Prince Caspian is the second book in The Chronicles of Narnia.
C.S. Lewis begins this tale by revisiting the Pevensie children, who have survived WW II and are at a train station waiting to head off to boarding school. While discussing their concerns about being separated, they are suddenly pulled into another world, which they do not immediately recognize as Narnia. Indeed, the land has changed to such an extent that it is only after finding several relics from the past that they even begin to suspect that they are not only in Narnia but actually camped in the ruins of Cair Paravel: their former capital and home, where they reigned as high kings and queens of Narnia.
Quickly, the siblings begin to understand that while only a small amount of time has passed in their world, many centuries have rolled by in their former home, which has resulted in the ruination of the castle and a changing of the very land itself. This new state of affairs is soon confirmed for the Pevensie children by one Trumpkin the dwarf, who they rescue from the Telmarines: the overlords of the new Narnia.
What transpires after Trumpkin’s rescue is what I call the flashback story. Through Trumpkin, C.S. Lewis basically tells Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy (and by default the reader/listener) all about the new Narnia and our title character, Prince Caspian. We hear about the invasion of the Telmarines, the fading of the old ways, the disappearance of the talking animals of Narnia, and the slow waning of all things magical in Narnia. But we also are told about the rightful heir of this new Narnia, Prince Caspian, who wishes to restore the land to its Golden Age when Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy ruled from Cair Paravel and who is even now in hiding with the Old Narnians, trying desperately to restore overthrow his wicked uncle and bring peace, prosperity, and magic back to the land.
Only after hearing all this back story, does C.S. Lewis allow our four children to head out into the world on their grand adventure to aid Prince Caspian and thereby restore Narnia to its former glory.
I enjoyed this book via audio book (which is a fairly new “reading” medium for me) and found the experience enjoyable and the actors’ performances well done. Specifically, this audio book did a great job of presenting the ambiance of Narnia’s different locals by description as well as sound effects, which on the whole livened up a fairly straightforward tale.
As far as the story itself, I found myself conflicted on it: liking some things about it yet disliking others.
1) C.S. Lewis did not try to just rewrite The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but gives the reader a whole new Narnia experience. While the old Narnians – fauns, centaurs, talking animals, nymphs, living trees – are still around, they are now in hiding; driven to the edge of extinction by the Telmarines, who have not only conquered the land but turned it into a near non-magical world. This leads to a darker feeling to the story and allows a reader to see Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy both overjoyed at being back in Narnia but aghast at its desecration.
2) Lewis allows the Pevensie children to actually grow up. Peter and Susan are shown as near adults, who are becoming blind to the magic in Narnia, while Edmund and Lucy rise to the forefront as the keepers of that magic. Especially illustrative of the “growth” of the characters were Lucy’s struggle to rediscover Aslan and Edmund’s stance as her steadfast supporter.
1) There just isn’t much suspense in this story. The children show up, rescue Trumpkin, get told all about what is going on then head out to join up with Prince Caspian. The majority of the story Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy really do not do anything, and even at the climax of the adventure, they are more bystanders than participants. Honestly, all the suspense and actions, which is described in the story, deal with Caspian and are “told” to us in flashback, not experienced as Caspian is living them. While I understand why C.S. Lewis crafted the story this way (The four children are a reader’s link to Narnia) I believe Caspian’s story itself would have been a more rousing tale.
2) Things just work out too easily, even for what is obviously intended as a children’s story. For instance, Caspian grows up, becomes enamored with stories of ancient Narnia and up pops a half-dwarf tutor, who can provide all the lore Caspian needs. When he seeks refuge, the mysterious and little seen “old” Narnians turn up and take the Telmarine Prince into their hearts almost immediately. Each of these things seemed a bit rushed to me, but then again, it could be yet another draw back of flashback stories.
All in all, this was an enjoyable listening experience, and much better than the movie – at least in my opinion.