I've just completed doing something that I often say I will do but rarely actually do. I re-read C.S. Lewis's Prince Caspian, prior to the release of the movie on May 16th. Not only that, I read Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead's A Reader's Guide to Caspian: A Journey into C.S. Lewis's Narnia. I thoroughly enjoyed both.
If you haven't read the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia, it's not too late to start. These children's stories are remarkably deep. Like all good stories, they operate on multiple levels, as enjoyable for adults as for children. I first read the novels when I was introduced to them by my 9th Grade Modern Grammar teacher, an eccentric, slightly strange spinster who read The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe aloud to us, and then encouraged me to read all the books. I quickly read them, and yet I completely missed the clear Gospel allusions. When she told me of this, I re-read them. I have kept reading them every few years, including reading them aloud to both my children. As Lewis (or was it Tolkien) said, every good book should be re-read every five years. And yet, reading Prince Caspian again, I was amazed at how much I had forgotten, as well as at what a good tale it really is.
If you don't recall, Prince Caspian is about the return of the Pevensie children --- Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy --- to Narnia, called there by Caspian's blowing of Susan's horn. Arriving there, they find that several hundred years have passed in Narnia (yet only one year in their own time), and the Old Narnia they ruled has been corrupted, the trees asleep (they used to talk), the animals mostly non-talking, and the land ruled by King Miraz, a Telmarine --- human, but not of Narnia at all. The Pevensies quickly learn what has happened and proceed to journey to assist Caspian in re-establishing a proper rule over Narnia (with a lot of help from Aslan, the lion, Christ in that world).
The book is fantastical in may ways, and yet the most delightful part of it is the characters themselves and the narrative. It's an adventure, a quest, enjoyable simply on that level alone, and yet it's much more. It's about faith, the children learning once more to believe in Aslan, to trust him, and in so doing they begin to see him. It is, in Lewis's own summary, about the restoration of true religion and even the substantial restoration of Aslan's rule and of nature itself. There's a moving section with Aslan moving through the countryside, awakening the trees, healing an elderly woman, and more. What Lewis does so well is give voice to our own longing that things be set right. And yet there is no preaching here, just story, and story told with great attention to particularities, like what the children eat (or don't eat). It's an enjoyable and quick read, and yet there's much to come back to and savor.
To help you savor it (only after reading it), utilize A Reader's Guide to Caspian. In this book, Ryken (English Professor at Wheaton College) and Mead (Associate Director of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton, where you will find Lewis's "wardrobe" and his papers), do a number of things for readers. Part One is a guided tour through the book, offering short synopses, numerous questions for reflection or discussion, various tidbits of information (like where the names "Cair Paravel" or "Caspian" came from, or why Lewis was so fascinated with mice a/k/a Reepicheep). On the whole, these guides help us reflect on the book as literature --- something I do not naturally do. Part Two of the book is a collection of various background materials --- including very helpful articles on "Are the Narnian Sories Allegorical" (the answer is quite disputed) and "The Christian Vision of Prince Caspian," the later examining how the Christian themes of, for example, providence, faith, and discipleship weave throughout the story. Finally, there are excerpts of contemporary reviews of Prince Caspian (that is, reviews published around the time of its publication), summaries of critical commentary on the book, a review of the success of attempts to bring The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe to screen, and a guide to using the book with reading groups or with home-schoolers. All in all, it's a great resource, and, to some extent, you will get out of it whatever you choose to. I plan on spending a little more time with the questions, reading back over chapters in the next few weeks, as I think it all a help to spiritual growth and a good preparation for the movie.
In conclusion, I commend both Prince Caspian and A Reader's Guide to Prince Caspian to you. If you read them, the movie will not only entertain but will heighten the insights you already have from this great story.