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Inside Prince Caspian

3 July 2017

Inside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to NarniaInside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to Narnia by Devin Brown
My rating: 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.

Shameless self-promotion: Of Wheels and Witches is available free during July 2017.

View all my reviews

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 July 2017 12:34 pm

    Thanks for the South African parallels and perspectives. I do not really know the history, being a colony on a completely different trajectory (and me being Scottish before, so my family leaving Scotland in 1819 was an escape from England in a way, though really a swap of colonial experience). I think Lewis had a pretty good instinct for what totalitarianism could look like beyond the Big Bad Government in Total Control. He influenced Orwell and (looking at Prince Caspian through your eyes) is probably influenced in return.
    I too am concerned about the American conservative appropriation of C.S. Lewis, even when done carefully and intelligently (like Alan Snyder’s blog/book). I appreciate Devin Brown facing it shoulder-to-shoulder–he’s the real deal–though I suspect that most American Christian conservatives would not be struck by Ayn Rand or her philosophy and wouldn’t recognize how she is forming them. Being anti-Ayn Rand will elicit no particular response. I remember laying out parallels between Mitt Romney and Rand in 2012, and the Americans I was talking to shrugged and generally disbelieved there was a connection.
    To me, that makes her philosophy all the more insipid. And she felt the same about C.S. Lewis.
    I’d add, too, that if American conservatives aren’t in crisis yet, they will be soon enough. So I don’t know where the Republican party will go. Trump is not a conservative in the best ways (from the Republican perspective), so things are going to change. Well, they might, if the Democrats decide that poor working Americans are individuals worthy enough to give respect to.

    • 3 July 2017 1:48 pm

      I first heard of Ayn Rand from an enthusiastic disciple when I was at university. Ironically he was a biologist and a conservationist, but liked the “survival of the fittest” undertones of Rand’s philosophy. But in the Reagan/Thatcher years her ideas influenced public policy. Not that they would have acknowledged their debt to her, but their policies were based on an watered down version of her ideas and their underlying assumptions.

      I think Brown points out how the same ideas underlay Miraz’s policy, implicitly if not explicitly, and he shows very clearly how Caspian and the Old Narnians represented their opposite. Of course Miraz (and the Republicans under Trump) represent the kind of big government that Ayn Rand and American Libertarians would not have approved of, but the same principle of selfishness lies at the root.

  2. 10 May 2018 9:05 am

    Ooh I must get this book. Prince Caspian is one of my favourite Narnia books.

    Tolkien’ name for “incipient allegory” was applicability, which I think helps to distinguish it further from intentional allegory.

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