Prince Caspian: Tinged with melancholy and loss

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review C.S. Lewis Prince CaspianPrince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian is the direct sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This novel was published second, but technically comes chronologically fourth in the Narnia series. In The Lion, the four Pevensie children become kings and queen of the magical Narnian realm and reign for many years, but when they return home they find themselves back in their child bodies, on the exact same day that they stepped into the wardrobe many years ago. A year later, the children are waiting at the station for their train to take them back to boarding school when they feel a strange pulling at them — and all of a sudden they are back in Narnia!

But something is different — their beautiful castle of Cair Paravel is in ruins, and the land seems ominous and empty. Realising that the time-difference between the two worlds means that a thousand years have passed in Narnia whilst only one has gone by in their own world, the children feel quite lonely and displaced: strangers in a familiar land that has gone on without them. When a mysterious boat carrying a dwarf prisoner pulls up on the nearby river, the children rescue the dwarf and learn the story of what has come to pass since they last ruled the land. After their disappearance life went on, but in recent years the Telmarine (ie human) Miraz the conqueror invaded Narnia and drove the “Old Narnians” into hiding. The Talking Beasts and the dwarfs have scurried underground, the nymphs and trees have gone into a deep slumber, and Aslan has seemingly abandoned them. But the Narnians have one hope: the Prince Caspian, who was raised on stories of their kind and now leads a revolt against his uncle Miraz for the country’s independence. The dwarf’s tale links up his story with the children’s’, realising that the moment of their departure coincided with Caspian blowing Queen Susan’s horn — which would summon aid to whoever winded it. Now the group head off for Aslan’s How, in order to join with Caspian and defeat Narnia’s foes.

The story of Caspian is a somewhat patchy one as the viewpoints are continually switching and changing — first from the Pevensies’, then from the narration of Trumpkin as he tells Caspian’s story, and at one stage even from the point of view of two Telmarine generals. However, Lewis juggles all these narratives delicately, though possibly does a better job in the first half than the second. The trek of the four children to Aslan’s How can get a little tedious, even with tantalising glances of Aslan on the way, and the one-on-one duel between Peter and Miraz is a little anti-climactic after some of the other vivid battle sequences that Lewis has described in other books.

However, almost as compensation, Lewis gives us several moments of startling beauty and goodness — most prominently the sequence when Aslan returns and leads any willing soul — either Telmarine or Narnian — in a joyous revel through the countryside. There are other little touches like this, such as when Doctor Cornelius describes Caspian’s mother as “the only Telmarine who was ever kind to me,” or Trufflehunter the badger quietly declares: “We don’t forget. We hold on.” Most of all is Caspian’s reunion with his old nurse that was sent away from the castle when he was only a young boy — I was ten years old when I first read this book, and I still recall how immensely touched I was at their reunion.

More so than any other of the books, with the exception of The Last Battle, Prince Caspian is tinged with heavy doses of melancholy and loss. For the children to return so long after their reign in the Golden Age, to a world that regards them as little more than a fairytale brings home C. S. Lewis’s themes of loss and the inexorable passage of time. Even though Cair Paravel is restored to its former glory by the end of the story, to find it overgrown and in ruins is as devastating to us as it is to the children. Likewise, the children’s eventual departure is also touched with sadness — their reign has past and must be relinquished to Caspian; furthermore Peter and Susan are told that they are now too old to ever return to Narnia.

But of course, Aslan is always the same and this is in fact the Christian theme that Lewis injects into this book. Each one deals with a particular Christian allegory or way of life, and Prince Caspian is predominantly concerned with faith. Whether it is the afore mentioned Trufflehunter who holds fast to Aslan and the old stories, or Caspian who would desperately like to believe in the stories, or the skeptical Trumpkin, Lewis deals with the matter of faith from several different levels. Even the children themselves are “tested”, with Aslan only appearing to those that are willing to believe that they are in fact following him — again this alludes to the children gradually growing up. It is easier to believe in something when we are younger than when we get older, and Peter voices the question: “why does he hide from us? He never did that last time.” The fact of the matter is that he isn’t a tame lion, and sometimes all we can do is simply have faith that he is there, even if we cannot see him.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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