Summary: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie return to Narnia only to find that hundreds of years have passed and all their old friends are dead. Foreigners have invaded, driving away the Talking Beasts and silencing the spirits of the trees and water. Prince Caspian, the true heir to the throne, desires to set things right, but his uncle Miraz has usurped the crown and now wages war against Caspian and his allies. The children hope to help the Narnians reclaim their land, but their doubt in Aslan threatens to undo them.
(Note that the review serves more as an analysis/reflection and thus contains spoilers.)
Review: I used to wonder a lot about Prince Caspian because it didn’t seem quite to fit with the other Narnia books. I recognized the clear Biblical connections of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Magician’s Nephew; and The Last Battle, and I could pick out references and moral messages in all the other books—except Prince Caspian. To me, it was a story about a duel. Now I think Caspian’s fear that one day men will become beasts inside and no one will know the difference sums up the entire work.
The Telmarines immediately recommend themselves to us as examples as men turned into beasts. They are the ones, after all, who cut down the trees and drove the Old Narnians into hiding; their silencing of the wood spirits and the animals reflects their silencing of the voice of reason within themselves. As a result, they have become cruel, cunning, and greedy (note that Lewis will later associate these same qualities with the Calormenes, the perpetual enemies of Free Narnia). They are willing to kill a boy if he stands between them and their desires. However, the majority of Lewis’s readers probably know what qualities indicate a man who is no longer a man; Lewis, after all, does not give us ambiguous qualities, but things like willingness to murder or willingness to betray a friend. This suggests that Lewis does not wish us to focus so much on the attributes of a man gone wrong, but on the route he took to get there.
Doctor Cornelius gives us a hint as to how the Telmarines went wrong. He explains to Caspian that the Telmarines have always hated the sea because they cannot, as much as they wish they could, suppress the knowledge that Aslan traditionally comes from over the sea. In response, they have allowed the woods to grow, cutting them off from the water. Lewis does not wish us to understand these actions only in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual one. The Telmarines, Doctor Cornelius tells us, have rejected Aslan and cut themselves off from him. Furthermore, they fear Aslan—presumably because they recognize they have done wrong to his people.
Lewis develops the theme of fear and how it distorts people through many of the characters during the course of the book, not only the Telmarines. Fear of betrayal leads Nikabrik to suggest killing Caspian and later fear of losing the battle leads him to suggest calling upon evil for help. Both of these suggestions align him with the Telmarines, who would also love to see the death of Caspian and who hold the land in bondage much as the White Witch did. The attitude taken by Nikabrik, however, will not surprise readers who recall the affiliation of the Dwarves with the White Witch. In a way, we find the attitude natural; the Dwarves have a tendency not to do the right thing, but the thing that will most benefit the Dwarves. To balance this, Lewis gives us Trumpkin, a stout defender of Caspian if a hesitant believer in Aslan. In case we still fall into the mistake of assuming some people are just more prone to evil, however, Lewis provides us with a more thought-provoking example of fear causing harm in the Pevensies.
Throughout the Chronicles of Narnia, the Pevenies stand out as the model followers of Aslan; subsequent generations look to their reign as an example of how things should be, always with the understanding that the Pevensies ruled, not for themselves, but under the great lion. They are, as Trufflehunter notes, the servants of Aslan. We expect them to have outstanding behavior and an intimate understanding of the lion’s will. Instead, in Prince Caspian we find them slow to believe Aslan has appeared and afraid to follow his guidance because they believe they know better than he how to accomplish their goal. Their fear to trust themselves to Aslan causes a delay that changes the outturn of events.
No matter how much the reaction of the Pevensies frustrates us, however, most of us would probably admit we are no more likely than they to follow an invisible being to what seems a dead end. We may think we’re doing all right on the moral front because we’re no Miraz, but Lewis makes us confront the fact that we’re very likely Pevensies. Since we just finished judging the Pevensies for their actions, we have to admit we’re just as culpable lest we add hypocritical to our list of faults. Suddenly we recognize that our fear of placing our destiny in the hands of God places a barrier in our relationship much as the forest acts as a barrier between Narnia and the sea.
Reading C. S. Lewis’s other works can help us identify the messages within Narnia and in Mere Christianity Lewis explains to us the significance of even a “small” sin such as the Pevensies’. Lewis explains: “every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than before. And taking you life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into either a heavenly creature or into a hellish creatue: either into a creature that is in harmony with God…or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God…” In other words, take a lifetime of overlooking certain sins because we’re obviously not such bad people in comparison to some of those characters we read about in the news, and suddenly we find we’ve been walking away from God the whole time. Lewis wants us to consider why we would ever do this. We love God, right, just as the Pevensies love Aslan. So why are we deliberately ignoring His call?
Reading Prince Caspian as a child, I did not recognize most of what C. S. Lewis was trying to say. Peter’s conduct generally promoted chivalrous and honorable behavior, but, hey, no decent kid would do less, right? I didn’t see it as a great moral lesson. Now I realize that the world would be a lot better off if more people acted like Peter. Lewis goes farther, however, pointing out that right conduct and a right relationship with God should go hand-in-hand. He then illustrates this for us in a story, engaging our imagination as well as our intellect to ensure that we’ll remember the message. The really wonderful thing, though, is that, no matter how well we think we know Narnia, another reading always reveals something new.
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