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C.S.Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy"

Been having a bit of a week of nostalgia, rereading C.S.Lewis (who I haven't read since i was, oh, 15 or so. I was pleasantly surprised to find him an even better author than I remembered. Quick read, though - I've read two of his books already today and it's only 11am.

However, the reason I bring up The Horse and His Boy in particular is that it has huge numbers of what are now fantasy clichés: a runaway bride, fleeing an arranged marriage; a peasant who's really the heir to a kingdom; talking animal companions - and all of them work, and realising why they work, unlike the majority of books with those tropes made me realise why I hate them normally.

(Spoilers follow, I fear.)

The runaway bride is probably 14, maybe even a little younger. She has no objection with arranged marriages as such, but her stepmother arranged a marriage for her with someone she both thinks is untrustworthy, and who is old and ugly (though set to become Grand Vizier)

This part of the narrative is told in retrospect by her in the style of an Arabian Nights tale, which brilliantly suspends belief over any of the fantastical elements, with interjections from the others to keep thefact that it's been exaggerated a little. It's a brilliant narrative trick - evil stepmothers, being stopped from committing suiceide by a talking horse, and coming up with a plan (with the horse's aid) to distract her father flow quickly and breezily, with interjections from the two talking horses and the peasant heir keeping things grounded.

Besides the ingenious Arabian nights overlay of that chapter, what really caught my attention was that, though she was quite young and most runaway brides I've seen have been significantly older, the others still acted at about the same level of maturity. (Indeed, if anything, Aravis acts more maturely than most - She comes up with a clever plan to distract her father from noticing she'd be gone for some time - going off to do a religious rite alone then sending off a forged letter ostensibly from her fiacée saying that, whilst coming to marry her he met her by chance just as she finished the religious ceremony, and they decided not to wait but elope instead.

In short, Aravis acts her age, comes up with a sensible plan, and acts like a person from her culture throughout. Fantastical elements are got around both by the style of the storytelling and by some of them (the talking horse, for instance) having already been introduced and normalised for two chapters. The reasons most runaway brides give - angsting about wanting romantic love, say - are foreign to her culture (as they are to most runaway bride's cultures!) and not touched upon.

Best of all, she and the peasant heir being young means that we get to see the development of friendship, not angsty romance. (even if the epilogue does mention that they married when they grew up so they could argue and make up more conveniently)

Next, the pesant heir. As mentioned above, he's quite young. His father is stil alive, and the person he ends up replacing is his rambunctuous twin, who he likes and is rather embarrassed about replacing. What really makes the trope work is his age: He has plenty of time for education left, and at the book's end it's made clear he'll get it.

Finally, the talking animal companionss. Little more need be said than that both of them have just as strong of personalities as anyone else in the book, and participate fully in conversations, planning, and have character development - Bree, for instance, learns to get over some of his pompous pride. They aren't just there when the author wants them to be, or mere transport with a few bonus sarcastic comments.

In short, a lot of fantasy authors could learn a lot from C.S. Lewis.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 6, 2005 11:44 AM.

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