This book is almost a direct sequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and brings back Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. Set a year after their previous adventure, it opens with the children being mysteriously whisked into Narnia from a station platform. However, they find that many years have passed since they last visited (the series has already established that Narnia has a different time stream to our world), and all the talking animals have gone into hiding; the Castle of Cair Paravel is in ruins. The rightful king, Prince Caspian, is in exile while another king sits on the throne, following an invasion of the “Telmarines”. It turns out that the Narnians also summoned the children specifically to save them from the oppression. The whole story leads towards the meeting between the children and Caspian, and the battle to reclaim the throne. Once again, the lion Aslan is present, guiding the children, mostly through appearing to Lucy.
The book feels shorter and is certainly less complex than its predecessor; to give an idea, the BBC televised both books in the late 1980s. The adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe just about managed to fit into six half-hour episodes, while, Prince Caspian ran to just two half-hour episodes (it was padded out slightly with a cliffhanger that set the scene for the very next book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
I remember reading this book (or at least having it read to me) when I was young and getting very frustrated at an extended flashback with the dwarf Trumpkin telling Caspian’s backstory, which takes up about a quarter of the story, but reading it again I just enjoyed getting to revisit the characters from a book that I absolutely loved when I was young. I noticed that when the climactic battle finally does arrive, it doesn’t take up a large portion of the story (although the more recent movie of this book milked it for all it was worth), and much more weight is given by the actions of Aslan and the other heroes of the story. I noticed that, for a children’s book, it actually got quite violent at times; for example, one scene where they talk about a hag getting decapitated.
Reading Michael Ward’s The Narnia Code was very useful for helping me understand the whole Biblical allegory that this story involves. The main subject here is “putting on the armour of God” (a metaphor used in many of Paul’s letters in the Bible); early on, all the children are shown finding their weapons from the previous book, and it mentions that it is Edmund’s fault he has none (he was betraying his brother and sisters when Father Christmas showed up with the weapons). Aslan mentions at one point to Lucy that only she can see him, but eventually the others will too; taking into account that he represents Jesus, it’s not hard to get an idea of what C.S. Lewis was aiming for here.
Overall, this isn’t one of my favourite Narnia books, but I found it to be an enjoyable read all the same.
Next book: Thud! (Terry Pratchett)