C.S. Lewis was not alone in recognizing horses are magnificent creatures. Many of us share his appreciation for the more than 300 breeds that comprise the equine family.
Horses hold a prominent place in Lewis’ zoologically rich fantasies. In the Chronicles of Narnia, we encounter many Talking Horses. Among them are Bree, the titular hero of The Horse and His Boy, and Hwin, the heroine who teaches Bree what it means to be a Narnian.
But before Bree and Hwin galloped across the fields and plains of Narnia, a horse from Earth was transported to that Land at the hour of its very creation.* And there, Aslan anointed this modest draft horse⁑ to become the progenitor of a race of pegasi. Fledge’s story is quite inspiring.
Fledge was once named Strawberry, and pulled a Hansom cab in London. But after journeying to Narnia, Aslan chose him to be one of the very first Talking Animals, and granted him wings.
“Would You Like Wings?” offers an illuminating meditation on this transformation.
So Strawberry, in this first stage, goes from beast to person. From a dream to wakefulness. From slavery to freedom. From silence to speech, from witless to intelligent.
From C.S. Lewis’ account of the “miraculous” event:
He then turned to the Horse who had been standing quietly beside them all this time, swishing his tail to keep the flies off, and listening with his head on one side as if the conversation were a little difficult to understand. “My dear,” said Aslan to the Horse, “would you like to be a winged horse?”
You should have seen how the Horse shook its mane and how its nostrils widened, and the little tap it gave the ground with one back hoof. Clearly it would very much like to be a winged horse. But it only said: “If you wish, Aslan – if you really mean – I don’t know why it should be me – I’m not a very clever horse.”
“Be winged. Be the father of all flying horses,” roared Aslan in a voice that shook the ground. “Your name is Fledge.” The horse shied . . . It strained its neck back as if there were a fly biting its shoulders and it wanted to scratch them. And then, just as the beasts had burst out of the earth, there burst out from the shoulders of Fledge wings that spread and grew, larger than eagles’, larger than swans’, larger than angels’ wings in church windows. . . .
“Is it good, Fledge?” said Aslan.
“It is very good, Aslan,” said Fledge.
When Aslan sends Polly and Digory on a quest with Fledge, they camp for the night and enjoy a delightful human~animal conversation (much like I would anticipate having with the deer that visit our yard daily, should they be graced with speech).
“And my wings are beginning to ache,” said Fledge. “There’s no sign of the valley with a Lake in it, like what Aslan said. What about coming down and looking out for a decent spot to spend the night in? We shan’t reach that place tonight.”
“Yes, and surely it’s about time for supper?” said Digory. So Fledge came lower and lower. As they came down nearer to the earth and among the hills, the air grew warmer and after traveling so many hours with nothing to listen to but the beat of Fledge’s wings . . .
A warm, good smell of sun-baked earth and grass and flowers came up to them. . . . “I am hungry,” said Digory.
“Well, tuck in,” said Fledge, taking a big mouthful of grass. Then he raised his head, still chewing and with bits of grass sticking out on each side of his mouth like whiskers, and said, “Come on, you two. Don’t be shy. There’s plenty for us all.”
“But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory.
“H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well—h’m—don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.”
Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay. “Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.
“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge. “Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly. “I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
“But what on earth are we to do?” asked Digory.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Fledge. “Unless you try the grass. You might like it better than you think.” (The Magician’s Nephew).⁂
In C.S. Lewis’ first story about Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we read about the “statues” that surround the castle of the White Witch. Edmund has been corrupted by the Witch, and told that Aslan is dangerous.
The Witch has the power to turn living creatures to stone. When Edmund discovers a lion in her garden, he is delighted. But the lion is not alone.
The relief which Edmund felt was so great that in spite of the cold he suddenly got warm all over right down to his toes, and at the same time there came into his head what seemed a perfectly lovely idea. “Probably,” he thought, “this is the great Lion Aslan that they were all talking about. She’s caught him already and turned him into stone. So that’s the end of all their fine ideas about him! Pooh! Who’s afraid of Aslan?”
And he stood there gloating over the stone lion, and presently he did something very silly and childish. He took a stump of lead pencil out of his pocket and scribbled a mustache on the lion’s upper lip and then a pair of spectacles on its eyes. Then he said, “Yah! Silly old Aslan! How do you like being a stone? You thought yourself mighty fine, didn’t you?”
But in spite of the scribbles on it the face of the great stone beast still looked so terrible, and sad, and noble, staring up in the moonlight, that Edmund didn’t really get any fun out of jeering at it. He turned away and began to cross the courtyard.
As he got into the middle of it he saw that there were dozens of statues all about – standing here and there rather as the pieces stand on a chessboard when it is halfway through the game. There were stone satyrs, and stone wolves, and bears and foxes and cat-a-mountains of stone. . . . a winged horse and a long lithe creature that Edmund took to be a dragon (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
I find the description of the lion quite provocative. “. . . so terrible, and sad, and noble.” That is exactly what I experienced when I saw the model for a “war horse” memorial in Romsey, England. The artists have done a brilliant job. The sorrow overflows from it eyes.
True, my impression is influenced by the outstanding 2011 film titled War Horse. If you’ve never seen this Spielberg gem, I encourage you to watch it and challenge you to do so without shedding a tear.
Horses have long been used in war. That is not what God created them for, but fallen humanity has often harnessed their power for combat. Some of their names are remembered today, including Bucephalus, Copenhagen, Cincinnati, and Traveler.
Returning to Fledge, we find a horse not only experiencing the fullness of his equine nature, but receiving blessings unimagined.
* C.S. Lewis did not compose the seven volumes of the Chronicles of Narnia chronologically. This has led to different opinions on the order in which the books should be read.
⁑ Draught horse, to you Brits.
⁂ While I typed this, a doe and her two fawns were peacefully grazing on our clover-seeded lawn, just a few feet away, outside my office window. [I’m sure they would have happily shared with me.]