Monday, May 19, 2008

Aslan is not a stuffed Lion

Like so many fans of the Inklings and mythopoeia, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, fantasy and yes, even Harry Potter, I went to see the new Narnia movie Prince Caspian.

What a disappointment.

I went with my son & daughter-in-law and grandkids; I wore my C.S. Lewis Centenary Celebration t-shirt, the one with Nancy-Lou Patterson's great illustration of Bacchus' wild girls, from the spectacular Mythopoeic conference in Wheaton in 1998.

Spoilers follow, so if you don't know the book and you wish to remain in blissful ignorance until you've seen the film, cease and desist reading now.

The Peter Jacksonification of Narnia:

It's not fair to blame Peter Jackson, horror-film director made rich and famous by turning Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings into an action-driven horror-fest in place of a character-driven epic of high fantasy. Someone, somewhere, must have thought, "ah, these films are popular because of the really impressive battle sequences!" and Walden Media, God bless their pointed little heads, thought, "ah, we must do really impressive battle sequences in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - we can even film in New Zealand!"

I was disappointed in the first film, particularly in the characterization of Peter as whiny and bossy and troubled. This invented characterization has grown larger and more putrid in Prince Caspian, which starts with him fighting *yet again* with school mates. Where is High King Peter, where is illustration of the point, repeated over and over again by Lewis, that the children start to reacquire the maturity and skills they developed in their first stay in Narnia?

Now, fine, if a person thinks there's an interesting psychological story, to look at the impact of the 'Kings & Queens grown up in Narnia, back to childhood in England' experience, tell that story independently - but it's not the story Lewis told -- it's not Prince Caspian. These are children's books, children's magical fantasy stories, rich with spiritual meaning and interesting questions. The Walden Media people ignore most of the interesting questions and contort the spiritual content.

My son's lovely wife never read the Narnia books in childhood so she came to the film without expectations to be dashed; she came away very confused. "You know at the end, when Aslan says Peter and Susan won't be returning to Narnia because they learned the lessons they were supposed to learn? What did they learn?" Good question. Perhaps they were meant to learn you don't rely on your own understanding but you follow Aslan even when it doesn't appear to make sense - in which case, they didn't learn it.

Every question she had was related to the inventions of the filmmakers: "why did they attack the castle? Why did Caspian try to attack the Old Narnians? Why didn't Peter kill Miraz if it was a challenge to the death? What was Lucy doing? Why did she leave and ride through the forest?"

Yes-- most egregious of all. Aslan, who is not a tame lion, turns out to be a stuffed lion; Lucy has to return to the place she last saw him in order to fetch him.

Give me a break!

So, to recap the confusion: these are children's books so the battles can't have any blood (swords drawn out without gore) BUT they're Peter Jacksonified so we need more battles; these are books written by a man who enjoyed a smoke and a pint BUT that would confuse American evangelicals (apparently believed to be incapable of handling the rich, full humanity of Clive Staples Lewis) so we'll delete all the festivities with Bacchus and Pan and the wild girls (--so much for my t-shirt--); for entirely unclear reasons we change the two conniving Telmarine lords into a conniving lord and a reluctant victim lord and instead of having them initiate the accusation of treachery during the challenge when Peter steps back to allow Miraz to regain his feet, the filmmakers invent a sequence where High King Peter refuses to kill his opponent during a 'fight-to-the-death' challenge, passes the task off to Caspian (who also declines, showing himself weak), and thus make for a very clumsy accusation of treachery (using one of Susan's arrows, of all things).

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