by Devin Brown
While The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe culminated with a grand coronation scene, Andrew Adamson’s second Narnia film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, never gets around to officially making the young prince into a king. Nor did Lewis’s original. And this is as it should be since this second adventure is about people who are more like us and about life in a world which is more like our own.
When a movie is made from a beloved children’s classic, reviews often end up being little more than a list of what was left out, added, or changed. In the case of a film series, another kind of comparison is also common. Here the reviewer provides a list of favorite elements from the first movie which are then measured against their presence or absence in the second. About a minute into watching the most recent Narnia movie, neither of these two kinds of lists seemed very important to me. Andrew Adamson’s Prince Caspian is a captivating work. And once it starts, the viewer is caught up in the same kind of storytelling wizardry that was so abundant in C. S. Lewis’s original.
Some film critics have complained that King Miraz is less interesting than the White Witch and Narnia is altogether less enchanting. Both claims are true, and both changes were intentional on Lewis’s part.
Miraz is not supposed to be anything special. He is a two-bit dictator who's not particularly bright or imaginative, the kind of self-seeking tyrant found in our world. When he wants something he steals it, like his brother’s crown. In our lives, it is unlikely we will face a villain like the White Witch, but we will all run up against a Miraz. It is fitting then that Miraz is done in by a stab in the back from his own henchman.
The repression Miraz has imposed on Narnia, while harsh, is also dull and joyless. He sent underground all the enchantment that characterized old Narnia. Without the talking animals, dwarves, mythological creatures, and spirits of the trees and streams, the land is mundane and ordinary.
In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis asked: “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantment as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.” The Narnia we find at the start of Prince Caspian, much like our own civilization, is under the spell of materialism — the belief that physical matter is the only reality, that there is nothing beyond what we can see and touch. The once magical land is disenchanted, and the four children have be summoned to help to break the spell and return Narnia to its proper state.
Some critics have noted that Prince Caspian is a darker film than the first. It is. But since it is about a later time in the children’s lives, it is also more gray than the first and less black and white. And this is another way it is more like our world. Like us, the four Pevensies must spend much of their time and energy on this second adventure simply figuring out what they are supposed to do in a world that has grown more complicated.
Other realistic elements are more evident this time around. Through Peter’s mistakes, we learn that leaders, both in Narnia and in our world, are made and not born. In the book when he finally meets Aslan, Peter regretfully confesses, “I’ve been leading them wrong ever since we started.” We get this sense of Peter’s strong remorse in the movie as well.
When Lucy meets Aslan, she tells him, “You’re bigger.” Aslan explains that he has not changed since their last meeting, but rather it is Lucy who is different. He tells her that every year she grows, she will find him bigger. And the same is true for us. As we journey with Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, and Caspian, we share in their growing awareness. One of Peter’s final lines — a line we all could echo at various points in our lives — is, “It’s all rather different from what I thought.”
Perhaps the greatest way the Prince Caspian characters are like us is in their most critical lesson: they are called to do all they can but ultimately they must depend on someone greater than themselves. If movie goers learn this important truth, then the story accomplishes what Lewis intended.
Devin Brown is a Lilly Scholar and Professor of English at Asbury College, where, among other duties, he teaches a class on Lewis. He is the author of Inside Narnia: A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Baker 2005) and Inside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to Narnia (Baker 2008). He is currently working on Inside the Voyage to the Dawn Treader to be released in fall 2010 in advance of the third film.