Literature: The Horse and His Boy

The fifth book written for The Chronicles of Narnia series and the third book chronologically; a midquel that takes place during the reign of the Pevensies in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Horse and His Boy is the only book in the series where no action takes place in our world. It tells the story of four runaways from the southern kingdom Calormen — the peasant boy Shasta, the Rebellious Princess Aravis, and two Narnian horses Bree and Hwin — whose quest for their own freedom soon turns into a mission to warn Narnia and Archenland of an impending invasion by the Calormene prince Rabadash. The journey will take them through the great city of Tashbaan, across the treacherous desert that borders Calormen, and over the mountains that separate Archenland from their ultimate goal — Narnia and the North!

Unlike other books in the Narnia series, this one is not mythic in scope (until the ending, where certain epic deeds are done and The Reveal is... revealed.) Royalty is mentioned only in passing until the finale, there are barely any religious or magical elements, and the protagonists don't have a ready-made court of willing, loyal Narnians ready to help them through any troubles they have. The novel makes it clear that our heroes are alone in a largely hostile world, and that no one will respect them until they've earned respect. The plot focuses mainly on the four's long, long journey to Narnia, the sights they see and things they learn, and the Character Development everyone goes through in doing so.

This book provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Shasta. At the beginning, he's just an escaped teenaged slave who has mostly done minor physical labor. While his attempts at being conventionally heroic generally leave him looking ridiculous, he grows into being competent and self-sufficient, and he ends up saving the day. The postscript describing his fate reveals that he graduates into being a full-fledged Badass as an adult.
  • Adipose Rex: The Tisroc of Calormen.
  • Agony of the Feet: Shasta is unable to help Bree by walking during the daylight desert crossing because the hot sands burn his feet, as he has no shoes.
  • Arabian Nights Days: Calormene culture is heavily inspired by the Arabian Nights version of the Middle East; notably, C. S. Lewis is on record as being a fan of the English translation and even borrowed the name "Aslan" from the footnotes to one edition. It's Turkish for "Lion."
  • Arranged Marriage: What Aravis is fleeing. Suggested to be the case with her friend Lasraleen. However we never see her husband, it is suggested that he spends a lot of time away from home and she rather enjoys her high life.
  • Automaton Horses: Defied quite resoundingly. Not only can the horses tell their humans what they need, the threat of "Rabadash and two hundred horse" drops from 'legendary' to 'big but manageable' when Bree points out how long it will take to get that many riders moving, saddled, provisioned, watered, etc.
  • Bad Boss: Bree assures Shasta that his master is this. Lasaraleen seems to blur the lines, see In That Order below.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Aslan turns Prince Rabadash into a donkey during his Humiliation Conga. The final part? He can only be changed back by showing up at the temple during his country's largest festival, letting the entire country see what happened to him. Furthermore, if he ever goes too far from the palace, he'll turn back into a donkey forever. This prevents him from conducting any military campaigns against neighboring kingdoms, since he would lose the respect of his own people if he tried to send his army to fight while he stayed behind.
  • Barefoot Sage: the Hermit of the Southern March.
  • The Bechdel Test: Aravis' conversations with Lasaraleen, though the latter will inevitably go back to talking about some men sooner or later, do pass with the talk about Lasaraleen's life and planning Aravis' escape. If Hwin is included in this equation (she's a horse but a talking one and functions as a character) she and Aravis talk about Narnia plenty of times. Aravis and Lucy are also mentioned in an offhand comment as talking about dresses and other girly things.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Shasta and Aravis. See Like an Old Married Couple.
  • Berserk Button: Did you just talk smack about Queen Susan in Prince Corin's hearing? Talk to the Thunder Fist!
  • Big Bad: Rabadash is The Heavy, but his father, the Tisroc, is clearly the brains of the operation.
  • Big Fancy Castle: The tisroc's palace is so vast, there is a whole section (the Old Palace) not used very much anymore.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Rabadash was apparently quite gallant when he visited Narnia to court Queen Susan, but she loses interest upon seeing what a bloody and capricious tyrant he is in his home country.
  • A Boy and His X: A Boy and his Horse as well as A Girl and her Mare. Bree, however, finds this phrasing prejudiced and believes it's just as fair to say that the children are the horses' humans. Hence the title.
  • Break the Haughty: Bree, Aravis, and Rabadash, although only the first two really learn anything from the experience.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Shasta, a peasant orphan, turns out to be the long-lost prince of Archenland. Atypically for the trope, Shasta is kind of dismayed by the fact that this means he'll have to be king one day, and his brother is only too happy to be relieved of the responsibility. ("I shan't have to be king! It's princes that get all the fun!")
  • Chekhov's Gunman: This book introduces the Calormenes, their god Tash and their tense relationship with the Narnians - which will come into play in The Last Battle.
  • Clever Crows: Sallowpad the raven is considered the voice of wisdom in the council during the deliberations of Edmund, Susan and the Narnians who were held hostage to Rabadash's whim.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Hermit of the Southern March.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Aravis is pretty proud and cold toward Shasta for the first half of the book, but she eventually warms up to him as he proves to be brave and resourceful.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The Hermit of the Southern March
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In many of his non-fiction essays, Lewis argued against theologians who tried to "demythologize" Christianity by arguing that, for example, Christ wasn't literally the "son of God" and/or didn't really rise from the dead. In The Horse and His Boy, Bree explains that while Narnians call Aslan a lion, he isn't really a lion—it's just a figurative way of saying he's as brave as a lion or as fierce as a lion, unaware that the very-literal lion is right behind him. (Aslan isn't offended, just amused.)
  • Eccentric Mentor: The Hermit of the Southern March, who helps the cast with his magical powers once they cross the desert.
  • Ermine Cape Effect: Played straight with the Calormene nobility; subverted with the Narnian nobility who dress more modestly but seem more regal; averted with King Lune in everyday clothes.
  • Evil Chancellor:
    • The Grand Vizier, though unusually for this trope he's more of a passive-aggressive back-biter than anything else. Oddly enough the Grand Vizier seems genuinely loyal and grateful to the Tisroc, it's his son that he plots against (who, to be perfectly honest, is a really detestable person).
    • Lord Bar, King Lune's chancellor, is mentioned in passing as the one who was caught embezzling money, selling secrets to the Tisroc, and kidnapped the infant Prince Cor before the story started.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Bree tells Shasta that he should prefer to be dead tonight than be Tarkhaan Anradin's slave tomorrow.
  • A Friend in Need: Both Bree and Hwin reveal they can talk just when Shasta and Aravis, respectively, are in desperate need of help.
  • Game Face: Subverted - Rabadash rolls his eyes, sticks out his tongue, and wiggles his ears. It terrifies his underlings (who know he can have them boiled in oil at any minute), but it doesn't have the same effect on the free northerners, who just worry he's having a seizure or a fit.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: All that's said among the Narnians about Rabadash's plans for Susan is that he plans to make her his "wife — or more likely, slave."
    • We're not told exactly why Bree thought Shasta should rather be dead than be Anradin's slave but since Anradin was buying him because he was fair and beautiful, we can guess...
    • During his rant upon learning of Susan's escape, Rabadash calls her a "false jade". To a child, and to many adults, this sounds like he is calling her a backstabbing liar; however, "false jade" is actually an old-fashioned way of calling her a whore. (And apparently he called her worse things, but the narrator omits these because they "would not look at all nice in print").
  • God Was My Copilot: When Shasta finally meets Aslan, Aslan reveals just how many times he's helped out Shasta, beginning with keeping him dying when he was an infant.
  • The Good King: Both Edmund and Lune.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Corin is an outstanding boxer even as a boy — it takes three Calormene watchmen to subdue him — and, as an adult, punches out a bear, thus earning the name Corin Thunder-Fist.
  • The Grand Vizier: The Calormene Grand Vizier is too minor of a character to be a good example of the trope, but he is portrayed as ugly, grovelling and petty. His brief appearance is an interesting deconstruction of the Evil Vizier trope, though, as his seemingly fat and decadent master is every bit the cool-headed pragmatic ruler that his immediate circle aren't.
  • Heir-In-Law: A Calormene prince wants to marry Queen Susan of Narnia so he'll be able to take over the country.
  • Hero of Another Story: Aslan warns against being too interested in this, but the Pevensies are this to Shasta and he is this to them. It's one of the few books that are written from the Hero Of Another Story's point-of-view.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In Shasta's backstory, the knight who starved himself to keep Shasta alive.
  • The High Queen: Queen Susan. Prince Corin describes her as "like an ordinary grown-up lady". Queen Lucy features as well but she doesn't fit the trope - essentially being a grown up version of her Genki Girl self.
  • Humiliation Conga: Prince Rabadash, ending with a Karmic Transformation.
  • Intellectual Animal: A Narnian staple, but Bree and Hwin are unique among the Calormene horses.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Aravis in her Back Story. Hwin stops her.
  • In That Order: Lasaraleen threatens to beat her servants to death, burn them alive, and keep them on bread and water for three weeks - rather ineffectual punishments if done in that order, and a display of her casual, lazy attitude.analysis 
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Bree could have been a bit politer about pointing out that Aravis had just as much right to say Hwin was her horse as he does of saying Aravis is Hwin's human... but even the narrator basically agrees with the point.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bree acts like this on several occasions - a combination of being a Talking Horse as well as the prize steed in an official's stable result in him feeling a bit smug at times about his abilities, and he's not at all afraid to talk down to anyone (particularly Shasta, who is effectively an escaped slave). That said, he's got a strong sense of honor, helps Shasta escape from a Fate Worse Than Death, and is an unquestionably loyal companion.
  • Justified Criminal: Shasta feels guilty about "raiding" food and supplies from the Calormenes, but Bree rationalizes it by explaining that they are in "enemy territory".
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: After Ahoshta and the Tisroc have their interview with Rabadash, Ahoshta helps the Tisroc feel better about letting Rabadash go into a situation that will likely get him killed. It's meant to show Ahoshta as an amoral Yes-Man (and the Tisroc not much better), but then it's not like anyone would really miss Rabadash.
    • And from Rabadash to Ahoshta during the interview, kicking him literally.
  • Lady of War: Queen Lucy joins the archers in battle. Queen Susan, it is explained, is an excellent shot, but doesn't like fighting.
  • Last Stand: Discussed, but ultimately averted and slightly deconstructed. It's pointed out that while they make for noble stories, they don't do much good beyond that, as the house ultimately ends up burned to the ground. The Narnian court decides to sneak away instead.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: When our heroes are chased and attacked by a lion who, it turns out, is Aslan it scratches Aravis across her back. The Hermit who tends to her wounds notes that his was unusual behavior for a lion. When Aslan reveals himself, he explains that the wounds he gave her, "tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood" were equal to the beating received by the slavegirl Aravis drugged in order to make her escape. "You needed to know what it felt like."
  • Lemony Narrator: C. S. Lewis waxes eloquent on several occasions.
    "For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you're taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays."
  • Like an Old Married Couple: (And then they end up becoming one.) Aravis and Shasta become so used to fighting and making up again that they get married "to go on doing it more conveniently."
  • Made a Slave: What Shasta is fleeing, and the horses' backstory.
  • The Magnificent: Rabadash is called "the Peaceful" to his face, due to Aslan's judgment making going on campaign nigh-impossible for him, but he ultimately goes down in history as "Rabadash the Ridiculous."
  • Moses in the Bullrushes: Shasta a.k.a. Prince Cor.
  • No Name Given: In the backstory, one of Bar's knights sailed away with the young Prince Cor, starving himself so the child might live on what little food they had.
  • Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: Bree and Hwin among Calormene (i.e. non-talking) horses. This has somewhat gone to Bree's head.
  • Not So Similar: This is the book that introduces Tash, a figure that is theorized to be another culture's name for Aslan. (It isn't.)
  • Oddball in the Series: Absolutely no scenes on Earth, the story focuses on characters native to Narnia and neighboring countries, the main thrust of the story focuses on Archenland and Calormen rather than Narnia, and the plot is on a much smaller scale than previous entries in the series.
  • The Ojou: Lasaraleen Tarkheena is the Spoiled Sweet type: ditzy, gossipy and shallow, but not half as bad as others.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: Aravis is somewhere in her early teens when betrothed to Ahosta Tarkaan. Bree explains that all Calormene noblewomen marry young.
  • Overly Long Name: The titular horse's full name is a neigh: Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah. He grumpily accepts that Shasta won't remember (or be able to pronounce) that and begrudgingly accepts being called Bree for the rest of the book. "Hwin" sounds like a shortened version of a similar name, evoking a horse's whinny.
  • Person as Verb: In Calormen, the actions of Rabadash in this book caused the phrase "a second Rabadash" to become synonymous with foolish behavior in schools.
  • Pony Tale: It's not one, but C.S. Lewis thought the title "might allure the 'pony book' public."
  • Phrase Catcher/Verbal Tic: The name "The Tisroc" is usually followed with "May he live forever." As a free Narnian at heart, Bree makes a point of omitting that little titbit. The other characters stop saying it over time too, though the length varies.
  • Platonic Life Partners: After the story is over, Bree and Hwin remain close friends for the rest of their lives, and eventually get married "but not to each other."
  • Pride: One of Bree's defining characteristics, perhaps as a result of being pampered as a prize horse for a Calormene official. It later backfires on him, as he becomes neurotic about what "proper" Narnian horses do (whereas Hwin states that she's just going to do what makes her happy). Similarly, Rabadash can endure almost anything the northerners could do to him, but not Aslan ruining his reputation forever.
  • Rebellious Princess: Aravis.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Mr. Tumnus' plan to escape Tashbaan - make it look like Susan is excited to marry Rabadash, throw a huge party on the Narnian ship, and once everyone is relaxed about the celebration, take off without warning. It works, but it enrages Rabadash to the point of setting up the main conflict of the book.
  • Right Behind Me: Aslan appears just as Bree is holding forth on how ludicrous it would be for their Big Good to be an actual lion.
  • Royal Blood: Besides the usual suspects, Shasta, whose real name is Cor, the heir to the throne of Arkenland.
  • Runaway FiancÚ: Aravis again. She was engaged to the much older Ahoshta Tarkaan aka the Grand Vizier as both a way to gain power for her nobleman father and an excuse for her Wicked Stepmother to get rid of her. We really only hear her side of the story, but it's clear that she doesn't want to marry the evil, ugly old politician.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Aravis is initially mistaken for a young prince on a fine blood mare, the confusion caused mainly by her wearing her dead brother's armour.
  • The Savage South: Calormen. Deconstructed, as Calormenes (at least those in power) consider Calormen more civilised than the North.
  • Sapient Steed: The two Narnian horses in the story. Some additional talking horses are seen as the Narnians go to war, although it's noted that nobody rides talking horses (or centaurs) unless there is a pressing need.
  • Separated at Birth: Cor and Corin.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Aravis and Shasta. As the narrator puts it, they had so many fights they decided to get married to make making up more convenient.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Bree, at first, thanks mostly to being a talking intelligent horse surrounded by regular witless horses. He panics on the verge of arriving in Narnia when he realizes that he's spent his life as a big fish in a small pond and begins to fear that he will embarrass himself in front of the other talking horses. Aslan tells him gently to get over himself - he may not be exceptional, but he's a perfectly fine horse.
  • Smug Snake: Ye gods, Prince Rabadash. Ahoshta Tarkaan as well, being a slimy advisor who fancies himself the power behind the throne.
  • Spare to the Throne: Turns out Shasta was one of two princes of Archenland and had been kidnapped as a baby. As the older twin, guess who's next for the throne? His twin brother is delighted when this is discovered, not wanting the throne anyway.
    • Prince Rabadash's father the Tisroc allows his eldest son to attack Archenland and Narnia specifically because the prince is hot blooded, hard to control, and easily replaceable.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Lasaraleen. She's never anything but kind to Aravis, despite Aravis's short temper and impatience with her, risks her life to help her, and overcomes her fear in the end, albeit with a bit of prodding.
  • Stealth Pun: The grand vizier describing Rabadash's familial love as a "carbuncle." (This usually means "ruby" but can also mean "festering sore.")
  • The Storyteller: Aravis tells her backstory in the manner of a royal court storyteller, since apparently in Calormen all children are taught storytelling in school.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Aravis dresses in her brother's armour so she won't be recognised when she runs away. This is only on the first night however.
  • Swiper, No Swiping!: Subverted. When a lion pursues the horses and claws Aravis, Shasta runs at it and yells "Go home!", which even the narration describes as "idiotic." The lion checks and runs. (But of course it was not just any lion, but Aslan inflicting a little Laser-Guided Karma).
  • The Chains of Commanding: When Cor, his older brother, returns to Archenland - and thus becomes next in line for the throne - Corin is delighted that he will not have to become king. Lune agrees, pointing out that princes live in luxury and are highly respected, but kings have to do a lot of work and make hard decisions.
    "For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land (and must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land."
  • Theme Twin Naming: This is a tradition in Archenland - Cor and Corin, Dar and Darrin, and Cole and Colin are the examples we meet.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Aslan tells several characters that they are not meant to know a) other people's stories, and b) what could have been if they made different choices. However, the implication is less "You would go mad from the revelation" and more "Hey, look, I'm not a gossip."
  • This Is My Human: The title, also Discussed when Aravis objects to Bree asking questions of "her" horse instead of her.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Aravis and Lasaraleen.
  • Tomboy Princess: Aravis. Also Queen Lucy.
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Aravis again. Also Queen Lucy acts a little more feminine in a private environment, since when she and Aravis meet they start talking about dresses and girly stuff.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Yeesh, Rabadash! First, he's captured in battle by the Narnians and, even though they treat him quite nicely, he continues to throw fits and refuse to negotiate with them and threatens them all, even though they could just as easily have his head for it. Then he continues to act like this while Aslan is in the room, even when he's told to shut up or something bad will happen to him.
  • Trash Landing: Shasta does one while escaping across the Tashbaan rooftops.
  • Uptown Girl: Though it evens out by the time they actually marry.
  • Villainous Valor: Rabadash, for all his many faults, is a brave and valiant warrior. But while he could have endured suffering with pride, he cannot endure the humiliation Aslan inflicted on him.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Aravis, who's grown up as a nobleman's daughter, can be quite haughty and initially does not have very much use for Shasta at all. She develops respect for him and grows in humility as the adventure progresses, but they never stop bickering, even - according to the ending - after they're married.
  • Wham Line: After Shasta relates the story of all his travails to a person he can't yet see due to a thick nighttime fog:
    "There was only one lion," said the Voice.
    "How do you know?"
    "I was the lion."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Shasta wonders what happened to the slave that Aravis drugged to escape. Aravis off-handedly mentions that she was probably punished, which Shasta (himself escaping from a life of slavery) points out as remarkably unfair. As noted under Laser-Guided Karma, Aslan agrees.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Aravis had one, and was one of the reasons why she left.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Corin, who scoffs at the suggestion that he'd do anything other than tell the truth about his and Shasta's inadvertent Twin Switch.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The Tisroc's plan in letting Rabadash off the leash to chase after Queen Susan: if he gets her, all well and good, and he'll not only have a potential long-term means of conquering Narnia, but Rabadash will get to let out some of the sort of hot-blooded passion that leads impatient princes to try accelerating the process of succession. Worst-case scenario, if he dies, well, that's a threat to the throne gone, and the Tisroc has other sons. Unfortunately, the humiliating fate Aslan inflicts on Rabadash is a monkey wrench in the works.

Alternative Title(s):

The Horse And His Boy