Imagine if you once saved a magical other world... only to return later and find that centuries had passed, and everything had changed.
Well, since the movie adaptation of "Prince Caspian" is about to come out, it seems appropriate to revisit C.S. Lewis's classic novel, the sequel to his even more classic "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." While it has some drippily allegorical moments near the end, Lewis does a pretty good job with what must have been a difficult sequel.
When his aunt gives birth to a baby boy, young Prince Caspian finds himself on the run from his usurping uncle Miraz -- and in the hands of Narnia's secret army of dwarves, centaurs, talking animals and nature spirits. Soon Caspian has an army backing his claim to the throne, but in a moment of desperation, he is forced to blow the magic horn of the legendary Queen Susan -- and subsequently pulls the Pevensies back into Narnia.
But while only a year has passed on Earth, centuries have passed in Narnia, and the kids find that it's no longer the place they left -- they and Aslan are distant memories, and their castle lies in ruins. And as they are led by a very skeptical dwarf to help Caspian, Lucy keeps glimpsing Aslan along the way -- a sign that things are about to change drastically in Narnia, both for the human and magical inhabitants...
The Chronicles of Narnia were probably the first books to feature what is now standard in the fantasy genre -- an ordinary person gets dragged into another world. Just take a look at successful, unique authors like Diana Wynne Jones and Garth Nix to get an example of how Lewis' stories have influenced the entire genre.
If you don't like allegory (religious or otherwise), then steer clear of "Prince Caspian," especially the second half. While Lewis's beliefs are presented in a more complicated and subtle manner in his other fictional works, here the parallels to basic Christian beliefs are very obvious. Reportedly even Tolkien, one of Lewis's best pals, found the allegory annoying.
But if you can get past the slightly ham-handed treatment, it's a lovely little read. Lewis interweaves mythical elements -- dwarves, nymphs, talking animals, witches -- with the chatty, slightly precious style of traditional British storytelling. But this one is a bit darker and more action-packed than "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," with some unexpected twists in the middle of it all. The scene with a strange witch and a werewolf is downright chilling, in fact.
But Lewis' plotting does sag near the end, during a drippy scene where Aslan wanders around fixing life for Narnian subjects. Fortunately after that, he gets back to a mystery that hangs over the whole book -- just where did all these humans come from, if they were such a rarity in the previous adventure?
Peter seems a bit more jaded than before and Edmund a bit more mature, but sadly the girls don't get enough to do this time around. But Caspian is a likable and believable prepubescent king-in-waiting, and surrounded by a bunch of unique Narnians -- a gentle yet fierce badger, a hostile dwarf, a fiery mouse, and the delightfully skeptical Trumpkin, who doesn't believe in lions.
Despite a few rough spots, "Prince Caspian" is a slightly darker, more intricate story, and its finale marks a turning point in the Chronicles of Narnia. Definitely give it a read before you see the movie.