Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Horse and his Boy

The Horse and his Boy
© 1954 C.S. Lewis
199 pages

"For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you're taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays." 
p. 35

Far below the green hills of Narnia lays a vast desert, and just south of it, the mysterious land of Calorman.  Here a shipwrecked baby was rescued by a fisherman, one not unkind but not terribly loving, either -- a man who called the boy his son, but was willing to sell him as a slave to the first rich warlord ambling by his house.  Informed of the warlord's cruelty by the lord's talking horse, the boy and said horse decide to run away together -- to go north, beyond the desert to the legendary land of Narnia. In The Horse and his Boy we find a Narnia tale where it is merely a dreamt-of destination to the extreme north, where Edmund and his sister appear as visitors from afar, paying their respects to another king.  The visit of Susan stirs part of the plot, as her beauty drives the Calorman prince insane with lust and he decides to invade Narnia to take her by force after his first lock-her-up-and-marry-her plan didn't work. Shasta's dream of trekking north, surviving the desert wastes, takes on new importance; having learned of the wicked prince's secret plan, he must somehow warn Narnia of the invasion-in-the-making.  Calorman, with its deserts and turbaned warriors wielding scimitars, brings to mind "The Orient" -- perhaps inspired by the Ottoman Empire, a chronic threat to southern Europe. Through the story we moved from the 'exotic' to the more familiar, complete with Aslan's presence. He is neither named nor known until the conclusion of the story, where exhausted characters on the brink of lost spirit learn that he has been there all long, and will see them through to the end.  Of the Narnia books I've read so far, The Horse and his Boy is the most traditionally plotted;  the characters start one place, they end up another, and along the journey they grow up-- not physically, but they transcend fear and vanity to act decisively and nobly.  (Even the horse, who was already grown but needed some emotional maturity.)

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