The following article reviews both Radio play versions of The Horse and His Boy. “RT” indicates the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre version, and “BBC” the British Radio 4 version.
Vocalizing the full name of the first title character (The Horse) is a challenge to both the imagination and one’s articulation skills. Nick Burnell (RT) and Martin Jarvis (BBC) were both up to the task of imagining and imitating a talking horse.
As indicated in the last review in this series, the sound effects in the Radio Theatre adaptation are far superior to the BBC version. However, after a six year hiatus, the BBC version of The Horse and His Boy did make some progress compared to their version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The laughable imitations of animal sounds have virtually disappeared. Even Aslan’s roar is much better.
Both portrayals do a good job of staying true to the story C. S. Lewis wrote. However, the BBC version still uses synthesized music, and the overall effect of the RT production, with the full orchestration, is still much superior.
RT also does a better job at the part of the story when Shasta (the other title character – (His Boy) and his traveling companion, Aravis, become separated in Tashbaan, the capital of Calormen, a country to the south of Narnia. When prominent characters become separated, there is always the problem of dealing with how to covey both parts of the story.
C S Lewis’s friend and colleague JRR Tolkien faced this challenge in writing The Lord of the Rings. He dealt with the situation of the separation of the members of the Fellowship primarily by adopting three separate story lines – a few chapters for Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, a few for Merry and Pippin, and a few for Frodo and Sam, etc. He also uses the device of one character telling his story to another character in order to fill in the details.
The Horse and His Boy is not nearly so complicated as The Lord of the Rings, but dealing with a divided story was still a challenge. Much like Tolkien, Lewis devotes comparatively long passages to what is happening to Shasta, and then to what is going on with Aravis.
The BBC version uses a different tact. The scene cuts back and forth from one character to the other several times. While the playwright, Brian Sibley, does a great job of tying the cuts together using common themes, the overall effect is rather distracting and at times a bit hard to follow.
The RT adaptation basically follows Lewis’s tact. The text first follows the adventures of Shasta, and then of Aravis. This allows some suspense to build as Shasta (and the first-time reader) does not know what is happening to Aravis and if she will make it to their arranged meeting place. In the BBC production, this tension is lost.
As indicated above, both dramatizations do a great job of presenting Lewis’s story and capturing its spirit. One of the main themes of the book is how God is working behind the scenes in our lives, even when we don’t know him or recognize him.
When Shasta talks to Aslan in the wilderness, the Lion tells him,
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 new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion 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.
Shasta asks why the Lion wounded Aravis. As he does so often in the Chronicles, Aslan responds that he “tells no one any story but his own.”
God has a story for you. You may not like the details, and may wonder about the details of the story belonging to someone else. But, God is only interested in telling you your own story – if you will listen – not debating with you about the details, or telling you why he has dealt with others the way he has.
…Peter… asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “…what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:21-22 NIV)