by C.S. Lewis
The second of the seven Chronicles of Narnia
finds Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy (the four children from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
) a year older, and waiting for the train to school when they are suddenly pulled back into Narnia-- where, amazingly, hundreds of years have passed in their absence.
A new race of men-- the Telmarines-- have conquered Narnia and driven its magical creatures and talking animals into hiding, and nearly to extinction. The magical land has been tamed, and its history has been systematically covered up. Cair Paravel stands in ruins, the Stone Table is covered up by a mound, the coastlands are covered by thick forests, and anyone who speaks of the Old Times is made to disappear.
The current Telmarine king is the evil Miraz, but the rightful heir is his nephew Caspian-- who should be King Caspian the Tenth. Caspian's nurse and later his tutor bring him up believing in the stories of Old Narnia, in spite of Miraz's efforts to stamp out the memory. And when the queen finally gives birth to a son, Miraz has no further use for Prince Caspian and intends to do away with him. The young prince escapes into the wild, where he gathers an army of dwarves, talking beasts, centaurs, fauns, and a giant in hopes of taking back the throne.
But it turns out that holding off Miraz's armies is more than they can do... so the horn of the long-ago Kings and Queens of Old Narnia is blown, and the four children from our world begin another quest to save the land from an evil ruler and to put a "believer" on the throne.
Along the way, Aslan the Lion tests the faith of his followers... and though some score better than others, no one comes out without blemish. C. S. Lewis summarizes his traditionally Christian view of human nature-- which, when all attempts at self-justification finally give way, has nothing left to do but say "I'm sorry"-- by commenting (through Aslan) that to be a descendent of Adam and Eve is "both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest conqueror in earth." And for those who have eyes to see such things, there are still other correspondences to the Christian faith in this story.
But it is, above all, a wonderful story. And it draws not on biblical imagery, but on the magic of classical myth and legend. Bacchus is in this story, along with fat Silenus and his donkey, and the scantily-clad Maenads. There is a river god here, and gods and goddesses of the forest-- Dryads, Hamadryads, and Sylvans. A Hag and a Wer-Wolf (sic) work their wiles, and the duel between the High King and Miraz combines elements of medieval chivalry with combats from the Iliad.
The intrigues of Miraz' counselors are nasty fun, and the picture of a Bulgy Bear sucking his paw will stick in your head. So will many of the wonderfully realized characters in this story, and their daring exploits, right down to Reepicheep the martial mouse. And the attack of the wood-gods will remind Lord of the Rings fans of the deeds of ents and huorns. (Tolkien and Lewis were close friends. Can it really be a coincidence that their stories share common elements like these?)
Lovers of adventure, fantasy, chivalry, and legend, take note, and consider adding Prince Caspian to your reading list. Or read the whole set!
Recommended Age: 8+
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