May 19, 2008

Believing in Prince Caspian

Christians of all ages have found in 20th century British writer C.S. Lewis an author with a clear moral viewpoint and a commitment to Biblical values. His children's series, The Chronicles of Narnia, has been published in multiple editions, and two of the volumes in it recently made into major motion pictures. As a service to parents and others who may be unfamiliar with Lewis' volume and are looking for good information about the much-discussed story and film "Prince Caspian," AR Online columnist Gary Swanson offers this summary of the story line. The Adventist Review neither endorses the recently-released film nor encourages parents and children to view it. This description is provided to assist readers in forming their own judgements about the suitability of any of the media presentations of Lewis' well-known tale. --Editors

2008 1514 page32 caphen last we saw the four Pevensie children (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), they had just vanquished—by the grace of Aslan, of course—the White Witch who had cast all of Narnia under a spell of endless winter. The death and resurrection of Aslan, the lord of Narnia, had depicted in a compelling way the unique Christian story of salvation.

After a long period during which the Pevensies had reigned concurrently as kings and queens of Narnia’s capital, Cair Paravel, they had returned through the wardrobe to the professor’s house where they had been staying during World War II England. Upon their return, they had realized that they had been away for only a few minutes in England time.

1548 page30 intext2 0In the opening scenes of Prince Caspian: Return to Narnia, one year later, they are returning to school, waiting on the platform of London’s Strand underground station. This time they are transported mysteriously and involuntarily back to Narnia, no stumbling into it by accident through a mysterious piece of furniture. They soon discover that they have been gone from the magical kingdom for 1,300 years. The golden age that their reign had initiated in Narnia has fallen to invasion of a race of human beings called the Telmarines. Conditions have deteriorated into a state of tyranny under a king who has usurped the throne. And the magical qualities of Narnia—talking animals, dancing trees, mythical creatures—have not been witnessed in so long a time that most Narnians question whether they ever existed.
Prince Caspian, the nephew of the tyrannical king and rightful heir to the throne, has had to flee for his life at the birth of the king’s son. The king intends to establish his son as heir. Conditions have reached such a nadir, in fact, that some Narnians are actually considering a summoning of the spirit of the White Witch. The Pevensie children have been summoned back to Narnia through the power of Aslan to help Prince Caspian overthrow the king, claim his place on the throne, and revive belief in Aslan.
Once again C. S. Lewis has brought to a secular culture of readers (and now viewers) a world in which they must recognize and engage in spiritual issues that characterize the human experience. He holds up a mirror, even to the most ardent materialist in today’s version of Narnia. And the reflection that Lewis describes boldly asserts that we have a spiritual nature.
One of the central themes of Prince Caspian is belief. Ben Barnes, the 26-year-old actor who plays in the title role, comments that the film “has a message of belief, belief in your self.”1 He cites a scene toward the end of the film in which Aslan commands the kings and queens of Narnia to rise from their kneeling position before him. The four Pevensies rise, but Prince Caspian, unsure of his worthiness for leadership, remains on his knee.
Aslan looks directly at the insecure young prince and says, “You, as well.”
2008 1514 page32The comment by actor Barnes makes a telling point. In saying that the film is about “belief in your self,” he is describing a kind of belief that Hollywood is comfortable with: the humanistic view that all of humanity’s issues and problems may be overcome by human effort, that all we have to do is to believe in ourselves, roll up our sleeves, and set out to seek our own solutions.
This is a departure from the belief that C. S. Lewis depicted in Prince Caspian (the book). Here he emphasizes the importance of belief, not in oneself as much as belief in Aslan.
This theme, in fact, is central to the book. Early on, before the birth of King Miraz’s heir, the king chastises Prince Caspian for believing in the old stories of Narnia: “ ‘That’s all nonsense, for babies. . . . You’re getting too old for that sort of stuff. At your age you ought to be thinking of battles and adventures, not fairy tales.’ ”2 The fact is, belief in “fairy tales” inevitably results in “battles and adventures.”
Later Lucy, the youngest of the four Pevensie children who had first found her way to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is the first to spot Aslan upon their return. When she points to where he is, none of other children is able to see him. Edmund, the first to reject Lucy’s report of a land of Narnia that could be entered through a wardrobe, this time accepts that if Lucy says she has seen Aslan, he believes her. He has learned to count on her faith. Peter and Susan, however, the elder and more rational of the siblings, think that she is just imagining that she has seen Aslan, that she is just succumbing to her own wishful thinking.
Lewis’s own coming to belief had been like that of Peter and Susan. An avowed atheist, he had described himself in Surprised by Joy as a “kicking, struggling, resentful” prodigal against the idea that God could even exist. But he too had been experiencing some wishful thinking. He had been drawn to the hints of absolute truth that he saw in myth, the evidences of “the romantic hopes of blessedness.”3 His belief finally won out.
As is the case with all spiritual matters, truth must be believed to be seen. “Those who are unspiritual” wrote the apostle Paul, “do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14, NRSV).
If we want to find God, we must be looking for Him—and we must believe that He exists.

1!, accessed April 14, 2008.
2C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (New York: HarperCollins, 1951), p. 43.
3Alan Jacobs, The Narnian (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), p. 133.

Gary B. Swanson is associate director for the General Conference Department of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries.