hwin Meet Aslan

With the battle over, Bree, Aravis, and Hwin find themselves pondering their future, a contemplation which is interrupted by the arrival of a huge lion leaping over the wall. Bree bolts and must be coaxed back by Aslan, Hwin comes to Aslan readily, and Aravis is told that it was Aslan who wounded her—she learns that her “stripes” are the consequences of her choice to run away and leave her maid to be whipped by her father. As Aslan bounds away back over the hedge, Prince Cor of Archenland is announced—and in walks Shasta to see Aravis! Long story short, Shasta and Prince Corin were born twins and, when they were but a few days old, a Centaur prophesied that Cor would one day save Archenland. King Lune’s chancellor, who was a spy for the Tisroc in Tashbaan, kidnapped Cor, and put to sea with him. King Lune followed but by the time the chancellor was defeated, Cor and a knight had been put in a small boat—the same boat that Aslan had guided to shore for Arsheesh to find. Cor extends the invitation of King Lune to Aravis to come and live with them, an invitation which she happily accepts.

Cor (Shasta), Bree, Aravis and Hwin travel back to Anvard and are present when justice is dealt to Rabadash. The prisoner is brought before the court in chains and proceeds to curse his captors. As he is spewing his hatred, suddenly Aslan appears and offers mercy to Rabadash. Rabadash responds by calling Aslan a demon and continuing to revile everyone in sight. Aslan warns Rabadash twice and then turns him into a donkey, telling him that he will be returned to Tashbaan where he will turn back into a man. However, if he travels more than ten miles from the Temple of Tash, he will turn back into a donkey finally and forever. Rabadash returns to Tashbaan where the transformation takes place in front of his father’s subjects. When he becomes Tisroc, he is known as Rabadash the Peacemaker because he could never again go to war.

There is a great celebration at Anvard. Cor learns that he was the firstborn twin and so the heir to the throne of Archenland—which suits Corin just fine because he would rather have fun than be bound to kingly duties. Aravis and Cor eventually grow up and marry and become a very good king and queen and parents of the most famous of all Archenland kings… Ram the Great. Bree and Hwin marry too, though not to each other, and visit Archenland regularly.

And they all live happily ever after.

From A Master Storyteller

We all know someone for whom storytelling is a craft, a talent carefully honed until we, their very willing audience, are hanging on every word. My brother Rick is one such storyteller. His tales of outdoor adventures never fail to captivate me, and they always promise to send me into hysterics one or two times along the way. His yarns of hunting and hiking exploits with his trusty (albeit stubborn) mule, Louie, are a highlight of family gatherings (for everyone save his wife). I’ve spent many a spare thought trying to pin down just what makes Rick a great storyteller.

Now, it should be noted that no one else in my immediate family has such a flair for legend-making. Any attempt I might make exceeding a good one-liner, for instance, leaves my audience simply yearning for a conclusion. But Rick has that “special something” down to a fine science—that certain combination of innate talent and practiced technique that draws you into a story as if you were there experiencing the travails with him.

In The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis seems to have found that careful equilibrium as well. His myriad writings in both fiction and non-fiction demonstrate his prowess as a powerful writer; yet one can be a skilled writer without being able to tell a decent story. Likewise, one can spin a good yarn and still not have the slightest idea how to relate the story effectively in writing. This is not to say that the first two books in the Narnia series are weak stories or are poorly told—but here Lewis’ storytelling abilities and writing skill converge, I believe, to create a fully-fledged tale.

But what makes a well-told story well-told? What transforms a narrative into a legend? In The Horse and His Boy, Lewis fleshes out the realm of his stories—and finally the world of Narnia becomes one into which the reader can fully enter.

One foundational strength of this segment of the chronicles is that there is a strong sense of place, something which is less well-defined in the first two installments. In both The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there is some unsettled-ness over the coming and going between worlds. Since no single world—not just “place,” but entire world—is “The Setting” of the first two books, the audience may feel somewhat ungrounded, perhaps even uneasy. In The Horse and His Boy, not only do we have single place to call The Setting, but we have a sense of geography, of the lay of the land. We see how different areas of this world interact, and we travel with Shasta and his cohorts through numerous climates, cultures, and countries, on the way to The Great Land of Narnia itself. Knowing exactly where we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed allows us to become more fully absorbed in the other details of the travels.

While written stories and oral accounts have their differences in language (one rarely speaks in the same style as one writes), language is the basis of a story. One doesn’t use poetic language and flowery descriptions in a calculus text; neither are sunsets or a lover’s eyes frequently expressed in mathematical terminology. Instead, we use specific language styles to communicate our purposes most effectively; English words and grammar may serve both expository and descriptive purposes, but the language used is almost invariably different. Thus, with storytelling (both written and spoken), a look at the language sheds light on the art itself.

In The Horse and His Boy, Lewis delights us with a perfect example of both written and oral storytelling. While his own skill in descriptive narration is evident throughout the book, he also offers unusual insight into oral storytelling by dedicating an entire chapter (“At the Gates of Tashbaan”) to Aravis’ introduction of herself in expert oral-tradition style. Her life to this point becomes the story.

In a similar way, Lewis’ storycrafting takes a rather poetic turn in this book—poetic language takes a more prominent role in his descriptions of the people, the lands, the animals. More than either The Magician’s Nephew or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we are left with vivid mental images of The Horse and His Boy. We can smell the dirty fishiness of southern Calormen. We can picture old Arsheesh wheedling and conniving the Tarkaan stranger over the price for poor Shasta. We feel the warmth of the outsized cat against Shasta’s back among the tombs. The travels through the desert leave us slightly thirsty. Lewis’ skilled descriptions play on all five senses, with heat “shivering” up in waves from the sand, and the Lion “tearing” Aravis’ shoulders; and the experience becomes that much more real for us, his captive audience.

Not to be overlooked, the issue of language itself has bearing. In Calormen, we find Calormene terms—Tarkaan, Tarkheena, Tisroc, just to mention a few—that convey a sense of foreignness unknown thus far in the Narnian Chronicles. In Narnia itself, everyone spoke the King’s English—for all we knew the characters were white Anglo-Saxons, and people as well as speaking animals spoke modern-day British English. Even Jadis, though from the world of Charn, experienced no language barrier (though the cultural barrier was evident). Yet in Calormen, there are indications of racial differences (southern vs. northern, dark and light skin, etc.), and the Calormene vocabulary emphasizes a sense of the exotic—the introduction of a truly “new” place in which we are aliens.

Yet another strength of The Horse and His Boy is the development of characters into people (and animals) with whom we can identify. Though The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe all have numerous good and evil and somewhere-in-between characters, when reading The Horse and His Boy we might find ourselves empathizing with the characters more than in the previous novels. It is easy to share Shasta’s shame upon his first confrontations with the somewhat haughty and proud Aravis, who seems to put on airs and condescend to the poor boy. In the dark night of waiting at the tombs, we can feel Shasta’s fear creep in as the light fades. The horrible dread is nearly palpable when Aravis and her irritatingly self-absorbed friend Lasaraleen are breathlessly hiding in the same room as the secret council of the Tisroc, the Grand Vizier and Aravis’ betrothred, Ahoshta Tarkaan. Even these three men, though only occupying a small part of the story, leave a lasting impression—perhaps moreso than even Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew, for all her hateful behaviors. And, of course, what child has not hoped—even slightly believed, at some point—that he, like Shasta, is a long-lost prince, just waiting to be found by his royal family?

Such empathetic characters draw us into the story until we are a substantive part of it—breathing quietly with Aravis during the secret council, so as not to be heard by the illustrious men; jumping ever so slightly when the Lion’s claws rake across the girl’s back; laughing in spite of ourselves at the humiliation of Rabadash: such things are evidence of our incorporation into the story, a direct outgrowth of our connections with the characters.

We would be quite mistaken, I believe, to address Lewis’ art of storytelling in The Horse and His Boy without giving adequate attention to foreshadowing. While it can be overused and oversimplified (and some might argue that Lewis’ use of foreshadowing is a bit heavyhanded in this case), the technique does draw the audience into the story by hinting at what is to come. From the first page of The Horse and His Boy, we know that Shasta’s current living situation is not as it might appear. Arsheesh is described as a man whom Shasta “calls father,” not as “Shasta’s father.” Moreover, just a few lines later much is made of Shasta’s “Northern” likeness—rather fair-skinned and light-haired, unlike the southern Calormene “darkness of cheek.” So from the very beginning of the story we are engaged and enticed, wondering what Shasta’s past and future have in common. And when, near the end of the tale, Cor’s true identity is revealed, we are at once happy for him and happy for ourselves—for we have grown to genuinely like Shasta/Cor, and his good fortune serves the audience as well.

So what makes this story a good story well-told? I suppose I could try to use mathematical terminology and root-cause analysis to offer some sort of explanation. Above, I’ve noted some specific literary strengths which certainly contribute to the success of a story’s telling, but I would be hard-pressed to think that I have in some way uncovered that certain aspect of storytelling that keeps us wide-eyed and open-eared and glued to our seats. Rather, I think I have merely rediscovered that—mathematically—a good story well-told is more than a sum of all its literarily skilled and crafted parts.

It is a good story—and that, in itself, is enough.

The Narnia Trinity

After reading the first three books of the C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series I can't help thinking of them as a special kind of trilogy: a trinity—an illustration of the Holy Trinity, in fact.

The Magician's Nephew introduced Aslan as the Creator. We first saw him singing Narnia into existence. With his song the day, night, the land, water, plants, and animals were brought to life. He determined who would rule in this land, and he knew its future.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe he more clearly represented the Son. He saved Edmund from his sins of treachery and saved all of Narnia by allowing himself to be sacrificed on the Stone Table by the White Witch and her minions. After being watched over by Susan and Lucy throughout the night, at sunup they found him gone. He then reappeared and presented himself to Susan and Lucy. They feared he may have been a ghost but he was alive. He and his believers went on to overcome and destroy the witch and her evil army. (Lewis also made it plain in this volume that Aslan is but the son of the Emperor beyond the Sea.)

In The Horse and His Boy Aslan's role changes again and models the function of the Holy Ghost. His activities are often in the background. The story’s characters—and often the readers—do not know what Aslan’s purposes are. He appears as early as the second chapter but we are not aware it is Aslan until much later. Usually he comes in some unexpected form and does something that seems unrelated or perhaps even harmful to the characters. It is as though he is ever-present, always knowing, but seldom in a form that is understood or recognizable to the participants of the events. This “guiding spirit” aspect of Aslan’s character—the third manifestation of the Godhead in the Trinity—warrants further discussion.

In chapter two, Bree—the Narnian horse who has helped the young protagonist, Shasta, escape from Calormen—hears what he believes is another horse and rider. He comes up with a plan to avoid them but before he can execute it a ferocious lion chases them. Then another lion appears to be chasing the other party. Against their plans and wishes Bree, Shasta and the other travelers—Hwin, another Narnian horse, and Aravis, a young Calormene girl escaping an arranged marriage—are forced together. They decide to form an alliance in order to get through Tashbaan and other obstacles that lay ahead. This will ensure that together they will work to reach Archenland in spite of separations and many trials along the way.

At the time they think it is only chance that has brought them together; but this is just the first of many times in the story that Aslan intervenes in order to direct events. They only believe they have been attacked by lions, not that they are being divinely led. Aslan even appears to be two lions, to chase the two pairs together.

Aslan appears in other forms as well. Shasta becomes separated from the rest of the group in Tashbaan. He makes his way out of the city to the group’s agreed-to meeting place—the Tombs on the edge of the desert. Here Shasta is frightened and alone. He goes to the desert side of the tombs to wait for the rest of the group, but it is a very lonely and frightening place with the ghostly tombs behind. A large cat appears and this familiar-looking animal provides comfort and company in the lonely night. Although the cat is not overly friendly, he provides a warm back for Shasta to lean against.

Later, approaching jackals waken Shasta. Suddenly a huge animal appears and scares them off. Shasta is afraid it is another lion and that it will eat him, but then he sees again that it is only the same large cat. In this case Shasta, although frightened, doesn't know what the jackals are or the danger they present, or that it is Aslan as the cat who appears to repel the threat. Another point of faith: dangers aren't always perceived, nor are blessings—in this case the blessing of Aslan the Comforter.

Aravis also has lessons to learn, and one of these is to overcome the arrogance and lack of compassion engendered by being raised in a privileged and extravagantly wealthy environment. Slavery and ill treatment of others who are considered beneath them are common and expected patterns in her world. In order to make her escape from her father (and an arranged marriage), she drugs the servant girl assigned to her by her stepmother. Aravis coolly states that the girl was probably beaten for sleeping late, but it's okay because she was a tool and a spy of her stepmother. “I am very glad they should beat her,” is what Aravis tells her companions.

This haughty attitude is brought down later in the book when another lion attacks them as they hurry through Archenland. The lion chases Aravis and Hwin and claws Aravis' back. Again, this is Aslan directing events. Later when Aravis finally meets Aslan he tells her that it was he who tore her back so that the wounds would match those received by the servant girl. “The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave.” He did this because Aravis “needed to know what it felt like.” Through this lesson, although harsh and painful, she does understand the consequences of the pain caused by her presumptuous and haughty actions.

Even though Aravis' cause to escape her father was justifiable—and the servant girl may indeed have been a spy—it was wrong to let someone else suffer because of her own actions, and worse to feel no remorse. By causing events not understood at the time, Aslan helps Aravis to realize her arrogant attitude and she learns compassion.

Bree also benefits from Aslan’s teaching. Because he is a talking horse from Narnia and has also been the steed of a Calormene officer participating in many battles, he also is arrogant and often heedless of danger and the needs of others. Shortly after the four join together they must come up with a plan to get through Tashbaan undetected. Shasta suggests they use disguises. Hwin says they might be less likely to be detected if they went directly through the city because they would draw less attention in a crowd, and she agrees that they should use disguises. She suggests the children dress in rags and pretend to drive the horses so people will think she and Bree are packhorses. Aravis says this is ridiculous because no one would believe Bree was anything but a warhorse. Bree haughtily agrees, but in the end it is Shasta and Hwin’s plan that is employed.

Bree also puts the party at risk when he says they should all sleep after traveling through the desert and into the canyon approaching Archenland. Then, even though they oversleep, he insists that they eat before moving on because he thinks they must be ahead of Rabadash’s army. Bree’s rationalized self-centeredness nearly costs them the advantage of their lead over Rabadash. When they do realize how close Rabadash is and they are racing for Archenland, Aslan appears again as the ferocious lion and attacks them and goes after Aravis in particular. When she is wounded, it is the boy, Shasta, who courageously goes back to try to help her while Bree runs for his life. Realizing this, Bree is brought low; but he learns humility and will be a better creature for it.

But the race to Archenland isn’t just about Bree’s pride. Although all four travelers (and Bree in particular) believe they are exhausted, they find additional reserves when they believe they are under attack. Aslan guides the party’s members to reach inside themselves in order to persevere and overcome the trial at hand. Throughout the story, events occur that make the way difficult and dangerous. It is through these trials that all of the travelers grow and become stronger, wiser and more humble.

Shasta also has lessons to learn. In chapter eleven, Shasta goes ahead to find King Lune of Archenland and him warn him that Rabadash is coming to attack his kingdom. It would appear that Shasta has done his duty and will be safe with King Lune’s party. But as they travel, Shasta and the ordinary horse provided by King Lune cannot keep up with the King’s party. Shasta is not a real horseman and is lost in the fog. Aslan once again appears. He is a bodiless voice in the fog—but though unseen, he is protecting Shasta by preventing Shasta and his horse from riding off the trail and over a cliff.

Aslan reveals himself to Shasta, but only upon being invited. Shasta asks who he is. Aslan replies in a fashion that is like a trinity itself. He responds three times, “Myself.” It is reminiscent of how God responds when Moses asks what he should say to the Israelites when they ask who has sent him. God responds in Exodus 3:14, “This is what you are to say to the Isaraelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Once invited, Aslan the Guide and Comforter assures Shasta that he is real even though he cannot be seen, and he says to Shasta, “Tell me your sorrows.” Shasta tells him all of the hardship in his life including not having a mother and father and growing up sternly with the fisherman in Calormen. He tells Aslan about his escape and all the trials he and his companions have been through along the way up until that moment. Finally Aslan reveals that he was there all along. He was the “two lions” that brought the two separate parties together. He was the cat at the tombs. He was the one who chased them and gave the horses new strength to outrun Rabadash. He was even the one who, when Shasta was a child, pushed the boat he was laying in to shore so it would be found by the fisherman.

What’s more—and though Shasta does not realize it until morning—Aslan helps guide Shasta into Narnia while they are talking. Shasta meets several of the creatures living there and a couple of them have the good sense to notify the royalty at Cair Paravel so they can come to the aid of King Lune of Archenland. Also, it is here that Shasta is fed and is restored. He is able to march back to Archenland with this army from Narnia, accompanied by Prince Corin of Archenland—who is revealed to be Shasta's twin.

Aslan also appears in Archenland after the battle is won. Through all his direct and indirect participation, a prophecy is fulfilled: Shasta, who is actually Prince Cor of Archenland, has returned to save Archenland in its most dangerous hour.

And here we find that not everyone is prepared to be guided by Aslan’s influence. He offers mercy to Rabadash, who has been captured. But Rabadash, ever the arrogant disbeliever, refuses it and even attempts to frighten Aslan and the others at his “trial.” Aslan warns him to accept the offer but Rabadash will have none of it so Aslan turns him into a donkey. Even then he grants Rabadash some mercy and explains to him that he can become human again if he goes to the temple of Tash and stands before the altar at the great Autumn Feast. Once returned to human form he will stay that way only if he does not go more than ten miles from the temple. If he does, he will be turned back into a donkey and that change will be permanent. Consequently, once Rabadash eventually becomes ruler of Calormen, he will not wage war because he cannot leave to fight and he fears that his army will turn on him if it is abroad fighting and he is not there to direct it.

So what we find in The Horse and His Boy is an illustration of how God’s Spirit moves in our own lives. While most of the story seems initiated by the principal characters, the events are always changed and governed by Aslan. Eventually, all things work out according to his plan and to the benefit of those who grow by his direction. How many times in life must we also have faith that certain things happen for a purpose, all evidence to the contrary—just as the Bible tells us?

Often we must extend our faith, must be reminded that we may never know exactly why things happen. In this story, Shasta is fortunate enough to find out what Aslan has done, and to discover his own role in Aslan’s plans. But most of us are still in the middle of our own stories. We must take it on faith that the events of our life have taken place for a reason; and we must rely on that faith in the worst times of our life—even if we never know or understand the purpose of what has happened.


The Horse and His Boy

Chapter 1
  • Wheedling. The art of flattery, of getting what one wants through manipulation.

  • Carbuncle. In medical parlance, this is a boil resulting from an infected hair follicle, one red and swollen. In this context, however, it’s the jewel talked about in the King James Bible (see Exodus 39:10, for instance): a red gem, generally thought to be garnet.

  • August. Not the month. This is an adjective indicating an aspect of character that induces awe or veneration.

  • Plashing. No, there’s no ‘s’ missing there. To plash is to make a light splashing sound.

  • Foal. Since Bree is talking here, he’s calling Shasta “young.” Of course, there’s a pun there, too, with “fool.”
Chapter 2
  • Pasty. Everyone in Britain knows that a pasty is a type of baked meat pie, rather like a small calzone (only not Italian, and certainly not spicy). They’re rather good, though, particularly with peas and a pint of cider. I should know.

  • Dumb. Without the ability to speak. This is not intended as an insult. Okay, maybe it is, in this context.

  • Downs. Rolling hills. It really sounds funny to say “up here in the downs,” though, doesn’t it?

  • Cob. According the American Heritage Dictionary, a “thickset, stocky, short-legged horse.” Bree is again making a slighting reference to other, less impressive horses. Ahem.
Chapter 3
  • Tash. This name for the “false god” of the Calormenes is apparently derived from one of the names of Ahura Mazda, the god of Zoroastrianism. Ahura Mazda is sometimes called Tasho or Tashea, the Designer.

  • Posts. Messages, or letters. It’s been a long time since Americans have used that word in that way; but a “Post Office” is still where you “post” letters.
Chapter 4
  • Litter. A small platform mounted on poles that allow it to be carried; it also allows one or more people to ride and be carried, and that’s the point here. Special people (or people who just think they’re special) are carried on litters.

  • Sherbet. Not the frozen, ice cream-like dessert we know now. This is taken from the Turkish word, meaning a sometimes snow-cooled fruit drink.

  • Lover. Okay. Times change. In Lewis’ day, lovers were simply people who were rather fond of each other. In this context, we don’t need go any further than that (neither did Susan and Rabadash).

  • Hastilude. A contest of arms.
Chapter 5
  • Suit. Courtship. Edmund was suggesting to Rabadash that his pursuit of Susan may be coming up short.

  • Hyaline. Transparent, like gossamer. The wings of a dragonfly, for instance, are said to be hyaline.

  • Snipe. A type of bird, which really does exist. Whatever you do, though, NEVER go on a snipe hunt if someone asks you to. Trust me.

  • Tilt. The act of jousting.
Chapter 7
  • Punt. A type of small boat.
Chapter 8
  • Jade. A nagging, mean-spirited or shrewish woman.

  • Apothegm. A short pithy quote, like an aphorism, epigram or proverb.
Chapter 9
  • Faugh! An exclamation of disgust. The short form, apparently, of an Irish war cry meaning “clear the way.”

  • Scullion. A kitchen servant.
Chapter 10
  • Undressed. Not naked, but untreated. Bandages are wound dressings.
Chapter 12
  • Frowsty. Stale.

  • ”I’d as lief…” “I’d willingly…”
Chapter 14
  • Bezzling. Embezzling, of course.

  • Galleon. That’s galleon, not gallon. One’s a big ship, the other’s a big container of liquid.
Chapter 15
  • Strait Promise. A forced oath obtained from the loser in a battle.

  • Pajock. Peacock, but used as term of contempt.

  • Estres. A Middle-English word meaning “inner rooms.” King Lune is proposing a full tour of the castle, not just the battlements.