The Horse and His Boy

The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

Someday I will write a #Narniathon21 post on time, but it is not this day.  April's book is The Horse and His Boy, which I've always liked for all the action and travel.  Plus I just like the title. 

This story is also a bit unusual in the Narnia books, in that most of it is set in Calormen or Archenland; Narnia is often described, but not really seen (well, that happens in half the other books too!).  Calormen is the kingdom to the south, across a desert, and it's stated that it is much larger than Narnia, with many provinces, and is growing larger through conquest.  The only reason Archenland and Narnia are safe is that the desert is too difficult to cross.  Lewis doesn't really get any further into this, but I do find it interesting that Narnia is described as tiny and obscure compared to the huge countries elsewhere in the world -- who know nothing of Aslan.   This may parallel the way that Christianity is not, and never has been, a majority world religion.  Or perhaps Lewis was thinking of the ancient Persian Empire and the Greeks?  Anyway, Calormen is pretty much the Arabian Nights.  (Persian Empire again?)  Like Narnia, it's a fairy-tale country, not meant to depict a real place.  But it hasn't aged that well. 

Shasta, a poor fisherman's boy, finds out that he is in fact a mystery orphan, and is invited to run away to the North by a war horse who turns out to be a Narnian Talking Horse.  Bree is a person, and he often comments that it's not that Shasta stole him to run away, it's that he stole Shasta and is escaping with him.   As they're being pursued by a lion, they meet their counterparts: Hwin, a Narnian mare, and Aravis, a wealthy Calormene girl running away from marriage to an old man.  All of them, therefore, are trying to escape from their various forms of slavery.  Aravis has snob problems, but is an excellent character otherwise.

In the city, the runaways are separated.  Shasta meets the Narnians and is taken for Prince Corin of Archenland, and Aravis is spotted by Lasaraleen, who she grew up with.  The girls are described as archetypes of the two sorts of upper-class English girls found in fiction: Aravis is a dogs-and-horses county type, while Lasaraleen is a London socialite.  They don't really get along.  Lewis' sympathies are clearly with Aravis, but he's friendlier to Lasaraleen's point of view than perhaps might be expected.  Aravis recognizes that her friend wants to be where she is and enjoys a life that wouldn't suit Aravis at all.

The companions reunite and cross the desert, with a second lion chase pushing them into Archenland as well as bracketing their adventure together.  Shasta must run to warn the king of Calormen's impending invasion; Aravis is injured and the horses exhausted.  

Now we get to the part where each person has a little repenting to do and meets Aslan.  Shasta has to be cured of his self-pity, but since that's mostly brought on by being tired and hungry, he is mainly shown how Aslan has been behind so many of the events of the story.  Aravis is wounded in exactly the same way as the slave girl she drugged and left behind to be punished.  I think she receives these injuries because she has not repented of her action; she was perfectly happy for the girl to be whipped.  Poor Bree has been struggling with his pride for weeks; he is terribly afraid that the Narnian horses will look down on him or think he has picked up low habits.  He has to learn that he is not as important as he thinks -- and his punishment is to enter Narnia with a ragged tail.  Hwin is perhaps the Lucy of the group; she has always been practical, brave, and humble, and she is simply happy to meet Aslan.

So we get the happy ending; Shasta saves Archenland and is found to be the lost prince Cor, twin of Corin; the horses go into Narnia; and Aravis stays with the boys and eventually marries Cor -- which we may note is an interracial marriage and produces Archenland's greatest hero.

 

Mercury is the planet that influences this story.   Maybe that's why it's a story primarily about travel, twins, and communication, all of which come under Mercury.  Mercury's metal is of course quicksilver, which is never mentioned in the story, but most of the time when a metal is mentioned, it's silver-colored.  Mercury is all about speed and quickness: speed and safety in travel, taking messages, and quickness in decision and wit, and all of these come into play -- as does stealing, or as Bree calls it, 'raiding.'  Mercury is over language, and here we have a story that emphasizes not only bringing urgent messages, but also good storytelling, which Aravis is well-trained in.  Medicine is also a mercurial art, and though it doesn't play a large role, I think the Hermit of the Southern March is obviously a doctor in the Asclepius style.

But Mercury is also over twins, in particular the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux.  And those two are famous for their horsemanship; they are always associated with horses.  And, Pollux is known as a boxer.  So Cor and Corin are the Gemini twins.

Here's the Mercury lines of Lewis' "Planet" poem.  Note particularly the line about "Merry multitude of meeting selves / Same but sundered."  I think not only the twin boys, but also Shasta/Cor and Aravis, and the two horses, can be seen as counterparts.

Next beyond her
MERCURY marches;–madcap rover,
Patron of pilf’rers. Pert quicksilver
His gaze begets, goblin mineral,
Merry multitude of meeting selves,
Same but sundered. From the soul’s darkness,
With wreathed wand, words he marshals,
Guides and gathers them–gay bellwether
Of flocking fancies. His flint has struck
The spark of speech from spirit’s tinder,
Lord of language! He leads forever
The spangle and splendour, sport that mingles
Sound with senses, in subtle pattern,
Words in wedlock, and wedding also
Of thing with thought.

 So what do you think?

Comments

  1. Oh, excellent commentary, Jean, and I'm glad you brought out the mercurial aspects (which I'll also be mentioning in a follow-up post). I liked the way you characterised Aravis and her friend as essentially Brits from Lewis's period overlaid by an Arabian Nights gloss; I'm also amazed that Aravis has some slight resemblances with Éowyn in Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring which was published in the same year!

    In case this comment disappears (or never appears) I'll repeat it in response to your comment on my review!)

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    1. Hey, it worked! Woohoo! (Of course, it won't let ME log in, and will only let me comment anonymously....)

      Yeah, this time I started reading Lasaraleen's dialogue and realized she was just a London socialite, with a monkey instead of a lapdog...

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  2. Such a good breakdown of the book -- and yeah, I always thought Aravis was such a jerk for leaving the slave girl to be beaten. I love this book the best of all the Narnia books, because even as a little girl I was a sucker for a road trip book, but WHEW it has a lot to unpack. The Orientalism is of course very stark, but then as well the way the book talks about (and doesn't talk about) slavery is pretty messy too. :/

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    1. I bet Lewis felt like he'd discussed slavery in Voyage of the Dawn Treader and didn't need to revisit. It is all left to the reader to figure out that a) Aravis has not been raised to consider slaves as people; b) she blames the girl for being a spy for her step-mother, when it's not like the girl had a choice; and c) the girl has been put into an impossible situation. So, yep, plenty to unpack!

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  3. Great point about the "types" Aravis and Lasraleen represent. Those crop up in so many British books but I never put them together with this disguise.

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    1. I never did before this reading. It's probably all the fluffy 30s mysteries I read!

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