Or Grandma's knee. Whichever one of your grandparents has that perfect comfy knee to story-telling talent ratio.
Yes, Prince Caspian is a war story, but it doesn't go for the dreary tone modern readers associate with such tales (we're looking at you, All Quiet on the Western Front). Instead, the story's tone is a lighthearted and adventurous one we'd associate with a story told to us on our grandpa's knee:
It was not like the silly fighting you see with broad swords on the stage. It was not even like the rapier fighting which you sometimes see rather better done. This was real broad-sword fighting. The great thing is to slash at your enemy's legs and feet because they are the part that have no armor. (8.30)
The voice almost seems to reveal itself in the fighting. Kind of like a grandpa really getting into the telling of his story, swishing his arms through the air as he wields his imaginary blade.
But if you find it a little odd that a war story would have such a tone, you're not alone. David Holbrook finds the "'jokey'" tone "disturbing," believing it "smacks of the enthusiast for the whip" (source). And there is something double-take worthy when you encounter such a "jokey" tone in a passage like this:
Many a Telmarine warrior that day felt his foot suddenly pierced as if by a dozen skewers, hopped on one leg cursing the pain, and fell as often as not. If he fell, the mice finished him off; if he did not, someone else did. (14.39)
On the other hand, Michael Ward feels Caspian successfully "attempts to avoid a jingoistic tone" (source). But we here at Shmoop think… well, that's not important. More important to us is what you think. Is the tone appropriate given the themes and subject matter or is it the candy-coating over a chocolatey, war-loving center?
Bet you saw this one coming a mile away, right? Two miles away? Wow, those are some good reading eyes you're sporting there.
Yes, Prince Caspian is definitely a fantasy novel, in no small part thanks to Narnia. An other-worldly land that can only be accessed by magic items and that's filled with talking beasts and mythical creatures? It's a pretty fantastical setup and requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief on the reader's part.
Given that—and the lack of space ships, ray guns, and aliens from the depths of Nebulian XII—we're going with fantasy here.
Sure, Prince Caspian lacks Jack the Dog, but it makes up for things with Reepicheep the mouse and Trufflehunter the badger. But it's not an adventure because it has talking animals (though that doesn't make it not an adventure, either).
Instead, it's the risks, the exciting tasks, and the derring-do the characters undertake to reach their goal that put this novel squarely in the adventure category. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are attacked by a vicious bear, must trek over a dangerous gorge, and are attacked by Telmarines. And that's before they even reach Prince Caspian and the war. After that, they prevent the resurrection of the White Witch, Peter fights a duel with a wicked king, and Lucy and Susan help Aslan free a rivergod.
Adventurous summer vacay? We'd say so.
When this novel was originally published, it was called Prince Caspian: Return to Narnia, but today, readers generally know it as The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian—or simply Prince Caspian. If we want to get really crazy, we could call it The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. But with a title that large, where would the author's name go on the cover page? Decisions, decisions.
Guess we'd better start with the common element shared by them all: Prince Caspian. Caspian receives top billing because he's the most important character in the story—you know, the protagonist. In this way, the title follows that grand literary tradition of such words as Beowulf, Macbeth, and Jane Eyre.
Now you might be wondering why he's given protagonist props since the Pevensie children take up more page time than he does. And that's a good question. If you want to further that discussion, swing on over to our "Characters" and "Character Roles" sections. Here, we'll stick with the titles.
Onto that The Return to Narnia bit. This subtitle provides us with some readerly expectations. It comes out and tells us the Pevensies—not to mention the readers themselves—will be returning to Narnia in this sequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. To give credit where it's due, this is way more original than simply calling it something lame like Narnia 2: Attack of the Narnians or something along those lines.
And for our final title conundrum: The Chronicles of Narnia. This bit-o-title is a latecomer to the party since they only became known as the Chronicles once the series provided an actual chronicle. Remember: a chronicle is a record of historical events. With the complete Chronicles of Narnia, we have a total history of the mystical land from its birth (in The Magician's Nephew) all the way to its destruction (in The Last Battle). In other words, Prince Caspian is just one chronicle—one record of an event—in the history of Narnia.
So feel free to pick and choose the title combination you like best. As for us, we'll stick to Prince Caspian (seeing as it's the shortest to type).
Prince Caspian ends with a classic good-guys-win-bad-guys-lose battle, followed by a major victory party.
What? That's not enough for you? Come on, if it was good enough for Return of the Jedi, then its good enough for Narnia, okay? We even like to imagine the Narnians celebrating with that catchy Yub Nub song.
Fine. Truth is there's more going on in this one than just the good guys vs. bad guys, and each reader will probably find their own little gem to add to this classic scenario. For example, we always like to point out that the restoration of worldly order plays an important role in the ending, too. Kind of a big deal.
With Caspian's victory, a son of Adam sits on the throne, the Old Narnians no longer have to live in secrecy, and worship of Aslan returns. All of this is in accordance with Aslan's desires. Since Aslan is the all-powerful god figure in Narnian lore, this puts Caspian's victory in accordance with natural law as well.
The fate of the Telmarines further restores worldly order to Narnia and even our world. For the Telmarines who do not wish to stay in Narnia, Aslan promises a new home:
"You came into Narnia out of Telmar," said Aslan. "But you came into Telmar from another place. You do not belong to this world at all. You came hither, certain generations ago, out of that same world to which the High King Peter belongs." (15.30)
Okay, so it's not a new home, but it's new to them. The point is that those who belong in one world will stay, while those who belong in another will go. This means that what was once lost to our world will be returned. Once again, we see balance and order being restored.
Among those who must amscray are Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They are, after all, members of our world, and everything must return to where it belongs for proper. But among the details of Peter and Susan's return is this tidbit:
"At least, from what [Aslan] said, I'm pretty sure he means you [Lucy] to get back some day. But not Su and me. He says we're getting too old." (15.58)
This little detail provides two interesting clues about Narnia:
(1) Chances are Lucy and Edmund will return—setting up the sequel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
(2) But more important, for order to be restored to Narnia, people of a certain age may not return. There is something about Narnia that demands either being a child or a child at heart to enter it. It's like Lewis is saying that for this world to have order, for it to make sense in and of itself, this law needs to be in place. We wonder if this includes the readers entering Narnia as much as it does the characters themselves.
As for Edmund's flashlight… well, maybe not all order has been restored to Narnia.
Setting is a lot like geology. Wait, don't go! We're being serious here.
See, geology studies how forces like plate tectonics, climate change, and fluxes in the Earth's core have shaped our world. When studying setting, you'll want to look for how forces like themes, symbols, and philosophy have molded the place where the story happens. Or how the story molds those forces—since cause and effect goes both ways.
The forests and rivers of Lewis's Narnia provide an excellent place for budding settingologists to start their careers.
The Pevensies last visited Narnia a year ago by England's standards, but a whopping thousand-some-odd years have passed for Narnia. In that time, the mystic land they once thought of as their kingdom has changed drastically.
Thanks to Dr. Cornelius's history lesson, the readers learn what happened along with the young Prince Caspian. As he tells it:
"All you have heard about Old Narnia is true. It is not the land of Men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Walking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of the gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts. It was against these that the first Caspian fought. It is you Telmarines who silenced the beasts and the trees and the fountains, and who killed and drove away the Dwarfs and Fauns, and are now trying to cover up even the memory of them." (4.53)
Narnia is now under the rule of a race of men called the Telmarines, and the magical creatures of yore have become creatures of lore. Now, two major cultures live in Narnia: the Old Narnians and the New Narnians. The New Narnians are the Telmarines; the Old Narnians are the dwarfs, fauns, centaurs, and so on.
These social changes are reflected in the landscape of Narnia. If your edition has a map (or if you have a finger to click on this one), you'll notice that Miraz's castle and other New Narnian havens tend to hang out in the northlands. As we later learn, Telmarines fear both forests and seas because their history has it that "Aslan comes from over the sea" and "they have quarreled with the trees" (4.73). So the Old Narnians congregate in the southlands where the forests are thick and the sea stands beside them. Also in the southlands are such historical sites as Cair Paravel, Aslan's How, and Beruna Ford.
As promised, let's take a look at how themes mold the setting of Narnia and vice versa. Obviously, there are plenty of themes, and you'll hunt for different clues in the setting depending on which one you choose to focus on. Here, we'll take a stab at how the setting reflects the theme of "Memory and the Past," and then you can do the same for whichever theme you want.
Sound good? Excellent.
If you check out our discussion on "Memory and the Past," you'll see that Prince Caspian is all about returning Narnia to a past era. The Old Narnians see the reign of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy as the good old days, so their goal is to bring back that golden era with Prince Caspian as the king.
For us, the best representation of this in the setting is Beruna. When Aslan invades the town, the first thing he does is have Bacchus destroy the bridge. With the bridge down and the rivergod free, the Bridge of Beruna becomes the Ford of Beruna once again. Lucy and Susan cheer "'Hurrah! It's the Ford of Beruna again now,'" clearly excited to see the place return to how they remembered it (14.53). And let's not forget that Peter and Edmund won a "glorious victory" there, further connecting this ford with an idyllic version of the past (10.12).
As Aslan moves through Telmarine territory, most of the Telmarines flee, and the animals are freed to join Aslan's party. In buildings, "[t]he walls [become] a mass of shimmering green, and leafy branches [arch] overhead where the ceiling[s] had been" (14.59). In other words, Aslan is transforming the human villages to resemble the more forested, natural setting of ye golden days.
Ta-da! Just like that, you can see how the theme of "Memory and the Past" directly affects the setting. In this case, like geology, the theme literally shapes the landscape.
Now, the relationship between theme and setting might be a tad subtler with other themes, but don't let that intimidate you. Go forth. Your promising career as a settingologist awaits you.
In a way, every story requires the reader to be a treasure-hunting adventurer of sorts. Some, like Ulysses, require us to be high altitude mountaineers to reach the gold. Prince Caspian, on the other hand, requires little more than a stroll on the beach to discover its buried booty.
The language is straightforward and inviting, while the sentences move at a leisurely one-step-at-a-time pace. Oh sure, the occasionally word might stumble your pace a bit—we're looking at you, seneschal (8.6) and hauberk (14.14). This is fantasy, after all, and if you're going to read the genre, you'll have to learn to forgive the fantasy author the use of an outdated word or two. They can't help themselves; it comes with the magical territory.
The only way these words will really stop your reading pleasure, though, is if you're the type that must rush to the nearest dictionary or Wikipedia page to find out what a hauberk is. (If so, you're in good company here at a Shmoop.)
Still, just because Prince Caspian isn't difficult, it doesn't mean it isn't rewarding. Like we said, there's treasure buried by literary pirates on this here beach, and we're going to help show you where to dig.
Fact: parents and children alike will read and enjoy Prince Caspian. Some might chalk it up to good storytelling, and, yeah, a lot has to do with its classic fantasy tale of good vs. evil and all that. But the writing style might have even more to do with it. Check this out:
There was a pause so long that the boys began to wonder if Nikabrik were ever going to begin; when he did, it was in a lower voice, as if he himself did not much like what he was saying. (33)
The first thing that will probably grab your attention is the word choice; it's simple and straightforward. With the exception of Nikabrik's dwarfian name, there's not a single word in there that will give any reader—tall or small—much hesitation. Very kid-friendly.
The second aspect worth noting is the sentence structure. Adults often wonder what it is about children's books that put them to sleep, and the answer is generally not the word choice or subject matter so much as the sentence structure. Simple sentence after simple sentence after simple sentence, and the adult reader… starts… to get …zzzzz.
So Lewis employs many variants of sentence structures in Prince Caspian from simple to compound to complex to even the grand compound-complex—as we see in the quote above. He also mixes and matches them without leaning too heavily on one or the other.
The result may not be readily apparent to you while you read the story, but your brain will be thankful for the variety—whether you're an adult or a child.
Prince Caspian has an impressive green thumb. It's got everything from talking animals to rivergods, orchards to walking trees, and landscapes as diverse as marshes, forests, seascapes, and rocky gorges.
So you might have found yourself wondering: what's with all this nature imagery? Well, call it tree hugging if you like, but we prefer to call it—
Matthew Dickerson and David O'Hara argue that Lewis's fictional works and poetry love to get their environmentalism on. Their reasoning centers on the Lewis's value system as a Christian convert:
One of the most important Christian virtues espoused and illustrated by Lewis […] is the virtue of hospitality. Hospitality stands in direct contrast with exploitation. Hospitality demands that we care for the most vulnerable: the traveler, the stranger, the outcast, the sick, creatures who cannot defend themselves against humans. […] Exploitation, by contrast, takes advantage of that which is vulnerable and powerless. (Source)
If we bring this idea into Prince Caspian, we can see that the creatures unable to defend themselves include the trees, animals, and landscape, while the Telmarines play the role of the exploiters. Caspian and his people then play the role of environmentalists since they not only combat the exploiters in a civil war, but they provide hospitality for the defenseless parts of nature.
In one telling scene, Lucy sees "Coldsley Shovel and his moles scuffing up the turf in various places (which Bacchus had pointed out to them) and realized that the trees were going to eat earth" (15.24). The hospitality of the Old Narnians extends to treating the environment like an honored and cherished guest. They provide and care for nature, and it, in turn, provides and cares for them (by putting a grand whooping on the Telmarines).
The focus on nature comes to symbolize hospitality in general. Be hospitable to others—and even the environment—and it will return in kind. Exploit others and the environment, and well, you'd better keep an extra eye on that tree lurking in your backyard.
You might have noticed a few Greek gods receiving cameos in Prince Caspian. Bacchus (a.k.a. Dionysus) gets the largest role, and he's still followed by his right-hand bro Silenus. Peter mentions that he once chilled with Pomona (2.35). And the list of lesser deities popping up in Narnia includes satyrs, fauns, dryads, nymphs, maenads, and hamadryads. Someone's been reading up on their Shmoop mythology.
But wait a second? Isn't the Narnia series usually considered to be a Christian allegory? And wouldn't many Christian denominations consider these to be pagan gods? (See below for more on that word.) So why does Lewis, a famous Christian convert, not only include non-Christian deities in the story but also side them with Aslan, Jesus' counterpart in the story?
According to Clotilde Morhan, Lewis believed that:
[…] the pagans were more spiritually enlightened than most of his contemporaries. To the pagans there was more to reality than the material world. They saw something modern man is blind to. Spirit and matter were indivisible to them. They looked at the sun and they saw, if not a god, at least an expression of the divinity. (Source)
Sure, Lewis didn't agree with the pagan answer to the question, but he did like the idea of a spiritual world living in tandem with the material one.
And boy do we see that in Prince Caspian. You'll notice that all the non-Aslan deities are gods connected to material things in nature: trees (dryads and hamadryads), rivers (nymphs and the river gods), and fruit (Pomona). Bacchus may be the god of winemaking, frivolity, and ecstasy, but he's the head honcho of the wine harvest, too, so he's hardly a stranger to nature.
So the inclusion of the other gods might symbolize the desire to promote something more than material. And the gods of Greek myth were already well known and available to work, so, hey, why not give 'em an invite?
But that's not the only way to read the symbolic use of other deities hanging out in Narnia. Here are two more:
(1) We traditionally think of the Judeo-Christian religions as being monotheistic (that is, they believe in one god only), but passages in the Bible suggest that this wasn't always the case. For example, Psalm 82:1-6 states, "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty, he judgeth among the gods." And Jeremiah 10:11 states, "[t]he gods that have not made the heavens and earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens." In both cases, the Judeo-Christian god is clearly not the only god, but he is the most powerful amongst those gods. This kind of stuff is all over the Hebrew Bible.
In Prince Caspian, like in the Biblical passages, Aslan isn't the only god—but he is their leader. During Aslan's invasion of Telmarine territory, "Aslan [is] leading, Bacchus and his Maenads [are] leaping, rushing, and turning somersaults, the beasts frisking round them, and Silenus and his donkey [are] bringing up the rear" (14.47). And it is Aslan who commands Bacchus to "'[d]eliver the [rivergod] from his chains" (14.52). So it's possible the novel is tapping into earlier views of the Judeo-Christian god in constructing Narnia's own religious mythology.
(2) If you want to get all psychological about it, you could connect Bacchus to the concept of the Dionysian (i.e. ecstasy), and Aslan might represent the opposite, the Apollonian (i.e. reason). In the scene where Susan and Lucy first encounter Bacchus, Susan notes, "'I wouldn't have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we'd met them without Aslan'" (11.65). Translation: reason protects people from wild abandon and ecstasy.
Of course, these are just a few potential readings for why Prince Caspian includes so many Greek deity shout-outs. Feel free to rework them or head in a completely different direction when tackling these parts of the book yourself. We won't mind if you do.
Definitions have a tendency to be a bit, let's say, slippery. For example, we used the term pagan above to describe a possible way to consider the Greek gods because it's probably the way they would have been described in Lewis's day. In that context, the word is an uncomplimentary term used in Judeo-Christian tradition to refer to the gods and customs that are not their own—especially the ones associated with nature worship.
But we should point out that today many religions—including Wiccan and Druidic—use the terms pagan and paganism to describe their own beliefs, taking a traditionally debasing term and turning it into something positive. If you're interested, you can learn about the history and uses of the term here.
When the Pevensie children pop into Narnia, the first building they come across is a ruin. Not exactly a royal welcoming party, is it? As they walk through the rundown mess, they can barely make out that the place was once a building:
While they were talking, they had crossed the courtyard and gone through the other doorway into what had once been the hall. This was now very like the courtyard, for the roof had long since disappeared and it was merely another space of grass and daisies, except that it was shorter and narrower and the walls were higher. (2.7)
As they explore further, Peter comes to the conclusion that these are "'the ruins of Cair Paravel itself'" (2.27). Remember: Cair Paravel was the castle the four ruled in as the high kings and queens of Narnia back in the good old days (i.e. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).
The ruins give us the first clues about Narnia's current predicament in the form of a symbol. That is, the Telmarines have destroyed the past glories of Narnia and left them to be forgotten in the woods.
But the ruins don't just hint at the current situation. They also clue us into an important theme: "Memory and the Past." Before we even learn of the ongoing war, the novel is prepping us to understand that the past of Narnia has been rotting and that the rebuilding of that past will be the focus of Pevensie children's quest in Narnia.
Huh, for a busted down building, these ruins certainly do a lot of literary leg work.
Lots o' readers—religious and non-religious alike—read the Chronicles of Narnia books as Christian allegories, and Prince Caspian is no exception.
Here's how it usually looks:
But we want to try something a little different. Alan Jacobs believes the Narnia books are better thought of as "supposals" and not allegories. The difference? According to him, an allegory is a "purely and evidently fictional" story where the "persons and events correspond, more or less strictly, to persons and events in our world" (source). But…
You might have noticed that Narnia is not a wholly separate world from our own. It's written as a hidden world where in "what appears to be the same space there can be a Queen of England but also a Queen of Faery." And if you "happen to be a Christian, suppose that although that world is in some respects alien to ours it is nevertheless the creation of the same God, who loves and cares for those people just as he loves and cares for us" (source). In this reading, the Emperor-Over-the-Sea is not an allegory for God. He is God. He's what God would be if Narnia existed.
Aslan and Jesus obviously aren't the same person, but in Lewis's fiction, Aslan is still the son spoken of in the Trinity—same as Jesus. That makes Aslan more of a parallel world relative or mirror image of Jesus than an allegorical symbol of that most famous of Nazarenes.
Jacobs's conclusion? That Prince Caspian and the other Narnia books may look, feel, taste, and smell like an allegory, but they don't technically function as allegory since they ask you to suppose and not substitute.
Of course, that doesn't mean they don't have allegorical elements* in them. The most obvious are the death and resurrection of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and, in Prince Caspian, the allegorical stand-in for William the Conqueror, one Caspian the Conqueror by name.
Okay, so maybe we're getting a little too technical here, but we thought it was a nifty idea all the same. What do you think? Is Jacobs onto something or is it a swing and a miss?
*Fear not, intrepid Shmooper. We won't forget to include more traditional, allegorical readings throughout this learning guide. We figure, there's enough room in Narnia for both these readings.
Hey! Watch the language, buddy. This is a children's story. Don't go calling people omniscient.
First, an example is in order:
So the Dwarf settled down and told his tale. I shall not give it to you in his words, putting in all the children's questions and interruptions, because it would take too long and be confusing, and, even so, it would leave out some points that the children only heard later. But the gist of the story, as they knew it in the end, was as follows. (3.57)
We can tell this is a third-person narrator because it's clearly not someone in the story. There's no "I" character saying "I did this" or "I did that." Instead, it's all "the Dwarf did this" or "he did that."
The omniscient part simply means the narrator can access information that the in-story characters cannot. For example, he's able to tell us the complete story of Caspian well before any of the Pevensie children or even Trumpkin, the character currently telling the tale. That makes the narrator omniscient—or "all knowing" if you prefer a little less Latin in your daily wording.
See? Omniscient third-person narrator may sound like quite a nasty thing to call someone, but it's not so bad.
The Pevensie children have only been away from Narnia for one year, but it's been hundreds of years for their favorite fantasy land. That's a whole lot of gossip to catch up on. Thankfully, the classic plot structure has our back thanks to a handy thing called, wait for it… the exposition stage.
In this stage, the super-mega-awesome reader (that's you) receives all the information he or she will need to understand the story to come. We discover how the Pevensies return to Narnia and how much time has passed. Thanks to our friendly D.L.F., Trumpkin, we learn what's happened to the place plus the story of Caspian's rebellion. And finally, we get the 4-1-1 on how the Pevensies plan to reach and then assist the Prince. If you're counting, that's basically the first eight chapters of the novel. Yeah, over half the book is exposition. That's a whole lot of explaining.
Thank goodness Lewis was a dynamite teacher for most of his life, so the man knows how to explain with some serious style.
The second stage is called the rising action because the numbers on the Action-o-Meter (a device used by actionologists to measure the level of action per page) begins to steadily rise. Chapters 9 to 12 are where the action heats up.
Trumpkin and the children must reach Caspian and his army, but a whole host of challenges and dangers confront them. They must fight a bear, trek across dangerous lands, and risk being caught by the Telmarines. The fact that they don't listen to Lucy about Aslan doesn't help them either. Finally, they reach Caspian, but the Action-o-Meter won't let up just yet. They must still confront Nikabrik and his unsavory companions before finally reaching the story's climax.
Peter versus Miraz. Winner take all fight to the death. This Sunday only. Or whatever is Narnia's equivalent to Sunday.
The climax is the turning point of the story—i.e., the point where everything begins to change. And that's when Miraz accepts Peter's challenge. Up until now, the Old Narnians have been having a hard time of it. They're outnumbered and outgunned (outsworded) by the Telmarine army, and they can't hope to win in an all-out war. When Miraz accepts Peter's challenge, there's hope that Peter can win the duel and the civil war. What was hopeless is now possible if still dangerous, and that sounds like a turning point to us.
Oh, and that's Chapter 13, "The High King in Command," if you're keeping score.
Don't let the name fool you. The action doesn't taper off during the Falling Action stage; if anything, the Meter reads higher than it has up to this point.
The falling action stage brings all the conflicts toward a resolution, and Chapter 14, "How All Were Very Busy," is just that. In this chapter, we see the defeat of the antagonist, Miraz, the end of the civil war, and the return of the old ways and mythic creatures to Narnia thanks to Aslan scaring the pants off some Telmarines (literally in the case of those pig boys). The only thing to do now is to wrap up the tale with a nice ribbon. Wait, no. It was another R word. What was it…?
Yes, resolution. That's the one. Time for the story to be wrapped up in a nice resolution.
Since Prince Caspian is a children's book, the story ends with everyone getting what they deserve in a nice serving of tasty desserts most just. Caspian becomes king, his loyal friends are knighted, and the Old Narnians get their home back. Even the Telmarines are treated fairly when Aslan offers them the opportunity to stay in Narnia or go to their original home in our world. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy return to the train station to await their next scary adventure—the school year.