‘The Horse and His Boy’ is a Disorienting Book | Talking Beasts

Original cover (1954)

You asked for it and now here it is.

We got a little distracted after our commentary for The Silver Chair (nearly four years ago), but now it is finally time to explore C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy one chapter at a time.

Last Summer, NarniaWebbers voted The Horse and His Boy their favorite Chronicle of Narnia (24%). And I can’t say I’m surprised. Shasta’s vague sense that he belongs somewhere else or was meant for something greater resonates with me even more deeply now than it did as a teen.

So, I look forward to going on this journey again… and I hope you’ll come along! Every so often, we will devote several minutes of an episode to reading your comments and questions. We want to zero in on what exactly makes this story so special to readers. Join us by posting below or in the Talking Beasts Facebook group

To Narnia and the North!

– Glumpuddle

Think you can stump a NarniaWebber? 
Send trivia questions to podcast[at]narniaweb.com with “Stump” as the subject.

Voices of NarniaWeb: Send your 1-3 minute audio file to podcast[at]narniaweb.com with “Voice” as the subject. Suggested talking points:

  • Begin with your name (or alias) and location (country or state will suffice)
  • How you discovered Narnia, first impressions
  • Favorite book, character, scene
  • Anything else you’d like to mention about Narnia and what it means to you.

The C.S. Lewis Minute is brought to you by William O’Flaherty from EssentialCSLewis.com.

Order discounted tickets for the Logos Theatre’s production of Prince Caspian. And view the trailer for The Horse and His Boy.

Look for our next episode on Tuesday March 13. We will be taking a look at your comments! Post below or in the Talking Beasts Facebook group.

27 Responses

  1. Col. Klink says:

    As an adult, I've really come to admire Hwin because of the scene where she stops Aravis from killing herself. Bree revealed his identity to Shasta because he could see that Shasta was from the North, and he assumed (perhaps naively) that anyone like that would want to help him. Hwin had no reason to think she wouldn't be turned into a freak show if she spoke to Aravis, but she did it anyway because she valued human life so much. That's pretty awesome and I never really thought about it as a kid.

    Did Lewis intend for the Calormen style of storytelling to be boring? Because the Calormen poetry is definitely supposed to be stuffy and boring. But I honestly enjoyed the parts of that were narrated Calormen style. So Lewis failed if that was his intention. (But the book turned out great anyway.)

    Great to have the book analyses back. I just wish they came more quickly.

  2. Larry W. says:

    My elementary school teacher read The Horse and His Boy aloud to us so many years ago. It's a great story to dramatize, and it was excellent for my teacher to show to show her acting and storytelling talents so long ago. I remember it fondly even though so much time has passed. 🙂

  3. narnia fan 7 says:

    Shasta is probably my favorite character in the series, and defiantly the character I relate to the most. I know what it's like to grow up with a father who, shall we say, isn't a very good person, and I relate his longing for his true place in life and the that there might be something better out there and maybe he has a greater purpose in life.

    I agree with Rilian about the chase being a really great scene to imagine. I didn't think it was strange that there was no reference to Aslan when the lions show up when I first read the book. Honestly I think it would have been strange if Aslan was mentioned, since most of the main characters either don't know who Aslan is, or don't think he's a lion, the only exception is Hwin and if I remember right it's not clear what she thinks about Aslan.

  4. narnia fan 7 says:

    That's a interesting point about Hwin. I never thought of that before.

  5. The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

    Ditto! That's a really good insight, Col. Klink.

  6. twinimage says:

    Great episode! HHB is probably my favorite Narnia book. I love listening to the radio drama version.

    I remember my reaction to the lion/horse chase scene was one of disorientation and confusion. Perhaps that was Lewis' intent was to throw us off. They're being followed, then chased, then there's two of them, then there's the second rider! One by one, your expectations are being undone. There's a lion, "could it be Aslan?"; no, because there's two of them!
    There's many twists and turns. We experience Shasta being thrown into some unbelievable situations.

    Perhaps a better outro for the podcast would be: "Hey, nobody's perfect." haha 😀 all in joking. Great episode. I'm considering doing the Voices of NarniaWeb. I really like where this podcast is heading.

  7. Lou says:

    Oh no, I don't think he intended that at all! Remember, at one point he says that Calormene children are taught storytelling as English children are taught essay writing, with the difference being that people actually want to hear the Calormene stories. And Bree remarks what a good job Aravis is doing. I think Lewis wanted to convey that Aravis is not just telling what she remembers, but exhibiting a literary skill (she's well educated).

  8. Fireberry says:

    Great Ep! btw/fyi, if you're "Planet Narnia" curious. Dr Michael Ward says HHB is "Mercury" ie. Speed. Distance. Messages. Mercurial (ie. shape-shifting, trickster, unpredictable.) also note how our 4 travelers connect, split & re-connect in this journey just like the metal quicksilver (mercury). Also note how when separated, Shasta & Aravis connect with other "double" characters, like beads of mercury. Also, Aslan is never more mischievous (mercurial) in the Chronicles than he is here … Carry on!

  9. I don't think even the Calormene poetry was originally intended to be stuffy and boring, either. The trouble is that due to the sort of country Calormen was at the time, what originally was intended to be good advice has become a way of enforcing a meta message of who is important and who is not. What is stuffy and boring to Shasta and Aravis is the way the speakers use the poetry to make points that the listeners might otherwise find patronizing and offensive. For an exercise in comprehension in English literature, check out that bit of Shasta overhearing Arsheesh and Anradin haggling over what is to become over Shasta. Arsheesh would sell his grandmother if he could make a buck out of it, don't you think?

  10. "…and Anradin haggling over what is to become over Shasta. Arsheesh would sell his grandmother if he could make a buck out of it, don’t you think?"

    Should be: …and Anradin haggling over what is to become of Shasta. Arsheesh would sell his grandmother if he could make a buck out of the transaction, don't you think? Reading this chapter suggests to me that Shasta needn't feel guilty about not loving Arsheesh like a father. He only kept Shasta because he thought Shasta might be useful when he grew up.

  11. Reepicheep775 says:

    I've always thought the white papery leaves on the toffee tree were supposed to be from the toffee wrapper.

    I love how the ceremonial language of Calormen contrasts with Narnia. There is a lot of ceremony and pageantry in Narnia, but it is always full of vitality and significance. In Calormen on the other hand, it is all empty platitudes that no one really means e.g. "O my father and o the delight of my eyes", "The Tisroc, may he live forever", Arsheesh talking about his fatherly affection for Shasta

  12. Eustace says:

    I have personally eaten grass. But,grass does not taste all the same. Some grass tastes better than others, the best tasting grass is the kind that is really soft and comfortable when you sit on it.

  13. Roger says:

    It is hard choosing which of our protagonists to choose from, but I have to go with Aravis because she has the most to lose. The other three are going home; but Aravis might be going to poverty, but she keeps her virtue and honor. I am not saying that she is not flawed, she is, but she is making the biggest change. She has no idea or dream that she will become queen.

  14. No, I agree that Aravis has no idea that she will become Queen, let alone marry Shasta, the companion that she has patronized since she met him, whether she meant it or not. I liked her for being "true as steel", and for sticking to Shasta, but I disliked her snobbery and the way she talked to Bree and not so much to Shasta or Hwin, who in that set up she really should have treated as equals. Therefore, I'd have to go with Shasta, himself, who, underneath it all, having fled from slavery, only hoped to be treated better, and feared being hung for horse stealing. He had to show a lot of courage to do what he did.

  15. Col. Klink says:

    At the end of the book, C.S. Lewis writes that "Aravis and Cor prepared to be bored for the only poetry they knew was the Calormene kind, and you know now what that was like." So he clearly intended the Calormene maxims to be klunky.

  16. PuddleCheep says:

    It's also a possibility that Shasta ate grass because maybe Arsheesh refused to feed him sometimes so Shasta tried grass to keep from being hungry.

  17. coracle says:

    I've always understood this to be based on ancient traditional story telling – probably of the Persians. I have never read The Thousand and One Nights / Arabian Nights, but I suspect a good old fashioned translation would have a formal style of this sort.

  18. NArNiA NANA says:

    Reepicheep775 nailed it: "There is a lot of ceremony and pageantry in Narnia, but it is always full of vitality and significance. In Calormen on the other hand, it is all empty platitudes that no one really means…"

  19. JFG says:

    Just my far left-field 2 cents:

    The Horse and His Boy is a great story from my childhood; One that could make a really fantastic move adaptation. Like a strange Lawrence of Arabia / War Horse / Arabian Nights cross over with C.S Lewis's trademark insights and atmosphere.

    I just hope that anybody of any culture and ethnical background could relate to the story, and not assume that it is meant for white english-speakers. Yes, Lewis wrote the Narnia stories for British kids first, and the movie should follow suit. But British kids are of all sorts of colors and backgrounds now days.

    So I hope the (possible) movie adaptation takes the story and faithfully reproduces the spirit of the book on screen while still letting all types of kids see themselves in the story. 🙂

  20. Rilian says:

    Great minds think alike.

  21. The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

    The eating grass thing always struck a piteous note with me. Not to say that Shasta was saying it to garner sympathy, but that it implied the poverty and/or cruelty of his upbringing. When I first read HHB, though, I was an older teen, so I think I had more of a maternal perspective than I would have if I had read the story at a much younger age when I knew less about suffering in the world.

    I love the point about Bree being a Talking Horse in a magical world and yet he's experiencing something as familiar and normal as social anxiety! It's yet another example of that mix of the ordinary with the extraordinary, for lack of a better phrase, that I find so quintessentially Narnian. <3

  22. Klunky or not, and I agree that I'm no judge of poetry as such, what struck me about the Calormene maxims, is their often conflicting moralistic tone which the Calormenes appear to use as a means to one-up each other to bargain and to get their own way. Both Anradin and Arsheesh haggle over Shasta, most sanctimoniously, but neither questions the ethics of what they are actually doing.

  23. I do so agree with you. But whilst Horse and His boy was originally meant for English-speakers, the fact that everyone in the book speaks English, whatever the ethnicity, is also a testament to the underlying themes of treating others as one would like to be treated oneself. Personally I think that the way Lewis wrote the book would have had less positive impact and given more offence to many English speaking readers if he had suggested that Anradin and Arsheesh were fair, despite having a crimson beard, and Shasta was dark complexioned. Besides missing the historical allusion to the Barbary Coast pirates.

  24. HPOFNARNIA says:

    Aravis is a very interesting character, she’s very different from the other female characters. She, in a lot of ways, reminds me of Mulan, she acts more like a boy than a girl. But my favorite character in this book is Bree, I just think he’s funny.

  25. Barbary Coast pirates, based in Algiers until the 19th century, were led by the likes of the Barbarossa brothers, two of the most famous pirates. Barbarossa = red beard in Latin-speaking countries.

  26. Fledge1 says:

    I am so glad you pointed this out. I am late in coming to the podcasts but they have made my drive to work so much better. I completely agree, Hwin in my mind is the true hero of the story.Even as a kid, I thought her heart for everything before herself was incredible. I actually named our new baby mini horse after her.

  27. beady-eye-of-tash says:

    Glumpuddle mentions the excitement of being on a /whole new planet/ — when are you guys going to take on Lewis' Space Trilogy?