Friday, September 11, 2009

Aslan's Influence on The Horse and His Boy

When C.S. Lewis began to write the Chronicles of Narnia, he didn’t have a master plan for a series of seven books. He simply wanted to tell a good tale, and as he finished each book the idea for another one had already come to him. This explains why the books were generally published in the order they were completed rather than in chronological order as far as Narnian history. Also, when he began to write the Chronicles, he didn’t set out to incorporate Christian theological concepts. As he explained in Of Other Worlds:

“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out 'allegories' to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images: a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”

Lewis further clarified in a December 1958 letter to a Mrs. Hook that the story of Aslan’s experiences in the Narnian Chronicles was not an allegory but that Alsan “…is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?'”

Aslan appears or his influence is felt in all the Narnian books. I particularly enjoyed the role he played in The Horse and His Boy (TH&HB)—that of being intimately involved although rarely seen, of being felt even though the feeling was not completely understood.

Synopsis of The Horse and His Boy

TH&HB is the story of an adventure that took place while the Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund) were kings and queens of Narnia. Shasta is a Narnian boy who has been raised as the son of a fisherman in Calormen. When he hears that his "father" is going to sell him into slavery to a wealthy Calormen noble, he confers with the nobleman's horse (Bree) who is actually a captured talking horse from Narnia. The boy and horse decide to run away and head north for Narnia.

Along the way they are forced by lions (so they think) to meet up with a young runaway noblewoman, Aravis and her Narnian horse Hwin. Aravis is running away to avoid a marriage of state her parents have arranged for her. Along their way they have several adventures as Shasta finds he is an exact double for the Prince of Archenland (a small buffer country between the larger Narnia and Calormen). When Shasta is mistaken for his double, Prince Corin, he is brought to the palace where he learns that Queen Susan is visiting Calormen to be wooed by a Prince. But she has refused him and he does not want to let her leave. However she is planning to leave secretly.

Aravis also learns that the Prince is planning a secret attack on Archenland and Narnia through the desert. When Aravis and Shasta join up again, they manage to cross the desert in a race against time to warn the King of Archenland about the attack. Just as they are getting too tired to continue on their way they are attacked by a lion and chased to Archenland where they stop at a hermit's cottage.

Shasta goes on alone to find King Lune to warn him of the attack. He gets lost on the way and receives guidance from Aslan who he finds has been protecting him the entire time. It was Aslan who forced him to meet up with Aravis and Aslan who chased them to give them that last push to Archenland. Shasta warns the king in time for him to gather an army to defeat the invasion. As the battle comes to an end, Shasta finds that he is in actuality the long lost son of King Lune and twin to Prince Corin, his double. Indeed he is the older twin, so Shasta will some day be king. Aravis decides to remain at the court of Archenland and eventually she and Shasta marry and reign over the kingdom together.

Aslan’s Presence

Throughout TH&HB, there are recurring references to “big cats” or lions that influence how the characters act. It may take first-time readers of the Narnian Chronicles a while before they guess that all these feline contacts are with Aslan, the Lord of their world. Towards the end of the book, Aslan finally makes this point clear to Shasta:

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. I was the lion who you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

Aslan is not the center of the action in TH&HB, but rather is a behind-the-scenes influence that directs the outcome of the adventure. Even though Shasta has been unaware of Aslan’s presence in his journey (up to this point), he is able to acknowledge the debt he owes to him. “I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!—at least it wasn’t luck at all really, it was Him. And now I am in Narnia.” Because Aslan was actively involved in their world, there really was no luck involved. Aslan guided and protected the group the entire way.

Scriptural Comparisons

The story of Aslan leading a group of people is a theme that runs through the Bible as the Lord interacts with his people (e.g., Moses, Noah). Similar stories appear in The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

Jaredites. At the time of the Tower of Babel, when the tongues of all nations were confounded, the Lord acceded to the desires of Jared and his brother so that their language, as well as that of their families and friends, was not confounded, and they were granted a land of promise. The people were guided by God through the wilderness, and were eventually directed to cross the sea in sealed, watertight "barges” built so air could be obtained from outside the vessels as needed. After 344 days, the group landed in the Americas, where they grew into a great civilization of more than 2 million people.

The full story of the Jaredites can be found in the Book of Ether:

Lehi and Family. Another example of the Lord leading his children is that of the people whose history is told in The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ, who also came to the New World. According to the narrative, the families of Lehi, his friend Ishmael and another man named Zoram left their homes in Jerusalem sometime before its destruction by the Babylonians in approximately 587 BC. Lehi's group traveled southward down the Arabian Peninsula, then in an eastward direction across the desert until they reached a fertile coastal region they named Bountiful. Here Lehi's son Nephi was instructed by the Lord to build a ship for the purpose of sailing across the ocean to the "promised land” in the Americas. Their experiences were written on metallic plates, which Joseph Smith translated through the power of the Lord. Printed as The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the book details the Lord’s interactions with people in South, Central and North America.

The full account of Lehi’s journey can be found in First Nephi:


Throughout time, the Lord has directed his people. Proverbs 16:9 states that “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.” Or put in other terms: “A man determines in his heart the plan he will pursue but the Lord directs the path he follows.” Shasta knew he needed to escape from the land of Calormen and wanted to go to Narnia, but it was through Aslan’s influence that he was guided to meet the people he did, when he did, and it was Aslan who provided protection and encouragement along the way.

Like Shasta, we can enjoy the direction of the Lord in our lives. Because we have been blessed with free agency, we can determine the path we want to travel. If we are worthy and seek the Lord’s blessings, his Spirit will guide and direct us in the way we should go.

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”’—Proverbs 3:6

In TH&HB, it was clear that Shasta did not recognize Aslan’s influence in his journey back to Narnia. When Aslan explained his involvement (as quoted above), I thought of a very short essay I have loved since I was a youth: Footprints in the Sand by Mary Stevenson.

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