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The Horse and His Boy — “The Chronicles of Narnia” Series


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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series.

Plot Summary

During the Golden Age of Narnia, a boy called Shasta lives in Narnia’s neighboring country of Calormen. Shasta is the son of Arsheesh the fisherman, but when a Tarkaan lord of Calormen comes to stay at their hut, Shasta overhears their conversation and discovers that he was adopted. He also learns that Arsheesh is planning to sell him as a slave to the Tarkaan. The Tarkaan’s horse, Bree, is a talking horse from Narnia, and he and Shasta decide to make their escape from both of their masters.

After a few weeks of traveling toward Narnia, Bree hears another horse and rider nearby in the forest. Bree tries to avoid them, but the sound of a lion’s roar drives the two horses and riders closer together. After the lion stops chasing them, Bree hears the other horse speak. Hwin is a talking mare, and her rider, Aravis, is the runaway daughter of a wealthy Tarkaan. They are also running away to Narnia, so Bree proposes that all four of them travel together.

When the four companions arrive at the great city of Tashbaan, their plans are disrupted. Shasta is mistaken for a young prince and picked up off the street by Narnian nobles who are visiting Calormen. Shasta is taken back to the Narnians’ guest quarters and overhears their decision to flee from Calormen before they are forcibly detained. He also hears about a secret passage from the Calormen desert into Archenland and on to Narnia, which he commits to memory for his own upcoming journey. While the adults are out of the room, the real Prince Corin of Archenland returns. Shasta switches places with him and climbs out of a window to go find his companions. He leaves Tashbaan at sunset and has to stay the night near the Tombs of the Ancient Kings. The Tombs frighten him, but Shasta is comforted by a cat that stays with him and rests its back against him while he sleeps. The next morning, as Shasta wonders how long he should wait at the Tombs for his friends to join him, a Calormene servant leads Bree and Hwin out to the Tombs.

The story backtracks to tell what happens to Aravis while Shasta is with the Narnians. Immediately after Shasta is taken away, Aravis’ old friend Lasaraleen recognizes her in the street. To avoid further notice, Aravis joins Lasaraleen and goes home with her. Aravis needs to get out of Tashbaan with her horses, and Lasaraleen says Aravis can escape the city through an exit in the Tisroc’s garden. The Tisroc is the king of Calormen, and the two girls find themselves in danger when they sneak into his palace at night. The Tisroc and his son, Prince Rabadash, walk into the room where the girls are hiding, and they overhear the Prince’s plans to attack Archenland and Narnia. Aravis escapes from the palace undetected and meets up with Shasta and the horses at the Tombs.

The four companions travel through the desert to warn the Archenlanders of the impending attack. They are nearly overtaken by Rabadash’s cavalry on the second day. The horses gallop to stay ahead of the soldiers, and they are forced to run even faster when a lion begins chasing them. The lion claws Aravis’ back but leaves the rest of the group alone. It eventually goes away. Shasta finds that they have arrived at the home of the Hermit of the Southern March. The Hermit welcomes Aravis and the exhausted horses, but he tells Shasta that he must run onward without rest to warn King Lune of Archenland.

Shasta runs until he finds King Lune, but as he rides back with the king, he becomes lost inside a fog bank. Shasta is lamenting that nothing ever goes right for him when he hears something walking near him. It is Aslan, the great Lion. Aslan explains to Shasta that everything he has experienced has happened for a purpose. Aslan himself has been guiding and protecting Shasta on his journey. Aslan leaves Shasta, who finds that he is now in Narnia. Shasta meets some talking animals and dwarfs who take care of him and prepare food for him. The Narnian army comes by the dwarfs’ house, and Shasta meets Prince Corin again. Corin convinces Shasta to put on armor so the two of them can sneak into the battle with Rabadash.

The Hermit of the Southern March watches the battle while gazing into a magic pool. The Narnians win, and Shasta survives. Aslan visits Aravis, Bree and Hwin and explains some past events to them. When Aslan departs, Shasta comes back to see Aravis. Shasta is actually Prince Corin’s older twin brother, who was stolen away from Archenland in his infancy. His real name is Prince Cor, and he invites Aravis to live at the court of Archenland with his family. In Archenland, King Lune and King Edmund prepare to pass sentence on Prince Rabadash. Aslan warns Rabadash to repent of his wrongdoings, and when he refuses, Aslan turns him into a donkey. Rabadash is sent back to Tashbaan, where he becomes human again. The trouble is over, and Bree and Hwin go to Narnia while Cor and Aravis stay in Archenland. When the children become adults, they get married and eventually become the king and queen of Archenland.

Christian Beliefs

Aslan is a mighty Lion, and his character represents Jesus Christ. He is the son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea, and he directs Shasta’s journey, even before Shasta realizes that what he is doing has purpose.

Other Belief Systems

Arsheesh says that the gods reward those who care for the poor. The king of Calormen, the Tisroc, is regarded as a lesser deity. His name is not supposed to be mentioned without adding the phrase may he live forever immediately after. Bree tells Shasta that they don’t need to say may he live forever because they are Narnians and only slaves and fools speak worshipfully of the Tisroc. When Shasta learns that Arsheesh is not his father, he enthusiastically thinks that he might be the son of a god.

Aravis says her family is descended from the god Tash and hopes that the peace of the gods will rest upon her mother. While telling her history, Aravis swears by the gods of Calormen and briefly prays to them. She lies to her father and says she is going to perform sacred rites to a goddess of maidens, but she escapes from her house without doing them.

Bree suggests that if he, Shasta, Aravis and Hwin get separated in Tashbaan, they can meet up at the Tombs of the Ancient Kings just outside the city. He says that no Calormenes will bother them there because they all believe ghouls haunt the tombs. Aravis and Shasta both think that the tombs are haunted, though they claim otherwise.

The temple of Tash is a landmark in Tashbaan. Rabadash attacks Archenland in the name of Tash, and many other characters mention Tash or all the Calormene gods as a group.

Mr. Tumnus is a mythological creature with the upper body of a human and the legs of a goat.

When Shasta believes he is about to die, he wonders if anything happens to people after death. Some think sorcerers and demons inhabit Narnia and that it is subject to an eternal magical winter, which was true during the White Witch’s reign.

Aravis says she’s lucky that the attacking lion didn’t hurt her any worse, but the Hermit of the Southern March says he does not believe in luck. When Shasta was born, a centaur prophesied that he would save Archenland from the greatest danger it had ever known. He does.

Authority Roles

Shasta’s adoptive father, Arsheesh, overworks and beats him when Arsheesh is in a bad mood. He pretends to object to selling his son to the visiting Tarkaan, but he’s really just trying to haggle for a higher price. Shasta is glad to learn that he is not Arsheesh’s son because he knows that a child should love his father, but he doesn’t. He has always felt guilty for not loving Arsheesh.

Bree is in authority over Shasta and acts as his mentor. Bree alternates between being tough on Shasta and kind to him. He teases Shasta about his riding and says he sits in the saddle like a sack of potatoes, but he says it without cruelty. Bree is the strategist of their escape and the leader during their journey. He is concerned about his dignity and what other talking horses may think of him.

Aravis says her stepmother hates her. Aravis’ stepmother arranges Aravis’ engagement to Ahoshta Tarkaan, an unattractive old man. Her father agrees to the match and is easily deceived when Aravis decides to escape.

King Edmund hits Shasta when he firsts sees him, but the narration is quick to point out that the slap is not intended to really harm Shasta. King Edmund believes Shasta is Prince Corin, a young runaway who frightened his guardians by disappearing into the foreign city of Tashbaan. Shasta stays silent while King Edmund corrects him for his wrongdoing, and he admires the king. He wishes he could have made a better impression on him. King Edmund is concerned that his sister Queen Susan will be forced into a marriage with Prince Rabadash of Calormen. He fights bravely, shows courtesy to his enemies and is patient with Prince Corin.

Queen Susan is deeply worried over Prince Corin’s absence and mentions being a close friend to him after his mother’s death. She listens to wise advice from her brother and recognizes that her romance with Prince Rabadash is unwise after seeing his cruel behavior.

Mr. Tumnus, a faun, interprets Shasta’s silence as a sign of weariness and kindly recommends that the boy rest and take some refreshment. He tells Shasta stories to entertain and encourage him, and he brings him a full meal.
Shasta is immediately fond of all the Narnian adults. He respects them, but he does not consider telling them the truth about himself because his upbringing with Arsheesh has convinced him that confiding in adults always results in some loss of fun or freedom. Prince Corin is shocked at the idea of keeping the truth from the grown-ups.

Prince Rabadash resents his father, the Tisroc of Calormen. When people in Calormen address their fathers, they are supposed to begin by saying O my father and O the delight of my eyes, but Rabadash rushes through the phrase to indicate that he is upset. He hints that the Tisroc is a coward. The Tisroc responds by hinting that he can have his son executed for insubordination. The Tisroc encourages Rabadash’s unprovoked attack on Archenland and Narnia. He privately plans to disown him if the attack fails.

The Hermit of the Southern March is a kind man. He gives Shasta vital instructions, and he cares for Bree and Hwin and tends to Aravis’ wounds. He calls Aravis daughter and she calls him father. Prince Corin fights in the battle against Rabadash against King Edmund’s orders. King Lune is a loving father to Prince Corin, and later to Shasta (Prince Cor).

Profanity & Violence

Bree is a former warhorse, but he won’t tell Shasta too many battle stories because he is not proud that he fought in the Tisroc’s wars as a slave. He says that he will be glad to fight in Narnia’s wars in the future. One person’s head is cut off in the battle between Rabadash’s soldiers and the armies of Narnia and Archenland.

Queer is used to denote something unusual, and gay is used a few times to refer to something joyful or brightly colored. A– is used to refer to Rabadash’s donkey form.

Sexual Content

Prince Rabadash is called Queen Susan’s lover, but no intimate contact is implied and the term seems to refer only to courtship. King Edmund believes that Prince Rabadash will either force Queen Susan to be his wife or his slave. Edmund notes that living with Rabadash outside of marriage would be a worse fate for his sister. Before attacking Archenland, Prince Rabadash says that his soldiers are allowed to take female captives as their property.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments

Stealing: Shasta is concerned about using money stolen from Bree’s former owner. Bree says that they must not steal but rationalizes that since they are captives in an enemy’s country, anything they take to help them on their journey counts as the spoils of war. Later, when Shasta has to steal food from farmhouses, Bree calls it raiding. Also, though Shasta and Bree run away together, Shasta knows that if he is caught, he will be hanged as a horse thief.

Alcohol: Aravis gives her servant drugged wine to put her to sleep. Shasta is given wine to drink with his meal. Calormene law keepers arrest Prince Corin. He buys them wine to pacify them. Corin escapes from the law keepers after they have passed out from drinking.

Smoking: Two dwarfs smoke pipes.

Suicide: Aravis decides to commit suicide by stabbing herself in the heart, so she won’t have to marry an ugly, immoral old man. Hwin stops Aravis before she can hurt herself.

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