Adaptation Troubles (Part 3)

And now for the next installment of my quibbles and troubles with the recent adaptations of Inklings work. This one is the reason I’ve been saying “Inklings” instead of “Tolkien,” because this post is about two of the three recent Narnia adaptations.

I did not have the stomach to watch the third. This should tell you something.

As the folks who were adapting the series did it in order of publishing rather than by order of events, they began with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Surprisingly, given what I’m going to say about the next movie, it actually wasn’t that bad. Unfortunately, the seeds of the problems in the next movie were planted in this one.

Here’s what I mean. To begin with, Susan freaks out at Peter several times in the movie, most particularly during an utterly unnecessary action sequence that, while enjoyable, does not add to the characters in any way whatsoever, and actually detracts from them. At the end of said sequence, which occurs after the Father Christmas scene, Susan hollers at Peter, while they’re trapped on a frozen river by wolves, something like “a fat man in red suit giving you a sword doesn’t make you a hero.” This response completely ignores literally everything that just happened over the past twenty minutes or so in the movie. She’s not the only one who’s character is undermined, however: Peter’s indecision at that moment is emblematic of something else–he’s self-doubting and insecure, in a way that he’s not supposed to be. In the book, while Peter takes a little bit of time to grow into the role of warrior-prince, later king, he’s not indecisive at any point, nor does he refuse to be the hero Narnia needs him to be, something he attempts in the movie. Now, there’s a much less outwardly-troubling but still problematic–at least regarding respect for authorial intent–change that occurs in the aforementioned Father Christmas scene. Said change occurs when Susan and Lucy are given their weapons, and Father Christmas does not say to them, as he does in the book, that they are not to be in the battle, for battles are ugly when women fight. While this last bit smacks of sexism in our age of rampant egalitarianism, it is also entirely true, particularly in medieval-style combat, which is exceedingly visceral and reliant on upper-body strength. The results of this in the movie are what might be called Susan: Warrior Princess.

However, it’s still not a bad movie for all that, as it sticks reasonably close to the point of the novel.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned seeds came full flower in their foulness in the adaptation of Prince Caspian, a movie that did to the original book what the Telmarines tried to do to Narnia–tore out its heart of living flesh and replaced it with a clockwork one. I’ll explain now.

The book has two assassination plots–one against Caspian, and one against Miraz, his evil uncle. Unfortunately, the movie added more assassination plots, which all came to fruition,  as they were being plotted by the writers. The first assassination is that of Peter’s character, which the writing team took out behind a barn, shot in the back of the head, and then replaced with a mentally unstable clone. Instead of the steady, calm, rational, accepting Peter of the books, we’re given an arrogant, erratic jerk who can’t let go of the fact that once he held a kingdom, gets into fistfights, spends the first two-thirds of the movie undercutting Caspian at every opportunity, and who seems to forget the whole “Aslan” thing. The next assassination is that of the main plot of the novel, when Peter, due to the aforementioned differences, leads a doomed raid on Miraz’s castle, where the third assassination plot is set in motion. Now, the target is Caspian, who is transformed from a sensible young royal who refuses to seek the aid of the White Witch in the face of defeat to a seething ball of rage who, after the raid, decides to take the help of one of the most evil entities to ever enter Narnia, and who requires Peter and Edmund–mostly Edmund–to snap him out of it. Meantime, out of all the things to happen, a romance between Susan and Caspian got added (tell me how that makes sense), and we got Susan: Warrior Princess again. Furthermore, instead of Aslan commencing the renaturifying of Narnia during the story, with some hilarious and pointed commentary on willy-nilly modernization, we instead get a crazy river god killing things all over the place. Perhaps it was in the movie and I don’t recall it, but I don’t think so.

The movie is an addled wreck of an adaptation, and I honestly don’t think the same story was being told. At all.

I did not watch Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I heard it was worse.

Please bear with me. Next week I’ll make clear why this isn’t just me carping about how they changed it from the book.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

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7 thoughts on “Adaptation Troubles (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: Barely an Inkling of Trouble | The Soapbox Guild

  2. While Prince Caspian was admittedly a wreck, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader wasn’t all that bad. It changed the basic story in order to make a coherent film, but paid off its debt to the story with some excellent portrayals of concepts found deep within the book. I’d recommend watching it, but offer a helping hand to the struggling storytelling.

  3. “for battles are ugly when women fight. While this last bit smacks of sexism in our age of rampant egalitarianism, it is also entirely true, particularly in medieval-style combat, which is exceedingly visceral and reliant on upper-body strength.”

    So then the corollary, based on your justification of the statement, is that “battles are ugly when men fight” as well.

    I think it’s worrying that of all the minor differences that appear in the adaptations, the ones that most consistently rub you the wrong way are the ones that involve the female characters. The belittling and disrespectful “warrior princess/warrior elfess” appears in all three of the reviews. Frankly, as someone who greatly benefits from egalitarianism by being able to participate in a male-dominated profession (not the military), and what’s more, has the blessing of being respected by the men in said profession, “rampant” is a good thing.

    • Battle’s always ugly. But when women are involved, especially in medieval-style combat, it means desperation and a fight for survival–those are generally hideous.
      Regarding your concerns about sexism, I understand why these posts could be perceived in that manner. Before you simply write me off, however, I would ask that you bear with me for one more post, where I’ll explain why those changes rubs me the wrong way. If my explanation then does not satisfy you, then you may write me off as sexist if you wish.
      Fair enough?

      • Regardless of the content in your final post, I wouldn’t write you off for being sexist anyway. After all, we’re all (at least a bit) sexist, and that doesn’t mean we can’t still have some valid ideas at the same time.

        I will add that I think you dodged a bullet by not seeing “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” It was my absolute favorite book in the series, and in my opinion they didn’t even get a tenth of the way to doing it justice. “Wardrobe” and “Prince Caspian” were fantastic comparatively.

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