Prince Caspian, CS Lewis (1951)

Listen, all you have heard about Old Narnia is true. It is not the land of Men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Waking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of the gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts. It was against these that the first Caspian fought. It is you Telmarines who silenced the beasts and the trees and the fountains, and who killed and drove away the Dwarfs and Fauns, and are now trying to cover up even the memory of them. The King does not allow them to be spoken of.

This is a very indulgent, full-of-spoilers post, so be forewarned! I am participating in a readalong of the Chronicles of Narnia hosted by Chris of Calmgrove (one book per month and you can join in at any time) and Prince Caspian, our second book, took me by surprise. This is a reread for me; the first read through a couple of years ago found me rather off it, because it is basically about a war and I skipped through many pages. But this time though, I stuck to the script and was totally captivated by Lewis’s writing, which I obviously missed with all that skipping. I can honestly say I enjoyed this book more than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Shocking.

What struck me in the writing was the magic. First a short recap:

The Pevensie children are called back to Narnia a year after their first visit through the wardrobe. This time they are at a train station on their way to boarding school when suddenly they feel a familiar physical pull and find themselves on a deserted island they soon realize is Cair Paravel where they ruled Narnia as kings and queens. They have been summoned to help Prince Caspian regain his rightful place as King of Narnia after his devious uncle has stolen the throne. Caspian is of the Telmar race who invaded Narnia over a thousand years ago conquering the land and sending the magic into dormancy. Old Narnia has been kept alive through whispered stories as any mention of talking animals, animated trees, naiads and the like is dealt with harshly. Caspian’s nurse kept Narnia alive for him through these stories and as rightful King he is determined to restore it to its former glory. There is a lot of magic in this one and some beautiful passages that describe the reawakening of the land and animals of Old Narnia who were silenced when Prince Caspian’s ancestors, the Telmars, conquered the land.

In general, one can see all kinds of symbolism in these books from the Christian, to the medieval, to basic fantasy and modern metaphor and probably others I am not aware of. I do tend toward the Christian in general, because it is just so easy to see Aslan as a Christ figure, yet in Prince Caspian I found so much more of the magical whether pagan or metaphysical. While it would take a book to muse and ponder through all this, I am content with treating this post as a sort of commonplace book, that is, just sharing what struck me in my reading. Talking badgers, good dwarfs and bad, an astronomical system specific to Narnia, changes in the Pevensie children that only happen in Narnia and the great Lion, Aslan, the magical quality of this book struck me more than in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I think Lewis is at his creative and imaginative best here and writes with a child’s heart, that affects me as an adult, in so many of these passages. It was such a surprising and satisfying read. Which just goes to show me, “Stop skipping pages, Laurie!”

Some favorite passages.

Lucy senses Aslan’s presence.

Lucy feels the magic before her siblings and never wavers in what she sees and feels even against their push back. She senses the magic in the trees, knows Aslan is calling her before she can see him, while Peter and Susan use reason only to guide them when they first land in Narnia. Does this reason-over-magic which drives the two older children foreshadow their “aging out” of Narnia as Aslan tells them in the end? Have they lost the Soul of Narnia, which is still very present in Lucy?

A great longing for the old days when the trees could talk in Narnia came over her. She knew exactly how each of these trees would talk if only she could wake them, and what sort of human form it would put on. She looked at a silver birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face, and fond of dancing. She looked at the oak: he would be a wizened, but hearty old man with frizzled beard and warts on his face and hands, and hair growing out of the warts. She looked at the beech under which is was standing. Ah!—she would be the best of all. She would be a gracious goddess, smooth and stately, the lady of the wood. “Oh Trees, Trees, Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don’t you remember it? Don’t you remember me? Dryads and Hamadryads, come out, come to me.” Though there was not a breath of wind they all stirred about her. The rustling noise of the leaves was almost like words. The nightingale stopped singing as if to listen to it. Lucy felt that at any moment she would begin to understand what the trees were trying to say.

This same night Lucy looks up. This passage affected me personally as a night-sky lover as I have begun tracking the constellations through the year. When the Pleiades, Orion and Sirius become visible, I, too have a thrill of recognition as Lucy does when she awakens in the middle of the night back in Narnia.

…with the thrill of memory, she saw again, after all those years, the bright Narnian stars. She had once known them better than the stars of our own world, because as Queen in Narnia she had gone to bed much later than as a child in England. And there they were—at least, three of the summer constellations could be seen from where she lay: the Ship, the Hammer, and the Leopard. “Dear old Leopard,” she murmured.

And there is the breathing, Aslan’s breathing. What to make of this? I cannot see it as other than the breath of life God breathes to animate Adam. Aslan breathes on the children and they see differently, they themselves are different. Edmund, “For Aslan had breathed on him at their meeting and a kind of greatness hung about him.” Susan, who wouldn’t follow Lucy’s direction given by Aslan, because she thought she knew better is breathed upon by Aslan and admonished, “You have listened to fears, child. Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

Aslan breathes on the first Telmarine who volunteers to go into the new land, “As soon as the Lion’s breath came about him, a new look came in to the man’s eyes—startled, but not unhappy—as if he were trying to remember something.”

Mighty little Reepicheep and the restored tail.

And then there are the miracles. There is Aslan’s healing and restoration of Reepicheep’s tail and the healing of Caspian’s old nurse who is on her death bed and is cured just by Aslan’s presence at her bedside, “Oh Aslan I knew it was true I’ve been waiting for this all my life.” And then heck, he turns the water in the well into wine and with a sip she jumps out of bed! I mean really, water into wine? What to make of that?!! Or and I making too much of that?

And finally, Narnia is restored. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, Caspian, the animals and magical creatures follow Aslan into the peopled parts of the land where he is more visible to humans in ways he was not in the former novel, appearing as a sort of Pied Piper or Jesus character collecting followers as he and the Narnians walk through towns. Those who follow him have a kind of inner knowing that they are supposed to drop everything and leave with him.

They come to a school where a “tired-looking girl was teaching arithmetic….She looked out of the window and saw the divine revelers singing up the street and a stab of joy went through her heart. Aslan stopped right under the window and looked up at her…Said Aslan, “Now Dear Heart,” she jumped down and joined them.

Whatever the explanation, there is something about this book that is different from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that is definitely more Christian, Spiritual, magical, metaphorical—however you frame it. Aslan, is different, too. His presence in Narnia has been kept alive by faith, by stories and belief even by those who have never seen him. He also acts differently with the four Pevensie children by expecting them to act more on their own with only general direction from him, as if he is testing their faith in him and their purpose in Narnia.

The enduring love for the Narnia universe is evident in the popularity of the books by young and old alike, by the religious, the spiritual, the literary critic, the agnostic and in all the ways one can interpret these books. This interest/obsession/admiration isn’t waning. It is like Old Narnia continuing to live in our memories, though not through whispers and the pain of death, but out in the open and in living color!

But all night Aslan and the Moon gazed upon each other with joyful and unblinking eyes.

11 thoughts on “Prince Caspian, CS Lewis (1951)

  1. Such a great review Laurie! Your reaction to this one is just as mine was and since I won’t be writing my own post on it, I’m delighted to see yours! The breathing was particularly notable for me as was Lucy’s faith and belief in Aslan despite the doubts of her siblings. Your point about miracles is interesting. Apart from the water into wine (hard to miss that one) I thought of these events as simply ‘magic’ but of course you’re right. I shall reflect on that. I’m glad that we both enjoyed this one!

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  2. Wasn’t it Bacchus who turned the water into wine? Interesting point that this book is “more Christian” than LWW, it is certainly more about the perseverance in faith that Christians are called to. But as always, I find the intermingling of pagan elements that many if not all so-called Christians through the ages would have found heretical, to be most intriguing. With you, I was most moved by Lucy’s communing with the trees and the stars.

    So glad this worked better for you this time. I am loving our Narnian adventure.

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    1. When Aslan appears at the bedside of the nurse she is healed and perks right up. Then Bacchus goes to the well, dips in his cup and the water is already wine. It doesn’t say he turned it, so I just assumed Aslan did it. But there is certainly room for other interpretations.

      I am enjoying all the various posts and thoughts on these books. Lewis gives us so, SO much to dig into!

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  3. What a lovely post! You brought out so many of the things I most enjoy about this story — the stars and trees, and etc.

    I think Lewis’ writing struck Tolkien as unbearably messy and hodge-podge. If Lewis liked something, whether classical or Renaissance or early Christian, he cheerfully threw it in. Tolkien just wasn’t that sort of a person; he was precise and strict where Lewis was…well, a bit like Jackson Pollock I suppose, it must have felt that way! I’m very grateful to have both. They didn’t need to be each other; they needed to be themselves.

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    1. One of the things I read in Planet Narnia suggested a bit of envy on Tolkien’s part, because Lewis read widely in literature which gave him more to delve into than Tolkien, who was limited by only reading in Early and Medieval literature. I could see Tolkien interpreting Lewis’s Narnia as “messy!”

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  4. I’m glad you linked to my Narniathon post as I wouldn’t have seen your “commonplace book” post because WordPress Reader doesn’t seem to include it on my feed — no idea why that should be!

    Anyway, my take on your commentary is that Old Narnians, Telmarines and the older Pevensie children have little or no awareness of not just the magic but that Aslan is not merely a myth. I think you’re correct in suggesting that Peter and Susan not accepting Lucy’s awareness of Aslan is the principal factor in their not returning to Narnia.

    Also, I detect a strong echo in the passage you quote of the dryads and the trees of Tolkien’s Ents, though I’m not implying that one copied the other, even if they discussed such matters in the period when they were close friends.

    Hope you’re now thinking of islands and adventures for the February readalong!

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    1. I have only read The Hobbit so I had to look up Ents!

      This is a bad paraphrase because I had to return my library copy, but in Planet Narnia, Michael Ward describes some of the-is rivalry too strong a word?-between Lewis and Tolkien. Tolkien’s response to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was unenthusiastic. Ward observes he was a bit envious of Lewis because Tolkien read narrowly, mostly in Early and Medieval literature, whereas Lewis read widely in literature in general. Lewis’s scope was greater in what he could write about or something like that. Expensive book, but I really want to buy it. And yes, I’ll be back for more next month!

      Just a thought-you can help a girl out who needs support with Tolkien and maybe next year you could host a Tolkien readalong?!! Oops, I can see your face…why are your eyes so big?!! Yikes…:)

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      1. A Tolkien readalong, hah! I’m already two-thirds of the way through my sixth or seventh read of The Lord of the Rings and, given that I reread it roughly every decade, I won’t be revisiting it as soon as 2023! However, that doesn’t mean I won’t consider something or other… Hmm, let me think around that.

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