I was struck by last year's Melbourne Cup - not literally you understand, but by the strange and polarised events of the 2014 'race that stops the nation'. On the one hand there is celebration, as there always is for the winner, and on the other, abject despair at the untimely deaths of not one but two of the horses who ran the race. Someone I heard interviewed said that these horses represent more than just racing - they are truly loved by their trainers, jockeys, stable hands and the myriad of other people with whom they come into contact during their lives. The outpouring of grief and shock at the untimely passing of two of these fine creatures moved me to tears also.
I don't believe in coincidences, but if I did it would be significant that I happened to be re-reading one of my favourite children's books at the time of last year's Melbourne Cup and its strange happenings. The Horse and His Boy is the third book in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia and I think it is my favourite, although that in itself is a close run thing. I've always been beguiled by the notion of horse whisperers and people who can communicate with animals in general. But in Narnia and this tale in particular, it's the horses doing the talking.
This is about a boy and a talking horse making a dangerous journey back to Narnia after many years of slavery in a foreign land. The horse, Bree, teaches the boy, Shasta, to ride and fills his head with stories of the beautiful land of Narnia where beasts and humans alike are free and proud. Even the name of the book is instructive - The Horse and His Boy, not the other way around. When, inevitably, questions are asked about why Bree and Shasta are making the perilous trek through the desert country of Calormen to the cool and wooded 'Narnia and the North', Bree points out that as an intelligent, talking horse one might as well say he kidnapped the boy as opposed to accepting the more plausible notion that Shasta stole a witless, mute local horse in order to make his escape. The very idea of it amuses me and the character development of both horse and boy, along with the banter and 'life lessons' that pass between them, is vintage C.S. Lewis in its wit and flow.
The other reason I love this book the most of all the volumes in the seven Chronicles of Narnia is that it's the only one where the action takes place when the Pevensy children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - from The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, are actually adult Kings and Queens in Narnia. During this story we get a glimpse of the sort of regal yet humble personages they've become - forming fast friendships, fighting alongside and accepting the counsel of many talking beasts and mythical creatures like Mr Tumnus, the faun. That all creatures’ great and small (not just horses) are well represented at court and play an active role in how their home country is run is an utterly delightful concept to me.
This is a wonderful book to read not only at Melbourne Cup time, when our minds are so firmly focused on horses, but at any other time when one feels the need to experience excellent story telling with homespun wisdom and a little magic thrown in.
If you're interested in purchasing this book, please follow the link to Booktopia.