And what better story to consider in this hundredth post than Lewis’ return to Narnia “Prince Caspian”.
As a whole, The Chronicles of Narnia were a formative part of my childhood and adolescence. They were the first books I really remember having read to me and the first books (apart from maybe Robin Hood…) that I remember reading.
[As an aside, I have always read them in the order of Narnia’s internal chronology, because that’s how they were read to me, it’s how they were ordered in the box and it’s just how my brain works – start at the beginning and finish at the end. There are a lovely couple of posts from Jennifer Neyhart & “A Pilgrim In Narnia” about the “proper” order of reading the books and I do recommend reading Jennifer’s and the pilgrim’s (Brenton Dickieson) thoughts – but at the end of the day I think you should find what is best for you and whatever you do, just read them.]
My favourite when I was young was always Prince Caspian (I’d say it’s currently The Silver Chair, but I often vacillate on my favourite). I couldn’t have told you why it was my favourite then, but I think I know why now – it’s because it’s the tale above all the others that really shows a writer who is “in love” with story, whose spirit is about story and evokes a love of story in the reader (well, that’s what it did for me…).
Lewis’ assumption that stories are an integral part of growing up and learning about your world (almost as if it’s a fait accompli, as obvious as learning to walk and talk, as essential as breathing) is evident throughout the book. The structure of the book is that of stories within stories. It’s two separate stories (that of the Pevensies returning to Narnia and that of Prince Caspian) converging and becoming one. It’s a tapestry of stories at different levels intertwining, threading through the book like ivy holding the big story together.
We have the stories told to Caspian by his nurse that are what fires his love of “old Narnia” and prepares him to accept and rule as a true Narnian King. We have the story of Caspian himself told to the children by Trumpkin – presented as if it’s completely natural to tell a story and convey more than just “the facts ma’am” when explaining events and who someone is. You can see the fear of the old stories in Miraz and the Telmarines, fear derived both from what they have done to the trees, rivers and natives, but also the fear of Aslan himself. And it is this fear that motivates the creation of their own stories, this time ghost stories designed to keep the masses away from the woods, away from the sea. These are stories whose motivation is control, and using story makes the control a powerful one (rather like the stories about the woods in The Village that we explored in the very first post).
The stories within stories idea is further explored as the layers of belief are unfolded. Until Caspian stumbles on the home of Trufflehunter and the two dwarves, he still sees the stories as just that, stories. And of course, that’s where his Logical Telmarine thinking has skewed his view of the world – the same way “Modern Thought” has skewed ours. Because this way of thinking equates “story” with untruth and non-fact (it’s why some folk get so upset when the Bible is presented as a collection of myths, because they interpret that as saying it is not true). But when you start to see the world through Lewis’ eyes and the eyes of those who truly understand story, you can grasp that just because something is being transmitted in story or mythic form, it doesn’t make it any less true – in fact it’s probably the “truest truth” you can experience.
… And I’ll continue more about Prince Caspian in the next post. Do come back 🙂