06 September 2012

Audio Book Review: The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis

GoodReads Summary: On a desperate journey, two runaways meet and join forces. Though they are only looking to escape their harsh and narrow lives, they soon find themselves at the center of a terrible battle. It is a conflict that will decide their fate and the fate of Narnia itself.

I'm not sure there's a single thing about the summary that would make a reader unfamiliar with Narnia want to pick this book up and read it. What's up with that?

I'm torn with my review for The Horse and His Boy.  I read this book at least a dozen times growing up and I always loved it, and I just finished listening to a rather fine audio production of it, read by Alex Jennings, which I enjoyed.  I had a trip to Boston last week and I wanted a book to listen to on my drive; my bookstore had this one on sale, and voila! But it's hard for me to separate my nostalgia for this book from a critical evaluation of the story.

Oh, Jack. You have no great love for women, do you? Or at least not until Joy Gresham came into your life.  If you'd known her earlier, I think your female characters would have benefitted so much! (Clearly I'm an expert on the life of one Clive Staples Lewis from having watched Shadowlands a dozen times. Duh.)

Aravis is one of the truly interesting female characters that C. S. Lewis gave us: she's smart, savvy, sporty, refined, and of high birth. She's a snob, but also a loyal companion. Like Edmund and Eustace from previous books in the series, she also grows as a character by the time we reach the end of her story.  She is, truly, a female figure in the Narnia books I can whole-heartedly cheer for.

So is Shasta, come to that.  And Lewis himself is a fine, fine storyteller, with a good sense of narration, pace, and character.  He never talks down to his audience (I remember learning a lot of words for the first time by reading the Narnia Chronicles in elementary school).

But there is such a strong sense of patriarchal imperialism (not to mention an anti-Arabic sentiment) running through these books that it makes my heart hurt a little bit. I think I'll put this one back on the shelf for now.

On an entirely different note, I'd just like to say that I'm very much opposed to the newfangled numbering of the Narnia series.  There's no reason why the books should be read in the chronological order of Narnian time.  The books were written in a certain order, and that is the order in which I feel they should be read. None of this nonsense with starting off with The Magician's Nephew.  Goodness knows that book isn't quite snappy enough to carry the whole series on its back, unlike The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. No wonder not as many children read these books today if they think they're supposed to start with that one.


  1. What I really like about reading Magician's Nephew last is 1) Otherwise Last Battle is kind of...sad. Because everything's done. But this way, you're reminded of how it all began and it's just very nice. And 2) After you get invested in Narnia (veeery invested) you find out how it all began, and have an 'ohhhh' sort of moment. As opposed to knowing before it all happens. I do not like this latter thing.

  2. What?! The series order you read put Magician's Nephew last? After The Last Battle? In my little boxed set, circa 1978 or so, the order was (I think)... I actually just ran around the house looking for my barely-holding-together-boxed-set and couldn't find, but I did find two books on a TBR shelf that I'm about to add to Goodreads...but I digress:

    1) Lion Witch Wardrobe
    2) Prince Caspian
    3) Voyage of Dawn Treader
    4) Silver Chair
    5) either Horse or Magician's Nephew
    6) either Magician's Nephew or Hose
    7) Last Battle

  3. It's so interesting re-reading a beloved childhood book, isn't it? I'm excited to read the Narnia series with my son in a few years, but I agree that it's difficult to let your childhood and grownup reactions live in the same space.

    1. I would be very curious to know how it goes, Lindsey, once you embark on that journey.


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