The Horse and His Boy ties for my third favorite of the Chronicles with The Magician’s Nephew. Perhaps Nephew has the edge, because of the awesomeness of Charn, the Wood Between the Worlds, and Aslan’s Garden. But Horse has Tashbaan and the desert. It’s a close call.
The flavor is different from the rest of the Chronicles; it’s more of an Arabian Nights pastiche, complete with wry comments on that pastiche by Lewis himself. Some readers take this as him poking fun at Middle Eastern cultures and putting them down, but he’s really making fun of the whole literary tradition of Eastern folktales, which is also shared by author Tanith Lee who gets up with snarky commentary of her own… though Lee is definitely for grownups. The story is different in theme, too. Like the best Narnia books it’s structured as a journey, but it’s also a tale of escape for Shasta and Aravis, then a rollicking adventure after they become mixed up with the Narnians in Tashbaan. (When I first read the book, the twin thing came as a complete surprise. Now I recognize it as a trope.)
But I wasn’t in love with the characters so much as the setting. If I could visit any part of Narnia, I think it would be Tashbaan, which is in many ways a dry run for the dead city of Charn. Charn can be considered Tashbaaan taken to excess. The picture above by Alexandra Semushina gives an idea of how one reader has imagined its majesty. Though for me, Tashbaan will always be Pauline Baynes’s illustration pictured below.
H&HB is also one of the books where the cover illustration is straightforward and doesn’t vary much. It’s mostly Shasta and Bree, sometimes together with Aravis and Hwin. One edition had a picture of the beehive-shaped ancient tombs on it outside the city, where Shasta spends a restless night. Then there’s this.
I don’t recall anything in the text about Bree being a pinto.
(This is a dappled horse, as Lewis said.)
Lewis developed Calormen more thoroughly than Telmar (which wasn’t developed at all) but there are mysteries to it. One is its exact size. Lewis lets us know it is much larger than Narnia, but how much so, we are left to wonder. There’s a difference between “much larger” and “completely dwarfing” and the official map by Baynes is not very helpful, as the unknown parts of the continent are either not shown or eclipsed by cavorting creatures. In the book itself Edmund states “My guess is that the Tisroc has very small fear of Narnia. We are a little land. And little lands on the borders of a great empire were always hateful to the lords of the great empire,” while Prince Rabadash says to the Tisroc, his father, “It is not the fourth size of one of your least provinces. A thousand spears could conquer it in five weeks,” but even as a kid, I always took the latter to be an example of the untrue Calormene hyperbole the natives tend to spout (like the untrue bit about Aslan being a demon that comes later) mixed with Rabadash’s fawning flattery, and Edmund’s statement more about, say, the size of Belgium compared to France, not Belgium compared to Russia.
Of all the characters, I like King Lune, Aravis and Hwin the most. Over the years, Hwin has in fact become one of my favorites. Shasta, like the young Caspian, seems thick, and a whiner to boot. I’d bet, in fact, that Lewis starting writing Horse immediately after Prince Caspian; some of the humor is similar, like Prince Rabadash kicking the ass of Ahoshta, Aravis’s decrepit husband-to-be — I read it around 12 and even then thought the scene immature. Lasaraleen is also ridiculous with all her “darlings” and serves as rather broad poke at some spoiled society woman somewhere in read life, a farce that detracts rather than enhances.
After this list of alternate titles, I’m adding some names that could be used for Calormene characters. As with the Talking Beasts and the mythological beings, the named male ones greatly outnumber the female named ones. (Bree and Hwin don’t count because they have names in Horse language.)
Variations on A Horse and His Boy
|The Horse and His Dwarf
The Horse and His Blacksmith
The Otter and Her Scholar
A Hippogriff and a Boy
The Unicorn Becomes a Soldier
The Horse, His Dwarf, and One Boy’s Lie
The Horse’s Knight
The Foal and Farmer Monk
The Horse Trains
Horse vs. Valkyrie
The Horse that Was Big