Narniathon: The Horse and His Boy

There are spoilers for THE HORSE AND HIS BOY in this post.

Narniathon: The Horse and His Boy

THE HORSE AND HIS BOY is the fifth book in the Narniad (in published order). I finished reading it for the Narniathon21 on April 30. (The Narniathon’s hosted by Chris at Calmgrove.)

When I first read THE HORSE AND HIS BOY 14 years ago, I really loved this installment of the Narniad. During my reread, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first time I read it. I also feel like I don’t have as much to say about this book in general so I’ll focus on answering Chris’ questions instead of pointing out my own observations.

  1. THE HORSE AND HIS BOY has a distinctive ARABIAN NIGHTS feel which some have found problematic. Has this aspect, and its cultural or racial resonances, been an issue for you or not?

I did notice the problematic language and descriptions of the Calormen. I’m sure many readers pictured characters that look Arabic or Muslim in appearance because of Lewis’ descriptions. He may have, as Chris suggests in his post (link above) drawn inspiration directly from ARABIAN NIGHTS, which feels like cultural misappropriation.

While I think a book written like this today would be extremely inappropriate, I do try not to cast judgment on people in the past using today’s lenses. Yes, racism and cultural misappropriation was just as wrong in CS Lewis’ time as it is now. And, I think it’s better to learn from our past mistakes than to condemn a man for participating in socially “acceptable,” albeit reprehensible, behavior at the time. It’s the same reasoning I don’t think we should throw out Mark Twain’s books either. One of my least favorite books illustrates this principle perfectly:

Colored people don’t like LITTLE BLACK SAMBO. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.

FAHRENHEIT 451, Ray Bradbury

For this reason, just like I have done with Dune, I can acknowledge the cultural misappropriation for what it is AND help society do better by also supporting Muslim authors and authentic Muslim stories.

  1. Unlike the previous four titles, this book has the formerly young visitors to Narnia, the Pevensies, more as bit players than as protagonists. Have you found this a disappointment or did you happily adjust to the new points-of-view provided by Shasta, Aravis, and the others?

I was fine with reading the story from other POVs than the Pevensies. I’m not necessarily attached to them (maybe Lucy). I’m most attached to Aslan and some of the woodland creatures, like Reepicheep (too bad he’s only in like 20% of Narniad). If Aslan weren’t to show up, then I’d be disappointed.

  1. As a boy Lewis loved to imagine talking animals, and that love permeates all the chronicles, including here with Bree, Hwin and, of course, Aslan. How did you feel about the interplay between the young protagonists and their mounts? Did you spot the literary allusions? And how did you react to Rabadash’s punishment?

I really liked how Aslan shows up in this book. It’s one of the things I like about this book. It reminds me of what in Narnia, Christians may term as the “Holy Spirit.” I feel like Aslan manifests this way in Narnia often. Instead of simply telling the characters he’s there to guide them, he leads them through other means that they often don’t know about. He helps them very mysteriously. (See what I did there. )

I didn’t spot the literary allusions, I don’t think. I think this may be why I’m not sure how it relates to Rabadash’s punishment. As far as his punishment, it reminded me a bit of PINOCCHIO. Even without thinking of Pleasure Island, I thought his punishment was just.

To be quite honest, I’m not really looking forward to reading the last two books in the Narniad. They’re my least favorite of the seven books. Hopefully, I’ll feel differently this time around. I am trying to keep an open mind even if it’s not working very well. Anyway, THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW and the creation of Narnia is next.

Have you read THE HORSE AND HIS BOY? Did you like it? Why? Why not?

About Jenni Elyse

Hi, I'm Jenni. I’m an eclectic reader. I mostly read fiction and I favor fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, mystery, thrillers, and romance. The more kissing in a book the better!
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16 replies
  1. Chris Lovegrove
    Chris Lovegrove says:

    I agree that cultural (mis)appropriation is a tricky thing, Jenni, whether or not it’s handled sensitively. I shall be discussing this aspect in a post later this month, but whether Lewis manages to walk that tightrope depends on how one reads this episode in the Narniad, so I’m glad for your thoughts on this.

    Like you, Lucy is my favourite of the Pevensies so I’m pleased she is shown as proactive here, along with Edmund. But if it wasn’t for Aslan TH&HB would feel very tangential to the whole Narniad, I think. Anyway, onwards to the next, even if it’s not your favourite either! 🙂

    • Jenni Elyse
      Jenni Elyse says:

      I look forward to reading your post discussing (mis)appropriation. I think it’s a topic that definitely needs to be discussed more so people can become educated about it and, hopefully, want to rectify the damage/hurt it has caused.

      I agree that THE HORSE AND HIS BOY would feel very disconnected from the rest of the series without Aslan in it, even with the Pevensies taking a secondary role in this one.

      Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate you coming to read my posts and commenting.

  2. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I have not read any of the Narnia books, but I would like to one day. In your discussion I especially liked your statement, “I can acknowledge the cultural misappropriation for what it is AND help society do better by also supporting Muslim authors and authentic Muslim stories.”

    • Jenni Elyse
      Jenni Elyse says:

      Thanks! I see it as a dialectic (thank you, therapy). Cancel culture is so prevalent these days and we can’t cancel everything. Otherwise, there’s not going to be anything left, sadly. Instead of canceling, we should focus our efforts on learning what’s hurtful and inappropriate, and educating people so we can stop the behavior once and for all.

    • Jenni Elyse
      Jenni Elyse says:

      I understand. This one was one of my favorites. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t like it was much this time around. I wonder if it has to do with reading it so quickly and while I was so tired.

  3. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    I shudder to think how I might feel about my childhood or even young adult favorites on a re-read. I like your thoughtful discussion on this one.

    • Jenni Elyse
      Jenni Elyse says:

      Lol. I wasn’t a reader when I was young. I can count on both hands how many books I read in high school so I don’t have that problem. My parents did read some books to me, though. I’m sure my opinion on them would be vastly different now.

  4. Lark
    Lark says:

    I still have never read this particular Narnia book. I didn’t want to as a kid because I preferred reading books about girls, and I just haven’t gotten around to it as an adult.

    • Jenni Elyse
      Jenni Elyse says:

      I understand. I didn’t read the Narniad as a kid and I only read it the first time because a few of my friends and I read it together. 😀

  5. Greg
    Greg says:

    One thing I’ve really been thinking about lately is just how MUCH society has changed, and how much unacceptable content was actually… acceptable even just a few decades ago. It really does make you think about how far we’ve come (and need to go), and how baffling it is that some people want to resist that. Anyway-

    I love Reepicheep, but I haven’t read this in ages. I really should. I am interested in seeing how I would react/ feel about Aslan’s appearances and the Christian allusions now that I’m old enough to appreciate them more…

    • Jenni Elyse
      Jenni Elyse says:

      Yes, so true. Society has changed a lot in the last few decades. It’s amazing! I’m so glad that more white people are listening to POC now. Still, I wish it were more and that people would quit resisting.

  6. Louise Hallett
    Louise Hallett says:

    I agree that we can’t judge books by how the world is now, though we should acknowledge any issues that do arise. As you mentioned, reading diverse books and authors as well as promoting them is much more effective and powerful.

  7. Mareli Thalwitzer
    Mareli Thalwitzer says:

    Hi there Jenni! This is a brilliant discussion post. I also haven’t read A boy and his horse for many years and I suspect it’s also something like 14 years ago! I do remember that it was one of my favorites as well.

    I was like 30 already then and to my shock I actually can’t remember if any of your discussion points actually popped up for me. Hmmmmm….. need to read the chronicles again I guess.

    Lots of Love,

    Elza Reads

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