In The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis portrays the Narnians as being honourable, gracious, and genuine people. This is especially evident in The Horse and His Boy owing to its Calormen setting. The customs and culture of Calormen are placed beside those of Narnia; and the Narnians are seen from the perspective of Calormenes, or those raised in Calormen. In The Horse and His Boy, Lewis attributes the stereotypical Narnian personality to the fact that they are free-born people.
In the fifth chapter of The Horse and His Boy, Shasta has been mistaken for the Archenlandish prince, Corin, and has been taken captive by the Narnians. He has been privy to their plans of escape from Tashbaan and now, left to himself for a brief moment, is contemplating what the Narnians will do to him if he confesses he is not Prince Corin. Being brought up in Calormen, he is certain he will be killed for spying if the Narnians discover the truth. However, Lewis points out that “He had, you see, no idea of how noble and free-born people behave.”1 Why might this freedom of birth affect the character and actions of the Narnians?
The culture of Calormen is one of slavery and fear of authority. Slaves are treated cruelly and life is not valued. Bree tells Shasta that he’d “better be lying dead tonight than go to be a human slave in [the Tarkaan Anradin’s] house tomorrow.”2 Prince Rabadash alludes to slaves being hung for idleness and even Aravis expresses pleasure at the thought that her female slave will be beaten for sleeping late.
Narnia is a free country. There are no slaves in Narnia and the arrival of the slave trade in Narrowhaven in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a sign of social decay.3 The Narnians do not believe slavery will give their country anything they cannot get elsewhere. As Caspian says in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the slave trade does not bring into Narrowhaven “meat or bread or beer or wine or timber or cabbages or books or instruments of music or horses or armor or anything else worth having.”4 The Narnians also value the life and wellbeing of the human individual. All are equal under Aslan—even kings and queens, Calormenes, and Talking Beasts.
Because King Edmund believes all people are equal and worthy of life under Aslan, he will not sell Aravis into slavery because she is a Calormene. He also will not kill Shasta for spying because he is afraid he will betray the Narnians to the Tisroc. The Calormenes are a grasping and manipulating people. The lives of the poor are in the hands of the powerful and they deal with them as they please—killing them if it suits their purpose. King Edmund knows Aslan is ultimately in command and that he is only ruling Narnia under Aslan. He will not kill Shasta out of desire to control the outcome of Shasta’s life. At worst, Shasta would be taken captive, though even then he would have been treated well, for in Narnia even prisoners are not treated harshly.
The Narnian people know the joys of freedom and, instead of grasping that freedom and trying to control it and the freedom of others, they receive it from Aslan with open arms and wish to extend it to all people. In Narnia, life is valued. Kings see their subjects as equals under Aslan and as people as valuable as themselves. This freedom of birth and equality under Aslan influences how the Narnians view both their lives and the lives of the people around them.
1C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 5
2Ibid., Chapter 1
3Paul F. Ford, A Companion to Narnia, “Slave Trade”
4C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 4