Narnia revisited

Cair Paravel, by Pauline Baynes

Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
by C S Lewis,
illustrated by Pauline Baynes.
Puffin Books 1962 (1951)

It is a year after the events in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and  Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter are waiting at a train station to go to their respective boarding schools for the summer term. Suddenly they find themselves in a thicket, and after extricating themselves from that they discover that they’re on an island amid some castle ruins.

Clearly they’re back in the magical world of Narnia — but why and, in particular, when? Because they soon work out that this is Cair Paravel where they reigned as sovereign queens and kings, but the castle’s ruinous state suggests that much time has passed, certainly more than the year since they’d been evacuated to the Professor’s house back (we may assume) in 1940, or even 1944.

And then they see a boat with two soldiers in chainmail about to drown a dwarf, and by rescuing him they are precipitated into a sequence of actions when they hear the story of Prince Caspian and the dire straits he and the Old Narnians are in.

An old photograph of Dunluce Castle, Country Antrim, Northern Ireland: the model for Cair Paravel?

These then are then two strands in this novel which finally come together — the story of the young prince and that of the Pevensie children. It is Caspian’s sounding of Susan’s old horn which has called the Pevensies to Narnia, but a good half of the narrative is concerned with Caspian’s backstory and his relationship with his wicked uncle Miraz. Lewis has doubtless drawn on tropes that have had a long currency, whether Hamlet and his uncle Claudius, Jason the Argonaut and Peleas, or Aladdin and his magician uncle; and the conflict inherent in that relationship is the main driver of the events in the novel.

But it is the reappearance of the Pevensies — Peter the oldest and natural leader, Susan who can be wayward, Edmund who is now a reformed character, and Lucy who has a particular affinity with Aslan — which provides the entry point to the story, and it is the Pevensies who close it, with Edmund’s reference to his lost electric torch reminding us of the lamppost signalling the entrance to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That the adventure begins and ends in a railway station not only anticipates what is to come in The Last Battle but also recalls elements in John Masefield’s The Box of Delights (1935) when a schoolboy’s railway journey introduces him to a magician, a witch, pirates, talking animals, and knights.

© C A Lovegrove

Included for the first time in Prince Caspian, with its already distinctive line drawings by Pauline Baynes, is a map, allowing the reader to orientate their view of journeys and events. However, off the map to the west is Telmar, from where the Telmarines migrated centuries ago to take over Narnia and banish non-humans. These peoples are actually descended from pirates in our world — an echo of Masefield’s pirates perhaps — though they seem to have adopted names that may remind us of the world of the Arabian Nights, as illustrated by the Persian-looking name Miraz and, indeed, that of the Caspian Sea.

Lewis introduces us to a host of delightful new personages, from Doctor Cornelius to Pattertwig the squirrel, from Trumpkin the dwarf to Reepicheep the mouse, and Trufflehunter the badger to Caspian himself. The villains will in turn get short shrift, but notably we re-encounter Aslan as deus ex machina, demonstrating a variation on the old adage ‘God helps those who help themselves’. This is also definitely a very masculine narrative: Peter and Edmund have especially active roles towards the end while Susan becomes more and more passive and Lucy is reduced to being a nurse administering a palliative cordial.

Despite the fresh elements that have entered the picture, Prince Caspian feels to me strangely muted after the emotional ride we experienced from its predecessor. The constant threat of conflict, which storywise can become tiring, seems aimed at reflecting the influence of Mars, not only the god of war but also the red planet. The early description of the Narnian planetary equivalents of Mars and Venus in near conjunction prefigure the novel’s main theme, and the colour red is given significance in various ways — for example, Trumpkin is given red hair while his more argumentative colleague Nikibrik has hair as black as night, presumably to indicate his character. By this kind of detail Lewis seems to be saying that there may be such a thing as a just war if the enemy is evil enough.

Curiously, the contribution made by tree spirits in the conflict was to anticipate that of Fangorn’s trees in the battle of Helm’s Deep from Tolkien’s The Two Towers, which wasn’t to appear in print for another three years after Prince Caspian was published. However (and this is a late afterthought) the reawakening of nature through dryads, naiads, Silenus and Bacchus very possibly reflects the other aspect of Mars the god, as a Roman agricultural deity — mentioned once as Mars Silvanus, “of the woods”.

Although I appreciated the many colourful touches in this iteration of good overcoming evil, the actual achieving of a happy ending — what Lewis’s friend Tolkien called a eucatastrophe — feels to me a mite unsatisfying and even underwhelming. But that’s just me.


#Narniathon21 image after Pauline Baynes

27 thoughts on “Narnia revisited

  1. I never thought of Edmund’s torch as in conjunction with the lamppost. But, that’s a very interesting correlation.

    I also agree with your assessment of this installment being very masculine driven. I hadn’t really noticed it until you pointed it out. Also, once the two storylines came together, the characters seemed to flatten. They were much more round when they were separate. If Lewis had written the Narniad like Tolkien wrote LoTR, for example, I think he wouldn’t have run into the issue with the flattened characters.

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    1. That flattening, as you so succinctly describe it and which applies as much to characters as to action, is what to me renders PC a lesser fiction than LWW — and particularly the emotional depth from Aslan’s treatment and death that gave the first instalment its affect is missing here, meaning the duel between Miraz and Peter oddly is somehow anticlimactic.

      Still, there’s so much that’s positive that I could have pointed out, such as the instalments’ interconnectedness: one example appears in the apples of Cair Paravel that the Pevensies have to subsist on, a link to The Magician’s Nephew (which had yet to be written) and the apple Digory seeks to give to his ailing mother, and also back to LWW and the apple wood the wardrobe is made from. All doubtless allied to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil…

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  2. I think this is a lower energy one, somehow, a bit flatter. When does The Magician’s Nephew come in? (I shouldn’t ask that, as I am in the very room my copies of the books live in, however they’re not totally accessible right now …).

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    1. Good luck with that accessibility, Liz! Because we’re reading these in publication order we won’t get to The Magician’s Nephew till May, even though chronologically it comes first in the overall timeline.

      But I agree, this one definitely is flatter — I wonder whether, as Jenni Elyse suggests above, Lewis would’ve made appropriate adjustments if he’d kept revising and redrafting as Tolkien did for his Middle-earth works.

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  3. Lewis definitely believes in the justice of war against evil. Don’t Eustace’s parents come in for contempt for being pacifists? That’s in the next book though …

    The unsatisfying thing about the ending to me is that the children get booted out just as things are getting settled in the new order. It would have been interesting to have some further episodes, maybe Caspian having some trouble with his new realm and them helping with their experience. However, maybe that would involve too much character development (not a strength overall in the Narnia books).

    Nice tie-in to The Box of Delights. I would not be surprised if that had some influence.

    Onward to the Dawn Treader!

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    1. I’d forgotten the jibe about Eustace’s pacifist parents but, as you say, that’s in February’s read so I’ll keep mum for now!

      As for PC’s wrap-up, it does feel perfunctory: Lewis seems more focused on emphasising Peter and Susan won’t be returning than on the aftermath of Caspian’s accession to the throne. At least in LWW there was a sense of much time passing as the tetrarchy matured before the children returned home as themselves. The whole dreamlike aspect of the siblings’ adventures in Narnia owes as much to Masefield’s TBoD (where Kay apparently wakes from a daydream on the train) as to antecedents like the first Alice book or, as likely, Lewis’s familiarity with the medieval Piers Plowman poem and John Bunyan’s work.

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    1. Yes, there’s more of a sense of direction and purpose in the next instalment than here, which felt distinctly like a work of two halves, the second less successful than the first. I think we’re all looking forward to the vastly more satisfying island-hopping journey to the east!

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  4. My memory is Lewis had taken a sabbatical (after a near nervous breakdown) supposedly to complete an important academic work and that the Narnian books were basically a form of procrastination. So the majority were written very quickly and without much forethought, more or less one after another, over a period of about eighteen months. The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe took around a month to write, for example. My suspicion is that Lewis thought the second book would be as easy as the first, whereas I think LWW had been gestating for a while? So Prince Caspian has a strong opening scene, but after that it’s a case of diminishing returns.

    This is my key issue with Lewis; he could have put more thought into the sequence, but just didn’t bother. On the other hand, maybe he never anticipated them becoming as popular as they did.

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    1. That certainly makes sense, Aonghus. According to Brenton Dickieson, “Lewis’ sabbatical in 1951-52 clearly contributed to output, allowing him to move Narnia from a couple of books to a full series…” Elsewhere (https://apilgriminnarnia.com/2018/09/13/a-timeline-for-the-creation-of-narnia/) Dickieson speculates on how the chronicles took shape but I confess I haven’t read this in detail.

      Anyway, as an academic Lewis should have really (as you put it) “put more thought into the sequence,” but maybe — for all his love of children — he didn’t think overt care or consistency was paramount in children’s fiction and treated the sequence as a labour of love and not of intellect. Just theorising here!

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        1. I read somewhere online (sorry, can’t locate it just now) that Lewis was managing about nine published essays or studies a year but that leading up this mid-century period that rate had apparently dropped down to one or two. Doubtless there were good reasons for this — perhaps he was in the doldrums personally as well as academically, until Tolkien helped him get his Cambridge chair in 1954. I’m sure meeting Joy and her sons came at just the right time too, but that’s about the extent of my familiarity with his biography.

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  5. Not just you – as I said on your last post, I found this one pretty underwhelming too, and the fact that I’ve forgotten most of the detail again already suggests it wasn’t penetrating beyond the surface of my brain…

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  6. Wow, I am totally in the minority here. As a reread Prince Caspian was better than I remember and I found myself liking it better than LWW. I found Aslan to be more interesting as a bystander allowing the Pevensies to take charge without micromanaging them and I found the magic more interesting than LWW. I don’t read these books knowing all the literary criticism so I can’t speak to much of the comparisons and metaphors. It will be interesting to see how I react to The Magician’s Nephew which at this point is still my favorite. Doing slow reads of these books has brought so much more to me!

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    1. Don’t get me wrong, I found this better than I remembered from an earlier reread, and I take your point about Aslan giving the Pevensies room to manoeuvre for themselves. But it’s great that we can all have a different reaction to each volume and find positives which others may either miss or even dismiss! As a narrative its forward impulse was more effective than I recalled though I thought it stumbled just a bit around the time of the duel — others may disagree! 🙂

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  7. As I’ve said elsewhere, PC rates above LWW for me which has surprised me. PC is described in the thread here as a thinner book. I found it the other way around. A simpler tale with much stronger description. There seemed to be so many wasted opportunities in LWW. Too much story to do justice in one book!

    I enjoyed the colourful range of characters in PC and the sense that this was a springboard for what might come next. That aspect was reinforced by the Pevensie children’s brief soujourn in Narnia this time around and by their rather brusque departure. I liked the sudden ending – it’s clear that Edmund will be back. Susan has never been a favourite character for me and I found her deeply irritating in this book. She grumbled, she whined, she criticised. Lucy, on the other hand, shines so brightly.

    What I didn’t enjoy was the peculiar cavorting of Aslan and co rampaging through settlements, acquiring followers and routing those who protested. That section felt very out of place and not in character for Aslan and the girls at all.

    Looking forward to Dawn Treader next!

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    1. I’m glad PC worked better for you than LWW, Sandra, as I’m happy to be persuaded that it has virtues that may have passed me by! I remain confused by the backstory for the Telmarines — former pirates in the South Seas who have entered Aslan’s world, built theselves medieval European culture and yet adopted Middle Eastern style names and magic is a hotchpotch that Lewis may have wanted to reflect young children’s limited perspectives but which, as an adult, I find jarring. I suspect, as I say, that Lewis’s models may have included Masefield’s children’s fiction where talking rats and cats, and pirates and governesses, and witches and a wandering Punch & Judy man all rubbed shoulders without any sense of incongruity.

      But let’s see what VDT has to offer in the way of mixed cultural references!

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  8. Despite the emphasis on conflict and battles Prince Caspian is, I think a more subdued read than TLTWTW and I remember that absence of involvement from my childhood readings of it too. Perhaps as a child I missed Lucy’s central role. The first half is lovely I think and I still enjoy the dawning realisation by the children as they recognise the familiar castle and so on. The duel between Peter and Miraz lacks impact for me despite the outcome. It’s strangely emotionless. I’m now intrigued by the possible link to the planets because on re-reading these two books it does make more sense to me. There are some great new characters introduced, Trufflehunter and Reepicheep were childhood favourites and still have an appeal. Susan’s eventual disenchantment with all things Narnian is definitely flagged up more than I remember and I suppose Lewis must have always planned this plot line. I confess to being a bit irritated by his treatment of the girls in this one but I think somewhat naively as a child in the 60s I accepted it.

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    1. “Subdued” is a fair description I think, Anne, which may be why it appears to have made less of an impression on those who read PC quite a while.ago.

      As for the roles of the girls, I seem to have the impression that Jill in the later books has a more active, in fact more proactive, role than either Lucy or Susan, so I’m looking forward to seeing if that’s actually the case!

      In PC I feel a certain anticlimax in the duel between Caspian and Miraz; I almost didn’t believe it as Lewis’s description of the to and fro oddly lacked (as you say) all emotion, and certainly none of the reader of investment that arose out of Aslan’s offering of himself as scapegoat and the his subsequent ill-treatment undertaken all too gleefully by Jadis’s minions. I didn’t care tuppence about either Miraz or his treacherous lords, not as I did for the girls and their distress at the way events seemed to be turning out.

      I’m taken now by the possibility of Lewis’s attempting to symbolise the Christian virtues and vices in the Narniad, probably not an original notion but I may expound on this in a future post. (In That Hideous Strength Lewis reminds us of his fondness for Spencer’sThe Fairie Queene in which one of six virtues were allegorised in each of the six published ‘books’.)

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  9. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on a possible link to the Christian virtues and vices Chris, that should be fascinating. It’s so interesting reading both your posts and everyone’s comments. Thank you for this, I’m really enjoying visiting Narnia again, it’s bringing back some happy memories.

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    1. I’ve loved the quantity and particularly the quality of the responses, both on the official Narniathon posts and on my reviews, proof positive that the books still speak to so many without us all reacting in exactly the same way. Also that so many have chosen to blog their own reviews and discussions under the Narniathon tag!

      I’ve already sketched out a post about greed in LWW and its parallels in other fiction, so hopefully the fruits of my ruminations will appear in the not too distant future. 🙂

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