C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898. He was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge, where he counted J.R.R. Tolkien among his friends. "The Horse and his Boy", the third book of the Chronicles of Narnia, was first published in 1954.
Although the series is known as the "Chronicles of Narnia", much of the action takes place in the neighbouring countries of Calormen and Archenland. Shasta, the boy mentioned in the book's title, is introduced first - he's been brought up in Calormen by a fisherman called Arsheesh. One evening, a local prince stops with the pair and demands hospitality. Later, when Shasta overhears the prince and his father bartering for Shasta himself, he decides to run away. Luckily for Shasta, the prince's horse is a captured Narnian horse called Bree - and, as a Narnian, Bree can talk. Bree has also set his heart on escaping and returning home and agrees to take Shasta with him - recognising the boy as either a fellow Narnian or an Archenlander, rather than being native to Calormen. The pair make off together that night and, before long, they are joined on the road by another fleeing pair : Aravis and Hwin. Aravis is a Calormen princess being forced to marry against her will while Hwin, like Bree, is a captured Narnian horse. The four escapees must make their way through Calormen's capital, Tashbaan, and then across the northern desert to safety.
It's possible I'm seeing more in this book than was intended, and I know it's supposed to be a kid's book - but I'd have to describe the portrayal of Calormen's people as not only the book's big flaw but also very questionable. Physically, they're described as having dark faces and wear turbans, while their favoured weapon is the scimitar. As individuals, only Aravis is portrayed in anything vaguely resembling a positive light. Arsheesh, Shasta's foster-father, had no qualms about selling him into slavery, while Aravis' father was apparently happy to arrange her man to the Grand Vizier - someone old enough to be her grandfather. Meanwhile, the Tisroc - Calormen's ruler - is the sort of cheap and easy villain others have tried to fabricate again more recently : he actually sneers at the concept of freedom. Narnia's King Edmund and Queen Susan also appear briefly - Queen Lucy's appearance is barely even fleeting. Edmund, who didn't exactly cover himself in glory in "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe", maintains his low standards when his refers to Prince Rabadash as Susan's "dark faced lover". He isn't long in adding that Rabadash is "proud, bloody, luxurious, cruel and a self-pleasing tyrant". (From only a slightly different perspective, of course, the very same thing could be said about Peter - Narnia's High King and Edmund's brother). All of which is a great pity, as the bones of this story are much stronger than those of "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe".