Was this your least favorite of the series? I think it was most people’s, for reasonable reasons: it’s the only one where the Pevensie children are absent from the action, and the only one where the main character is actually from Narnia. So, as natural-born xenophobia would have it, we find it hard to transition from neatly pressed, tea-and-biscuits Henry and Lucy to ambiguously ethnic, barbarian horse-lovers Shasta (hahaha) and Aravis. And it doesn’t help that The Horse and His Boy is awkwardly sandwiched between the big hitters, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian.
And then, when you grow up, there’s a lot more to dislike about this book. C.S. Lewis has gotten a lot of criticism for the prejudices that came naturally with the old-British-man territory. Philip Pullman once stated that C.S. Lewis’s world runs as such: “Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it.” There is a lot of truth in this–and if you’re thinking, wait, Lucy was the best character of all, remember how much of a tomboy she was, and how much C.S. Lewis made fun of Susan for wanting to wear makeup. And The Horse and His Boy is full of the “lead the dark people to the Anglo-Saxon God” spirit, for sure.
But. In the end, this book may be the best one of all, as a book in itself. As the title suggests, it’s just about a boy and a (talking) horse, trying to find their way to the North across the desert–bravest thing ever. The fact that it alienates you by putting you outside of castley, fairytale Narnia is exactly what C.S. Lewis needs to even out the rest of the series, and it also reminds you why it’s so important that the horse and his boy find their home. And through twelve years at a Baptist school and church, I’ve never found an expression of God more lovely and pure than the “I was the lion” passage in this book.