The second installment of the Chronicles of Narnia can be split into three sections. The first part centers on the disorientation the Pevensie children have when they are inexplicably dragged back into Narnia. They wander for awhile trying to figure out where they are, only to piece together the fact that they’d returned to their beloved peninsula castle of Cair Paravel, but which was now an overgrown ruin on an island.
The second section is a flashback (more on this literary tactic later) to how Narnia has fallen into the hands of tyrants and the old Narnia has gone into hiding. This section is narrated by Trumpkin after the children rescue him from being murdered by King Miraz’s soldiers. Trumpkin brings them up to speed, telling them of Caspian the 10th, rightful king of Narnia, who had abdicated from the tyranny of the Telmarines, and joined the true Narnians.
The third section is the meat of the story. The children, along with Trumpkin, endeavor to come to Caspian and the Narnians’ aid, awaken the trees, defeat Miraz, and reform & restore Narnia to her former glory. Aslan eventually appears, and of course, it is his appearing that begins to bring about the restoration of Narnia.
Some have criticized the structure of Prince Caspian. Since so much of it (30%) is Trumpkin narrating Caspian’s upbringing, how he came to love Old Narnia, and his flight from Miraz to seek out the Old Narnians. But Lewis wanted to create this sense of the children being disoriented.
Lewis explained that oftentimes in fairy-tales the story is from the perspective of those doing the summoning, instead of the ones summoned. The Pevensies are perpetually playing catch-up. Trying to make sense of changed geography and architecture. Trying to get to Caspian in time. Trying to figure out why the animals don’t speak, the trees don’t dance, and the Lion has not been seen in centuries. What is to be done when the nation you love has been overgrown and taken over by tyrants?
We live in a time when the world which we grew up in has changed significantly. The pull of nostalgia is a powerful one, and all too often, as people age, they look back on childhood and “the good times” with sentimentality. The driving force becomes trying to get back what has been lost. We see this culturally as “conservatives” want to Make America Great Again, but without first repenting and acknowledging Christ.
But nostalgia is a terrible mortar for building a home with. Scripture often commands us to remember, not for the sake of sentimental memorializing, but to fortify us to be courageous for the battle we face. This is what we see in the Pevensie children’s second adventure. Where they are tempted to think that Narnia is how it used to be, they run into self-inflicted obstacles. When they follow Aslan’s lead, by Lucy’s child-like eyesight, they make their way to a new battle with a new wicked tyrant to overcome.
Remembrance of old battles should en-courage us for today’s battles. Nostalgia is what those who didn’t bleed in the battle give in to when faced with new battles; they pine for the peace which those who fought the old battles won. This is why we should be like Lucy, and bury our face in the Lion’s mane. We must plead for the Lion to grant us courage for the work of renewal that falls to us:
“Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been some magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her […]
“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed.”
One of the more striking components of this story is the impressive humility which the Pevensie children demonstrate. They are heroes of old, they are Kings & Queens of Narnia. But instead of grasping at their “rights” they put their lives on the line, to advance the glory and rights of another.
As Peter says to Caspian, they didn’t come to take Caspian’s place, but to put him into it. There is covenantal glory here. Your task is not to hold onto your place, but it is to eventually raise up others (whether children or apprentices) to take your throne.
One of the dwarves, Nikabrik, tries to restore the glory through carnal means (resurrecting old follies, old enemies, making evil alliances). The Pevensies come, in the power of Aslan, to restore the glory through humble service, through duty, through discipline, martial order, self-government, and obedience. In regards to obedience, Lewis gives us Trumpkin’s memorable line about giving advice and taking orders.
Christ-honoring self-government leads to godly family government, which raises up a just and righteous national government. If we would see our nation restored, it must come from self-government between the Lion’s paws.
The Spirit Comes
In prepping for this talk, the thought struck me that this is a story of revival. A revival which comes from covenantal succession. The Telmarines have ushered in nine generations of unfaithfulness, and unlawful rule over Narnia. It is now itself in a bit of a constitutional crisis. It has become a country of rivalries, usurpers, scolds, and bullies.
But with the coming of the Pevensies, and of course Aslan, things are about to be put right. They do this by supporting Caspian, not by trying to rival Caspian. Old Narnia dies, Telmarine Dies, and what comes in its place is a resurrection of joy & peace. This explains, in part, why Lewis opted to use so much forest imagery, the old dying to make way for new growth.
This revival is primarily seen as Aslan leads Susan & Lucy throughout the Telmarine cities in Narnia. A teacher, as a pawn of state education, dutifully teaches a dull pseudo-history; but when Aslan roars into town, her sterile classroom is transformed into a living garden. The teacher flees in terror, but her schoolgirls follow in the growing train of Aslan.
In an inverse episode (pg.196), it is the nasty swine of “tyrants in training” who are turned from snotty-nosed, tattle-tell boys into pigs. Their poor teacher, struck to the heart with joy at hearing the songs of Aslan’s followers, is set free to join the congregation.
As the revival continues, we see that hierarchy is no longer allowed to be cruel. The hand of a man beating a small boy is transformed into a wooden branch, and the boy laughs at his deliverance from this cruelty. When revival comes it isn’t the erasure of authority (as we see with High King Peter insisting that it would be improper for Caspian to duel with Miraz, and that it falls to Peter to perform this dangerous duty). Rather, authority is marked by joyful feasting & merry-making. Aslan leads the overthrow of the tyrants by inviting all Narnia (whether “old Narnians” or Talmarines) to a holiday feast.
It’s worth commenting here on the strange appearance of Bacchus, the god of wine. The appearance of Bacchus makes perfect sense if you see this as a Revival story. The Spirit comes and revival ensues. A clever play on words if you ask me. The spirits of wine imbue the followers of Aslan to romp through the land of Narnia and cause the wicked to flee and the righteous to join in the rejoicing of the reformation.
Do Your Duty
When reformation & revival comes, it will not look like the anarchy of overgrown libertarianism, nor the jack-booted authoritarianism of populism. It will be an ordered liberty. We will become a joyfully dutiful people.
Aslan’s instructions to Caspian about the disposition of a good King are helpful to explain what I mean by this marriage of joy & duty:
“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 am only a kid.’
‘Good,’ said Aslan. ‘If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”
And then a little later, after recounting how the Telmarines had first come to Narnia (they were pirates from our world who’d stumbled through a chasm between our world and Narnia), Caspian is bummed out about his less than savory ancestry. Aslan rebukes him this way:
“I was wishing that I came of a more honourable lineage.”
“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “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 in earth. Be content.”
A second instance of joyful duty is seen in Peter, as he informs Edmund & Lucy that Aslan told him that he and Susan would not be returning to Narnia. Instead of blubbering and complaining, Peter embraces the duty to move into the next stage of his life obedient to the Lion’s wisdom and instruction:
“Oh, Peter,” said Lucy. “What awful bad luck. Can vou bear it?”
“Well, I think I can,” said Peter. “It’s all rather different from what I thought. You’ll understand when it comes to your last time. But quick. Here are our things.”
When they return through the magical door that Aslan made for their trip back to our world, Lewis describes their emotions at the return to the “flatness” of our world wonderfully. Here are some of the closing lines: “the grey, gravelly surface of a platform in a country station, and a seat with luggage round it, where they were all sitting as if they had never moved from it- -a little flat and dreary for a moment after all they had been through, but also, unexpectedly, nice in its own way, what with the familiar railway smell and the English sky and the summer term before them.” Life isn’t always grand adventures; humble dutifulness is its own glory.
Don’t hold onto things past their expiration date. Grow, do your duty at each stage, do it joyfully. Remember the former glories, so that you might be fortified to labor for greater glories. In short, do your duty, and in all you say and do, invite the world to the Lion’s great feast of joy. And so we too might have a revival like Narnia did.