The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis
The major themes of books 1 and 2 are God’s creation and Jesus’s death. The major theme of book 3, “The Horse and His Boy,” is that God is present and working in each of our individual lives. Sometimes he appears directly, other times he appears through visions or internal voices, but he is always present, even when we do not see him, and he is always working towards his predetermined end, even when we do not understand it. God’s presence can take various forms, just like the Aslan took various forms during the boy’s adventure. He works in every person’s life, and no person is too small, too insignificant, or too common. God is sovereign in every person’s life, and is capable of being with every person always. I do not understand how this is possible, but there is much about God that I do not understand. But most importantly, I know it is true. I know that God is with me, and with you, and with my neighbor, and with your neighbor. Just like Aslan was always with the boy.
This story is about a boy, who is seemingly lower-class and insignificant, who goes on a journey. Throughout his journey, Aslan is always near albeit in various forms, and at the conclusion of the boy’s adventure, he discovers that in Aslan’s kingdom, he is actually a prince. This is also a good interpretation of the story. In God’s kingdom, we are all kings and queens. When we accept Christ, we enter God’s kingdom, and in God’s kingdom, we are equivalent to kings and queens. Just like when Shasta discovers Narnia, he also discovers his royal blood. If we have accepted Jesus, then we also have royal blood.
During the story, the boy’s given name is Shasta. However, when the boy discovers his true identity, he also learns that his true name is Cor. Names are significant. They have meaning. And so it makes sense that when Shasta’s identity is changed, his name also changes. Will our names change when we ascend to heaven? The names theme reminds me of the Biblical book of Daniel, which I’m studying right now. In Daniel, the names of the Israelite boys are changed when they enter the service of Babylon. The names of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, respectively. The interpretations of their names changes from God-centered to Babylonian-centered, and the goal of these name changes was to shift the identity of the Hebrews away from Jesus Christ and towards Babylonian gods.
There was another good parallel to the book of Daniel that I really liked in this story, and which I think constitutes another major theme. At the end of “The Horse and His Boy,” Aslan transforms the antagonist, Prince Rabadash into a donkey. Although Rabadash is primarily comic relief, he also represents pride. Our God is merciful, and he is quick to offer forgiveness, but pride and arrogance slam the door to God’s grace. When we refuse God’s grace because of our haughtiness, he is equally quick to declare harsh punishment for our sins. After Rabadash’s defeat at Archenland, Aslan offers him the opportunity to repent and accept the king’s mercy. But because of his pride and anger, Rabadash offers only further insult. Consequently, Rabadash’s pride slams the door to Aslan’s grace, and Aslan is quick to punish the prince by transforming him into a donkey. The parallel to Daniel is King Nebuchadnezzar’s banishment to a bestial life. Because of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, God drove him away from Babylon to be like one of the cattle. The king loses his royalty, he is driven to live with the wild animals, and he is forced to eat food like the animals. God said that by renouncing his sins, Nebuchadnezzar can return to his position of authority. King Nebuchadnezzar was royalty, just like Prince Rabadash, and just like the prince’s royalty was stripped by Aslan, the King’s royalty was stripped by God. Both men failed to accept God’s mercy because of their pride, and consequently they were transformed into beasts.
Briefly, what is the plot of this story? It is about the adventure of a boy, who begins as a lowly fisherman’s slave, but is elevated to a king when he arrives in Narnia and discovers his true identity. The story occurs during the Golden Age, which is the time period when the Pevensies, that is Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, reigned. The High Kings and Queens make brief appearances, but the boy is the main character. The boy’s adventure begins when he discovers that one of his master’s horses can talk. The horse and the boy decide to run away from the fisherman and go to Narnia, the horse’s home. Talking horses belong in Narnia, not in Calormen. There is another major theme here of elevating animals to be “in” humans, just like saved humans are “in” Christ, but I will discuss this later in the Chronicles of Narnia series.
During their journey, Shasta and his talking horse, Bree, meet a second horse and rider. They learn that this rider/horse pair is also trying to escape captivity and reach Narnia. The female rider is actually a princess who is trying to escape a marriage to Ahoshta, and her name is Aravis. The name of her talking horse is Hwin. Shasta, Bree, Aravis, and Hwin ride to Tashbaan, and along the way they are attacked by a lion, which we later learn was actually Aslan. Inside the city of Tashbaan, Shasta is mistaken for the prince Corin, and Aravis is recognized by her friend, Lasaraleen. Pretending to be the prince, Shasta meets the High King and Queens of Narnia before he is able to escape and reach the prearranged meeting place, the twelve Tombs. While waiting among the Tombs, Shasta meets a cat and a lion, which we later learn were both Aslan.
Trying to avoid recognition, Aravis solicits the help of her friend, Lasaraleen, to secretly escape the city and meet Shasta at the Tombs. During the process of her escape, Aravis overhears a discussion that reveals Rabadash’s plan to invade Narnia and capture Queen Susan to be his bride. When Aravis meets Shasta, Bree, and Hwin at the Tombs, she informs her friends of the plot against the Narnians. The party races towards Narnia to warn Queen Susan of the impending danger.
While crossing the desert, the friends are pursued again by a lion. The lion of course was Aslan, but they did not know him at the time. It is clear here that Aslan was provoking them across the desert so that they could arrive in Archenland with enough time to warn of Rabadash’s attack. Thanks to Aslan’s intervention, Archenland has time to prepare for the invasion. In the ensuing battle between the Narnians and Rabadash, the Narnians prevail and Rabadash is captured. Following the capture of Rabadash, Aslan offers his grace to the prince, but because of the prince’s pride, he does not accept and is consequently transformed into a beast. The story concludes with the revelation that Shasta’s true name is Cor and that he is the twin brother of Corin, hence they were easily mistaken for one another in Tashbaan. To further enrich the happy ending, Cor and Aravis are married.