For whatever reason, I’ve never really liked this book. Part of it, I think, is that I often stopped with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as a kid — I couldn’t quite tell you why, except maybe that nothing could match up to how much I loved that book. When I try to be objective, I can see that it’s really no different in quality to the others… and Puddleglum is hilarious! But I persist in disliking Eustace and Jill, and I feel like Rillian is a complete non-entity.
It’s probably also that I really dislike Caspian being old and no longer really a part of things. Okay, the bit at the end helps with that, but still… I’m just not keen on the whole tone of this book: Eustace and Jill are always arguing, Puddleglum is always fatalistic, and Rillian starts off rather patronising and awful (albeit because of the spell). There’s not much of Aslan, and not much faith in Aslan. It feels like Jill in particular doesn’t really understand who he is and why she should obey him, and that changes things rather.
In the end, it’s quite possible I’m making excuses, but… still not one I enjoy, I’m afraid!
This is probably still my favourite book of the series. Lucy and Edmund get drawn back into Narnia, with the unfortunate addition of a rather odious cousin, Eustace. They’re delighted to find themselves on board ship with Caspian, sailing to the end of the world; Eustace is rather less delighted. There are various little episodic adventures as they face mysteries and horrors, searching for seven lost Narnian lords who were sent away by Caspian’s usurping uncle.
I think my favourite part is probably the island of Coriakin and the Monopods; not for all the stuff with the Monopods, really, but because of the book of spells Lucy has to read from. It sounds amazing and the smell from it sounds delicious… and there must be some really cool spells in there. I also enjoy that it gives Lucy a little more depth — instead of her faults being a little childishness, she almost gives way to jealousy and spite. I loved her as a kid, probably because I wanted to be her, and so it’s nice to find her a little more rounded than I remembered.
The stuff at the very end about the lamb and Aslan’s Country and so on was all a little much for me, after most of the rest (apart from the rescue from the Island Where Dreams Come True) felt just fantastical. I think that’s part of why I loved the book the most as a kid; it touched on some of the strangeness and beauty of Narnia. Dragons and sea-serpents and mysterious pools that turn anything to gold, oh my!
Prince Caspian follows a new hero, son of the last true king of Narnia, raised by his usurping uncle… and now struggling to the throne. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are called back from our world to help him, while Aslan is at work re-awakening dryads and bringing Old Narnia back to life. It’s always been a highlight of the series for me — perhaps because in some ways Caspian is a favourite, because he struggles to win Narnia (rather than just bringing about the victory through lion-ex-machina; alright, Peter wins a great battle, and Caspian is also ultimately aided by Aslan, but he has a difficult campaign first).
I wish Susan were treated with as much sympathy later as she is in this book; here her fears and doubts are understood, whereas in The Last Battle she’s rather dismissed. Not that I enjoy Susan, but sometimes I rather fear I would be like her: grousing and complaining while in Narnia, doubting when I’ve seen the proof before with my own eyes. Both she and Edmund are usually more believable than Peter or Lucy, who find it easy to be good and to believe in Aslan.
In any case, Prince Caspian pretty much stands up to the memories for me. The thing that’s weird to me is how full and busy these books seemed to be, whereas if I try to sketch out the timeline of each book now, woooow the resolution comes at you fast.
The Horse and His Boy is the third book in the Narnia sequence, chronologically, and that’s the way I’ve always read the books. It was one of my favourites as a child: Calormene was so different to Narnia, and Aravis is so badass, and there’s so much adventure!
As an adult, it kind of felt a bit hollow, though… it feels like an afterthought: most of it doesn’t even happen in Narnia, and the events aren’t super-significant to Narnia as a country. It does give a bit more depth and breadth to the world, insofar as you find that rings true, but it’s also a mess in terms of yanking stuff from real-world cultures and demonising the fictional result (to some degree or another — I acknowledge that the existence of Aravis makes it more complex, and e.g. Lasaraleen isn’t actually terrible as a person).
It’s still a fun adventure, and there are some lovely descriptions… and I wish there was more of the Hedgehog and the Rabbit and the other talking animals Shasta meets when he arrives in Narnia, to be honest. The dwarves he was staying with get rather dropped, despite their kindness to and care for him!
Alas, though, I think this one I’ve just sort of grown out of, on the whole.
The second book of Narnia is perhaps the most famous: Lucy Pevensie walks through a wardrobe and finds herself in a mysterious land, shrouded in snow, and she and her three siblings get drawn into a deathly struggle against the Witch — that same Witch who entered Narnia at its very beginning in The Magician’s Nephew. In many ways this is a favourite, even if it totally lies about Turkish delight being tasty, and despite the heavy-handedness of the allegory.
This time, I couldn’t help but notice the little details that delight me: the titles of the books in Mr Tumnus’ cave, Mrs Beaver wanting to take her sewing machine on the run, the descriptions of the onrush of spring after winter is defeated. I do cringe a little at the bit about Father Christmas, though — it totally breaks the mood for me, though most of Lewis’ other mixing and matching of legend and mythology doesn’t bother me.
In the end, of course, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, who is really a stupid human boy who has barely grown up… and actually, the allegory here works really well for me. Religion is a complicated subject for many, and I don’t really want to get into the personal stuff here, but the way it demonstrates the story of the crucifixion (and of why Jesus died) is really well done, in my books. It’s not just about Aslan sacrificing himself for Edmund, necessary to the prophecy as he is: as a child, that’s all I really saw (despite understanding the allegory), but this time it made me think of the fact that Christianity says Jesus sacrificed himself for everyone, petty and childish and ignorant about the world as we are.
I don’t like to pick Narnia apart too much, because in terms of worldbuilding and consistency and so on, it doesn’t bear much picking at. But that part worked for me, this time in particular.
It’s sort of surprising how quickly these books are over, reading them as an adult. They took up such a large chunk of my imagination as a kid, it felt like they were huge. But there are still worlds to be found here, even as an adult.
It’s been a while, I think, but often when I’m feeling crap, I come back to the Narnia books. I always saw the Christian allegory when I was a kid, so I never had the moment of betrayal that a lot of other people seem to talk about; I always kind of took them as they were, and went off with the bits that suited me.
The Magician’s Nephew follows the start of Narnia, its creation myth, but it starts smaller than that with a little boy and a little girl in London, when “Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road” (I’ve always loved that opening, somehow). Polly and Digory become friends very quickly, partly because there’s nothing much else to do. It starts with childish play when they try to get through to the deserted house further down the row, by climbing through the connected attics — but it becomes a little more serious when they accidentally find themselves in Digory’s uncle’s study, and he gives Polly a ring… which immediately makes her vanish away to another world.
I always rather enjoyed the little character studies of Uncle Andrew — his silliness, and greed, and overall cleverness-that-is-also-stupidity. He’s just rather delightfully mediocre, the delight being in the way he doesn’t know that and yet the reader can see it so clearly. I also enjoy the idea of Charn, the oppressive breathlessness of the time the children spend exploring it, and just imagining coming out into the long room full of images of people… It helps that my edition still has the same black-and-white sketch illustrations my childhood copies did.
In the end there’s a lot of magic in this book, a breathless wonder at creation and at Aslan’s love for it, but there’s also a lot of humanity in Digory’s struggles, in his stupid fights with Polly, and yes, in Uncle Andrew. It was still worth coming back to, for me, though this rating is no doubt half nostalgia.
What to say about this one? I don’t really like it. It’s not just the fact that Narnia comes to an end — though there’s that — but it’s also that I don’t really like any of the characters. I don’t have that same hook to make me care about what’s happening as I did in the earlier books. And it’s so preachy and obvious. There is some beauty in it — the universalism, for example, when those who do good deeds are really serving Aslan after all.
But. There’s also a ton of xenophobia and stereotypes, and let’s not even talk about the sexism as regards Susan. (Though, she’s not dead, so there’s always a chance for her. Small comfort.)
It’s hard to feel the joy of the ending after the rubbish that comes before it. I think in future, I’ll just skip this book if I reread the series again. Possibly The Silver Chair, too. It lacks the warmth and energy of the chronologically earlier books.
One of the least magical Narnia books, for my money. Puddleglum is a delight, but Jill and Eustace aren’t the best of the protagonists, particularly in their continued selfishness and quarrelsomeness. And Rillian never really gets over his terrible first impression, for all that you know he’s enchanted. And the antagonist, well. She’s more of the same type as Jadis, if more the seductress type. Actually, that point is what makes her less pleasant — her power is in seduction and sensuality, and there’s a kind of Christian horror of that which definitely hasn’t aged well, if it ever worked.
I do wish we’d had more of the gnomes and their land of Bism, though! That bit of magic and adventure might have been enough to elevate the book, if it had actually been followed through.
If this book is a blatant Christian allegory, I don’t know enough to notice — well, okay, there are some bits which are, but that’s always the case when Aslan is involved. Not surprisingly, perhaps, this is one of my favourites. I love Caspian and his rapid rise to maturity and understanding, and his determination to do right by his people. Even if those people happen to be talking badgers. The supporting cast, like Trumpkin and Trufflehunter, are fun, and of course, it also features the Pevensies. What’s not to love?
This one probably gave Tolkien the most heart palpitations as regards mixing-and-matching of mythologies (suddenly the Maenads appear following Jesus!), but in a way, I like that too because it’s quite a universalist spirit. Take what’s good and uplifting and illuminating from all kinds of mythologies, and live by that — that’s not my motto, but it could be.
It doesn’t feel quite as warm as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does — to me, anyway — but it’s fun.
This was one of my favourites of the Narnia books as a child, and reading it now, I’m not sure why. The story is okay, though it’s mostly set outside of Narnia. I suppose it’s the setting that really lets it down: the Calormenes are blatant stereotypes, and Calormen itself is an obvious exoticisation of a Muslim country. I do give it some credit for having a female lead in Aravis — a female lead who can ride and hunt better than the male lead, who is brave and clever, though not perfect. (She’s self-centered and selfish, as well, without giving thought to the consequences of her actions.) It’s even better that she is a Calormene, even though she’s presented as rather an exception.
(For example, Lasaraleen is Aravis’ friend, but Lewis doesn’t have nearly as much time for her. It’s just the same as the way he later dismisses Susan: Lasaraleen is feminine, interested in clothes and makeup and men, and so he dismisses her. I’m not sure it was narratively necessary to make her seem so silly. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Aravis was tempted to stay with her because she’s sensible and smart and reminds Aravis of the enjoyable aspects of her life in Calormen?)
Anyway, it’s still fairly fun, and one of the least openly allegorical books. So, a rather lukewarm three stars.