by David C. Downing
Two men walked out of the magical world of Multiplex, one of them scowling, the other humming the song he’d just heard over the closing credits of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
“What are you humming about?” said the first man, Mr. Jackobite.
“Catchy song there at the end, didn’t you think?” answered the other man, Mr. Adaptable.
“I didn’t notice,” said Jackobite. “I was too eager to get out of the theater.”
“Really? You didn’t enjoy the movie?”
“Plenty of swords and swashing bucklers,” answered his friend. “But not much Narnia. If they’re going to make a film version at all—and I’m not sure they should—why can’t they just stick to the book?”
“As to making the movie,” said Adaptable, “The Narnia stories are acknowledged classics. You know someone is going to make a film version sometime. We’ve already had an animated version of the first Narnia book in the 70s, plus those low-budget adaptations on the BBC in the 80s. I’m sure you know the 2005 version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is among the top 30 most profitable movies of all time. Once you factor in DVD sales, it has grossed over one billion dollars world-wide.”
“The wages of cinema,” said Jackobite. “But the first film stayed reasonably close to the book. Why all the changes in Prince Caspian?”
“Like what?” asked Adaptable.
“Just little things like the characters and the plot,” said Jackobite. “In the book Peter, the eldest of the Pevensies, is a natural leader, always magnanimous and level-headed. But in the film he’s a hot-headed teenager, brawling in the railway station and rashly attacking the Telmarines against the counsel of his wisest advisors.”
“Yes, Peter is certainly an admirable young man in the print version of Caspian,” said Adaptable. “But perhaps he’s a flat character? Too predictably mature and reliable? I suppose the film makers thought it would be more interesting if Peter had to grow into his role as High King, to make a few mistakes along the way.”
“And what about Susan?” asked Jackobite. “In the book, she is called a girl, and Prince Caspian is called a boy. But in the film, she’s played by a 19-year-old woman with pouty lips who keeps exchanging smoldering glances with a dashing 26-year-old actor playing Caspian. In the books, she doesn’t take part in the battle scenes. But in the film, she’s a regular killing machine, mowing down Telmarines with her bow and arrows faster than most people can shoot a gun.”
“I’d chalk up the first point to audience demographics. Children don’t mind a little suggestion of romance. But teenagers don’t want to watch a film about child warriors.”
“Maybe they should have called the film Prince Cash-me-in,” said Jackobite glumly.
“On the second point, Susan fighting in battles, I know there was quite a bit of discussion during the film’s production. Douglas Gresham, C. S. Lewis’s stepson and co-producer of the films, didn’t want to deviate too much from Lewis’s view: that it’s ugly to see women fighting. But Andrew Adamson, who has two daughters himself, thought it was a negative message to send to young girls, that you can train in weapons but shouldn’t ever use them.”
“So that’s a positive message for young girls?” said Jackobite. “That they can prove their worth by being just as violent and macho as men?”
Adaptable just shrugged. “Depends on your views about gender roles, I suppose,” he said.
“I wonder what Lewis would think,” said Jackobite. “He who didn’t even like radios or tv, much less films. He called the cinema an ugly art form, “disagreeable to the eye—crowded, unrestful, inharmonious.” He thought the main reason people went to movie theaters was to get warm on a cold, damp night. [Letters 3, 105]
“Yes, but I notice from the biographies he did sneak out occasionally to see some fantasy movies like “King Kong” and “Snow White.”
“Speaking of other movies,” said Jackobite, “didn’t you think Prince Caspian drew as much from other films as it did from C. S. Lewis? The battle scenes, complete with massed armies and rock-throwing catapults, were right out The Lord of the Rings. Some of the sight-gags, like the one with the cat, seemed lifted from Shrek. And Caspian, with his well-coiffed hair and nimble sword-fighting looked like an out-take from Pirates of the Caribbean. As for young ladies dangling over cliffs, where do you think they got the term ‘cliff-hanger’?”
“Granted, I saw some cinematic pastiche there,” answered Adaptable. “But didn’t Lewis do the same thing in the Narnia books?—mixing classical mythology with medieval astrology with Christian theology? Fauns and satyrs mixed in with dwarves and dragons and talking beasts and even Father Christmas?”
“When you do it in books, it is called ‘creative synthesis.’ When you do it in films, it is called stealing,” explained Jackobite with a grin. Then he added, “But what would Lewis think about someone turning his Narnia books into movies?”
“Again, from his letters, I gather that he wasn’t totally opposed to the idea. His main concern was that Aslan is a divine figure who should not be portrayed comically. He thought that would be a kind of blasphemy.” [Letters 3, 491]
“Yes, I recall that remark,” said Jackobite. “’Nothing in the Disney line,’” Lewis wrote. “What would he think of this new version, complete with fireworks exploding behind a fantasy castle? Isn’t that the most brazen product placement you ever saw?”
“Who knows what Lewis would think?” said Adaptable. “Maybe he would be happy to see anything that sends people back to his books, that quickens their spiritual imagination. If you recall, there were quite a few hostile reviews of the Narnia tales when they first came out. I suppose viewers of the Narnia films will have to decide for themselves, just as readers of the books had to decide for themselves.”
Jackobite just shook his head and headed for the concession counter. “I need a Slushee to cleanse my palate,” he said. Adaptable followed after him, hands in pockets, still humming that tune from the closing minutes of Prince Caspian.
Downing serves as a consulting editor on Lewis for Christian Scholars Review, Christianity and Literature, and Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review. His most recent book is A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy (Cumberland Press, 2007). His college website may be found at http://users.etown.edu/d/downindc/)