Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll #96: The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
Admittedly this one was a real shocker to the system. Not only did it not show up on the previous poll but I rarely hear it come up in common conversation. When we talk about Lewis we usually talk about the first three of his titles or maybe The Magician’s Nephew. We might even debate the relative merits (or lack thereof) of The Last Battle, but The Horse and His Boy? Yet here we are. Enough people not only thought it a worthy inclusion, their love for it reigned supreme enough to get it on the Top 100 list!
The plot, as told by Kirkus, reads: “The setting is familiar. There is the eastern flavour to his make-believe kingdoms and great Aslan the Lion is still Narnia’s protector. But for a new hero there is Shasta, a slave boy in the tyrannical land of Calormen, and of unknown parentage, who escapes to the free north with Bree, one of Narnia’s talking horses. En route, they meet Aravis, a Calormene princess also in flight because of an impending forced marriage, and together they help snuff out a Calormene plot to attack not only Narnia but its brother land of Archenland, of which Shasta turns out to be a lost prince.”
Of all the Narnia books this is the one that is believe to be anti-Arab. As this is the fifth Narnia book (depending on how you count them) there was some talk of whether or not there would ever be a movie. Yet as the Houston Chronicle pointed out in 2005: “the BBC produced versions of four ‘Narnia’ books in the late ’80s (now available on DVD, in highly respectable renderings, but with cheesy ’80s-era special effects). ‘The Horse and His Boy’ wasn’t among those four.” While Shasta is light-skinned, the Calormenes are “men with long, dirty robes, and wooden shoes turned up at the toe, and turbans on their heads, and beards . . .” They lives in a city where “What you would chiefly have noticed if you had been there were the smells, which came from unwashed people, unwashed dogs, scent, garlic, onions, and the piles of refuse which lay everywhere.”
Lots of problems with this, and so one wonders how much would be changed if a film was ever made. Those who read it in their youth don’t remember these details, of course. Still and all, it’s good to keep them in mind when we consider this list as a whole.
Kirkus said of it, “A beautifully written tale to read aloud as well, in which C.S. Lewis’ talents seem to flower more than ever.”
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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