Prince Caspian is a major character in Prince Caspian. We'll hold up a minute for the shock to wear off.
First, a quick recap: Although he's Telmarine, this guy grew up hearing stories of Aslan, the Pevensies, and Old Narnia. When he learns that his uncle Miraz plans to kill him, he flees into the woods only to discover the Old Narnians in hiding. The Old Narnians take him for their true king, and the war for Narnia's future begins with Caspian at its center.
But is Caspian really the protagonist of Prince Caspian? It seems an odd question to ask with his name on the cover and all. But consider this: what exactly does Caspian do?
He doesn't discover Miraz's treachery. Dr. Cornelius does, and he then tells Caspian to flee and where to go. He gathers the Old Narnians for the war council. Wait, no, it's actually Trufflehunter, Trumpkin, and Nikabrik that perform the gathering, and Glenstrom is the one with the idea to go to war. Hmmm. And it's Peter who decides dueling Miraz is the best way to win and who does the actual fighting.
As far as we can tell, the only activities Caspian performs on his own are (1) blowing Susan's horn and (2) fighting in a couple of battles. Oh, and Caspian's participation in battles is what those in the movie biz would describe as "off camera." For everything else, Caspian either follows someone else or their instructions like a princely robot.
So is he the protagonist? Believe it or not, yes.
Caspian may not be the most enjoyable character, since he's kind of dragged through the plot by everyone else, but he's the protagonist all the same. Why? Because he's the character we root for. He's the true king of Narnia and the guy we hope will win in the conflict with Miraz, that grade-A jerk of an uncle. His victory or defeat signifies the fate of the novel's resolution, and that, Shmoopers, a protagonist makes.
Gary Wright might as well have been singing about Prince Caspian when it came to reaching that morning light. Caspian is a total dreamweaver: his main goal is to bring the dreams of the Old Narnians—and his own dreams—to life.
While being raised by his nurse, the young prince was told all sorts of stories about Old Narnia. Later, Dr. Cornelius confirmed the stories, saying, "[the Pevensies'] reign was the Golden Age in Narnia and the land has never forgotten them" (4.69). And that's it for Caspian; dude is sold on the idea. From there on in, every time he converses with Cornelius, Caspian:
[…] learn[s] more about Old Narnia, so that thinking and dreaming about the old days, and longing that they might come back, fill[s] nearly all his spare hours. (5.1)
The war to follow is really just an attempt by Caspian and the Old Narnians to make this dream a reality and return to the old ways. That means that Caspian's character is super important when considering the theme of "Memory and the Past." Although he never lived in Old Narnia, the memory of it, as told through stories and history, is something he finds more appealing than the present. Caspian's main function in the story is to return Narnia to this memory, this Golden Age.
Trufflehunter tells us "'that Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam [i.e. human] was King'" and that "'High King Peter [was] a Man'" (5.64, 66). Even for his followers, the past is always better than the present. Even Nikabrik gets on board with that statement (he has a different version of the past in mind than everyone else).
That means that Caspian becoming king signifies the return to a past ideal for both him and the Old Narnians. His winning over Miraz symbolizes a return to the golden age before the present days got all rotten. Pretty big deal if you ask us.
In his discussion of the Narnia series, Alan Jacobs tries to pin down and underlining theme that can connect all the seven books together. His answer? Disputed sovereignty. Or as he puts it:
More than any other single thing, the story of Narnia concerns an unacknowledged but true King and the efforts of his loyalists to reclaim or protect his throne from would-be usurpers. (Source)
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensies are the rightful rules of Narnia and the White Witch is the usurper. In The Silver Chair, it's Prince Rilian. In The Last Battle, it's Aslan himself, and arguably, it's Aslan's godly sovereignty that's disputed and then reclaimed in every book. And in Prince Caspian, it is—you guessed it—Prince Caspian.
The novel suggests that sovereignty belongs to the person who owns the throne by right—in this case, birthright. To work against that is to work against the natural order of things. That's Trufflehunter's argument when he calls Narnia "'a country for a man to be King of'" (5.66).
At the same time, Caspian's sovereignty also comes from Aslan's approval:
"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." (15.3-5)
So is Caspian the sovereign king because he's the right person for the job? Or is he the sovereign king because he's the man born into the position? The novel seems to be saying that it's both. The right person for the job will be the one born into it. Call it fate or coincidence, but either way, it's the natural order of things. Don't fight it.
And to tie back into Jacobs's argument, this seems to be the case in every Narnia book. Even The Lion has a prophecy all but telling the Narnians that the Pevensies will be awesome rulers.
Whether or not you agree with this ideal is up to you, but it seems to have worked out for the Narnians at any rate.Prince Caspian's Timeline