Inside Prince Caspian
Stephen Hayes, Khanya (Orthodox Christian Deacon & blogger from South Africa)
Inside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to Narnia by Devin Brown
My rating (note of Khanya): 5 of 5 stars
I’ve read Prince Caspian at least 5 times, and when I found this book in the Alkantrant library I wasn’t expecting much. Prince Caspian is a fairly straightforward children’s story based on a theme common to many fairy tales — an evil usurping king who suppresses the true heir to the throne, is eventually deposed and the rightful ruler is restored. How much can you say about that that isn’t said in the story itself?
But Devin Brown has quite a lot to say about it, and a lot of what he says is quite illuminating. It makes me want to read his earlier book, about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, if I can find a copy anywhere. At the time I first read it, in September 1965, I was struck by the parallels between the White Witch’s rule in Narnia, and the Vorster regime in South Africa (though Verwoerd was Prime Minister, Vorster was Minister of Justice, and was turning South Africa into a police state). The raid of Maugrim the wolf, head of the Witch’s secret police, on the home of Tumnus the faun had many parallels with the Security Police raids of those days, and the statues in the witch’s castle represented for us the banning and detention without trial of opponents of the National Party regime.
Those themes, while not absent from Prince Caspian, do not appear quite so strongly. What had always struck me most strongly about Prince Caspian was Lewis’s attitude towards pagan myths and deities. In Prince Caspian they are not the enemy, but are part of the army of liberation.
What Devin Brown brings out most strongly, however, is Lewis’s anti-racism, and the parallels between the policies of the usurper Miraz and the apartheid ideology. Miraz’s policy is based on Telmarine supremacy, with all others being banished to the woods (read “homelands”).
In another blog post, Mere Ideology: the Politicisation of C.S. Lewis, I noted attempts by American libertarians to coopt C.S. Lewis to support their political and economic ideology, based on that of Ayn Rand. But Devin Brown (2008:215) shows that Rand’s ideal of selfishness is the Philosophy of Hell:
While Caspian expresses regret for allowing Peter to fight on their behalf, exclaiming “Oh why did we let it happen at all?” Glozelle and Sopespian have purposely manipulated Miraz into accepting the challenge. The two lords, Miraz, and by extension the rest of the Telmarine army exemplify what Screwtape calls “the philosophy of Hell”. Screwtape explains that, according to this philosophy, “my good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. ‘To be’ is to be in competition.'”That is capitalism (Rand’s “unknown ideal”) in a nutshell. Socialism, on the other hand, is based on the fundamental notion that cooperation is a better basis for economic life than competition.
Brown also draws parallels between the anti-colonialism of Prince Caspian and that of the Oyarsa of Malacandra’s comments to Weston in Out of the Silent Planet. The Telmarines are colonialists. They entered Narnia from outside, conquered it, and ruled it for their own benefit. The natives (Old Narnians) were marginalised and had no rights under Telmarine rule. After the War of Deliverance Aslan gives the Telmarines a choice: they can renounce their privilege and live with the same rights as other Narnians (echoes of the Freedom Charter: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”) or they can leave and go back where they came from.
Saying this may make it sound as though Prince Caspian is allegory, but it is not. As Carpenter (1978:30) wrote:
Lewis wrote to Tolkien on 7 December 1929, after reading Tolkien’s poem on Beren and Luthien, “The two things that come out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of a myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader.”So Prince Caspian suggests incipient allegories to me that would not have occurred to C.S. Lewis or Devin Brown, and it was written before the Freedom Charter had been drawn up. It may have suggested other incipient allegories to Devin Brown, living in the USA. One that occurs to me is the parallel between Narnian schools under Miraz’s rule and Sheldon Jackson’s educational policies in Alaska.
But what Brown brings out most clearly is that the oppressive rule of the Telmarine supremacists brings uniformity but not unity, and that true community and freedom is found in the diversity and equality of the Old Narnians, whom Caspian joins, thereby becoming a race traitor in the eyes of the Telmarine supremacists. The themes that Brown brings out most strongly are Lewis’s emphasis on diversity and environmentalism before they became popular causes twenty years after he wrote.
Brown also notes many other literary allusions, to Shakespeare, Tolkien, and other authors.
There are a few minor flaws. At one point Brown notes a typo in his edition of Prince Caspian, where Trumpkin refers to something that happened three days earlier as happening “this morning”. Two pages further on he has typos of his own, where he refers to Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, and has Lewis writing about “microbes” when what Lewis actually wrote about was macrobes.
I would be interested in knowing whether Brown has written more about the later Narnia books. I re-read The voyage of the Dawn Treader after seeing the film, and blogged about it here. I’d be interested in seeing what he had to say about that.
One reason for reading this book is that I’m thinking of writing a sequel to my own children’s book Of Wheels and Witches, and I thought it would help me to get in the mood. It has done that, perhaps much more effectively than lots of the “how to” books and blog posts about writing for children, because it analyses what makes a successful children’s novel.
Notes of Khanya: Shameless self-promotion: Of Wheels and Witches is available free during July 2017 - View all my reviews
About Prince Caspian
About the film
The Silver Chair
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read it again, for the 4th or 5th time, mainly because someone remarked that it “has an ultimately sympathetic depiction of underworld but non-demonic creatures”. and I wanted to remind myself of that. The main connection between them and the creatures who live in sunlight is that they are
oppressed by an evil witch who sometimes take the form of a green snake, who has also imprisoned a human prince and wants to use him and the underworld creatures to take over the world above ground.
Once the oppressor is overthrown, the underground and above ground creatures go back to their natural environments, and there is no more contact between them.
The thing that always comes to my mind, when I read or think about The Silver Chair is when I was staying with some friends in Durban when the apartheid regime was flourishing and it looked as though it would never end. Scarcely a week went by without news of someone being banished, or banned, or imprisoned without trial.
One day we were sitting around talking about this, and my friends’ young daughter, aged 9, said “But why does God allow it? Why does God allow these things to happen to our friends?”
There was silence for a moment, and then her sister, aged 11, said, “It isn’t God, it’s the green snake.”
“But that isn’t true!” expostulated the younger girl. “It’s in a book, somebody wrote it.”
“Yes, but what it means is true,” replied her sister.
Posts tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’ in Khanya
About the Orthodox Church in South Africa
A Letter from an Orthodox Christian to our Native Americans Brothers
LOVERS OF TRUTH: THE LIFE OF HIEROMONK SERAPHIM ROSE
“Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future”
Lover of Truth: St John, The Wonderworker of San Francisco
Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony
OUR TALENT OF FREEDOM & SOME PITFALLS
Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)
Orthodox Saints and the Future of America
LIVE, BEYOND THE LIMITS! The Path to Renewal of the Heart The holy anarchists
A Deer Lost in Paradise
A Deer Lost in Paradise
Orthodox Church & Capitalism: Orthodox Fathers of Church on poverty, wealth and social justice
Is capitalism compatible with Orthodox Christianity?
Grace and “the Inverted Pyramid”
"Partakers of Divine Nature" - About Deification & Uncreated Light in Orthodox Church
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