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 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.”
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!