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Feels Out Of Place In The Series
on April 7, 2015
Of the seven Chronicles of Narnia books, "The Horse and His Boy" is easily the strangest. It features the Pevensie siblings only in a tertiary role, while instead focusing on the adventures of young boy Shasta and his talking horse Bree. Unfortunately, this departure from the usual Narnia thread does not increase the story's quality; instead, relegating it to an oddity in the series that can actually be skipped outright if need be.
For a basic plot summary, "Horse & His Boy" tells the tale of Shasta, a young boy growing up in a fisherman's village (across the great desert from the kingdom of Narnia). One day, a chance encounter gives Shasta the opportunity to strike out for "North Narnia" with a talking horse named Bree, who was once a great warrior. In their travels, Shasta and Bree meet up with another horse/rider team (Hwin/Aravis), must cross through a deadly, "Arabian nights"-esque city, and finally must traverse the great desert in order to reach their desired goal of seeing the "best part of Narnia".
The strange thing is, this story isn't all that terrible, as far as children's stories go. I read it after Prince Caspian, and to be completely honest, this tale has more action/adventure than that one. The problem, however, is that "Horse & His Boy" has very little point to it. It is a subtle, stand-alone tale shoe-horned into an epic series, and feels very out of place as a result.
To me, more than anything, that is the real problem with this novel. It just feels so out of place in this series that takes on such epic proportions. I know that the original publication order places this book second-to-last (right before "The Last Battle"), and armed with that information I can better understand its creation, I guess (I actually read it after "Wardrobe" & "Caspian"). After "Silver Chair", C.S. Lewis wrote "Magician's Nephew" & "Horse & His Boy" before embarking on the final chapter. Obviously, these were tales that he had kicking around in his brain that he wanted to tell before concluding the main storyline of the series. While "Magician's Nephew" serves its purpose as a prequel very well (so well that some people actually read it first in the series now!), "Horse & His Boy" fails to find that same kind of niche.
Thus, though not a complete or utter travesty, "Horse & His Boy" is more of an unappealing oddity in the overall Narnia saga. It is filled with adventure, but parts often get bogged down and, in the end, one can't help but wonder "what was the point of all that?".