Barely an Inkling of Trouble

The beloved Narnia books by Lewis

In light of certain movie reviews done by a certain Van Ness who writes as the lead author on a certain blog, I thought some pushback appropriate. I’ll start with the adaptations of the Narnia series. I grew up on Narnia, experiencing the books with my family before I could even read on my own, and many times since. They were a hugely formative part of my childhood, and are still deeply influential to my worldview. As to the movies, I have seen the first two, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian more than a few times, and the third one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, at least twice. I found these movies enjoyable, fun, and– for the most part– faithful to the heart of Lewis’ vision of Narnia. Of course, they do not keep to the details of the books, which good movie adaptations do not necessarily do, so we should compare them with the vision of the book instead. I do agree with Lowell that the second and third ones have some problems where the director missed Lewis’ intent, and I will address those concerns. However, they get a lot right, too.

Beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie, I must say Andrew Adamson treated the source with respect. His attention to detail while maintaining both Lewis’ story and heart is pretty awesome. Lewis wrote the Narnia books after debating Elizabeth Anscombe over his book Miracles, where he decided that to fully appreciate Christian truth, it must affect a person in a deeper way than a purely rational approach affords. It is like looking “along” truth rather than “at” truth. Lewis’ analogy for this approach was looking at a beam of light in a dark shed, versus looking along that beam of light at what is being illuminated. Thus Lewis wrote Narnia, in part, as an allegory that demonstrates Christian truth in the “along” sense. Along with the Pevensie children, we enter Narnia to see the wonder of a universe with deep meaning built into it, all culminating in a personal Creator. The Wardrobe especially employs this method, and Adamson’s film kept most of this in the first movie.  The big-picture stuff is all there. The sacrificial death of Aslan to save Edmund after he had betrayed his family, the White Witch’s timely end at the hands of a resurrected Aslan, the Gifts of a jovial Father Christmas, the redemption of Mr. Tumnus, the turning of the children from trusting themselves to trusting Aslan– they all made it onscreen. Even a lot of the little things from Lewis show up. During the London bombings, when the children are evacuated to the old country manor house of the Professor, where the Wardrobe sits, Professor Kirke uses Lewis’ famous Trilemma argument for Jesus’ truth claims, but instead for Lucy’s claims that a magical country exists in an old wardrobe.

 A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. (…) Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.                                    -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Professor Kirke in the film, who uses the Trilemma to determine Lucy’s truthfulness.

In the film version, Professor Kirke questions Peter and Susan about Lucy’s claim:

Peter: The wardrobe upstairs, Lucy thinks she’s found a forest inside.

Prof. Kirke: What was it like?

Susan: Like talking to a lunatic!

Prof. Kirke: No, not her – the forest!

Peter: You’re-you’re not saying you believe

(more talk)

Prof. Kirke: Well then, if your sister isn’t lying and isn’t mad then logically we must assume that she is telling the truth. She’s your sister, isn’t she? You’re a family! It’s high time you start acting like one!

(script from here)

Next, Adamson also incorporated Lewis’ vision of the Tao from The Abolition of Man, called the “deep magic” in The Wardrobe. When Narnia was built, Aslan tells Peter in the film, a “deep magic” was made that governed right and wrong, defining good and evil. In Abolition, Lewis talks about the foundation of morality in the Tao, his term for this fundamental, created moral order that persists across the globe through time and place, coming ultimately from God. Furthermore, Aslan tells the Witch “I was there when the deep magic was made.” and later tells Lucy and Susan that the Tao, er… deep magic, goes deeper. When a willing, innocent victim offers himself in place of the guilty, the deep magic’s demand for death as the punishment for treason against the right and true is sated, and death itself begins to turn backwards. While this isn’t a perfect comparison with the Lewis’ conception of the Tao, the movie gets awfully close and keeps a lot of gospel-echoes.

Now on to the issues of the Gifts of Father Christmas and Peter’s character in The Wardrobe (nothing excuses the jerk the writers made him in Prince Caspian. To avoid the accusation of TL-DR, I suppose I’ll address Prince Caspian and The Dawn Treader in a separate post.) Nearly all of the issues raised in “Adaptation Troubles” are minor issues that fit well within the liberties of adapting books to films. Here’s why: First, while an unfortunate aspect of making a movie adaptation in the 21st century, it was necessary to have some Susan: Warrior Princess. However, Father Christmas did admonish Lucy that battles are ugly affairs, while Susan cheekily asks “Whatever happened to battles are ugly affairs?” when offered her bow, acknowledging that concern from Lewis, though not to the degree that Lowell or I would wish. Second, Peter, while more hesitant to take up his task than in the book, still takes on that role rather quickly, deciding he will send his sisters and brothers to safety while staying and fighting himself, though Lucy nixes that idea. As for the frozen river scene, Peter is doubtful of his role, true, but he also does not give in to the temptation to put down his sword as Susan pushes him to do. Plus, for the first time drawing it, ever, keeping it pointed at Maugrim isn’t too bad. This scene actually does contribute to the movie, as it adds suspense and background to the encounter with Maugrim in Aslan’s Camp later, where he finally slays the wolf-chief. In the latter scene, Peter knows that the voice of Maugrim is the voice of evil, however tempting it may be, and Mr. Beaver’s call to “Kill him, kill him now, run ’em through!” is the proper response. In a way, the river scene acts as a temptation scene in which Peter is confronted with the deceptive voice of giving in to evil, wherever it comes from, or doing bravely and rightly. Peter Wolfsbane ultimately chooses the latter, and ultimately fits his character in Lewis’ vision.


One thought on “Barely an Inkling of Trouble

  1. The fact is that I agree with you that the problems in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are relatively minor, in and of themselves. It is when they are combined with the utter wreck that was Prince Caspian that they become troubling.
    I would like to see a post on Prince Caspian before I say anything else.

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