Recently, I’ve found myself revisiting old books of mine that I remember having a profound impact on me in some way. This one is merely the first of many! When contemplating favorite childhood books, I don’t have to dig very far in my memory to recall The Chronicles of Narnia. This enchanting high fantasy series by C.S. Lewis has everything an avid fairy-tale fan and aspiring fantasy writer could ask for: alternate worlds and kingdoms, talking beasts, kings and queens, warriors and magicians, good versus evil. Needless to say, after reading only one of the books, I fell in love instantly. Afterward, and throughout my earlier middle school years, my mother and I read the entire series together, from book one to seven. However, the third book of the series, The Horse and His Boy, was always both of our favorites. This story follows the journey of a boy named Shasta, Aravis the runaway noblewoman, and the two talking Narnian horses Bree and Hwin, who are undertaking a quest to escape their unhappy lives in the country of Calormen and find refuge in Narnia to the north. Not only did I find this book in the series to be the most enjoyable, with amazing characters along with high-stakes adventure, but I also thought it was one of the most profound. With each stage of the characters’ journey came different lessons and insights that I found myself taking to heart more than I had expected to starting out.
Perhaps my favorite characters in the story were the thoroughly contrasting human females of the cast. Aravis is a girl of noble birth who prefers sword-fighting and horseback riding to traditionally feminine wiles, and is running to Narnia to escape a forced engagement. Her best friend, a noblewoman named Lasaraleen, is in contrast a sheltered but elegant and caring lady, a “terrible giggler” who couldn’t get enough of parties and gossip. When reading through the two girls’ interactions, I was perplexed; I found myself identifying more with Lasaraleen, and even liking her more than Aravis! Shouldn’t I have been more aligned with the hero than the slightly ditzy side character? That attitude changed, however, when Aravis said this: “Good-bye, and I thought your dresses were lovely. And I think your house is lovely too. I’m sure you’ll have a lovely life – though it wouldn’t suit me.” In that quote, it was made clear that neither girl was being portrayed in a negative light for her choices; they were simply different, and that was completely fine. This notion had a profound effect upon my attitude from then onward; I didn’t have to be anything. If I wanted to be a beautiful princess or kick butt with a sword, or both, or neither, I could. The idea that I had the agency to be whatever I wished was drastically important for me to hear as a young girl, and perhaps is even more important to me today with so many choices looming on the horizon.
Perhaps it’s during one of the last phases of the characters’ journey to Narnia that one of my favorite messages of the tale comes to light. (Spoilers ahead!) Shasta, the male lead of the book, was found as an orphan and raised in the country of Calormen his entire life but was clearly not native to that country with his fair complexion characteristic of Northern countries. When Shasta, Aravis, and the horses finally reached Archenland, the country between Calormen and Narnia, Shasta’s origins are finally revealed: he is actually the long-lost Prince Cor of Archenland, twin brother to the younger Prince Corin that he met earlier on in the story. This is by far the plot twist that caught me off guard the most; Shasta was the absolute last character I would have expected to turn out to be royalty of all things! Then I at last realized the message of this plot point: not only that some things aren’t what they appear to be, but also that we will always manage to find our way back to where we truly belong. When I first read this book in my younger years, I was overjoyed that Shasta had finally found his identity, his family, and his home. Perhaps this was because, in a way, I hadn’t yet found mine; I was still searching for where I was meant to be and what I was meant to learn in order to become the person I wanted to be (adolescence is such a wonderfully confusing time). In a way, both Shasta and I were in essence lost souls, trying to make sense of our place in this confusing world we were being flung into far too quickly for our liking. Now that I’m much older, in college, and beginning to refine the process of “figuring myself out”, I feel as if I’m less of a Shasta and more of a Prince Cor. I’m finding my niche and becoming more confident in the identity I’m choosing for myself.
I find it amazing that the stories such as The Horse and His Boy that I’ve been exposed to, no matter how long ago, still stay in my mind and have an effect on me to this day. From high fantasy, to young adult books, to graphic novels, there are so many books that have shaped my understanding of myself and the world around me.
Expect more posts detailing my favorite stories soon! Feel free to follow my blog to stay tuned – and of course, tell me about your favorite books in the comments!