Originally second, and now fourth in the Narnia series, Prince Caspian has Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie whisked back to Narnia in order to help the titular prince claim his rightful throne and restore the land to its former magic. The siblings, upon their return, find themselves in the ruins of their old castle Cair Paravel. Over a millennium has passed on Narnia between the time they last went home at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and their return. (Just as, during their last visit, they reigned as kings and queens well into adulthood before returning to England as children, with no time at all passing back home.) Rather unbelievably, Cair Paravel's ruins have not been sacked or robbed in all that time, and the children find all of their old treasures and armor tucked safely away in a chamber hidden behind vines. Their memories of life in Narnia come back to them.
But in no time they encounter a dwarf named Trumpkin. Trumpkin has been sent to find the Pevensies by Prince Caspian the Tenth, the rightful heir to Narnia's throne, who summoned them by blowing Susan's old magic horn. Caspian's uncle, King Miraz, usurped the Narnian throne from Caspian's father. Miraz has since done all he can to rid the land of its magical talking animals and suppress any trace of Aslan and the days when the Pevensies sat on the thrones at Cair Paravel.
Caspian, whose imagination and yearning for those ancient times has been fired up by his tutor Dr. Cornelius, has discovered where Narnia's magical denizens have been hiding and rallied them into an army. But when they prove to be no match in battle for his uncle's forces, Caspian makes the decision to blow Susan's old horn, said to guarantee help to any who use it. Will Aslan show up again from his heavenly veldt and save the day? Will the Pevensie children help Caspian defeat his mean old uncle and restore Narnia to its once-enchanted state? Well...what do you think?
While I think there is enough of the charm of Lion here to please very young fans of that book, older readers may find this a minor entry in the series overall. There are just a number of plot elements that are sufficiently underdeveloped that the book as a whole is weakened somewhat. For one thing — Miraz. He's a perfectly one-dimensional villain. In other volumes, we're offered menacing villains whose nature and motives we understand; Jadis was a personification of spiritual evil, and so could not be other than what she was, while Rabadash in A Horse and His Boy was vain and vengeful. But Lewis gives us no reasons why Miraz killed his brother and usurped his throne, nor for his loathing of Aslan and magic. He's just the Bad Man who must be vanquished.
Aslan's behavior also doesn't make much sense here. In one passage of the book, he literally toys with the Pevensie children while they trek through miles of woods to reach Caspian's camp at the spot where Aslan was crucified in Lion. Aslan appears only to Lucy, forcing her to convince her skeptical siblings that he has reappeared. The sequence is meant to mirror the one in Lion, in which none of the other children believes Lucy has passed through the wardrobe into Narnia until they do so themselves. Clearly, Lewis has his religious-allegory game on here, and is making a point about faith. But the results are both morally and intellectually dubious this time. Why, one wonders, would Aslan feel the need to test the faith of the Pevensie children when they have already fought one mighty battle beside him, ruled his kingdom for years afterward, and when two of them firsthand witnessed his death and resurrection? You'd think they would be well beyond requiring such petty tests of faith entirely by now. (Then again, if Aslan seems a rather inconsistent and spiteful deity, that may be because Lewis patterns him too faithfully to his own.)
There are good scenes here, including one in which some members of Caspian's council, tired of waiting around for Aslan to turn up, suggest calling upon some of old Queen Jadis's black magic to defeat Miraz. But for whatever reason, Lewis in the end decides not to let Caspian be the hero of his own book. It's the old High King Peter who ends up challenging the usurper to one on one combat in order to bring their war to a prompt close. Caspian will continue to appear in the rest of the series' volumes, but he really should have been allowed to come a cropper somewhere at the climax of the book that bears his name, you know?
Will, say, a nine-year-old who loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe notice any of the problems I've critiqued above? Heck no. They'll delight to the scenes of frolic as Aslan makes his presense known to the Narnians who have long awaited his arrival, and won't think to question why none of them asks "So why did you go in the first place and where have you been anyway?" They'll get a kick once again out of Lewis's cast of talking animals, centaurs and giants, and find relatable heroes in the Pevensie siblings once more (the only other volume of the series, incidentally, in which all four will appear together). And they'll fall asleep with visions of magical adventures dancing in their heads. Which is what it's all for in the first place. Adult readers — well, this may be a sign of how jaded we get as we get older, but we're more likely to put this book down thinking that while the Narnians may well have themselves a worthy new king in Caspian, they deserve a much better god than Aslan.