THE RETURN TO NARNIA
In the hour of greatest need the Pevensie’s are recalled to Narnia to save the day once again.
(The Chronicles Of Narnia, Book 4)
Genre: Children’s, Juvenile Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 224 Pages
Date: 1st February 2009 (First Published 1951)
Let’s get the trivia out of the way first. Prince Caspian was the second book of The Chronicles Of Narnia to be published, in 1951, though the events narrated therein make it chronologically the fourth story of the series. So being, effectively, the direct sequel to The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the book marks the inevitable return to Narnia of the four Pevensie siblings; Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. After all, once a king (or queen) in Narnia, always a king (or queen) in Narnia.
Prince Caspian’s plot, though not a complete rehash of its predecessor does have one or two obvious parallels and similarities. Narnia is once again a land in peril; so once again, in its hour of greatest need, the Pevensie’s are inexplicably plucked from our world to find themselves back in Narnia. But it is not Narnia as they remember it. Several centuries have elapsed since the golden age of their reign as kings and queens. Narnia is now ruled by the descendants of human invaders from Telmar who have driven the indigenous population of mythological beings and talking animals into hiding.
After saving the life of a dwarf, the siblings learn from him the reason why they have been magically recalled to the land of Narnia. Civil war has broken out between the native “Old Narnians” and their Telmarine overlords; the former seeking to help the eponymous Prince Caspian ascend the throne, as the rightful king, by defeating the Telmarine forces of Caspian’s usurper uncle, King Miraz.
Lewis’ narrative is simple and easy to follow, though the prose frequently feels awkward in places. This perhaps has more to do with the time period in which the book was written, making some passages seem antiquated, rather than any weaknesses in the author’s writing. It is a shame, however, that his resolution to the story’s conflict is too easy, and maybe a little contrived. But the book remains a great children’s adventure , nonetheless. It is certainly one of the strongest, most exciting instalments of The Chronicles Of Narnia; bettered only by The Horse And His Boy. Following the Pevensie siblings’ journey as they re-acclimate to being back in Narnia, re-embracing their status as legendary kings and queens, is great fun, indeed.
Over the years, it has been repeatedly noted by critics (and acknowledged by the author) that The Chronicles Of Narnia were written to serve as vehicles to expose young children to Christian beliefs and ideas, in a manner that they could enjoy. While Prince Caspian does not possess the glaringly obvious Christian allegories that characterise The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, its narrative does prominently feature matters relating to faith versus scepticism. At several different points during the story there are examples of the “faithful” being at loggerheads with the sceptics. For instance, there is a split within the Old Narnian camp, between those who fervently believe that in Narnia’s hour of need the old kings and queens will return to lead them to victory; and the sceptics who dismiss this idea as a myth that should be abandoned in favour of allying with their other enemies (the followers of the White Witch) against a common adversary.
The least subtle occurrence of this faith versus scepticism happens when Aslan makes his first appearance. Lucy, on account of her strong faith is the only one who can see the lion. Yet Aslan remains invisible to her three siblings, because their faith is lacking. Consequently, as Lucy is the youngest, the older Pevensie’s are sceptical of the idea that Aslan would appear to Lucy alone, leading them to dismiss her advice and warnings which inevitably puts them and their mission in jeopardy. But eventually they are forced to accept that Lucy was right the entire time, and scepticism gives way to faith, allowing Edmund, then subsequently Peter and Susan to see Aslan too.
It’s hard to know for certain if Lewis was trying to make a point with Aslan initially remaining invisible to Peter, Susan and Edmund. But it does seem to imply that he views faith as something that comes more readily to the young, while conversely, it is harder to come by for older people; presumably because cynicism tends to increase with age and experience. Whatever the case, it is certainly amusing that after dismissing Lucy, essentially because of her age (which they deemed made her less credible and reliable) the three older Pevensie’s are compelled to eat humble pie.
As an adult reader it is much easier to identify flaws in Lewis’ story; the shallow characterisation being the most notable example, as well as the (subjectively) unsatisfactory resolution to the book’s central conflict. But in spite of these and other issues, Prince Caspian, much like the other books of the series, still retains the magical qualities that made it such a joy to read in childhood. Though I must confess, on a personal note, I have often wondered how much more enjoyable would The Chronicles Of Narnia be if they could be rewritten for an adults only readership. And this is a prospect that actually might not be too far off in coming. The series has, in recent years, entered the public domain in a few territories, most notably in Canada; though it will be at least another couple of decades before the books are public domain globally. It will certainly be interesting to see who will eventually take up the challenge of re-imagining such an iconic and influential work.
In summation, Prince Caspian is rightfully a must read book for children. It is an immensely riveting tale of adventure that will inevitably leave an enduring mark on anyone who reads it. I would also recommend it to adults who want to spend a couple of hours reliving their childhood.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.