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Media: Audio CD|
ISBN/ASIN : 0007166524
Manufacturer : Collins Audio|
Release data : 20 August, 2007
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The Return to Narnia
"Prince Caspian" is chronologically the fourth book in the Narnia series but the second written by CS Lewis. It sees the return of the four Pevensie children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - who first entered the enchanted land of Narnia in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".
In this second instalment, the four children aid Prince Caspian who must fight his Uncle Miraz for his rightful place as king, and restore Narnia as the land of the free where talking animals and magical creatures can once again live in harmony with humans.
"Prince Caspian" follows the classic theme of the weak overcoming the strong for justice and freedom. In this sense, the book has a predictable plot and suffers the "sequel syndrome" of not being as fresh or enchanting as the original. What it does have are memorable characters including Doctor Cornelius, Caspian's mysterious mentor; Trufflehunter the loyal badger; Trumpkin the agnostic but brave dwarf and Repeecheep the valiant mouse (though he does not truly shine and earn his reputation as one of the most loved characters from the entire series until the next book, "The Voyage of the Dawntreader"). There are also scenes that although seem minor when you read them, will stay with you long after you've read the last chapter, including when Caspian learns the truth about Miraz from Cornelius and when Caspian is reunited his old nanny.
This book is subtitled as "The Return to Narnia" and I think that perhaps this should have been used as the main title. The book for me serves only as an introduction to Prince Caspian who does not develop into a fully rounded character until the next title in the series. In this book, the focus is still very much on the Pevensie children and "their" return. It deals with their faith, relationships and struggles far more strongly than Caspian's. For instance it is Peter and not Caspian who must face Miraz in the ultimate battle.
But that aside, "Prince Caspian" is an enjoyable read and sets the scene very nicely for "The Voyage of the Dawntreader".
Yeats for children?
The basic plot of the book is that of Hamlet: the wicked uncle who murders the rightful sovereign and steals the kingdom from the true heir. However, this usurpation is embedded within a larger usurpation, in which the mythic wonders of old Narnia are suppressed by the grey regimentation imposed by invaders from Telmar. The hero Caspian, helped by the four Pevensey children, vindicates the right in both the smaller and the larger dispute.
Contrary to what is so often supposed, the Narnia world is not in itself a representation either of Christianity or of the Christian Heaven. It is the world of mythology and imagination, which (on Lewis' view) like all worlds can be a gateway to Heaven. In this light, the Telmarine regime in Narnia typifies what Lewis saw as the modern suppression of, and horror of, the romantic imagination as well as of religion. The official line is that the talking animals of Old Narnia never existed; nevertheless, the areas where they live are allowed to be taken over by impenetrable forest, and feared and avoided by the human population. When Caspian mentions the old legends, his uncle Miraz sternly forbids him to mention them again, or even think of them.
The book could equally be read as a critique of colonialism, and in particular of the tendency of power to invent the past and obliterate previous cultures. The history taught in Telmarine schools is "duller than the truest bit of history you ever read, and more untrue than the most exciting adventure story".
In all this, there seems to me to be a flavour of romantic Irish nationalism, on the lines of W B Yeats or Augusta Gregory, which I am surprised that none of the critics has picked up. Narnia is said to look somewhat like parts of Northern Ireland, and the liberation of Narnia, especially the coming of Dionysus, is strongly reminiscent of the ending of Stephens' "The Crock of Gold", a book Lewis is known to have admired. (See "Period Criticism", in ''Of This and Other Worlds''.)
Unlike Yeats, Lewis does not let the cause run away with him, and warns that Dionysus would be dangerous if Aslan were not there to keep him in check. The book has an important warning about the dangers of revolution. The dwarf Nikabrik is condemned for being willing to ally himself to the White Witch or "anyone or anything that will batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians", typifying the revolutionary beliefs that the end justifies the means and that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The conclusion is optimistic: the Telmarines (read: the Protestant Ascendancy) are invited to stay in Narnia provided they are willing to live with the animals as equals, and many take advantage of the offer.
THERE ARE OLD NARNIANS, AND BOLD NARNIANS, BUT NO OLD BOLD NARNIANS
It is a bleak time for the Narnians of old. The talking animals are all in hiding and men who call themselves Telmarines are ruling the land. The men of Telmar are afraid of and hostile to talking animals, the dryads and hamadryads, the naiads, centaurs, dwarves, and satyrs. They fear them and have tried to destroy them. The woods are silent and the dryads sleep, dreaming of a free Narnia and better times. But the memories of old, free Narnia are alive and are passed on in secret. The nurse of Prince Caspian is just one who knows the exciting secrets of old, and there are many others. And so it happens that the young prince comes to love the old that is hidden more than the new that he will rule. But although the stories of old may feed the soul, they are dangerous to know. And that is the start of the prince's dangers and adventures. He may call on those free creatures who are in hiding, they may rally to his call, but will they be strong enough to overthrow their oppressors? He has one more magical link with the past, and he will use it at the moment of greatest need - the magical horn of Queen Susan bringing unknown help to those who use it, which has been preserved as a relic by the faithful.
The Chronicles of Narnia begin, as everyone knows, with `The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe'. This story, `Prince Caspian', is probably best read second in the sequence as it is a continuation of the original four's adventures. The High King Peter, King Edmund, Queen Susan, and Queen Lucy are summoned by magic back to Narnia to aid Prince Caspian in time of crisis. The story of `The Magician's Nephew' goes back to the beginning of Narnian time and a little earlier in our world's time to tell how Narnia was created in the first place, and it is probably best read about fifth or sixth in the sequence, but at any rate before `The Last Battle' which tells how Narnia ends and is more frightening than the rest. The best loved of all the stories is probably `The Voyage of the Dawn Treader', partly because it is the longest and richest story in the series and is supremely well written. It is very easy to read but full of interweaving plots, and thrills on land and sea, and full of hard realities like how people behave while thirsty on short water rations and no land in sight. It is the jewel of the set, and fits perfectly in the middle. Reading about prince Caspian will help set the jewel in your mind.
`Prince Caspian' is also an interesting story because it explains so much of the magic of Narnia, and gives those who wish to see an insight into politics, history (ours and Narnia's), battles, and human psychology. It is particularly revealing to see what a prince's education involves: some literature, some mathematics, some social graces, some skills in entertainment and music, some politics. Some people do not like this story because it is about a war, but it really is about what leads up to war, what happens after, and how the individuals involved all react and cope. The actual fighting is a small part of the whole, unlike a modern action film which is heavy on the fighting and light on the people. Having said that, the storyline is one of the simplest in the set as we stay almost all the time with the four children together, who quickly resume their adult roles once in Narnia. When things threaten to overwhelm the brave few, Aslan is at hand but to their surprise he is not always easy to see.