Fantasy lovers love allegory. And nobody’s known more for creating allegorical fantasy than C.S. Lewis.
So it’s to great anticipation that the second movie in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise (based on the fourth book in Lewis’ series of seven) arrives in theaters. Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter are a year older than they were in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and they’re longing to return to the world that once made them kings and queens.
They get their wish while sitting on a train platform waiting to go back to school for a new term. They’re pulled into Narnia at the request of Susan’s magical horn of need, blown by Prince Caspian. Little do they know that Cair Paravel lies in ruins and 1,300 years have passed since their last visit.
Though he’s not a Narnian at all, much of this story revolves around the titular prince. Caspian is a Telmarine, a human race that has conquered Narnia and driven its diverse inhabitants to extinction. (Or so it is thought.) Caspian and other kids of his generation have been raised to believe that the old stories about Narnia, its magic, the White Witch and Aslan himself are fairy tales.
He comes face to face with the truth soon enough. The lad’s evil Uncle Miraz (having murdered Caspian’s father) only tolerates Caspian because he has no son of his own to inherit the throne. A baby boy changes that equation and Caspian flees for his life—straight into the deep woods that protect pockets of Old Narnians.
Enter the talking animals. Enter the magical horn. And enter the Pevensie kids. The result? War. Caspian and Peter lead their troops into battle against Miraz. At stake? The very soul of Narnia and the Narnians’ fading belief in Aslan.
Old-fashioned heroes. That’s what makes Prince Caspian tick. Chivalry. Loyalty. Honor. Duty. Morality. Faith. Despite advice to the contrary from Edmund, Peter refuses to kill Miraz in a winner-take-all duel. Caspian has a harder time restraining himself, but he does the right thing, too. The children demonstrate their loyalty to Narnia time and time again as they set aside their own desires and needs for the greater good. They’ve been brought back to Narnia for a purpose, and they’re determined to discover it and fulfill it.
Susan and Peter save the dwarf Trumpkin from execution. He returns the favor later, at different times saving Susan and Lucy. A minotaur gives up his life to save some of his comrades. Doctor Cornelius, who has been teaching Caspian about Aslan, says he’s risked his life all these years so that the prince could become a better king than those who came before him. The badger Trufflehunter defies social expectations when he goes into Good Samaritan mode and patches up Caspian when he’s first found, wounded, in the woods.
The Pevensies and Caspian will do anything, even risk their own lives, to restore Narnia to its former glory. Why? Because that former glory included reverence for and faith in Aslan. …
And why is faith in one talking lion so important in a story about multitudes of talking animals, not to mention centaurs, minotaurs, river-gods and tree-spirits? For that matter, why are we talking about faith in such positive terms in the midst of a story about mythical creatures? Because author C.S. Lewis goes to great lengths to show us that Aslan is a picture of Jesus Christ.
We’re taught here that following Aslan is the most important thing you can do—especially when no one else can even see him. It’s thought by Old Narnians that Aslan has abandoned them. But he has not.
When Lucy glimpses Aslan through the trees, then loses him the second she turns to tell the others, she’s faced with a choice: follow the lion or follow the crowd. She picks the crowd, and all of them quickly pay for their blindness. (She later apologizes when confronted with her weakness.)
Similarly, Peter dismisses Lucy’s plea to wait for Aslan’s guidance (“Have you forgotten who really defeated the White Witch, Peter?”) when they’re about to go into battle. And, again, they pay for it, this time dearly.
[Spoiler Warning] It’s not until Lucy and Susan seek out Aslan’s help that success is granted to their quest. Aslan responds by waking up the trees and river-god, sending them to the Narnians’ aid.
Psalm 127:1 reads, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Lewis was obviously trying to give life to this verse in his book. And while the film doesn’t dive as deeply into it as the book does, the message is not lost, either.
Darker spiritual elements emerge when the White Witch is summoned by a “hag” and a wer-wolf, as Lewis spells it. The summoning involves an occult-themed ceremony of sorts and an incantation. And Caspian’s hand is sliced with a knife in order to fulfill the witch’s request for human blood—which she says will free her from her metaphysical prison.
To the rescue come the Pevensies, who by now know bad magic when they see it. They struggle against the hag and wer-wolf, destroying them before Edmund decisively blocks the witch’s re-entrance into Narnia.
Elsewhere, Lucy heals people’s war wounds with a magical potion she was given on her previous trip to Narnia. Aslan caps the story by healing a mouse’s tail—à la Jesus restoring the man’s shriveled hand in the temple (Matthew 12). Then he forms a magical doorway back to our world through which both Telmarines and the Pevensies walk.
A subtle, almost imperceptible attraction develops between Susan and Caspian. Then, as if to decorate the final scene with Hollywood glitz, she impulsively runs to him for an embrace and kiss moments before she returns to our world.
If Prince Caspian were King David, God wouldn’t let him build the temple because, as it’s put in 1 Chronicles 22:8, “You have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.” For that matter, the Pevensie kids, young as they are, wouldn’t qualify either. Lucy doesn’t contribute to the sizable body count, but Peter, Edmund and Susan are on the front lines time after time, dispatching foe upon foe with arrow and sword and fist and foot.
Blood shows up on a Telmarine general’s lip after Miraz socks him in the face. And it spreads across Caspian’s hand when the hag slashes it. Most often, though, when swords are plunged into bodies, they don’t come out sheathed in red. But the point here is that swords are plunged into bodies. Repeatedly. As are crossbow bolts, arrows and knives.
The fighting evokes images of ethnic cleansing as Telmarines seek to eradicate the Narnians from their own land. Defending the assault, Miraz hisses, “They’ve been breeding like cockroaches under a rock.” A soldier’s head is severed at one point. It’s swift and not overly graphic, but we do see a helmet-clad orb roll away from the body. A minotaur is pushed off a high castle balcony, and the camera never blinks as he tumbles, crashes into a bulwark, then thuds to the ground, presumably dead. Equally intense is a scene in which another minotaur holds up a descending gate to allow his comrades to escape. The Telmarines riddle his body with arrows and he collapses, the gate slamming down on top of him. The remaining Narnians are trapped and await their doom.
Huge catapults hurl boulders at the Narnians’ makeshift fortress, blasting walls, bringing down doorways, etc. A ploy by the Narnians to collapse the earth underneath their enemies’ feet succeeds, and we see dozens of horses and riders fall into the pit that’s created. Trees awaken and wipe out sections of armored men and animals with their flailing roots and limbs. The river-god—depicted as water that coalesces into the rough form of a man—rips a bridge from its tethers and destroys everyone on it.
Hand-to-hand combat also gets front-and-center attention. Peter and Caspian violently cross swords before they discover they’re on the same side. Caspian puts a sword to his uncle’s throat, forcing him out of bed. And Peter takes on Miraz in an interminable and armor-denting test of superiority. Then, when Peter refuses to kill his fading opponent, one of Miraz’s generals finishes the man off. (We see his body crumple with an arrow sticking out of it.)
The dwarf Trumpkin is bound and gagged in a boat, then thrown overboard to drown. When Peter’s shoulder is dislocated, Edmund wrenches it back into place. For a moment, Susan dangles (frighteningly) over a high ledge. In England, Peter gets into a frivolous fight with another boy. They push, shove, hit and kick.
One exclamation of “oh my gosh” from Lucy.
Susan lies about her name to divert the attentions of a boy from school.
Kids typically get hooked on Lewis’ Narnia books between the ages of 8 and 12. Then they graduate to, say, The Lord of the Rings. So it would seem The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian should be targeting tweens and pre-tweens. It’s not. This isn’t a kids’ movie. Or even a “family” movie.
It’s a war movie.
From start to finish, battle scenes dominate the landscape. Caspian slashes his way out of Miraz’s castle. He battles with Peter when they first meet. He and Peter lead a surprise attack on the castle. Peter goes mano a mano against Miraz. And then it’s as if the Mongol hordes have descended as the Telmarines face off against the Narnians in a Return of the King-esque mega-conflict. Even the cute creatures are deadly here. The mouse Reepicheep goes straight for the jugular, dispatching numerous rivals with his small-but-effective sword.
By war movie standards, of course, Prince Caspian is restrained. Blood makes infrequent appearances. And bodies flop, drop and crumple instead of exploding into dozens of pieces. We don’t see Reepicheep’s sword piercing flesh. But by family movie standards, there are more cautions than one might expect. There’s a decapitation. Scores of stabbings. And while the body count may not exceed what’s seen in 300, it’s headed in that direction.
Director Andrew Adamson seems well aware that he’s pushing further than he did before. “This film is probably a little darker and grittier than the last one, partly because the children are older, making the story more adult in nature,” he says. “In the last film, I think we went to some pretty dark places. Aslan’s death, certainly, is one of the darkest moments in the film. I think this movie has the potential to be even more sinister. Miraz is potentially someone that we might actually see in real life, which makes him and the story that much darker.” William Moseley, who plays Peter, adds, “The White Witch was scary, but you’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen Miraz.”
So it’s as Trumpkin says, “You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.”
It is also a place that’s filled with more life lessons than you may remember, though. Between battles, brief as those interludes are, there emerge some pretty compelling allegories, both spiritual and cultural. At the fore is the assertion that even in a world devoted to reducing stories of God’s faithfulness and miraculous interventions to mere myth, we can make a choice to believe. And that choice will, quite literally, be our salvation.