Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book a Week Project: Book Six--The Horse and His Boy

I have to admit, I have never read the complete Chronicles of Narnia. Of course I've read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as well as The Magician's Nephew (for some reason I assumed this came earlier...which it did in terms of lore, but not chronologically...). But to this day, The Horse and His Boy is only the third of the Narnia books I've finished. I suppose this is due to several factors--chiefly that I never owned all of the books, and then by the time I had the opportunity to buy the books for myself, I realized what they "were" and hesitated. I definitely loved the first book when I was young, but allegorical novels just don't sit well with me anymore. The Horse and His Boy, while primarily about what I do love (animals), is also dripping with Christ symbolism (and, what seemed to me, slightly racist undertones...). For the purposes of this review, however, I'm not going to address the allegorical intent (or lack of, as your opinion may be) of this book--rather I simply wish to address the themes I appreciated, the literary qualities and merits the book has, and the very real pleasure I experienced reading it. Because, despite everything else, it was a fun read!

Foremost in my mind is the emphasis on the relationship between Bree (the talking, Narnian horse stolen from Narnia as a foal) and Shasta (the young fisherman's son, washed ashore in a small boat as an infant and raised (basically) as a slave). The process through which Shasta learns to ride involves constant instruction (and chastising) from Bree, but also a good deal of care and, later, love and respect for one another. I appreciated that Bree repeatedly emphasized that he was a "free horse", and that in Narnia no horse belonged to anyone--hence the title, The Horse and His Boy. It's easy to say we "own" things...I mean, we say it all the time right? What's your cat's name? How old is your dog? But in actuality, how can we ever really own animals? In saying that, I'm not saying we shouldn't have pets (I love having kitties around my house), but that we should remember that animals aren't the same as staplers and computers and fancy pens with feathers on top. 

I see more thoughts and feelings flitting across cat's faces than I can begin to imagine--and maybe that's just the point. We want to connect with animals the way Shasta and Bree (and later, Aravis and Hwin) bond. I might say "If only I knew what was going on in his (the cat's) head right now...I bet he's imagining something really exciting." But really, the only connection we can have with animals is something significantly different than our relationships with other humans--it's something instinctual (primal?)--we connect with them because they make us happy, make us feel needed and loved and wanted.

Bree and Shasta need one another to escape "To Narnia, and the North!", and their bond centers on the continual evaluation of one another as peers and free "animals." I wonder how much of my own desire to know animals was piqued by this book, and how big of a role that desire played in my enjoyment of it. The climactic battle of the book didn't nearly interest me as much as the feeling of movement, or journeying I guess, towards a land that promised freedom and inclusion for two (and eventually four) mistreated creatures. 

I suppose I do love Aslan as well (because of the first book), but his appearances in this text were sporadic, and marked almost explicitly as either the miracle-working or punishment-doling of God. The punishment he bestows on the principle enemy of the book near the end is actually more harsh than I would have expected...and didn't really leave me feeling very connected to his character anymore. Oh well. 

Anyway, The Horse and His Boy is a fairly fast-paced, and certainly beautifully descriptive novel. The impetus for the book is an epic journey, so the compulsion to finish the novel and reach a resolution is strong (at least for this reader). It left me thinking, but also eager to bite into something a bit more substantial for next week. Stay tuned. 

Recommendation: Not high on my list for must-reads, but certainly good for something enjoyable, quick, and pretty. Also good if you like talking animals.

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