Monday, May 11, 2009

Prince Caspian: Book Review

Near the end of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the Professor tells the children 'Yes, of course you'll get back to Narnia again some day.' (p. 170) In Prince Caspian, this promise is fulfilled, as Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy return to the magical land of Narnia. However, it is not Narnia as they knew it just one year before. Over a thousand years have passed, and an evil tyrant has risen to the throne of Narnia through treachery and force. Miraz is the great pretender, having murdered his brother, King Caspian, and taken over from the true heir, his nephew Prince Caspian.

Miraz' rule has seen the devastation of old Narnia, with the talking beasts taking refuge underground, and the tree spirits asleep. He is seen to represent the materialistic world, believing only in what he can see and control.

Through good providence, Caspian discovers some of the old Narnians while fleeing for his life on the birth of a son to Miraz, and is introduced to the resistance movement. Badgers, dwarves (or dwarfs), bears, squirrels, centaurs, mice, and many more are the remnant of old Narnia who recognise their new king, Caspian. Yet they are not enough for the powerful force of Miraz, so Susan's royal horn is blown, which will summon help.

The help is in the form of the four children, kings and queens from the past. Yet, the children have more to do in this book, as they make it to Aslan's How, where the Stone Table was located from their landing place of the ruins of Cair Paravel. Peter eventually takes on Miraz in a duel, and wins when Miraz stumbles and is finished off by one of his own court who envies the evil dictator. The Calormenes (Miraz' people) then begin to fight against the Narnians, only to be frightened and defeated by the now awakened tree spirits, who responded to Aslan's call.

Two main themes emerge, which we'll now think about.

Firstly, the idea of following Aslan. As the children make their way towards Aslan's How, they come to a steep river ravine, and have a choice of upstream or downstream. Lucy maintains she sees Aslan further up the slope, but no one else does. They decide to go downstream, following their instinct, and after a day's hard descent, are attacked by an outpost of the army. They immediately have to return up the slope, to return to where they were. Through the night, Aslan again calls Lucy, and urges her to bring the others quickly. They are reluctant, thinking Lucy is making it up as they can't yet see him.

The way of discipleship isn't easy - we walk by faith, and not sight. This is certainly something the children struggle with, and we find resonance for our Christian walk too. Part of the problem is that Peter and Lucy both have preconceived ideas of how Aslan will act - expecting him to repeat what has gone before. But this isn't how Aslan acts.

The second main theme is that of the liberation and freedom which Aslan brings. While Peter and the others are facing Miraz' army, Aslan takes Lucy and Susan on the long march of liberation. Where Miraz brought strictness and misery, Aslan brings joy and gladness. This is seen in the great river being unchained (as the Bridge of Beruna is destroyed), schools are broken up and 'some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes' are removed from the schoolgirls.

Another aspect of this liberation theme that has brought some controversy is the introduction of Bacchus and Silenus into the story. Partly because these are gods and fables from other cultures (much like the introduction of Father Christmas into Narnia in TLTWATW), but also because Bacchus and Silenus are the Greek god of wine and his companion. Is Lewis promoting alcohol and wine in his children's books? It appears that Bacchus is merely to demonstrate joy and celebration, and not drunkeness per se, especially since Susan and Lucy discuss his appearance. Susan's comment is: "I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan." "I should think not," said Lucy (p. 138)

The implication being that wine on its own is a dangerous thing, but seen in the context of Aslan, and approaching it with him is a much better prospect. So it's liberation, but not licentiousness.

Having enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia many times before, I again enjoyed reading this story, and heartily recommend the books!

No comments:

Post a Comment