Many would call C.S. Lewis a great lay theologian. But perhaps the most impressive part of his repertoire is that his best theology is and always was expressed through children’s literature.
Take The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, for instance. The entire book, while exciting and adventurous in every degree as a children’s book, serves as an allegory for the problem of sin, Christ’s sacrifice, and our ultimate redemption. It’s a great vehicle for teaching children important truths about God. We can expect nothing less from Lewis’s follow-up, Prince Caspian.
Prince Caspian arguably matches the expert balance of adventure and message its predecessor provided, although it does so far less allegorically. Whereas The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was essentially a straight allegory, complete with Satan figure, Christ figure, and even Judas figure, Caspian takes a more practical approach, dealing with the struggles of a boy who, for our purposes, was born into an unbelieving family surrounded by sin.
Caspian is the rightful heir to the throne of Narnia, which is now ruled not be sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, but by his uncle, of a race called the Telmarines. In this land, Caspian, an orphan being raised by his uncle Miraz, grows up without talking beasts, afraid of the wood, and with the instruction that Aslan is nothing more than a mere myth. His adventure begins when he begins to see the fiend that his murderous uncle truly is, and is opened to the true world of the Narnia that was and could be, with talking beasts and dryads and Aslan, by his tutor. But Caspian needs help. And help is where the Pevensies come in, several years after they’ve been dead and gone as the high kings and queens of Narnia. Funny thing, time.
This book contains no stone table, no betrayal for Turkish Delight, and no traitorous faun. But is, at its heart, a lesson on how people truly choose what they’re going to be like. Caspian was raised by an atheist full of bloodlust, as well as hatred for the old things. But Caspian doesn’t simply adapt to his surroundings: he chooses to be different, eventually following after Aslan and his ways, even though he has scarce few examples of how to live virtuously in his own personal surroundings.
Prince Caspian also includes stories that illuminate us to the struggle between principle and pragmatism, and we are not left to wonder where Lewis would have us go. The most notable of these moments comes when Nikabrik, one of the dwarfs in the story, is intent on raising the White Witch rather than calling on Aslan:
“What came of the kings and their reign? They faded too. But it’s very different with the Witch. They say she reigned for a hundred years; a hundred years of winter. There’s power, if you like. There’s something practical.”
The similarity here to summoning a demon can hardly be overlooked by more mature eyes, but even to a child, what they’re suggesting must be abominable. After all, one would probably say, why would they think she would be better than Miraz? She’d likely be worse!
And this is exactly the important lesson that this book has to learn. Throughout the story, Caspian is deciding what sort of a leader he will be, how he will deal with miscreants, what methods he will take in war, to whom he will look for strength, and what ethics he will follow with what strength he has. Here there is a very powerful point: what’s wrong is wrong, even if it’s useful at the moment.
There are more reasons to love this book, plenty of them even. I haven’t even touched on the wonderful introduction of Reepicheep, the interplay between Badger and Nikabrik, or just the delightful, spirited youth of Caspian’s voice. Few have a mastery over narrative like Lewis does, and it shines in his children’s literature more than in his “less juvenile” works. Perhaps the thing that makes these books such classics is that they aren’t only moral stories, and they aren’t only fun stories; they’re both. And that, my friends, is something that far too few Christian creatives have managed to do.