Imagine, if you will, a political climate in which truth has been completely discarded. Even the history books are full of falsehoods that advance the narrative of those ruling the nation. Stories of the past have been ignored, abused, or outlawed. In the midst of this political rule, certain classes of people have been persecuted, harmed, sent into hiding.
That is the world of Narnia during Prince Caspian.
Prince Caspian is the tenth of that name. The first Caspian came from Telmar generations ago and, discovering Narnia “in some disorder” (as Aslan says), he conquered it and became rightful ruler of Narnia. Now Caspian the tenth is in danger of being usurped by Miraz, who intends not only to rule Narnia, but to remove any memory of “Old Narnia,” including any magical being, the stories of the golden age, and even the talking animals. The trees have fallen asleep. The river god has been chained. The satyrs and fauns and dwarves and giants have been killed or are in hiding.
Prince Caspian is, as Lewis once wrote, the story of “the restoration of the true religion after a corruption”…meaning the very religion that was in place in Old Narnia. The evil Miraz must be removed for Old Narnia to again take root. In our last Prince Caspian article we explored the branching narratives of the book—particularly Susan and Lucy’s journey into the joy-filled agricultural world of Bacchus, and how their story eventually came to a moment of conjunction with the other major narrative: Peter, Edmund, and Caspian setting out to war so they can restore Caspian to rightful rule in Narnia.
The idea of Narnia being “disordered” is key in Caspian’s narrative. The world is not as it should be. It is Narnia’s natural state to be ruled by a Son of Adam. Miraz, of course, is just as human as Caspian, but he’s not the next in line. He’s out of order. Also, unlike Caspian, he doesn’t believe in Aslan and the old stories.
To follow all that Lewis is saying about Caspian and his rule, we have to understand some allusions that are being made to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. For those unfamiliar with it, the basic story is this: God makes humanity in the Garden of Eden. They are made “in God’s image” and put in charge of the whole world. They are the rulers of all the animals; Adam is told to name them all, which he does. They are given the fruit of (nearly) every tree in the garden for food (they are vegetarians). They are given one command, which is that they are not to eat of the fruit that grows on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A serpent convinces Eve to try the forbidden fruit (notice the talking animal). She convinces Adam to do the same. This is “the Fall” of humanity. God says that now human beings—who have been immortal to this point—must eventually die. They are thrown out of Eden. There is pain in childbirth, thorns and hard work in farming, sin, death, evil. The world falls into disorder. (You can read all of this in the Book of Genesis, chapters 2-3.)
C.S. Lewis goes out of his way to make sure we understand that Caspian is associated with Adam. He does this in a variety of ways, some of which are subtle (Caspian sleeps beneath the stars and lives “chiefly on nuts and wild fruit” once he finds his way into the forest), and some of which are stated with unmistakable clarity, like when Glenstorm the centaur says, “Tarva and Alambil have met in the halls of high heaven, and on earth a son of Adam has once more arisen to rule and name the creatures.” Caspian does not, in fact, name the creatures; it’s a reference to Caspian’s authority. Adam was given authority to name the creatures because he was their ruler. Caspian has been given the same authority.
Good old Trufflehunter the badger says, “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.”
In certain circles, the question of whether Adam and Eve were literal people and the historical ancestors of all living people is of prime importance. Lewis has written frankly on this topic, saying that he sees the story of Adam and Eve as “a ‘myth’ in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale.” Which is to say, Lewis thinks it could have happened in the way it’s laid out in the Bible, or it’s possible that the story is true in the most important sense, but may not be historical.
Lewis was not, in other words, a Young Earth Creationist. His idea of how humanity came to be human is reflected throughout this book, so let’s take a quick look. In The Problem of Pain Lewis wrote “For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of himself.” Human beings began as animals…dumb animals. They eventually became talking animals. And over time they became something more even than that. He goes on: “we do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell…. They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own.”
So whether there were two of them or more, Lewis doesn’t care. The point of the myth, the truth of the story, is this: at some point human beings decided that they wanted to be in charge of themselves, not under God’s authority. “They wanted some corner in this universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner.” They took on authority and power that was not theirs to take, and the world fell into disorder.
What was the cause of this Fall of humanity? Lewis doesn’t care. “We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.” The point is that human beings decided they did not need God, but could take care of things themselves. (Lewis may not care if it was eating the Fruit of Knowledge that brought about the Fall, but if you think back to the novel you’ll realize there is an awful lot of eating apples in this book… and apples are traditionally associated with the Fruit, despite never being named as such in the original story.)
This is, in fact, key to Lewis’s conception of humanity: “From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of itself as self, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the center is opened to it.”
Like Adam, Caspian and his followers are tempted. In a meeting beneath Aslan’s How, which had once been the Stone Table, Caspian is greeted by a trio of folks who have a new plan. Aslan has done nothing to help them (so far as they know…Peter and Edmund are just outside the door eavesdropping!), and Nikabrik says, “A King who has just won a great battle can usually establish himself without the help of a performing lion.” We don’t need, in other words, the power of Aslan.
We have something better.
Something stronger, perhaps.
We can take care of ourselves, and take power for ourselves.
They can resurrect the White Witch, they say, and bring her to help them. Along with Nikabrik the dwarf are two companions who lay out the plan…a Hag and a Wer-Wolf. Of course Lewis chose these two purposely, as the continued dichotomies of the book take shape here as well: the feminine voice of temptation (probably mirroring Eve), and the creature who is neither man nor beast but something between.
Caspian, I am glad to say, knows what we all know: werewolves are the worst. He makes the right decision and after a brief battle the enemies are all dead, Peter and Edmund are introduced to Caspian, and the boys get to work. (I recall being concerned as a kid—and I experienced this again as an adult—that Caspian being bitten by a wer-wolf meant he would become one. But apparently Narnian wer-wolves don’t work like that and he is Perfectly Fine and definitely does not become a royal wolf on the full moon and steal chickens from the Telmarines.)
It is possible that turning down this temptation is all that Aslan wanted from Caspian in this adventure. (His only instruction to Peter and Edmund was, “hasten into the Mound and deal with what you will find there.”) Everything that happens for the boys in the “war” from this point on does very little other than set the stage for Aslan to save the day. A duel is set up between Peter and Miraz. Miraz falls during battle and is betrayed by his own men, one of whom stabs him. The Telmarines start to attack the Old Narnians, but at that precise moment Aslan’s bacchanal arrives (notice that they have eaten a great deal of fruit at the party…I can’t wait to get to Perelandra and talk more about this) and the trees defeat the Telmarine army by shoving them toward the river god that Bacchus has freed from his captivity. Caspian’s greatest act of heroism is resisting the invitation to call on the power of the White Witch.
All of which to say: Lewis loved courtly battles and Mallory-esque scenes of knights swinging swords at each other, but in Prince Caspian it is the joyous party that brings victory and the restoration both of the true religion and the political power of Caspian’s line…a line that is empowered because he is a descendent of Adam. Or, as Luke 3:38 makes clear, a Son of Adam is a Son of God. Caspian’s authority flows from Aslan, and Caspian, we are told, will rule under the High King Peter, who rules under Aslan Himself. Leaning into that authority and not seeking power elsewhere cements Caspian as the true King of Narnia.
In the final chapter, we learn at last who the Telmarines are. They are descended from pirates from the South Pacific. The pirates were shipwrecked and found their way through a hidden portal to Telmar, a neighboring nation to Narnia. Caspian is disappointed to discover his low heritage, and Aslan says, “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”
We are creatures, Lewis tells us, of the in-between. We are neither animals nor gods. Every human being on the planet is royalty just by virtue of being human, and every human being on the planet is also something less than they could be. And we might, Lewis suggests, become even less or possibly something more….
Lucy is afraid we might move toward becoming something less. Earlier in the novel, the Pevensies come across a wild bear. Susan, afraid it’s a talking bear, fails to shoot it. Lucy says later, “Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day, in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?” Just as Lewis believed that over centuries human beings rose up to become Something Better from the animals, he raises the specter of doubt that perhaps we could go the other way.
On the other hand, Lewis wrote in his essay “The Weight of Glory”: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible Gods and Goddesses. To remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
We are human beings, and that is something beautiful. We can make the choice to continue to become more like the divine, or we can move away from that and become something closer to the brute animals.
I personally find this theme profoundly encouraging. We can easily see in the world of politics these places where the true myths (and even truth itself) are being eroded, ignored, or plainly contradicted. There are indications of people moving away from humanity and toward the wildness inside, where other human beings are nothing but fodder for our own animalistic needs. The world is, too often, disordered, and we rely on powers that should remain dead to gain power for ourselves.
But on the other hand, are not those same people Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve? And aren’t you and I Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve? If that’s true, then maybe we can find a different path. Lost truths can be rediscovered. Trees can be awakened. Somewhere, somehow, we can find a way toward the Great Celebration that Aslan offers to Caspian, and order can be restored.
I can’t help but notice that, in the end, Lucy, Susan, Edmund, Peter, and even Caspian really do two things that enable them to triumph over the powers of darkness around them:
They love Aslan.
And they love each other.
Somehow that turns out to be enough.