As Devin Brown informs us in the Introduction to Inside Prince Caspian, Lewis had originally planned on writing the second book about Narnia about a boy named Digory who had the gift of speaking with trees. The book about Digory would, of course, come much later, with many details changed. This false start, found in what Lewis scholars refer to as the “LeFay Fragment,” is one of the rare unpublished Lewis writings that have survived, since Lewis had the habit of discarding old manuscripts—much to the dismay of today’s scholars. JRR Tolkien’s son, Christopher, was able to compile the History of Middle-earth series from the myriads of manuscripts which Tolkien left. There will never be a “History of Narnia,” so scholars like Brown must rely on other sources, such as Lewis’s other works and correspondence, to help understand the process Lewis went through to create his stories. We should be grateful grateful for their diligence and insights.
For a review of Brown’s book on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, see Reviews of books by Hobbit and Narnia expert Devin Brown part 4.
Brown takes the time to comment on the first Walden Narnia film before moving on from the Introduction. He is very gracious and complimentary, although pointing out some areas where he feels the film was lacking. He does, however, point out three ways the film was able to improve on the book. You will not want to miss this brief commentary on the film.
As Brown takes us chapter-by-chapter through Prince Caspian, he emphasizes the important themes Lewis put into the book. One of these is Providence. While some have criticized Lewis for the “coincidences” in the book, Brown sees the unseen hand (or paw) of Aslan behind what happens. Trumpkin just “happens” to get captured by the Telmarines, who decide to give him a “grand execution,” sending him by boat into the woods and to the “ghosts.” It turns out that this gets the Dwarf to where the Pevencies are at just the right time, and also provides the transportation needed for the group to get up the river. Brown reminds us that Lewis’s friend and colleague JRR Tolkien often uses the hand of Providence in The Lord of the Rings. This plot device is not mere laziness on the part of the writers, but a reflection of their belief that God is always working behind the scenes.
Another theme that Lewis brings to Prince Caspian is growth. Although Aslan is providentially guiding circumstances, he also limits his direct involvement. He does not go to the How and intervene against Nickabrick’s treasonous use of sorcery, but directs Peter, Edmund, and Trumpkin to “deal with what you will find there.” Aslan does not do for the characters what they have been trained to do for themselves. Peter, who has been a reluctant leader until this time, will “take charge” and volunteer his services to fight Miraz in single combat. The characters will not only find that Aslan is intervening behind the scenes, but that he is also allowing them to face more realistic dangers than they had to face in the first book as he forces them to take the next steps in their growth. This may be why Peter and Susan are told, at the end of the book, they will not be coming back. They have not “outgrown” Narnia (as Susan will someday mistakenly believe), but have grown beyond what they can learn in it—a subtle, but important difference. Their experiences in Narnia will forever be a good base to build upon, but they have things to learn in their own world they cannot in the other.
Peter has been having trouble leading because he expects Aslan to act exactly like he has before. He does not realize that “nothing happens the same way twice.” Another theme Brown explores in the book is limited expectations. Peter cannot believe that Lucy has seen Aslan because he has never been invisible to any of them before. The plans to get to Aslan’s How did not anticipate that Narnia might now be different, and that the River Rush would flow through a deep gorge.
One criticism of the second Walden Narnia film was that it was “too dark.” Lewis intended the book to be darker because the growth of the characters required that they face tougher challenges and more “realistic” problems. (Two decapitations—the hag and Sopespian—although not graphically described, do give the books a more realistic portrayal of combat. Only one decapitation is depicted—not very graphically—in the movie.)
Lucy and Edmund have more to learn in Narnia. Their lessons are found in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Devin Brown has an “Inside” book for that story, too. That book will be examined next time.