The four Pevensie children found everyday life in London tiresome following the high adventure of defeating the White Witch and establishing the Golden Age of the Kingdom of Narnia with the help of Aslan (voice by Liam Neeson), the lion. Their reign in peaceful Narnia had come to an abrupt end as they re-entered the wardrobe and tumbled back into wartime England of the 1940’s. Peter (William Moseley), once High King Peter the Magnificent, especially, seems to be in constant conflict with his schoolmates. The four long for the land where they spent so many happy years, when, in of all places, the London Underground, they feel themselves pulled back into Narnia. A beach of unearthly beauty appears in front of them and at first they are overwhelmed with joy and release at being back in their true home. But this isn’t the Narnia they remembered; no longer did the water sing, the trees dance and the animals speak. There is a savagery and oppression in Narnia, and soon the children discover the secret; they had returned to Narnia 13 centuries after their reign and their beloved homeland is in dire need of their help. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the heir to the throne of Telmar, a fugitive from his uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) who wanted the throne for his newborn son, had summoned the Pevensie children with Susan’s magic horn.
In the dark kingdom of Telmar on the other side of the river, the inhabitants had long considered the story of Aslan’s salvation of Narnia, and the brave deeds of its Kings and Queens as mere fairy tales for children and the simple-minded. Prince Caspian, whose parents were dead, was forbidden by King Miraz to learn of such things, yet his wise and gentle Professor (Vincent Grass) had secretly told him the truth. The young Prince hardly dared believe in such nobility, living as he did in a kingdom of darkness, ruled by his uncle, a violent usurper to the throne.
Prince Caspian and King Peter form an alliance which is fraught with tension, caused by Caspian’s’ desire for revenge, and Peter’s pride. Lucy (Georgie Henley), however, has seen Aslan, who wants to lead them. Would the proud and impetuous princes heed the faith of a child?
Prince Caspian was written by C.S. Lewis in 1951, as Europe, recoiling from the savagery of World War II, was dismayed to find the nations liberated by the Allies from the Nazis under a new oppressor: the Soviet Communists. The Cold War snuffed the glow of the Allied victory and overshadowed the ensuing decades with the specter of international nuclear war. Lewis, who died in 1963, never lived to see the break up of the Soviet Empire, and one wonders if, by using the name “Caspian,” he meant to evoke the Caspian Sea, which borders Russia, and if the rejection and oppression of religious belief in Telmar was meant to symbolize the atheistic dogmatism of Communism.
Director/Producer/Screenwriter Andrew Adamson seemed to imply this by having the swarthy Telmarines speak with Eastern European accents and cloaking their Kingdom in darkness, suggesting an evil empire. Telmarine-oppressed Narnia, though brighter than Telmar, reflects little of its former glory; even the animals are no longer civilized. As Narnian Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) explains the change, “If you are treated like a dumb animal, that is what you become”.
Prince Caspian speaks powerfully of bravery, self-sacrifice, and the importance of remembering one’s spiritual heritage as a means of comprehending the present. Pride is seen as the vice which forgets faith, yet violence itself is not eschewed, as Caspian and the Pevensies defend the rights of the oppressed. The heroes of Narnia are no lambs, after all they are led by a lion. Spectacular natural scenery seen in powerful aerial shots combined with the familiar lyrical musical themes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe effectively transport the audience into another world. A teenager who attended the movie with me said, “It’s depressing to come out of this movie because you have to leave Narnia and face reality”. Like the Pevensie children, you find that the longing for Narnia remains a part of you.
Peter Pevensie has grown physically since his last foray into Narnia, yet he still carries the schoolboy swagger that causes trouble for him in school in London and on the battlefield of Narnia. He has forgotten that he was no king until crowned by Aslan, whose death and resurrection made the stunning victory over the White Witch possible. Prince Caspian, who has never known Aslan personally, doesn’t know how to rely on his power and is driven by a sense of revenge and a desire for justice. It takes young Lucy, whose faith has kept her heart open to Aslan, to remind the young men from whence their power comes and turn tragedy into triumph. How often in Western Society we are full of the pride of our technical, economic, and military capabilities, and are tricked by the enemy into feeling that we have outgrown our need for God. We look down upon less educated, poorer nations like the Philippines where the Catholic faith is still vibrant, certain we have little to learn from them. We are wrong, according to the author of Prince Caspian. We are sowing the seeds of our own decline.
C.S. Lewis lived in the century of the fiercest persecution of Christians in the history of the world, and Prince Caspian is centered on a battle. What kind of battle is he suggesting? A battle for freedom from oppression in which Christ guides us, and the pure of heart are leaders. The oppression is a spiritual one; we have enslaved ourselves to our own pride, materialism, and secularism. Perhaps this allegory should be seen as an indictment of our culture, where religion is relegated to the realm of innocuous hobbies, in an attempt to dissuade us from entering the fray. The beauty of society is dimmed as our lack of faith allows evil to creep in, one court ruling at a time.
Pope Benedict recently spoke on the dangers of secularism in the Church:
The secularization that is present in cultures as an arrangement of the world and of humanity without reference to Transcendence is today invading every aspect of daily life, and is developing a mentality in which God is effectively absent, in whole or in part, from human existence, and understanding. . . It deeply undermines the Christian faith from within, and in consequence undermines the lifestyle and daily behavior of believers.
They live in the world and are often affected, if not determined by the culture of the image that imposes contradictory role models and impulses in the practical denial of God: there is no longer any need for God, for thinking of Him and returning to Him. And furthermore, the predominant hedonistic and consumerist mentality fosters, among both faithful and pastors, a tendency towards superficiality and egocentrism. . .there is a risk of falling into spiritual atrophy and into an emptiness of heart, sometimes characterized by surrogate forms of religious membership and vague spiritualism.
It is clearly more urgent than ever to react to this trend, through recalling the lofty values of existence, which give meaning to life and can calm the disquiet of the human heart in it’s search for happiness: the dignity of the human person and it’s freedom, the equality among men, the meaning of life and death, and of that which awaits us after the conclusion of earthly existence” — Meeting of the Pontifical Council for Culture, March 9, 2008 (From Spero News).
Both C.S. Lewis and the Holy Father remind us that we are merely pilgrims while on earth, and we must “put on the armor of Christ that [we] may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11), and plunge ourselves into the culture wars. Aslan gently reprimands Lucy for taking so long to seek His help out of fear of the opinion of her brothers. What’s holding us back?
(This film is recommended for children ten and up. Some frightening though unbloody battle scenes, a noisy though non-graphic birth scene, one kiss on the mouth, and a disturbing scene of delving into the occult may be unsuitable for younger children.)