Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Prince Caspian


With Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis ventures into the broader world of Narnia. Now, it's certainly true that we visited Calormen in The Horse and His Boy—so learning in this book that Telmar, the land from which Caspian's people once hailed, is yet another of Narnia's neighbors is perhaps no great surprise.

But the world of Narnia becomes broader not just due to geography. It grows because the lines between the White Hats and Black Hats becomes just a little fuzzier. The titular hero of the story, it turns out, is really the most chief of the Black Hats. And more than just one of the folks in the camp of the White Hats turns out to be a villain. So, in our own twisted way, and in more ways than one, Narnia starts looking more and more like our own world.

This month, in addition to a rather tongue-in-cheek story synopsis that Jenn and I intend as a nod to the story structure of Prince Caspian itself, George Rosok offers up a critique of the novel against the very standards which Lewis himself set for the genre of “children's stories.” Also, Kathy Bledsoe takes a look at the spiritual significance of yet another (seemingly) warped aspect of the story: Aslan's “holiday” with Bacchus and the boys—and girls!

Story Synopsis: Tales Within Tales

What child, while waiting for the bus to take him to school, hasn’t wished to be whisked away to another world—a world without exams and bullies and teachers lurking over your shoulder, ears pricked for the slightest whisper.

Well, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have just experienced this very thing. And Jenn is here to tell you what happens to them when they are pulled from the local train station back into Narnia...

Like any siblings, each blames the others for the tugging that eventually deposits them in a different world, but the accusations soon stop as they recognize the opportunity for exploration in this new place (which everyone agrees takes precedence over the grand adventures of arithmetic and penmanship). Following the sound of water, they soon find a beautiful beach, and, shoeless, walk the shore until they find fresh water. By this time, they have discovered an important feature of this place—it is an island, and there does not appear to be any way to leave it.

After eating lunch, the quartet heads into the woods to explore the island, and much to their delight they stumble upon an apple orchard in the middle of the forest. Having satiated their appetites (two lunches split four ways don’t quite do that), they note their true surroundings: the ruins of a castle.

Following their apple supper, they begin exploring the ruins, and notice that they are somewhat familiar with the layout of the castle. When Susan finds a ruby-eyed chess piece, it is clear: they have been brought back to Narnia, and are exploring the ruins of their own palace, Cair Paravel. Armed with this knowledge, they find the treasure house to retrieve the gifts Aslan gave them so long ago—but Susan’s horn, which promises instant help with a single blow, is nowhere to be found.

After a rather uncomfortable and restless night, and a breakfast of (you guessed it) apples, the children head back down to the beach to try to find a way off of the island. They notice a boat just off shore with three people in it; two tall men appear to be trying to wrestle a third shorter man into the water. Susan takes up her bow and shoots, hitting one of the tall men in the helmet and knocking him overboard. Rather than wait to be shot off the boat, the second tall man dives overboard of his own volition, leaving the tied-up third man alone in the boat. The children swim out to the boat and pull it back to shore, curious to hear the story of the rescued little man.

And I’m tired now, so Greg can tell you the story of Trumpkin the dwarf.

Right. You see, Narnia is no longer the happy-go-lucky place it was under the Pevensie Kings and Queens. In fact it’s ruled now by the Telmarines who, contrary to the way their name sounds, have nothing to do with the sea. In fact, they hate it. In fact, they hate just about everything that Narnia ever stood for. Why they wanted to live in a place they hated, I’m not really sure.

Anyway, the rightful Telmarine heir to the throne of Narnia, orphaned young Prince Caspian, is being taken advantage of by his ruthless uncle, King Miraz. This despot conspires to persecute and repress the “Old Narnians,” even going so far as promoting a campaign of disinformation about the past of this magical land. But at the real top of his agenda is making sure that his own, illegitimate line stays on the throne. Fortunately for Prince Caspian, Uncle Miraz has made the mistake of handing his nephew’s education over to a deep-cover Old Narnian, a half-dwarf named Doctor Cornelius. This wise old boy fills Caspian in on the truth of things in Narnia, and has enough of his wits about him to spirit Caspian away when Miraz is lucky enough to have a son of his own.

Caspian dashes away on his favorite horse, taking with him the famous magical horn that the Doc gave him. Yes, that horn: the one that Queen Susan left behind somehow those many centuries ago when the very High Kings and Queens tumbled back through the wardrobe. You know.

As luck would have it, I guess, Caspian’s horse dashes him against a branch, knocking him out cold and leaving him to be found by a troupe of Old Narnians that includes Trufflehunter (a talking Badger) and two dwarves, the grumpy Nikabrik and our friend Trumpkin. When Caspian recovers from his knock-down, they fill him in on the incipient rebellion of the Old Narnians. None of the old guard is very happy, and they’re just looking for a leader. Or at least a figurehead. And in Caspian, they think they’ve found one. Under the influence of Glenstorm the Centuar, Reepicheep the very fiesty Mouse and a handful of other very likable if contentious insurgents (including Doctor Cornelius, who joins the gang), Caspian agrees to lead an open rebellion against King Miraz.

They dash off to Aslan’s How, a sacred tunnel-riddled earthwork mound that houses the broken stone table upon which Aslan was sacrificed to save Narnia oh-so-long-ago. Miraz is right on their heels, of course, with a real Telmarine army, and things do not go so well for Caspian and his host. Soon they become convinced that loss is imminent unless help arrives. Caspian agrees that the only course of action is to use the magical horn to summon help—help of an indeterminate nature, arriving Aslan-only-knows where. They decide to cover three possible sacred sites: Aslan’s How itself, Lantern Waste and Cair Paravel. Trumpkin draws the assignment for the ancient site of the Thrones of Narnia, and as he sets off through the woods he hears the call of the horn, a sound he’ll never forget. He’s not particularly sure it’ll do any good, but it sounds impressive enough.

While taking an ill-advised shortcut, Trumpkin is waylaid by some loyalists to Miraz, and the louts decide on a devilish execution: to take him to the dreaded ghost-laden coasts and send him to his death in a few feet of nasty seawater. Of course, they end up bringing him with haste, and in good time, right into the arms of the waiting children. As we have seen.

And now, it is time for another tale. Back to you, Jenn.

As Trumpkin finishes relating his story to the children, he wistfully recalls once again the beauty and power of the horn’s blast. It is unfortunate, he sighs, that it brought none of the promised help. Now, thinking such a thing in the presence of the High Kings and Queens of Narnia is fallacy enough; to utter such ignorant nonsense aloud ensures that the poor dwarf will be humbled by these “children.” After weapons challenges with Susan and Edmund, and a healing drop of Lucy’s ointment to a shoulder wound, Trumpkin is, indeed, humbled, and acknowledges the royal quartet for who they are. This being established, the five set off in the boat toward the upper reaches of Glasswater Creek (a significantly shorter route than over land). From there, they will take to the woods until they come upon the Great River, and ultimately Aslan’s How and King Caspian himself.

When they reach the mouth of Glasswater, they go upstream a ways until they find a place to roast some bear meat and apples, and rest for the night. Lucy, however, being the only one not subject to the hard physical labor of rowing (her minimal stature preventing her from being able to handle the oars sufficiently), cannot sleep; she walks a short distance from the camp, and looks up to see the Narnian stars, recognizing the constellations and enjoying the peacefulness of the night. She calls out to the trees to awaken them, and indeed there is a gentle rustling, as if they might have been responding, but not for certain. She returns to bed, restored by her reconnection with Narnia.

When the group awakens in the morning, they begin their hike toward the Great River in earnest. Since there are no clear trails, they move by following what look like potential trails, but without any certainty. When they come to a precipice, Peter laments that this could not be the Rush, a tributary of the Great River, since it ran over flat ground. Trumpkin, however, reminds him that it has been hundreds of years, and the landscape is bound to have changed dramatically since the children were last here. While Peter and Trumpkin are discussing how to proceed—whether to go down and cross the river or go up and find a different place to go across—Lucy looks up and sees none other than The Great Lion Himself. Instantly, Lucy understands that they are to go up, not down as Peter and Trumpkin have concluded. Excitedly, Lucy points out Aslan to the others—who do not see Him, and do not believe that she did, either. However, Lucy persists, explaining to them that Aslan wants them to go up, not down, as Peter and Trumpkin have decided to do. Still unconvinced, they take a vote, and the party heads down with a bitter Lucy bringing up the rear.

As the day wears on, it becomes more and more clear that the group will not reach King Caspian by dinner as they had hoped—in fact they may not even make tomorrow’s breakfast. The slope down the Rush is getting steeper and more dangerous, and they are just about to lose hope when they look up and see the Great River. Such a view renews their hope in joining King Caspian in time to help in the battle, but before they can get far at all, they are ambushed with arrows. It becomes abundantly clear why they were meant to go up, as Aslan had instructed Lucy, and Peter humbly acknowledges this as they turn around to head back up the steep rocky slope they just hazarded down, and take to the high ground instead.

At camp that night, exhaustion pulls everyone into a deep sleep almost immediately. Lucy, however, is awakened from her slumber by hearing someone calling her name. She crawls from her makeshift bed, just in time to witness the movement of the trees. Making her way through them, she comes to a clearing, where she finds Aslan waiting for her.

She runs to Him. In their embrace, He chastises her for her complicity in going down in to the gorge with the others, instead of following His directions to go up. Lucy tries to blame it on the others—after all, she couldn’t go alone, could she?—but Aslan reiterates His desire for her obedience (alone or not) and then instructs her to wake the others, tell them of His presence, and lead the others by following Him, regardless of whether they see Him or not.

This time, Lucy obeys, and as difficult as it is for the youngest member of the party to take the reins and insist they follow her as she follows Aslan, she awakens the others, telling each of them of her meeting with Aslan. When they are all awake, she recounts the experience one more time, concluding with the assertion that she would follow Aslan this time, even if the others choose not to. Finally the others comply (Susan rather bitter and none too quiet about it), and begin the day’s journey.

As they walk along the top of the precipice, Lucy remains the only one able to see Aslan. Soon, however, Edmund catches a glimpse of a shadow, and Lucy acknowledges that it is, indeed, Aslan’s. He leads them down the precipice and across the river—where Edmund finally sees Him, and Peter sees His shadow. After crossing the river and climbing up the other side, they find themselves in view of Aslan’s How—with the Great Lion standing resplendently in full view.

Each of the children (including Susan, finally) approach Aslan, who is overwhelmingly glad to see them, but is also acutely aware of their doubt and disobedience. True to His nature, Aslan forgives them, then addresses Trumpkin, who is scared witless of the giant feline. Fortunately, the dwarf goes toward Aslan, rather than running away, and their friendship is playfully sealed.

As dawn breaks, Aslan sends the boys and the dwarf to the field to await battle; Susan and Lucy are left to watch. Suddenly the Great Lion tilts His gloriously maned head back and roars with a force unlike anything ever heard. Susan and Lucy watch, and see movement where there had been stillness before, as the trees come out around Aslan. Other creatures appear in order to join the dance, and a joyous time ensues before the battle begins, a scene which Greg will relate to you now.

Well, the real complicating factor at this point is that Nikabrik has brought in some rather unsavory characters to advise Prince Caspian and company on an alternate course of action. From the beseiged Old Narnian perspective, help has not come; the call has gone unanswered. So the ever-sour Nikabrik brings a Hag and Werewolf to Aslan’s How in an attempt to summon dark powers to Caspian’s aid—the spirit of the White Witch, in fact. Naturally, this suggestion doesn’t sit too well with Aslan’s faithful, never mind the fact that Doctor Cornelius rightly observes that the final judgment on Aslan’s ability to help can’t really be judged yet.

Just as Nikabrik’s, um, friends are about to force themselves on Caspian and company, Peter, Edmund and Trumpkin spring into the council chamber and slay the malcontent traitors. Prince Caspian has narrowly averted an enormous disaster.

Peter quickly takes charge, though showing proper deference to the royal prerogatives of the crown Prince. In an effort to buy time for whatever Aslan has in store, he dashes off a challenge of single combat to King Miraz, who is disingenuously manipulated into accepting by two of his more ambitious lords. A formal truce is declared and the armies convene to watch the two kings match each other in a contest of arms.

In the early going, Peter fares well against Miraz, though he truly expects to meet his fate at the hands of the Telmarine. In spite of his surprising showing, however, he injures one of his wrists and is unable to properly wield his shield. Fortunately, a rest break is called and Peter is able to find a makeshift solution to allow him to continue.

Peter again does well, pressing Miraz hard. After landing a near-fatal glancing blow, and then being pulled off balance by an alert Peter, Miraz stumbles—and his conspiratorial lords jump at the opportunity to slay him while he is down, trying to make it seem as if they are coming to his aid. Bedlam ensues and battle is joined.

It does not go well for the Telmarines, for Caspian’s weakened army is now joined by vast numbers of tree-spirits: the woods have awakened in response to Aslan’s—and Lucy’s—call. The horn has now been fully answered. Aslan, the Pevensie children and the full force of Old Narnia have all been roused. The Telmarine army is in full retreat, only to find its escape route via the Bridge of Beruna destroyed.

While Peter and Caspian have been managing the front, Aslan—with the girls, Bacchus and a host of others in tow—has been working in the rear to conduct a massive party of deconstruction. The entire Telmarine infrastructure has been pulled down behind the army in a chaotic yet purposeful joyous procession. The army has no choice to surrender. They are cowed and awed and dumbstruck by Aslan’s presence.

Though he feels wholly inadequate to the task—a prerequisite for the job, says Aslan—Caspian assumes leadership of Narnia as its king. Lucy uses her diamond vial, that ancient gift from Aslan, to heal Reepicheep, and Aslan restores his severed tail. Many knighthoods are bestowed, the surviving Telmarines are made captive in Beruna and the victorious host of Old Narnians settles in for a wild and glorious celebration.

The next day, Aslan delivers an ultimatum to the defeated Telmarines: if they are unable or unwilling to submit themselves gladly to the authority of King Caspian, they will be provided with a new home if they present themselves to Aslan. Those who come to avail themselves of this unique mercy discover an amazing fact. Aslan tells them that they are not native to either Narnia or Telmar, and will be sent back to the place from whence they came: a remote desert island in this, our very own world! Aslan constructs a doorway from Narnia to our world, and the dispossessed Telmarines find their way home after many long centuries.

Following them, not far behind but bound for a far different destination, are Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. They find themselves once again back at the train station where their strange journey started, older for a while and now younger again, but still a little wiser and more mature. Peter and Susan will never visit Narnia again.

Short of the Standard

In his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” C.S. Lewis suggests that the only reason you should write a children’s story is if the “children’s story is the best art form for something you have to say.” When reading the stories in the Narnia series, I sometimes try to put myself in the place of a child who is reading the story for the first time. I find it necessary because at times in these stories the allegory seems too obvious or a plot line comes off as too contrived; and, I think, as an adult reader I may be a bit jaded.

Perhaps an inexperienced reader—a child—would not have the same opinion. A child might enjoy sorting out the convolutions of certain story lines or thrill at explicitly associating a situation in the story to an incident in “real” life. In discussing these stories, one of my friends commented how important and powerful discovering and understanding stories on that level can be for a young reader. But Lewis states in the same essay that he is “almost inclined to set it up as canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad story.” Given this assertion and also the importance of the child’s process of discovery, I’m sorry to say that Prince Caspian seems to fail Lewis’ own test. What happens in the story is too often based on coincidence and convenience. Characters move and act not by a well-developed sequence of events but more because Lewis is able to conveniently explain something that has taken or is about to take place.

Before I go too far down the road describing what bothers me about this story, I want to mention the parts that I did enjoy, particularly the characters and the setting. Trumpkin’s storytelling, for instance, satisfyingly brought the entire story up to date (if it failed to explain how he came to be with the children in the first place—but more on that later). The main characters, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, who we first met in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are people that we all can relate to. Through their adventures they have acquired admirable amounts of bravery, honesty and intelligence, but as people, moreover young people, they can also be stubborn, cranky, and impulsive. I enjoyed watching Lucy, in spite of her uncertainty and reluctance to contradict her older siblings, determine to follow Aslan—as He says she must do even if it means she must leave them.

I also enjoyed the wise Doctor Cornelius, his animal counterpart the badger, Trufflehunter, the practical Trumpkin, the friendly Bulgy Bears, the slow-witted giant, Wimbleweather, and the overly compensating mouse, Reepicheep (although I hate his name!). Even the villains—such as Nikabrik, King Miraz and his plotting lords—are interesting to watch and listen to. And all are placed in the woods, castles, rivers, hills, and meadows of Narnia, which Lewis does a wonderful job of describing.

But then these characters are required to participate in the action. While most of the ordinary occurrences (and many of the not-so-ordinary) are logical and I can follow them without overtly slapping my forehead, it only takes a few instances of foggy logic and contrivance for the story to run off its rails. One such example, as mentioned above, is the appearance of Trumpkin at the island where the children find themselves after being magically yanked away from a British train station. Though I enjoy his bit of story telling after they rescue him, even in that are seeds of convenient occurrences that weigh on the story later; and when I come to find out the coincidences that had to occur in order for him to meet the children at the island, I only wish his story could have continued on in some other direction. Alas, on we go anyway.

In chapter five, Caspian’s aunt, Queen Prunaprismia, seems ill—but it turns out she is actually about to give birth. When a boy is born, Caspian’s life is suddenly in danger because he is no longer needed by his uncle, King Miraz, to succeed the throne. This pregnancy is a cheap surprise sprung on the reader. Isn’t Caspian old enough and smart enough to have noticed that the Queen was pregnant? Wouldn’t wise Doctor Cornelius, who must have known she was pregnant, have previously considered that a male heir might be produced? He would have immediately known the danger to Caspian and would have had months to prepare and plan for that eventuality. Instead, at the birth of the Miraz’s son, Doctor Cornelius tells Caspian he must flee for his life in the middle of the night—also dropping the bombshell that Caspian is the true King of Narnia. Doctor Cornelius explains that Miraz murdered his brother, Caspian’s father, the previous King Caspian of Narnia. (I also find it curious that King Miraz’s son is never mentioned again. Though it turns out Caspian is the rightful king and Miraz is dealt with, I think the Queen and their son merit some mention in order to tie off that loose end.)

Before Caspian leaves, Doctor Cornelius gives him Susan’s Magic Horn. This is foreshadowed earlier in the book when the children discover it missing from the treasure room at the now ancient, island-bound castle of Cair Paravel. Doctor Cornelius has oh-so-conveniently acquired it by enduring terrors and uttering spells because it just so happens that Caspian will need it later in order to summon the children into Narnia and into the story. Perhaps if Lewis had given more time to explain how Cornelius would come into possession of such an important talisman (and plot device) it would make more of the rest of the story easier to believe; instead, it is just one of several rabbits he pulls out of a hat.

After Caspian flees to the mountains to the south, he meets and helps organize the true citizens of Narnia on the slopes of Archenland—the dwarves, talking animals, and mythic creatures who have fled and gone into hiding. With the counsel of the Centaur, Glenstorm, they determine that they must go to war. In a short couple of paragraphs (and without much trouble or muster) they move to Aslan’s How and are soon engaged with Miraz’s troops; and these battles go badly. This quickly brings us to one of the main aspects of the plot that bothers me—how Trumpkin and the children come to meet at Cair Paravel.

A council decides that Caspian will blow Susan’s horn in the hope that Aslan or the fabled Kings Peter and Edmund and Queens Susan and Lucy will come to help them defeat Miraz’s army. Trumpkin is sent to the coast in case help arrives there. At this point we know what happens when he gets there. He is captured and then rescued by the children. But in order for him to get captured he had to do something that even Lewis (by way of Trumpkin himself) has to explain and apologize for. The practical and careful dwarf says, “As if I’d no more sense than a Giant, I risked a short cut across open country to cut off a big loop of the river, and was caught.” Trumpkin adds, “Anyone else would have run me through there and then.”

But Trumpkin has been “fortunate” enough to be caught by one of Miraz’s lords, a “pompous fool” who intends a grand execution by sending Trumpkin “down ‘to the ghosts’ in the full ceremonial way.” He is placed in a boat with two of the lord’s soldiers who are interrupted in their mission to drown the dwarf by Susan’s well-aimed arrows. So by this series of convenient events Trumpkin is able to meet Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy and the saving of Narnia and the rest of the story is able to proceed. But why is this pompous lord off in the wild in the first place, instead of helping engage Caspian’s army? Why, in the heat of a pitched battle, can two soldiers be spared for days disposing of a spy in such a convoluted way? Why the ceremonious effort? Ah, because Trumpkin needs to “meet cute” with the children.

The children and Trumpkin eventually meet up with Aslan, as well as Silenus, Bacchus and the Maenads—“his fierce, madcap girls”—and together they find their way to Aslan’s How. Peter challenges King Miraz to single combat to avoid risking further bloodying of Caspian’s army. By the treachery of a couple of Miraz’s own lords, Miraz is defeated and killed. By the help of the Awakened Trees of the Narnian Woods, the Telmarine army is routed and run off to Beruna where the Telmarines hope to make their escape over the bridge that now spans the ford. But the bridge is gone and so they surrender.

Here begins one of the most curious scenes in the book, where Lewis explains the convenient necessity of the missing bridge. While Lewis likely has his purposes for this scene, and it may be important to his overall purpose for this story and for its place in the Narnia series, from a purely literary standpoint it feels like he opens the back door of the whole production and moves it to the burlesque theater next door.

And so he starts the explanation by rightly asking, “But what happened to the bridge?” Silenus, Bacchus, and the Maenads are still with Aslan, Susan, and Lucy. The girls wake up and Aslan tells them they will make a holiday. Everyone is up laughing and playing instruments. The girls climb on to Aslan and they are off. With the help of Bacchus’ magic vines the bridge is pulled down—but why?—and the revelers wade across the river and into the town. They scare away a shrewish schoolmarm and most of her class except one girl, Gwendolyn, who joins them. Then the Maenads help her “take off some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes that she was wearing.” From there on to the rest of the chapter, the party winds through the nearby countryside scaring off most people, but they are joined by various animals and a few free-spirited locals. Except for taking down the bridge, little of this seems to have much to do with the story. It feels like a superfluous song and dance number in a staged musical. Eventually the revelers find their way to where Miraz’s army is being held at bay by Peter’s victorious army.

Following this party (and then another to celebrate the victory), Aslan is prepared to grant the Telmarines mercy. And it is here in one long paragraph that Lewis, through Aslan, strings together a number of wild coincidences that explains how the Telmarines came to be in Narnia. They are descended from pirates from Earth. These pirates were shipwrecked on an island. Several of the pirates and their women fled from the others to a mountain where they discovered a cave. In the cave was a magical place that connected Earth and the world of Narnia. They were transported to Telmar, which happened to be uninhabited at the time. They lived there for many generations until there was a famine and they invaded Narnia and conquered it. So not only is Caspian king by his Telmar lineage, but also because he is actually a descendant of Earth and thereby a son of Adam he can truly join the King Club of Narnia.

I have to admit; I was feeling a little woozy after wading through Aslan’s “explanation.” Is this because I’m an adult? Or is it just my personal taste?

While all that is a fanciful yarn and some readers might be pleased with it, I can’t help thinking that with more time spent considering the possibilities, a mind as brilliant as Lewis’ could have come up with something more interesting, exciting and, above all, plausible.

An Invitation to the Dance

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

The land of Narnia has descended into spiritual darkness. Only a remnant of believers in Aslan remains and Narnia is no longer graced with Aslan’s physical presence. The High Kings and Queens have disappeared. Talking animals, good giants and dwarves, and “living” waters and talking trees still exist but are subsisting on fear or dwelling in hiding. A cruel and heathen race has conquered the land and established its dynasty upon the throne. Thousands of years have passed and Cair Paravel is in ruins. The Golden Age of Narnia is over. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Though neither the reader nor the Pevensie children themselves yet realize it, Prince Caspian opens with the most desperate measure mankind has available: an appeal to the Creator—the simple prayer for help. Scripture is rife with the examples of prayers lifted by God’s people in all circumstances, but prayers are never so poignant as when backs are against the wall and situations seem hopeless.

When Doctor Cornelius sends Caspian away from Miraz’s court, he presses a horn into the boy’s hands, explaining that its sound is purported to bring strange and powerful help—even perhaps the appearance of Aslan himself. This is the magic horn of Queen Susan, Aslan’s particular gift to her, left behind in Narnia when she vanished at the end of the Golden Age. Caspian is also warned to use the horn only at his “greatest need.” Later, deep in Aslan’s How, a secret, ancient, magical place, Caspian and his advisors realize that the defeats they have suffered against Miraz’s army have brought them to such a point of desperation and need. They can do no more on their own. They will sound the horn. The call for help will go out. However, Caspian’s war council determines that the call, or prayer, if you will, could be answered in any of three sacred places—Aslan’s How, Lantern Waste, or the castle at Cair Paravel—so the council dispatches trusted messengers to the other two places in order to be ready to receive whatever help arrives.

At this point in the story, through several of his characters, Lewis reveals some common attitudes about prayer—for which the blowing of the horn stands as a metaphor. Dr. Cornelius, for instance, details the mystery of prayer: a source of “strange help—no one can say how strange.” When we pray, there is no guarantee of an answer; nor is there a promise of an answer that we expect, or one that makes sense at the time. Sometimes a fear of the unknown wheels that prayer might set in motion can actually compel us to hesitate—or even to refuse to take action through prayer. Even disappointment at the manner in which previous prayers were answered (or perceived not to be answered at all!) can discourage further prayer completely.

But Dr. Cornelius leads Caspian to understand that the “gift” of the horn is not to be wasted because of doubt, fear, or indecision. This mirrors Lewis’ belief that prayer is above all a mystery that cannot be completely explained or controlled. In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis goes so far as to ask if “prayer, in its most perfect state, is not a soliloquy, God speaking to God.” He cites the text of Romans 8:26 which tells us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Lewis believed that the “Holy Spirit guides our decisions from within when we make [prayers] with the intention of pleasing God.” This seems to be the point Dr. Cornelius is also making to Caspian. Don’t worry about the how, why, and wherefore… just use the tool you’ve been given. Certainly we can understand that Aslan would not be “pleased” at the state of Narnia under the Telmarines.

Dr. Cornelius also reveals the power of prayer, the power to bring great help and “set all to rights.” Indeed, the Bible tells us in Ephesians 6 that we are to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Aslan has left a powerful tool that can summon either Him or His agents when the true Narnians understand that they absolutely have no power to effect the salvation of their land. God wants to hear from us; and, as Blaise Pascal says, “God instituted prayer in order to allow His creatures the dignity of causality.” The “creature” is allowed to “assist” the Creator, so to speak, through the exercise of “free will.” Lewis explains this well in God in the Dock:

[God] invented both prayer and physical action for [the dignity of causality]. He gave us small creatures the dignity of being able to contribute to the course of events in two different ways. He made the matter of the universe such that we can (in those limits) do things to it; that is why we can wash our own hands and feed or murder our fellow creatures. Similarly, He made His own plan or plot of history such that it admits a certain amount of free play and can be modified in response to our prayers.

Reepicheep the Mouse reveals the truth that prayer can affect God’s course of action. Biblically, the most blatant example we have is when Moses pleads with the Lord to spare the nation of Israel. Just as Moses kept arguing with God for the souls of the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Reepicheep asks for the return of his tail. At first Aslan tests him by pointing out that he may be taking a little too much pride in his dignity and honor, but Reepicheep regains his tail when his followers demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice their own tails out of love for their leader. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life (or his tail?) for his friends.

Trumpkin the dwarf, meanwhile, is a portrait of the skeptical agnostic. Today we might hear someone like him say, “I don’t believe that prayer will change anything because I don’t know if there is anything or anyone out there to effect such change; but if it makes you feel better I won’t stop you from talking to the air.” He reminds me of the times I have gently told non-believers, “You may not believe in God, but that doesn’t keep Him from believing in you.” But the force of Caspian’s “prayer” impacts even Trumpkin. He hears a sound that he will never forget: “loud as thunder,” “cool and sweet as music over water,” “strong enough to shake the woods.” Eventually, Trumpkin even comes face-to-face with the living answer to this powerful call for help. The encounter does not make him an immediate believer, but it definitely influences a step toward Aslan rather than away from Him.

Peter and the other children literally embody the often irresistible force of God’s will in answering prayer. But Lucy alone understands that Aslan is at the root of their being literally dragged back into Narnia from a British train station; the other three attribute the call to forces of magic. Modern mankind (self-assured of being enlightened) pooh-poohs the idea of unseen spiritual forces working in response to a bunch of co-dependent “crackpots” talking to some invisible deity. The preferred alternative is to name whatever occurs as luck or coincidence or karma. Yet the true believer in the power of prayer sees them as “God incidents.” Somehow, only Lucy has retained a vestige of the faith she found in Aslan after the children’s initial trip through the wardrobe. The others seem to have become dulled to Aslan’s purpose and, in fact, His very existence. A year in the “real” world has done much to “erase” the memories of the many years spent in the service of Aslan in Narnia.

The Pevensie children and Reepicheep also represent proof of God’s unexpected answers to prayer. Trumpkin assumes that the call will bring great warriors, not children or heaven forefend… mice! How in Narnia will such a desperate war be won with such puny reinforcements? Three great scriptural truths give the answer:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. ( Isaiah 55:8)
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1Corinthians 1:27)
I can do everything in [Christ] who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:1)

The children already know from previous experience that Aslan is not a “safe” lion. They have also learned that he is not predictable or controllable. The air of Narnia “works” on the children enabling them to “mature” again into “adults”—and strengthening them for the task to which they have been called.

All of Aslan’s subjects waver in their faith at some point or in some way, and yet they are used powerfully in both their spiritual and physical weaknesses to bring Aslan’s will to fruition. Some of them recognize that power at work in and through them. Some of them don’t see it or understand it until they come physically face-to-face with Aslan. Reepicheep, the smallest and seemingly most foolish, is in fact the most righteous, courageous and true. Caspian, in humility and defeat, calls for help. It is a process that Lewis called The Great Dance—and prayer is but the invitation.

The Great Dance is a metaphor for the believer’s relationship with God. This relationship is something that God desires but does not force upon those He has created. God gives every person the right to freely choose His company. Yet any relationship that will be strong, true and beneficial to both parties requires good communication. Good communication requires conversation. Prayer, by its simplest definition, is conversation with God. The deeper the conversation, the stronger the relationship becomes.

Lewis experienced the power of prayer and understood its impact on the life of a Christian, so we should not be surprised to find an expression of his faith in this powerful tool over and over in the pages of his writing. But Lewis did not arrive at this understanding easily, and he admits in Surprised By Joy that he was “brought into the Faith kicking and struggling and resentful with eyes darting in every direction looking for an escape.” He calls faith a paradox because although one is given free will to come to God, the surrender still feels like a “deeply compelled action. I chose, yet it really did not seem possible to do the opposite.” Likewise, many characters in the Chronicles of Narnia express the inability to resist the “pull” of Aslan. In Mere Christianity, Lewis explains it thusly:

God is not a static thing but a dynamic, pulsating activity—a life or a kind of drama. He is almost a kind of dance. The whole dance or drama or pattern of God’s three-personal life is to be played out in each one of us. Or… each one of us has got to enter that pattern. We must take our place in the dance.

Even though Lewis never meant the Narnia books as theological instruction, Prince Caspian develops not only into an outlet for the author’s struggle to accept and enter the dance, but it also becomes an example of the journey that every believer must make.

Lucy, for instance, personifies the faith of a child—accepting, willing to suspend any question of disbelief. She also holds that bright coal of faith that glows deep within and smolders back to life even after a long absence from the “conversation.”

Nikabrik portrays the angry Lewis who broke with God and became an atheist in the years following the death of his mother. Caspian says Nikabrik has “gone sour inside from long suffering and hating.” Lewis describes the years of his own atheism as hate-filled and dark. Sometimes the tragedies and disappointments of life cause believers to decide that we do not need God and can run our own lives, thank you. Placing blame with the Creator is often the beginning of the break and involves much time spent as a wallflower—feigning indifference or desperately wishing that God would come and sweep us back onto the dance floor.

Trumpkin represents the period when Lewis became exhausted with trying to maintain his hatred of God and tried to just exist as an agnostic. In effect, the emotionally exhausted believer (or skeptic) throws up the hands and says, “I’m done with this. It doesn’t matter if God exists or not.”

Peter, Edmund, and Susan represent Lewis’ (and the reborn believer’s) journey back to living faith, a faith that had never completely died but whose spiritual muscles needed reformation and strengthening. Each person goes through different experiences and meets God in personally specific ways—ways that are that person’s story and nobody else’s. Every person’s relationship with the Creator is unique, private, and shared with no one else, as Aslan taught in The Horse and His Boy.

The badger, Trufflehunter, is the picture of the mature believer, the assured and unshakeable spiritually grown Lewis, who lived out his adult life in relationship with and service to his God. Trufflehunter is an example of a believer who trusts that “help will come,” that “it may be even now at the door.”

When the prayer is answered… when Aslan returns… when Narnia is saved, Aslan and the children “make holiday,” dancing and reveling through the countryside with great joy: for their relationship with each other and with Narnia has been restored. In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis describes this scene:

In this valley of tears certain qualities of Heaven have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities that for us, here and now, are frivolous. How can one find any image of boundless freedom in the serious activities either of our natural or of our present spiritual life? It is only in our ‘hours off,’ only in our moments of festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant on Earth, for Earth is not their natural place. Here they are a moment’s rest from the life we were created to live. In this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy is like that which, in a better country, is the goal of all goals. Joy is the serious business of Heaven!

This serious business of Heaven, this joy, comes with an invitation for all to enter the Dance. At the end of Prince Caspian all prayers (even the unspoken) are welcomed and answered:

  • Narnia is returned to the “true” Narnians;
  • The tree people and water people are free to come out in the open;
  • The talking animals, giants, fauns and dwarves do not have to flee over borders or live underground;
  • Caspian, a true Son of Adam, is back on the throne; and
  • The Telmarines who wish to depart are returned to the world they never were meant to leave.

In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else has been directed. Thus each is equally at the center and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, some things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love. Blessed be He! —from Perelandra
For the dance is love itself. The Great Dance does not exist for us but we for it. —from The Problem of Pain


Prince Caspian

Chapter 1
  • Term-time. In American schools, we usually refer to “semesters,” “trimesters” or “quarters.” In college, though, we still refer at times to “term papers,” but usually the word “term” is reserved for a prison sentence. For the Pevensie kids, this just meant it was time to go back to school.
  • Boarding School. Sure, we all know this is a type of school you go to live at. But why “boarding”? Because “board” is what we now refer to as “meals.” A “boarding house,” in which many of our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the years following the Great Depression, offered both “room” and “board” for the price of rent.
Chapter 2
  • Dais. Okay, the big deal here is not what the word itself means. It’s a raised platform. The question is, how do you pronounce it? The answer: “day-iss.”
  • Jiggered. To be confused or confounded; from archaic British. Perhaps, to be lost or taken advantage of in a back alley.
  • Pomona. A wood-nymph known for her cultivation of fruit. She is the principal character of a fable recorded by Bulfinch.
  • Electric Torch. A two-dollar word for “flashlight.” Of course, we easily forget than fifty or so years ago a flashlight was a much bigger deal than it is now.
Chapter 3
  • Schools Baths. Swimming pools. Swimming pools!
  • Wars of the Roses. Not a reference to that movie starring Michael Douglas, just so we’re clear. This is reference to violent struggles over the succession to the British throne.
Chapter 4
  • Apartments. Rooms within a dwelling space. In America, we’d just say “apartment,” probably.
  • Siccus. An ancient and learned medical doctor.
  • Buskins. Soft, slipper-like leather shoes.
  • The Leads. Flat roofed areas of a castle, covered in sheets of lead.
Chapter 5
  • Recorder. Not a primitive MP3 maker, but a musical instrument of the whistle family.
  • The Orbo. A large lute. Not very helpful? Okay, I’ll also tell you that the lute was a forerunner of the mandolin. So since the mandolin is like a small violinish (but strummed and picked) guitar, the orbo must have been a violinish guitar.
  • Wallet. Not the thing you stick in your back pocket. Heavens, no. Caspian’s pockets couldn’t have been that big. No. A wallet of this sort is a knapsack (or backpack, of you don’t know what a knapsack is).
  • Career. A full-speed run.
Chapter 6
  • Water-butt. A portable water container. Think of a Gatorade barrel, only made out of wood.
  • Gay. Just happy. My, wasn’t life simpler fifty years ago?
Chapter 8
  • Seneschal. The main butler or steward.
  • Sucks. Wow. I was kind of surprised to see Lewis use this expression. I really don’t know how he intended it. Possibly, this is a shortened version of the aphorism about teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, which would make it an expression conveying uselessness.
  • Cricket-bat. Okay, it’s kind of odd to be discussing the game of cricket in connection to Narnia. But this is a reference to the revered British game of bat-and-ball, not a reference to a device designed to injure insects.
  • Poop. A section of the deck of a ship; specifically, a weather deck at the stern (back). So a “feast on the poop” isn’t what it sounds like at first. Think context!
Chapter 9
  • Bally. Used kind of as a substitute for the stronger “bloody.” Think of a mild term that a polite child might use instead of an expletive.
Chapter 12
  • Cantrips. A trick.
Chapter 13
  • Monomachy. Single combat, usually in the form of a duel.
  • Pomely. Dappled, or spotted.
  • Dastard. Not a misspelling. Think “dastardly.” A coward.
Chapter 14
  • Football. Everywhere but America, this means soccer. So I suppose that’s the case in Narnia, too!
Chapter 15
  • Mazers. A large drinking bowl, probably wooden.
  • Canny. Careful and shrewd. Not really the opposite of “uncanny.”