Prince Caspian, the second of the Chronicles of Narnia series (yes, that is the correct order, thank you very much, Goodreads) is like an unearthed, long forgotten treasure you find on some deserted island. It has a heart for the old things, for times when goodness and heroes, real honest to goodness heroes walked the land. In a day when deviance is lauded, crudeness applauded and, truth changes by the wind of popular opinion, real heroes are more likely to be booed than celebrated. As it is in our day, so it is in the Narnia in which the four Pevinse children (Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, the main characters from the first book, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) find themselves. The White Witch may be gone, but so has Aslan. And without the four kings and queens to rule from Cair Paravel, the land has fallen to the Telmarines, led by the cruel Miraz. Under his rulership all that rot about magic and fauns and giants and dwarves has been relegated to the realm of myth and fairy tale. Narnia is a land of men, and the old days are scarcely even remembered.
Miraz has usurped the throne from his brother, prince Caspian’s father. A practical man, he keeps Caspian alive and even trains and educated him as his successor as he has no heir of his own. But Caspian isn’t really all that interested in becoming king. He longs for the Old Narnia and the tales his nursemaid tells him, for she is one of the few who has not forgotten them.
Into this “New Narnia” the Pevinse children are summoned. They are a year older, but no longer the grown kings and queens they once were. And yet as the days go by, they find the Narnian air working its magic on them, bringing back to them all of their old memories and skills and knowledge.
As with all of the Narnia books, the parts with Aslan are the best bits (of course he returns, that should hardly be a spoiler if you know anything about this series), particularly Lucy’s encounter with him in the woods. Other notable features are Tumpkin the dwarf, the initially skeptical, but eventually stalwart Dear Little Friend (D.L.F.). The two advisors of Miraz, though only minor characters are also fabulously done, so much so that Shakespeare could scarcely have done these two scheming plotters any better.
For all its excellencies, it is a bit of a fall off from the first book to this. It lacks the unified sweep of the first story. It is more episodic and pedestrian at times. And for all its love of Old Narnia and the fact that we get to spend more time with Lewis’ obviously beloved mythological menagerie of creatures, there is less wonder and awe here than in the first book. It’s a bit more grown up, a bit less whimsical.
Still, Prince Caspian is a treat. It is a window into a bygone era, not only in time, but into the human psyche. The fact that many of us do not, like Caspian, long for the “Old Narnia” is a genuine tragedy. For the river of heroism and nobility which in our day is but a trickle, still gushes strong and clean and pure from the source. Would that there were more books like Prince Caspian to remind us of that.