03 February 2023

The Horse and his Boy

The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #3)

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my least favourite of the Narnia stories -- not that I dislike it, I just like the other ones more. I'm also not sure why this one is listed as 3 in the "Chronicles of Narnia", I was pretty sure it was number 6, the penultimate one in the series. I've read this one three times, but I've read the others several more times.

Of all the Narnia stories, this one is the most moralistic and didactic, and as far as I can see this can be explained precisely by its being number six (and not number 3) in the series. It is as though Lewis, having fed his readers with enough ontology, telling them the way things are, thinks it's time to tell them about some oughts -- given that life is the way it's described in the preceding five books, now he's saying that, since this is the way things are, now this is is the way one ought to behave. Well, why not? Most of St Paul's letters are structured like this; the first half says this is the way things are, and the second half begins with a "therefore" -- therefore you ought to behave like this and this.

In The Horse and his Boy Aslan intervenes a lot more than he does in the earlier books, micromanaging the characters' lives far more. In the earlier books Aslan appears for big projects - creating a world, saving it, or at least a country in it, and, in the last book of the series, wrapping things up. There is an occasional individual lesson thrown in, but this book is full of them. Aslan is continually intervening in the lives of people, both human and equine. It's not that the lessons are bad ones (though I do think that some are better than others), it's just that there are so many more of them.

Pride, selfishness, arrogance, thinking you are better than other people are all things that Aslan comes to show people are not acceptable. On the wider canvas, there is quite a bit of anti-imperialism. Calormen is a powerful empire, given to swallowing up or at least dominating smaller countries on its borders. I'm not sure that Lewis's militaristic solutions are the answer, though. Slaughter on the battlefield is OK, as long as a proper "defiance" has been sent. But perhaps that's just me.

Spoiler Alert

In what follows there may be some spoilers, so if you haven't read the book, and you want to read it, maybe you should read no further here.

One of the lessons of behaviour and character that appears here is followed up in the last book, The Last Battle, where Susan doesn't go to Narnia with the others, because she was too taken up with parties and invitations and the like. This has occasioned quite a lot of discussion among readers and critics as The Problem of Susan. I have also blogged about it a bit more here. Some have said that Lewis didn't want Susan to grow up, and that he thought growing up was a bad thing. I believe that those who say this either misunderstand or misrepresent Lewis at this point, because in The Horse and his Boy Lewis shows the the kind of character  he fears that Susan may grow up to be like -- an adumbration of the future character of Susan appears here in the person of Lasaraleen, the Platonic ideal of an airhead.

 There are also some obvious plot holes, which I'm sure have been mentioned by plenty of other reviewers, one of the most egregious being when Cor/Shasta goes back after the battle to the hermit's dwelling to fetch Bree, Hwin and Aravis, he is accompanied by retainers and heralds, who disappear on the return journey. It is not clear whether they all walked there, or they road dumb horses, which also disappeared.

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