Thoughts from “A Horse and His Boy”

 

I’ve finished the Chronicles of Narnia and wanted to share this from one of the books – it moved me to tears.  First I will have to give you a synopsis of the beginning part of the story (I am copying it and pasting it)  Then I will quote a part of the book.

On the shore of a country called Calormen lives a very poor fisherman named Arsheesh­and Shasta, a boy who calls him father. Life (catching and selling fish) is very hard, and depending upon the state of commerce Arsheesh is either basically good-tempered toward Shasta or takes out his frustration by beating him. It is easier to find fault with Shasta than to look for things to praise. Curiously, Shasta finds that he has no interest in being an active part of Calormene culture and is constantly dreaming of whatever might lie to the far north. When he seeks more information he is most likely to receive a blow for his inquisitiveness.

One day, a strange man rides in from the south on a fine specimen of dappled horse. The visitor has very dark skin, as most Calormenes do, and Arsheesh immediately recognizes that this man is a Tarkaan or great lord because of the amount of gold he is wearing. The Tarkaan forces himself upon Arsheesh’s hospitality for the night so Shasta is ousted from the cottage. Being unready for sleep, he sits outside by a crack in the wall and listens to the conversation inside. The Tarkaan demands that Arsheesh sell Shasta to him, and in the negotiation process Shasta hears a story that fills him with great delight: Shasta is not Arsheesh’s son but an orphan baby rescued by the insomniac Calormene from a boat on an incoming tide. At last Shasta understands why he has never been able to feel real love for this man, and why his own fair skin and hair make him so out of place in Calormen. He knows that Arsheesh, because of his greed, will end up selling him­so he goes to the stable where he will most likely spend the night and pauses to pet the Tarkaan’s beautiful horse. Musing out loud, he speculates on the kind of man his new master will be and wishes that the horse could talk and tell him about him. To his great wonderment, the horse answers and Shasta is introduced to a real Narnian talking horse who was kidnapped as a foal and made a slave to humans in Calormen. He reveals that the Tarkaan’s name is Anradin and advises Shasta that death would be better than serving in the Calormene’s house as a slave. Between them, they hatch a plan to escape to the north and freedom in Narnia­; the horse needing a rider to keep from looking odd by traveling alone, and Shasta needing more than his own two legs to flee with any speed. Shasta has a fleeting moment of bittersweet regret after the arrangements are made, but this passes quickly and after a few quick lessons in horsemanship, the two are off into the night, putting in as much distance as they can before either is discovered missing. After setting up a false trail to the south and home, where a ‘normal’ dumb horse who broke loose would return, Shasta and the horse (whose long unpronounceable name gets shortened to ‘Bree’) gallop off into the night.

Shasta awakens the next day at noon and realizes that a) he has been asleep on the ground, b) he no longer smells fish, c) he is on higher ground than he has ever been, and d) that he is so sore that he really doesn’t want to climb back up on Bree ever again. To continue, of course, he eventually has to get back on Bree’s back­and so begins a journey of several weeks filled with tales of Bree’s exploits as a war horse that give way to his longings to forget those days and be a truly free Horse again. They are traveling toward the great city of Tashbaan, the capital of Calormen and the gateway to the north, as Bree sees it, because any other route would take them inland into unfamiliar territory. As they move along across a plain, Bree and Shasta sense that they are not alone. There seems to be another horse nearby. Panic-stricken at the thought of being followed, Bree gallops off inland until the roar of lions forces him to change direction several times. The other horse is now galloping beside them and Shasta sees that the rider is quite small and clothed in chain mail. The horses crash and splash across a sea inlet and pause to blow on the other side as one last angry roar draws their attention to a great and terrible lion crouched on the other side. The strange horse speaks, the strange rider tells her to be quiet, and Bree and Shasta discover that the horse, Hwin, is also a Narnian talking horse ridden by a young girl­ and that both are also attempting to escape to Narnia. Bree suggests that all four travel together, a suggestion which is roundly approved by Hwin; but animosity between the girl and Shasta threatens to kill the partnership before it begins and Bree suggests a rest and a time to share stories.

Aravis Tarkheena, a member of Calormene royalty, tells her story. Here’s the gist of it:

 

  • Mother died and father remarries to a woman who hates Aravis. (Naturally!)
  • Father promises Aravis (14 years old) in marriage to Ahoshta Tarkaan who is 60, humpbacked, and looks like an ape. (That’s appealing to a 14 year old!)
  • Aravis rides to the woods and prepares to kill herself rather than marry the ape-face.
  • Aravis’ horse talks and prevents her from the suicide.
  • Aravis and her new found friend, Hwin, devise a plan to escape for the freedom of Narnia and the north. (Hmmm… where have we heard that before?)
  • Aravis forces an old and trusted slave to write a letter for her­ which she later sends to her father from Azim Balda (some town) ­the contents of which are written as if coming from Ahosta saying that he discovered Aravis in the forest and HAD to marry her immediately! This, hopefully, to buy enough time to make good the escape.
  • Aravis and Hwin meet up with Bree and Shasta.

The next day, the four continue on toward Tashbaan hiding by day and traveling by night. They agree to meet at the Tombs of the Ancient Kings on the northern side of Tashbaan if they get separated. On the outskirts of the great city, Shasta and Aravis dirty themselves up and get some peasant clothing for Aravis, bundling the horse equipment to look like packs, and they all proceed into the city; ­the horses being ‘driven’ by the two ‘peasants.’ With admonitions to go straight through the city, the children join the huge, pressing crowd of humanity that occupies it. The quickest way through Tashbaan is up one side and down the other, crossing the river on both sides. (The city is an island in the middle of a river, you see!) They are not even half way through with the upslope before Shasta is mistaken for a runaway by a group of visiting (Narnian) royalty and is whisked away to ‘safety’ while being called naughty (and by the name of Corin­the son of the king of Archenland). He is taken to a palace where, mute with fear, he learns that Narnia’s Queen Susan is in Tashbaan to become the bride of Prince Rabadash, son of the Tisroc (‘May he live forever’ – ­you have to say that every time you say his name!) and direct descendant (ahem!) of the god, Tash. But Queen Susan has decided that Rabadash is a creep, and so yet another escape plan is in the making.

As Shasta listens to the Narnians devise a way to return safely home without leaving Queen Susan behind, he hears of a secret pass across the desert that leads into Archenland, which affords access to Narnia beyond. Shasta also hears of the plans to escape aboard the Narnian ship Splendour Hyaline, and so feels that he cannot possibly reveal who he really is without being punished as a spy. Left alone to rest, Shasta falls asleep until awakened by a ruckus at the window. The real Corin, who is an indefatigable adventurer, falls into the room, realizes what has happened with Shasta and helps Shasta get away, telling him to go to his father, King Lune of Archenland. Shasta completes the trip out of the city expecting to find his companions at the tombs, but darkness falls­ and after searching around every tomb, he realizes he will be spending the night alone. A very large cat appears from nowhere and leads Shasta to the edge of the desert where it sits facing Narnia. Shasta falls asleep with this cat at his back until awakened by the cries of jackals. The jackals are driven off by a huge lion that Shasta is sure will eat him. He closes his eyes to wait for the teeth, but when nothing happens, he opens them again to see the cat lying at his feet. The next day is long and hard as Shasta waits to see if Bree, Hwin, and Aravis will show up. Just before sunset, he sees the approach of two horses being led by a man- no Aravis in sight.

Meanwhile- Back in Tashbaan
After seeing Shasta grabbed by the Narnians, Aravis grabs the ropes of both horses and proceeds through Tashbaan. Alas, she is apprehended by an old childhood friend, Tarkheena Lasaraleen, who has married well and who whisks her away for a visit, telling her that her father is in town to visit Ahosta and his new bride as Aravis’ letter had suggested. Aravis demands that Lasaraleen help her escape and sends Bree and Hwin ahead with a servant. As the two girls sneak through the Tisroc’s palace to access a boat in which Aravis may cross the river they are forced to hide behind a couch in a room off the stairs as the Tisroc, the Grand Vizier and Ahosta himself enter and plot to invade Narnia, force Queen Susan to marry Rabadash, and thus extend Calormene rule over all the northern lands. Eventually the three leave and Aravis is able to complete the passage to the boat, cross the river, traverse the same road as Shasta had earlier, and finally meet her three companions at the Tombs. The group begins the arduous trip across the desert, Shasta leading because he has been told where the narrow valley is located at the foot of Mount Pire. The valley is found and, true to the tale told by Sallowpad the Raven, it continues widening until opening into a pleasant valley from which can be seen the pass that leads from Archenland into Narnia. They realize that they are in Archenland, across the river called the Winding Arrow, and everyone is so relieved that all want to sit down and relax and revel in their freedom. But that is not to be. Rabadash’s army is moving quickly and is already at the river. King Lune must be warned. Anvard must be reached. Another mad gallop is the order of the day and though both horses are sure they are running as fast as they can (well, at least Bree is sure!), they find even more speed when suddenly they are once again chased by a huge, snarling, roaring lion. As they run, Shasta sees a great green wall ahead, with an open gate framing a long-bearded, tall man. Looking back, Shasta sees that the lion is almost upon Hwin and he jumps from Bree to go back and help Aravis­but before he can get to her the lion rakes her shoulders with his claws. The four pound through the gate into a circular turf enclosure and meet the Hermit of the Southern March, who tells Shasta to run on and warn King Lune. Shasta leaves and the Hermit cares for Aravis and the horses. Bree descends into a pity party because he was too afraid to go back and save Hwin from the lion, but the Hermit helps him to see that he has only been humbled and made to lose the high-flown opinion he held of himself.

Meanwhile- Shasta is running!
As he runs, Shasta runs right into King Lune’s hunting party. King Lune mistakes him for Corin, but Shasta tells him he is not the prince and explains that Rabadash and two hundred cavalry are on the way so he had better get to Anvard and shut the gates! Shasta is put on a horse to ride with the party, but since he never learned to ride a ‘dumb’ horse he has no equestrian skills and quickly finds himself separated from the others. A dense fog has descended and soon the road divides into two directions. Shasta has no idea which way to go, but is forced to make a choice to the right when he hears Rabadash’s army coming up behind him. He overhears the plan to lay waste to Archenland, killing every male in the land and leaving nothing between the wasteland and Cair Paravel in Narnia. Rabadash’s troops move on and Shasta realizes that even though he now knows how to get to Anvard, he can’t go that way safely so he continues on the path he has chosen. Now it is time for Shasta to mount his own pity party, and while he is crying he realizes that someone or something is walking beside him.

And now we are to where the book quote comes in…

“I do think,” said Shasta, “that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world.  Everything goes right for everyone except me.  Those Narnian lords and ladies got away safe from Tashbaan; I was left behind.  Aravis and Bree and Hwin are all as snug as anything with that old Hermit; of course I was the one who was sent on.  King Lune and his people must have got safely into the castle and shut the gates long before Radabash arrived, but I got left out.”

And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.

What put a stop to all that was a sudden fright.  Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him.  It was pitch dark and he could see nothing.  And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls.  What he could hear was breathing.  His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature.  And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there.  It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries.  He bit his lip in terror.  But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.

The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it.  But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him.  That couldn’t be imagination!  Anyway, he had felt the hot breath on his chilly left hand.

At last, he could bear it no longer.

“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing.  Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta.
“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice.  “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”
“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard.  Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh, please – please do go away.  What harm have I ever done you?  Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.  “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost.  Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman.  And then told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert.  And he told about the heat and the thirst of their journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.  And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean?  I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and -”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.”  And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.  “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers.  I tell no one any story but his own.”

And that Lion of course, was Aslan – the High King and Savior of Narnia.  In a later book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells the children (Lucy and Edmund from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) –

“There is a way into my country from all the worlds, ” said the Lamb; but as he spoke, his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy.  “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?”

“I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan.  “But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river.  But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.  And now come; I will open the door in the sky and send you to your own land.”

“Please Asland,” said Lucy.  “Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again?  Please.  Oh and do, do, do make it soon.”

“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmond and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy.  “It’s you.  We shan’t meet you there.  And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are – are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan.  “But there I have another name.  You must learn to know me by that name.  This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you may know me better there.”

(from my book “A Family Guide to Narnia: Biblical Truths in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia)

Years ago, after reading this passage in Dawn Treader, a little girl named Hila wrote to C.S. Lewis, asking him to tell her Aslan’s other name.  Lewis responded, “Well, I want you to guess.  Has there ever been anyone in this world who 1) arrived at the same time as Father Christmas, 2) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor, 3) Gave himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people, 4) Came to live again, 5) Is sometimes spoken of as a lamb.  Don’t you really know His name in this world?  Think it over and let me know your answer.”

Edmund and Lucy’s adventures in Narnia helped them to come to know Aslan (Jesus) better, and our adventures in Narnia can do the same for us.

So – if you have not yet read this series – read it!  And if you have long ago – read it again!  For a set of children’s books, there are some incredibly deep, biblical truths inside.  I loved them.  And I know I will read them many more times.

 

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