As a child, Prince Caspian was probably my favourite Narnia story. I absolutely loved it. So I was really looking forward to the re-read. What I actually found was not quite what I expected.
When I re-read LWW I felt that my reactions throughout the story were broadly in line with those of young me, and my response to the story was positive all the way through. In Prince Caspian I found that different sections left different impressions upon me.
I really enjoyed the first section. Reuniting with the Pevensies was of course like greeting old friends. The strangeness and sadness running through their discovery of where – and when – they are, meant that the story and language drew me in as strongly as ever. There is a sense of things going wrong, the idea that things don’t happen the same way twice. The older I get, the more I appreciate the futility of trying to recapture times past. Nothing is unchanging. Good things end. It’s part of life. (Although I suppose that Lewis’ religious beliefs meant that he expected heaven to be a place where this not longer applies, and good things are eternal.)
Discovering Old Narnia through Caspian and Doctor Cornelius was again a pleasantly Proustian rush. Doctor Cornelius’ “Am I?…Am I?…Am I?”, the charming Bulgy Bears, valiant Reepicheep were all as much fun as ever.
The children’s travels through Narnia in an attempt to meet Caspian were more mixed for me.The dreamy, MacDonald-inspired sections were beautifully written and, as their popularity attests, highly memorable. However, I did find myself feeling sorry for ‘wet blanket’ Susan in a way I never did as a child. I just wanted her to get to do or say something worthy of the huntress Queen of Narnia. She seemed to attract the narrator’s scorn as well as that of her siblings. It didn’t feel fair.
I also found that I had more questions about Aslan’s actions here than I had done years ago. I never questioned Aslan as a child – he was always right, wasn’t he? But why did he not just meet with the children this time? Why the strange midnight conversations? Why only appear sometimes, to some people? Why throw a dwarf in the air? Why dance around the countryside, handing out instant justice? The second part of chapter fourteen, where the girls are with Aslan, Bacchus et al, I really didn’t enjoy. (Young me would never have believed I would say that about any part of the Chronicles. Part of me, even now, feels somehow disloyal in doing so.)
I have seen the accusation levelled at Prince Caspian that it is simply a re-tread of LWW: children enter Narnia, team up with magical creatures, struggle through a difficult journey to a final battle with a usurping enemy. Looking at the baldest interpretation of the plotlines this seems reasonable. However, this book never felt like LWW. It is darker, sadder and older. Which is probably why I (sentimental, melancholy and slightly melodramatic at times) loved it so much. And still do. For me, there’s no more Narnian-feeling passage in the Chronicles than Chapter ten’s encounter between Lucy and Aslan, or one which has made me wish more that I was in Narnia.