Opening with the same words as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy…, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951) picks up exactly a year after the events of the first book. The four Pevensie children are at a railway station at the end of their holidays, preparing to head back to their respective schools. But all of a sudden, they feel a pull, a strong pull and soon find themselves back in Narnia. Here they are on an island, where there are the ruins of a Castle which they work out was once their Cair Paravel, for time in Narnia works very differently than in the real world. Trying to figure out how they can get off the island, they find a dwarf being drowned by some soldiers as punishment, and rescue him. It is he who brings them up-to-date, helping them understand how things stand in the country. After their long and prosperous reign, many hundreds of years ago, Narnia was conquered by the Telemarines, a race of humans, and ruled so far by 9 consecutive kings named Caspian. But the tenth Prince Caspian, the rightful heir is simply a prince in training, the throne having been taken over by his wicked uncle Miraz. Caspian is of course quite the opposite of his uncle, believing in the stories of old Narnia and Aslan which Miraz wishes to stamp out. Then, circumstances become such that Miraz decides to get rid of Caspian. How he is saved and what role the Pevensie children play, forms the rest of the story.
The story was good fun, with magic, talking animals and battle, and in a way quite comparable to the first in that there is trouble in Narnia, and the Pevensie children arrive (here of course they are already ‘known’ as kings and queens of the old) and must play a role in putting things to rights, which involves a battle and very real danger.
Reading Prince Caspian this time around brought a whole lot of thoughts to mind and so this ‘review’ is likely to turn out a bit rambling, and not so much a review as a discussion of themes. To start off with, if there was any allegory in this one, I didn’t really see it on this reading either. There were indeed the moral messages—good and evil, loyalty, true ability meaning not being overconfident, motivations etc. This time around I also more consciously noticed the other references—Bacchus and Silenus are prominent, and we also have the spirits of the land—the trees, dryads and naiads and such—there is also plenty of dancing and feasting, and lots of wine.
The Narnia of Prince Caspian is different from the Narnia the children first came to, in that the tree spirits and even the talking animals have been wiped out or at least sent into hiding or dormancy. This and Lewis’ description of the Telemarines (who were human) as ‘the race who cut down trees wherever they could and were at war with all wild things’ brought to mind thoughts of humans’ conflicted relationship with nature—the approach that we have of ‘controlling’ and ‘mastering’ nature, treating ourselves as apart from or above it somehow, which is at the root of many a crisis (including ones we are in the midst of today). And in this book one can see this talked about too, for the spirits of the trees have been destroyed and animals have lost their voices—human intervention and more so attitude of being above all else have as much led in this real world to all other forms of life losing their ‘voices’ for we refuse to acknowledge, listen or understand.
Miraz’s suppression of stories of old Narnia, and the tree spirits and animals also brought to mind Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, which also dealt with themes of traditional thought/’religion’/ beliefs being driven out leading to the harmony and balance being disturbed and ‘evil’ unleashed—something once again that we can link to human attempts at ‘mastering’ nature rather than living with it (perhaps she was influenced by Narnia too?). Then from the current-day lens, I also found myself thinking in terms of winners’ stories or dominant stories muffling all others.
We of course also have plenty of animals as in the first book; like the beavers in the first book, there was the Badger, Trufflehunter whom I loved, and of course the adorable mouse Reepicheep. I found it a bit problematic, and perhaps out of line with the harmony with nature message I felt the book gives that a distinction is sought to be made between talking and non-talking animals, and hunting the dumbed down ones is deemed ‘ok’ (though of course, this tries to fit in the hunting for food debate).
Speaking of food, there is a lot of it in the book bringing in feelings of warmth and comfort; also of celebration and fun.
Like the first book, belief and the rigidity that comes in with humans growing up is another theme we see stand out; Lucy the youngest can ‘see’ what others can’t—here Aslan, while the others take much longer—until they truly believe or ‘want’ to see, they can’t. Edmund somewhat redeemed himself for me this time around standing up for Lucy unlike last time, but Peter and Susan persist in their disbelief, despite the experience of the past and once again must face the consequences. This is Peter and Susan’s last visit to Narnia for their have grown up too much, once again indicating that as grown ups we become too rigid and unwilling to see ‘magic’ in whatever form it might come to us.
This was as was the case with the first book an enjoyable revisit to Narnia for me; I read this of course as part of #Narniathon21 hosted by Chris at Calmgrove, and am very much looking forward to reading the next book.