For the last few weeks, I have been ranking the different volumes of C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia. So far, I have covered The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Horse and His Boy.
I am scoring each book using a rubric with four different categories: story, characters, worldcraft, and theology. For each category, I will provide a subscore of 1-10, yielding a cumulative maximum score of 40 points.
I have been following the chronological order of the books (even though I don’t consider that to be the best order in which to read the books), which means that this week, I will be ranking Prince Caspian (PC). I think this was my third time to read PC, and although I enjoyed it, I found myself a little more critical of certain aspects this time around.
This is from a series of brilliant Narnia cover designs by Jeffrey Nguyen
Coming off the heels of LWW and HHB, PC is…slow. Certainly, there are elements of the story that are entertaining and compelling—the intrigue in the court of King Miraz, the Old Narnians living in hiding, the battle scenes around Aslan’s How—but significant chunks of the narrative feel like drudgery to get through.
As the book begins, the four Pevensie children from LWW find themselves almost immediately whisked into Narnia near an old ruined castle. After a frustratingly-long time, they realize that the castle is Cair Paravel, where they themselves reigned long ago, and that they have somehow returned to Narnia hundreds of years after they left it.
They soon rescue a dwarf, Trumpkin, who is about to be executed, and he proceeds to tell them the story of young Prince Caspian, who is a Telmarine, a human from the land of Telmar to the west of Narnia. Caspian’s ancestor had conquered Narnia, but now, his uncle Miraz is seeking to usurp the throne. The birth of Miraz’s son has placed Caspian in danger, and under the advice of his tutor, Doctor Cornelius, Caspian has fled from his uncle and taken up company with the Old Narnians: talking beasts, dwarfs, centaurs, and other fantastic creatures that had long ago been driven into hiding (Caspian had been raised to believe that such creatures didn’t even exist, until he learned differently from his nurse and then Doctor Cornelius).
The Old Narnians decide to follow Caspian as King, and marshal their forces to meet the army of Miraz in battle. Things go poorly for Caspian’s side, however: they are outnumbered and outmaneuvered in battle. Desperate, Caspian blows the magic horn of Queen Susan, and Trumpkin is sent off to the ruins of Cair Paravel, where it is suspected that aid may arrive. He is captured along the way, but then freed by the Pevensies, as mentioned above.
From here, the Pevensie children have to convince Trumpkin that they really are the Kings and Queens from Narnia’s Golden Age and that they are able to help Caspian in his plight. This takes some doing, for the good-hearted Trumpkin is thoroughly skeptical about anything related to Aslan and Narnia’s revered history, but he proves to be a loyal ally.
Trumpkin and the children then head off to join Caspian’s forces at Aslan’s How. The journey there is long and arduous (perhaps nearly as slow and painful to read about as it would be to travel!), and is marked by Lucy seeing Aslan, the rest of the party being unable to, and as a result, going the wrong way, which puts the group in peril and delays their progress (more on this in the Theology section below). Eventually, Aslan appears to them again, this time in a way that all see him, and Aslan instructs them to divide their party: Peter, Edmund, and Trumpkin take off for Aslan’s How to join with Caspian’s forces, while Susan and Lucy join Aslan for a wild party in the woods with the tree creatures who Aslan awakens with his roar.
Aslan and the queens continue to travel and gather various allies, while Peter, realizing that Caspian’s forces are outnumbered, challenges Miraz to single combat. The duel is ended by the treachery of Miraz’s own lieutenants, but the chaos works to the advantage of the Old Narnians who, joined by Aslan’s recently-gathered forces, overwhelm the Telmarine army.
Caspian is installed as King by Aslan, the surviving Telmarine are allowed to return to their origin in our world, and the Pevensie children return home as well, with Peter and Susan possessing the knowledge that they will not return to Narnia again because they are getting “too old.”
The plot of PC has good (really good) elements, but it feels like a series of starts and stops. It takes too long to get to the “good stuff,” and once there, you don’t stay there for long.
The four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, function as major characters in PC, as they do in LWW, and they are very similar to how they were in that novel (in Edmund’s case, how he was at the end of LWW, after he had repented of his treachery). All characters are now a year older, and perhaps this plays a part in the struggle of the older children to see Aslan when he first appears. With this cursory overview, we will move on to other significant characters, of whom there are many.
Caspian, the eponymous hero of the novel, grows up as in the house of his uncle Miraz. He is the rightful heir to the throne of Narnia, but knows nothing about it or the history of his nation until first, his nurse, and later, Doctor Cornelius, open his eyes to the reality of his world. He later flees his home and throws his lot in with the Old Narnians, and is declared their king. He loves stories from the old days, believes in Aslan, and ultimately, shows his allegiance to him when he stands against Nikabrik’s plot (see more below). Caspian is also humble, and we are given indication that this humility will serve him well:
“Welcome, Prince,” said Aslan. “Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?“
“I—I don’t think I do, Sir,“ said Caspian. “I’m only a kid.“
“Good,“ said Aslan. “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not.” (220)
Doctor Cornelius is Caspian’s tutor who educates him in all manner of subjects, including the history of Narnia how it used to be. Cornelius proves the truth of what he says by his own existence (he is part dwarf), he gives Caspian the all-important horn, and he saves his life on the night of the birth of Miraz’s son by encouraging him to flee the castle. Later, he meets up with Caspian’s forces and serves as one of his main advisors.
When Caspian flees from his uncle into the woods, he runs into a tree branch and is knocked out. When he revives, he finds himself in a cave surrounded by three interesting characters: Trufflehunter, the talking badger, Trumpkin, the red dwarf, and Nikabrik, the black dwarf (the colors referring to the color of their hair and beards). As we will discuss later, PC is about the restoration of true religion after it has been corrupted, and in some sense, these three characters display three possible responses to “true religion.”
Trufflehunter represents the truly faithful. Despite the fact that talking beasts and the rest of the Old Narnians had been driven into hiding long ago and Aslan seemed to be distant silent, Trufflehunter remains loyal and committed to the order that Aslan had established:
“Don’t you go talking about things you don’t understand, Nikabrik,” said Trufflehunter. “You Dwarfs are as forgetful and changeable as the Humans themselves. I’m a beast, I am, and a Badger what’s more. We don’t change. We hold on. I say great good will come of it. This is the true King of Narnia we’ve got here: a true King, coming back to true Narnia. And we beasts remember, even if Dwarfs forget, that Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King.” (71)
“I tell you, we don’t change, we beasts,” said Trufflehunter. “We don’t forget. I believe in the High King Peter and the rest that reined at Cair Paravel, as firmly as I believe in Aslan himself.” (72)
If Trufflehunter is the faithful believer, Nikabrik is at the other extreme. He is fearful of Miraz and, therefore, all humans, and wants to kill Caspian when they find him. He has no desire for humans to rule Narnia (though he reluctantly goes along with the others to support Caspian), and, ultimately, has no allegiance to Aslan. He is entirely pragmatic, and is willing to support anyone—no matter how wicked—who will seek his interests:
“Do you believe in Aslan?” said Caspian to Nikabrik.
“I’ll believe in anyone or anything,” said Nikabrik, “that’ll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything, Aslan or the White Witch, do you understand?”
“Silence, silence,” said Trufflehunter. “You do not know what you are saying. She was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race.”
“Not to Dwarfs, she wasn’t,” said Nikabrik. (80-81)
Later, Nikabrik’s pragmatism goes to the greatest extremes, as he enlists a Hag and a Wer-Wolf as allies and, ultimately, they try to bring the White Witch back from the dead through sorcery. This leads to a struggle where Nikabrik and his unsavory allies are killed, but ultimately, Nikabrik shows how corruption and extreme self-interest ultimately lead to destruction.
Trumpkin sits in between Trufflehunter and Nikabrik on the spectrum of faith. Unlike Trufflehunter, he is no true believer. Time and again he is skeptical about the Kings and Queens from Narnia’s past coming to save them, or Aslan having any influence over the situation at all (it is not until Aslan roars and pounces on him that Trumpkin finally sees him and believes). But, despite his skepticism, Trumpkin is loyal and is open to having his mind changed. If he has forgotten the history of Narnia and the foundations of faith, he has still clung to its byproducts in a way that Nikabrik has not: Trumpkin has no desire to kill Caspian when they find him, nor to have any association with one form of evil (the Witch) in order to triumph over another (Miraz).
Miraz is Caspian’s uncle, the usurper to the throne. He previously had Caspian’s father killed, and all of his allies killed or banished. As Caspian gradually becomes aware of more things,
“He also began to see that Narnia was an unhappy country. The taxes were high and the laws were stern and Miraz was cruel man.” (58)
Despite his cruelty, Miraz was willing enough to train Caspian to be his successor until his wife give birth to a son of their own, and then Caspian’s life was in peril. Miraz shows himself to be skillful in his duel against Peter, but he is also easily manipulated, as his noblemen lead him to accept the duel in the first place, and then turn on him and kill him in a moment of confusion.
Reepicheep is the fearless and chivalrous leader of the talking mice, and is arguably the greatest character in The Chronicles of Narnia not named Aslan. He will feature more prominently in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but in PC, we get clear indications of his bravery, daring, devotion to Caspian and Aslan, and his keen sense of honor (and with it, the ease at which he is offended).
Aslan’s role in PC is similar to the other books. He is a supremely important character, but is not directly involved in much of the narrative. Early on, Caspian is taught about Aslan but has never seen or experienced him. Miraz denies his existence and even some of the old Narnians are skeptical or disbelieving. When the Pevensie children arrive in Narnia, only Lucy sees him at first while the others disbelieve. But still, ultimately, it is Aslan who guides the Pevensies on what they must do, and it is his work that establishes the throne of Caspian.
For me, this area was another relative weakness of PC. We are given detailed descriptions of the ruins of Cair Paravel, and similar descriptions of the forests and rivers that Trumpkin and the Pevensies traverse as they make their way toward Caspian. These extended descriptions serve to illustrate how much time has elapsed since Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy sat on their thrones as the Kings and Queens of Narnia, and also are likely indicative of the decay that has come across the land over the years as “true religion” has been lost. But, on the whole, I found these descriptions to be pretty dry; in fact, these were the sections I most wanted to skim through.
Perhaps the most interesting element in the development of Narnia a thousand years after LWW was the description of Aslan’s How, a mound of earth riddled with tunnels that had been built over the broken Stone Table. This serves as the headquarters of Caspian’s forces, and the scene of the decisive battle-within-the-battle where the faithful Caspian, Trufflehunter, and Doctor Cornelius oppose Nikabrik, the Hag, and the Wer-Wolf.
I alluded to this above, but late in his life, C.S. Lewis wrote a letter in which he provided a brief overview of The Chronicles from a spiritual perspective. Describing PC, he said it was about “restoration of the true religion after corruption.” By now, that theme is probably pretty clear from what I have described above in the three previous categories, so I won’t dwell on it here. To summarize, in the context of Narnia, true religion is a son of Adam upon the throne living under the delegated authority of Aslan. In the words of Trufflehunter:
“…Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King.” (71)
Miraz was a son of Adam, but not the right kind, as he had sought to abolish any reference to Aslan or talking beasts at all. He was a cruel tyrant who ruled according to his own standards and notions of propriety. On the other hand, Caspian is the ruler that Narnia needs, in the tradition of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.
This son-of-Adam-on-the-throne idea is a clear reflection of the biblical notion of Imago Dei, the idea that humans are created in the Image of God. This means that God placed humanity in the garden to rule over it, but with His delegated authority. As creatures made in God’s image, humans possess enormous potential for good or evil. Aslan says as much:
“Do you mark all this well, King Caspian?”
“I do indeed, Sir,” said Caspian. “I was wishing that I came of a more honorable lineage.”
“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”
Caspian bowed. (233)
Another key theological motif of PC is the correlation between age and faith. Repeatedly throughout the book, being “old” or “grown-up” is presented as a barrier to having faith in Aslan.
- When Caspian talks to King Miraz about the stories from Narnia’s Golden Age, Miraz replies that such stories are “fit for babies” and that Caspian is getting “too old” for fairy tells such as these.
- Miraz asks Lord Glozelle, one of his noblemen about these “fairy tales” as well, and if he believes them. Glozelle replies, “I believe my eyes, your Majesty.”
- As described in the discussion of Characters above, skepticism and pragmatism are noted characteristics of the Dwarfs Trumpkin and Nikabrik.
Even the Pevensies are victims of the seeing-is-believing malady that Lewis correlates with advancing age. Lucy, the youngest Pevensie child, is the one who sees Aslan first, but her older siblings doubt her (though Edmund, the second youngest, suspends his disbelief enough to side with his younger sister). Susan asks, “Where did you think you saw him?” and Lucy responds, “Don’t talk like a grown-up.”
Eventually, Aslan appears to Lucy again and strengthens her resolve to convince her siblings about seeing Aslan and following him, but it is still a challenge for her:
It is a terrible thing to have to wake four people, all older than yourself and all very tired, for the purpose of telling them something they probably won’t believe and making them do something they certainly won’t like.
Older people struggle to believe. They choose the pragmatic option, or the reasonable option. As Lord Glozelle said, they “believe their eyes.”
Or, as Jesus said:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Is it any wonder that Peter and Susan are told that this will be their last trip to Narnia, because they are getting too old?
At 31.5/40, PC is not, in my estimation, at the same level as LWW or HHB. However, it is still a good book, and a noticeable step above MN. If I were rating it on Amazon, I’d give it 4 stars. I mentioned that HHB had climbed dramatically in the rankings after this read-through; PC fell in the rankings this time around.
Check out the full series of posts:
 This horn was given to Susan in LWW by Father Christmas, and whenever it is blown, aid will come to Narnia. The horn had been kept and handed down over time, and Doctor Cornelius gives it to Caspian to blow in his moment of greatest need.
 Later, right before his treachery, Nikabrik again asserts that the White Witch “got on all right with us Dwarfs” (180). And this seems to be somewhat true, as we see dwarfs serving the White Witch in LWW. This stubborn determination to look out only for Dwarfs and the interests of Dwarfs also points ahead to The Last Battle, where the Dwarfs remain this way and refuse to ally themselves with King Tirian.
In some ways, I think Nikabrik is an almost prophetic character. Back in 2016, I remember sharing “Nikabrik’s Candidate”, which I thought was a soberingly-accurate article leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election. The article itself seems to be prophetic to me, and worth a read in hindsight (or, foresight, as another such election approaches).
 This theme of corruption is most clearly seen in the ruins of Cair Paravel and the apple trees they had planted now growing wild. But it also seen in the overgrowth of forest, the erosion of the land by the river, and the binding of the river god represented by the Bridge of Beruna.
 Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition (San Franciso: HarperCollins, 2005): 6.