Trouble in Narnia

The more I hear about the upcoming Prince Caspian film (to be released May 16), the more worried I am about it. First, there was director Andrew Adamson’s promise (clearly supposed to excite us) that the movie would be “battles all the way through.” Then there was the screenwriters’ post on the official film blog indicating that they would be exploring the psychological difficulties faced by the Pevensie children as they deal with the transition from being Kings and Queens in Narnia to being schoolchildren in England. Blech.

Now, a report from Quint at Ain’t It Cool News on 45 minutes of footage from the film reveals the details of these revisions (Feel free to skip the profanity-laced narrative of his plane journey and scroll down to where he begins to describe the footage).

Apparently the first scene with the Pevensies involves Peter fighting with another boy in a London Underground station. Great. Describing this scene, Quint reports, “It’s pretty clear that Peter wishes he was important again, someone to be loved and respected. He doesn’t say as much, but it’s pretty obvious. He went from King to child in war-torn Britain overnight.” It’s hard to tell how much of this is Quint’s interpretation and how much is actually in the scene, but it would seem to fit with what the screenwriters had in mind when they wrote the following:

Another intriguing thing for us in revisiting these characters has been exploring the effects their experiences in the first film might’ve had on them. It’s an area Lewis leaves mostly untouched. He memorably examines what it would be like for a 1940′s schoolkid to become King of Narnia. However, he doesn’t much consider what it would be like for a King of Narnia to return to being a 1940′s schoolkid.

That year back in London must have been awkward at best. Imagine going from giving orders…to taking them. From fighting wars and throwing royal balls…to doing homework. Given their different personalities, each Pevensie handles the situation with varying levels of success. Some are resigned, others frustrated, and their sudden return to Narnia should push different buttons in each.

Does it occur to them that there might be a reason that C.S. Lewis doesn’t explore this aspect of the children’s experience? That he might want to leave it up to the readers’ imaginations? That it might not be relevant to the story he’s telling?

I’ve been trying to figure out why the scene described bothers me so much, and I think it has to do with the fact that it basically undermines Aslan’s explanation (and yes, this is in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which occurs after Prince Caspian) that the children have been brought to Narnia to meet Aslan so that they may come to know him better back in their own world. Lewis never really explores how the children come to know “Aslan” in England because this would obviously involve blatant didacticism. But this one passage from Dawn Treader has been a huge comfort for young readers like myself, who thrilled to the possibility that we could meet Aslan in our own world (hint: he’s Jesus), in our own stories.

From the film clip description, it seems like the filmmakers are more intent on exploring how the children are feeling bereft back in their own world—not even feeling bereft of Aslan, which would be understandable if they haven’t yet figured out that he’s in England too, but feeling bereft of grown-up “importance.”

From later scenes Quint describes, it appears that Peter’s return to Narnia doesn’t really improve his character. He pushes for a large-scale attack because his “over-confidence has crossed over into cockiness. He’s King here. He can do anything.”

Bah. Can’t contemporary Hollywood give us an uncomplicated, noble king for once? In the film of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter was the reluctant king figure—like a wimpier, adolescent version of what Peter Jackson made Aragorn into in The Lord of the Rings movies. Are we so steeped in irony that we can’t trust a character who is humble and yet kingly? Do we not understand the difference between humility and lack of self-esteem? Or between authority and cockiness?

Of course, the children do learn hard, character-forming lessons in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. They’re not perfect little beings, nor should they be. But there’s something about Aslan declaring you King or Queen that enables you to start acting like a King or Queen—and that’s the aspect that sounds like it’s totally missing here. Also, let’s not forget Aslan’s words at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.”

So, Christ and Pop Culture readers, do you share my fears about the Prince Caspian movie? Or am I being too picky?

Hat tip to Peter Chattaway’s FilmChat for many of these Caspian updates.

About Carrisa Smith
  • http://cindyswanslife.blogspot.com Cindy Swanson

    After reading your post, I’m bothered too. Why does Hollywood have to take a perfectly wonderful story and mess with it? The stories are rich and entertaining enough without having to add a lot of stuff. I hope the changes aren’t extensive.

    Cindy Swanson’s last blog post..Picture Your Life!

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Carissa,

    You’re killing me! Given the fact that so much of the movie will likely be unfaithful to the book, did you have to ruin my last months of joyful anticipation? Sigh.

    That said, I think you’re right. They are moving beyond “dressing up” the story (as in the first movie) and into “reinterpreting,” which is dangerous with a normal book and potentially disasterous with a book communicating a particular worldview. Hopefully the overall impression people will walk away with will bear some similarity to that of the book, even if it is very different in the details.

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright, in Context

  • Carissa Smith

    Ben, sorry for crushing your spirits. People always tell me I’m a little ray of sunshine.

    From the trailers, it looks like Aslan does appear in the movie . . . at least once.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I’ve mostly skipped your explanation of how the movie differs from the book (as I’m not so much a fan of deflating a story for myself), so take that for what its worth.

    Your disappointment aside, the reimagining of Lewis’s stories is the only thing that could generate my interest in the movies. After all, I’ve read the books. Why would I need (or want) a movie that follows so closely the motives, characterizations, and even plot of the book?

    The first film made from Lewis’s Chronicles was a mediocre effort because it took so literally from its source material. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe could only have been an incredible movie had the director had the presence of mind to remake the story. Doing so could also have caused the film to be an affront to cineastes, but such a choice would be the only way to craft a truly interesting film of The Chronicles. As it was, dogged adherence to Lewis’s vision produced a mediocre film that was pretty nearly as good as it could be, under the circumstances. (Granted: they could have selected a better voice-over choice than Liam Neeson, who just didn’t fit with the character he was trying to portray).

  • Carissa Smith

    Reimagining is great, yes. As long as a production preserves the spirit of the book, I’m all for reimagining the details. I would actually argue that the problem with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was that they stuck to the details while completely missing the spirit of the story.

    My favorite adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was a performance I saw in a tiny theater in Chicago. Lots of things had to change from the book, obviously. Plot had to be condensed, fantastic characters had to be rendered without the aid of the WETA workshop, which all resulted in a very creative product–which I think communicated the spirit of The Lord of the Rings story better than the more literally faithful films.

    All this to say that my objections to what seems to be happening with Prince Caspian are not to the changing of details, but rather to the failure to grasp the main point.

    All this to say that there’s a difference between exercising creativity and

  • Richard Clark

    Great post, but I think I’m pretty much with The Dane on this one.

    Concerning: “Can’t contemporary Hollywood give us an uncomplicated, noble king for once?”

    Why? The only purely noble king that ever was was King Jesus. Even David was pretty incredibly complicated (complex?) and less than noble at various times. And that’s that gives him depth and relatability. The same can be said with pretty much any other authority figure.

    I get why Aslan needs to be basically perfect. But I feel perfectly fine with them taking some liberties with Prince Caspian. After all, it’s not like our hope lies in him.

  • Carissa Smith

    Whoops–sorry that last sentence cut off. Anyway, I was just going to say that there’s a difference between exercising creativity and sticking in themes that Disney executives want to see in a movie. I don’t know that this is what’s happening with Caspian, but the foreign-to-the-book themes in the first film (be nice to your family, etc.) seemed to be the sorts of things that Disney pushes in all its products.

  • Richard Clark

    Good point, Carissa. I completely agree.

    Though I still don’t see how that’s being done by making the characters more complex. What themes should be in Prince Caspian? What are the false themes that might be presented?

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    I certainly can agree that the most important job for a book-to-movie director is to recapture the central point and impression of the book.

    The problem with “reimagining” or “reinterpreting” is that a book portrays a particular worldview, with its own special nuances and balances. The director ought to be faithful to the original vision.

    For instance, my wife and I were recently given the book, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” for our soon-to-be-born son. It’s a beautiful tale with a thoroughly Christian worldview. This particular version had been given a delux new set of illustrations.

    But what if the illustrations changed the meaning of the story? What if they portrayed, seperate from the dialogue, the Skin Horse smashing the toy soldiers in the background so that the Velveteen Rabbit could rise to the top? Or what if it showed that, for all his preaching, the Skin Horse had never become real and had no idea what he was talking about?

    It seems to me that if you are given the priviledge of directing a movie whose subject is a book loved my millions, you ought to view your job as a faithful illustrator rather than giving yourself the right to “reimagine,” the story. Especially in the case of a book making important comments on the author’s understanding of transcendent truth.

    (for instance, I felt the portrayal of Aslan as a maverick military general who understood magic was very unfaithful to Lewis’ picture of an ultimately sovereign Lord over Narnia. That was a bigger problem than Edmund incorrectly meeting Mr. Tumnus in the Witch’s castle.)

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright, in Context

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Carissa and Ben – But why? Why ought a director be faithful to the original vision? Why must a production preserve the spirit of the book?

    I can certainly see that a director may do so, but I can’t think of any reason that he should. You speak of it in terms that sound like moral duty.

    Would a film that reinterprets the Troy, presenting it as a blanket indictment of the gods and of religion be repugnant because such a film would stray from the intents of both Homer and Virgil? For that matter, is Virgil damned for altering the spirit of the thing in his crafting of The Aeneid?

    You might not like the recasting of the central meaning of Narnia, but does that mean that recasting is a bad thing? Or doesn’t it make more sense to simply judge particular instances of recasting on their own merits rather than to levy complaint against recasting generally? The way you both speak, it sounds as if something is owed to either the author or the audience.

    We don’t take this tack with covers of songs that reinterpret the original; so why should we create such boundaries for cinema?

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    First and foremost, it’s not your material. If someone writes a love poem to his wife and I read it to an audience in a way that suggests it is a subtle proclamation of his homosexual tendencies, I am placing my meaning over against his intended meaning and corrupting his goal.

    Similarly, for a director to take an artistic work designed to highlight certain transcendent themes and to turn it into a war story highlighting the power of family is unfair to the creator of the material. If Disney wants to create its OWN story, fine. And if they want to make the movie so that it correctly portrays the characters and meaning, that’s wonderful. But to take the material and change the meaning is unfairly capitalizing on the creativity and intent of Lewis.

    The most famous advocate of reinterpretation is Nietzsche. He called for historical tales to be changed to make the point the writer wants to make (such as in Braveheart or Richard Wagner’s work). However, that was for historical tales. To reinterpret someone else’s work in the way you want to capitalize on their audience is both lazy and unethical.

    You cite the example of Virgil and Homer, but that is different. Virgil created his own work. If Disney buys the rights to the Narnia world and writes their own story within that world, fine. But they are not doing that. They are specifically telling audiences that this is the tale C.S. Lewis intended to tell, and I think that is a lie.

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Improv Everywhere Does It Again! Baseball

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – But wait a minute, the instant a movie begins being made, it is no longer solely the material of the author. It’s all well and good to say that the material belongs to the original author, but who really thinks that way?

    When we see Citizen Kane, we think Orson Welles. When we see Casablanca, we attribute it to Bogart. Or maybe Ingrid Bergman or Claude Rains or Sydney Greenstreet or even Peter Lorre. Rarely do we think Mankiewicz or Burnett or Epstein.

    Why? Because filmmaking is an ensemble work. It’s a clash—and sometimes a violent clash—of visions. And at the end of it, there is no Author. No Owner of the tale. Instead, you have a multitude of authors. If we are concerned that Lewis be the sole maintainer of every telling of The Chronicles, we should not be bemoaning that the directors/producers are taking liberties with the story, but rather, we should be incensed that a movie would ever be made, for no matter how “faithfully” a film is made, every person involved is rewriting the story.

    You mention that to alter the author’s purpose in one’s reimagining of one medium’s tale into another’s is unfair to the creator. Whether this charge of unfairness is the case or not,* the alteration of stories is inevitable with the retelling of the story. The only way to avoid this is for a creator’s work to never move beyond the boundaries of the state in which it was originated. And so, no movie should ever be made because the director and actors are constantly and wildly reinterpreting the sacred creation of the the screenwriter.

    Finally, you conclude by saying that Disney is telling people that this is the tale C.S. Lewis intended to tell. Are they really doing that? I haven’t heard anything along those lines, but I suppose it’s possible. In that case, not only is it a lie but incredibly dumb.

    *note: I truly doubt that “unfair” is the right term to describe the adaptation of a story into forms beyond (or even opposed to) what its creator intended. As creators of stories, we expect that if our stories have any life beyond our initial telling, that life is seeded in retelling—and what’s the point of retelling if it’s merely regurgitation. We who are storytellers realize this and only the most pretentious of us demand that no one else defile our story with their own versions.

  • Alan Noble

    The underlying issue to all this that really bothers me is the apparent moral need to make books into films. Frankly, I don’t believe these books or the LOTR series should have been made into film.

  • Mink

    This is touching on some of the Stickiest Issues of collaborative artmaking. What liberties can artists take with one another’s work without simply appropriating it to their own ends (i.e. breaking copyright, legalistically speaking!)? At what point should the terminology “based on” become “inspired by”? Does a film-making team hired to adapt certain books into films have an ethical responsibility to do just that, rather than to use the books as a loose guideline, a quick and dirty provision of plot arcs, themes, and character names that can be added to or disposed of at will?

    I’d say that one artist, entrusted with making a representation of another artist’s work in a different medium, may not choose instead to make a work that is loosely informed by the other artist’s work, unless she clearly indicate that she is taking the liberty of gathering fodder from that artist in order to create her own independent piece of art.

    The example of a musician reinterpreting another musician’s songs is not as apt since both the earlier musician and the subsequent musician are interpreting a songwriter’s song. It takes place within the same medium. That is more akin to a playwright writing a play that various theaters perform. The songwriter or playwright absolutely must be credited for their piece of art which is then interpreted (and this is indeed a moral issue – copyright law, for all its flaws, is still very interested in moral right).

    In these instances, furthermore, it is generally accepted that the great interpretations of songs or plays are those that seek to draw out the essence being communicated by the writer – the good writer and the good musician or actor need one another to effectively say what the writer hopes to convey.

    Obviously, all art is created out of the bits and pieces around us (we are subcreators), but when one artist works closely with the art of another, he has a moral obligation to develop attribution that acknowledges the sources, the influences, and the innovations.

    Personally, I’m not surprised to see Disney do again what they do so well: hijack the selling power of yet one more mythic story for its trappings, when they’re really just trotting out their annual message, always something insipid like “just be yourself!”

    So funny, I just had that conversation with a co-worker about the downfall of the heroic hero, and PC and Aragorn figured into the mix. We blamed it on James Joyce (all too easy).

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Good comments, all.

    I can follow that a movie does not have one author. As I mentioned, I am of course aware that a certain amount of license must be taken to make it work.

    That said, I disagree with the notion that once an artist creates a work, that work is, “set free,” and anyone can take and reinterpret it all they want. “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and the following books are C.S. Lewis’s creation. When you create a movie that purports to tell the story in movie form, it ought to tell THAT story, not an alternate story with the same title, characters, and storyline.

    The fact is, the story is not that hard to figure out and they changed certain details to purposefully change the message. The artistic work has been robbed of its artistic intent*, and only postmodernism thinks that’s the way it should be.

    *One side note I would make is that if a story’s intent is merely to tell a story, then it opens up the possibilities. For instance, most fairy tales are primarily intended to simply be interesting stories with perhaps a simple moral. This is very different than a piece of fiction trying to communicate transcendent truths.

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Improv Everywhere Does It Again! Baseball

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Alan – I actually agree with that one. When I heard that The Chronicles were being made into films I was mildly horrified because, for the most part, the series is unfilmable (not that it couldn’t be filmed but that it wouldn’t make “good movies” simply because the stories are not cinematic—instead, they’re good books). My only hope for them was reimagination, but it was a slim hope because the howling of the fanboys (and girls) would be almost as bad as if the Harry Potter films didn’t adhere to their source material (I remember hearing people leaving the theater distraught after HP1 because of the absence of Nick’s Death-Day Party).

    Still, I’m not sure its so much the sense of a moral duty that propels producers to rework every book on earth into a feature film as it is simply the realization that fanboys have wallets.

    @Mink – “It is generally accepted that the great interpretations of songs or plays are those that seek to draw out the essence being communicated by the writer.”

    You just made that up. That may be what you look for, but I don’t know that you can make it “generally accepted” by just saying so.

    Still, your point about attribution is valid. Credit where credit is due and all that. I prefer seeing “Based on …” because its so general a term that we can recognize that a story’s kernels come from somewhere else but that we’re obviously seeing a new take on something else.

  • Carissa Smith

    Wow–this is getting fun!

    There are definitely some book-to-movie adaptations that are vastly different from their source material that I value highly. Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men and A Little Princess, for example. Both of those are films that can be evaluated on their own as completely separate critters from the books by P.D. James and Frances Hodgson Burnett, respectively. Cuaron’s Children of Men departs from James’s novel pretty dramatically, in tone and ultimate “message,” which some have said makes it less Christian than the book, while some have argued that the movie is actually closer to Christian truth. I have no problem with Cuaron doing this–and admittedly, that may be because I don’t like James as a writer in the first place, but I think it may have more to do with the fact that Cuaron’s film is clearly the product of a distinct (if collaborative) artistic vision. It’s a work of art on its own merit.

    (And, as a side note, I should mention that Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was hobbled by having the book’s author as the ultimate go-to authority for screenwriter Steve Kloves. If C.S. Lewis were alive and dictating the script for the Narnia films, it probably wouldn’t be a good thing, because film is a completely different medium.)

    That said, it’s hard for me to judge the Narnia films on their own merit because I don’t sense a thoughtful artist (or group of artists) behind them. The departures from Lewis’s books seem to be less of artistic license and more insertions of elements just because they’ll sell well or because they’re Disney’s usual refuge from originality.

  • Alan Noble

    I think there are other issues to take into account here. For example, many Christians supported the first film because it was “Christian”–trusting that if the books were Christian the films would be also, trusting that the original intent and content of the books would be transfered to the film.

    Because so many Christians have (uncritically) supported this series, it is good to point out how changes have been made, even significant changes, to remind people that they are not going to watch Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, but an adaptation.

    In addition, since Waldon and Disney have been so active in marketing these films to churches, even the producers seem to be implying that the “Christian” content will remain intact.

    So if the creators of these films and many of the people watching them are under the assumption that they will be viewing a relatively faithful (at least in regard to the “Christian message”) adaptation, it seems more than fair that we can call attention to the changes that are made and consider how they might alter the “message” that is being marketed and expected.

    Now as for the larger question of altering a story against the original author’s intentions, that (I believe) is a separate and much more complicated issue.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – I still don’t see the merit of your use of “ought.” You can keep saying it, but I don’t think you have yet demonstrated the existence of such a thing as the moral necessity to maintain the integrity of a creator’s vision when producing a derivative work.

    Fortunately, and I feel warm and cuddly about this one, I deftly avoid any accusation of the dreaded pejorative postmodern by suggesting not that all stories should be reinterpreted (a.k.a. apparently, “robbed of artistic intent”—I personally prefer “infused with artistic intent,” but toMAYto/toMAHto…) but that they may or even can be reinterpreted.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Carissa – “It’s hard for me to judge the Narnia films on their own merit because I don’t sense a thoughtful artist (or group of artists) behind them.”

    That right there is a very good reason to not like this particular adaptation. Really, I don’t think it’s possible for the creators to succeed (even supposing it was something hands-off like FOX Searchlight instead of Disney) because the books need changing both to be competent film-stories and to reflect their audiences (with the amount of money Disney is funneling into these productions, they really need to craft bankable films), but such changes are certain to piss off purists who would rather get the straight dope. I almost feel sorry for the filmmakers because of the warring expectations they are toiling under—but then I remember that they’re going to produce something only slightly in the realm of watchable and that pity quickly evaporates.

    And you’re right about Cuaron. While HP3 was easily my favourite of the films, it was too bad that he didn’t have more liberty. Cuaron’s not the kind of director you reign in; he’s the kind you let loose and then revel in what he’s created.

    @Alan – You’re right. We should be warning people off of becoming mindless consumers, blown to and fro with the winds of capitalist whimsy. That someone would see Narnia and presume Christianity is telling of the apathy with which we Americans approach pop-Christianity and its culture.

  • Mink

    If an artist makes something that isn’t really an adaptation, he “should” call it something other than an adaptation. Of course, this premise is acceptable only if, like me, you think language conveys meaning, and that to intentionally weaken that link in an attempt to further one’s individual agenda is immoral.

    In terms of the grounding for the “shoulds” and the “oughts” of art-making and remaking, you all might enjoy reading Dorothy L Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker, or J.R.R. Tolkien’s meditations “On Fairy-Stories” and “Leaf by Niggle”. Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time also touches on the moral responsibility of artists to subject and audience. Of course, there’s nothing like making art and giving it to an audience for getting acquainted with the effects of one art-making ethos or another.

    Ten[ish] Fabulous Adapted (and reimagined, and reinterpreted, and loosely inspired by) Films

    1. Pride and Prejudice (A&E) (Duh.)
    2. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (21 books to 1 movie–phew!)
    3. Doubt (starring Emma Thompson)
    4. Portrait of a Lady (dir. Jane Campion)
    5. Fight Club
    6. Much Ado About Nothing (Branagh)
    7. Clueless
    8. Romeo+Juliet
    9. Vanity Fair (starring Reese Witherspoon)
    10. The House of Mirth (dir. & writer Terence Davies)
    11. 10 Things I Hate About You

    Oh yeah, and Beowulf. Seamus Heaney’s, I mean. He took great liberties and made something good. (The movie, on the other hand, took great liberties and made something negligible.)

  • Carissa Smith

    Here’s an interesting new interview with Douglas Gresham about Prince Caspian. Of course, as one of the movie’s producers, he has to say it’s the best yet.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/interviews/douglasgresham3.html

  • Alan Noble

    Thanks for the link Carissa. I love how he responds to the criticism that Aslan was too safe:

    “Gresham: I haven’t heard those criticisms. All of the people who talk to me about Aslan were awestruck by him in the movie. I don’t know how I’d react to that criticism, because for me he’s an immensely powerful figure in the movie—and I’m probably the severest critic in the world.”

    Translation: “I am the severest critic in the world and I never thought he was too safe. Therefore, the criticism must be invalid.”

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Mink – I too think language conveys meaning, but I don’t see that the subversion of one form via adaptation to another is immoral. Unless, perhaps, one represents that the new work is the work of the old creator. I can’t count many instances of this, so I generally think the immorality of Hollywood is found in other quarters.

    But then I’m not a huge fan of the idea of Intellectual Property either. That’s too much a tool and product of capitalist ideologies for me to put much stock in it as any kind of universal ethic.

    I did like your list of nice adaptations. I think Shakespeare is probably the most adapted writer in history. I’ve really enjoyed some presentations of his work (e.g., Kurosawa’s Ran and Throne of Blood, Loncraine’s Richard III, and even Taymor’s Titus—more for visual flair on that one than for anything else).

    Re: “There’s nothing like making art and giving it to an audience for getting acquainted with the effects of one art-making ethos or another.”

    That is certainly true. As an artist and one who has worked on collaborative projects and one who has had works taken and usurped for derivative works, I’m well-acquainted with this sort of thing. I’m actually a big booster (as if you couldn’t guess by now) for adaptations that subvert original intent, that surprise through the use of derivation. The idea of replicating is of little interest to me, but taking an existing thing and altering it, changing it into something new and different is philosophically far more intriguing. Of course, if it is accomplished with neither art nor craft, I’m not gonna appreciate it all that much.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @All – Incidentally, I can’t wait to hear the combined evangelical howl when (if) the final film is made and the whole worshipping-Tash-genuinely = worshipping-Aslan-by-another-name thing comes up. Oh my that will be awesome to behold.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Not to fear, Dane. If we want, we Christians can put up the dough to make our own final movie, and we can reinterpret the story not to say that. Who cares what Lewis thought about his own story?

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Improv Everywhere Does It Again! Baseball

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I’d be fine with that :)

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – Thinking about it, you do raise an interesting question. As you are one of those both saddened by the departure from Lewis’ vision and a booster for adherence to creator vision generally, would you be upset if the makers of The Last Battle removed that particular aspect of heterodoxy from the film, seeing as it was definitely part of the book’s theme and Lewis’ vision for the Chronicles?

    If you’re consistent, I’m sure you’d have to answer that you were upset by its absence; but I’m not certain how consistent would be many of the others upset by the fiddling that went on in the first one (and now, it seems, in Caspian).

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Dane,

    You’re right, it would absolutely upset me.

    I will throw out one thought, but keep in mind I’m not attempting to equivocate, just to think things through.

    The only way “around” the problem that I could see, based on my perspective on this issue, would be for the move creators to say,

    “We know Lewis did not believe following Allah will get someone into heaven. If we put that part in, people will misinterpret and think Lewis felt ‘all roads lead to the mountaintop’ as it were. So, let’s change some details to be faithful to what he did want to communicate with his whole theology and not mislead people.”

    That seems to me the only justifiable way around, because they are still trying to be faithful to Lewis’ worldview and theology, and are worried that misinterpretations would abound if they left the section in unaltered.

    In other words, I’m not looking for the movie to be a perfect, though shortened, copy of the book. I’m looking for it to faithfully express the artistic goals of the creator. Decisions made with that paradigm are both respectful and yet allowing of (some) freedom to change things to fit the format.

    One good example is the book and movie of, “Everything is Illuminated.” The movie differed significantly from the book, chopping out whole sections and changing significant details. Yet even so, I think it perfectly expressed the humor, sadness, beauty, and pain of the book. It is one of the few cases where I can reread the book or rewatch the movie and enjoy both experiences.

    Further, it is one of the few times I can watch the movie or read the book and have extremely similar experiences. To me, this is just what a movie adaptation should seek to do.

    The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, though enjoyable, made some minor changes that massively altered the artistic experience Lewis provided. I actually think the BBC version does a significantly better job.

    So yes, I’ll be upset if they don’t include that one part. But I’ll be MORE upset if they do include it, but use it to suggest some form of pluralistic theology, which I am sure Lewis did not intend to promote.

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  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    One way of considering this is to look at how Ayn Rand created characters. She would spend hours writing out her thoughts about her characters’ personalities… even though she knew it would never go in the book.

    So, she might write, “Dagny is such and such a person, who reacts to problem such and such a way. She is confused by the world around her but believes hard work can overcome it…”

    She would then make sure that everything Dagny said or did in the book was consistent with her personality “backstory,” so that the overall picture of Dagny would be clear and consistent to the reader.

    My problem with the The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was that the overall character presented by the movie (especially Aslan) was inconsistent with the overall character as presented by the book. To me, that is creation of a new character, and as such is unfaithful to the book.

    Of course I can’t MAKE a movie producer or director not do that, but it annoys me in the same way it would annoy me if a person copied the Mona Lisa but made her ugly and gave her a huge smile instead of her mysterious smile, and then said, “This is Da Vinci’s great work, the Mona Lisa!” No it isn’t! It’s a copy you made that is unfaithful to the original. And it’s obnoxious.

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  • Carissa Smith

    Re: The Dane’s comment: “If you’re consistent, I’m sure you’d have to answer that you were upset by its absence; but I’m not certain how consistent would be many of the others upset by the fiddling that went on in the first one (and now, it seems, in Caspian).”

    I think this question makes a number of sweeping assumptions about evangelicals and about those who are troubled by the movies–and they aren’t necessarily the same group, though there is some overlap.

    There probably are evangelicals who would be upset by the Emeth episode, but there are also many evangelicals who wouldn’t touch the Chronicles of Narnia with a ten-foot pole because they’re “about witches.”

    The latter group, of course, has not read the books–or if they have, they haven’t understood them. I don’t think the Narnia filmmakers have read with understanding either, and I think that’s what upsets me. If you’ve read carefully and with understanding, and if you then want to deviate from the book, at least you know what you’re doing and you know why. I’m judging from the outside and perhaps misjudging, but I just don’t get that impression with the Narnia films.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – While I obviously disagree with the idea that there is some sort of moral breach occurring when one departs from the spirit of the thing in one’s adaptation, I’m perfectly willing to see the concept as a matter of personal preference. I think it’s fine for individuals to say, “Y’know? I liked Prince Caspian so much that I would really prefer to see a movie that matches it tone for tone if not scene for scene.” Such a person is merely describing their taste and it’s really pretty difficult to argue with something as insubstantial as taste.

    Unless one is feeling particularly feisty.

    Still, though we disagree on the ethical issue here, I’m glad to see at least that you are consistent.

    I was glad that you mentioned the Mona Lisa, as it’s one of the more adapted works of art. Here are some examples of clear adaptations that either adapt structure or theme, but not both. What do you think of these? They are obvious adaptations of the leader of the ninja turtles. They don’t purport to be the work of Leonardo any more than the Narnia movies purport ot be the work of Lewis (unless I missed some awe-striking press release to the contrary…).

    On another tack, I’m surprised that you don’t think that Lewis meant that a Muslim worshiping Allah with sincerity, depth, and devotion could possibly go to heaven, having worshiped Christ by the wrong name the entire time.

    In The Last Battle, Emeth, the Calormene of note, even intially rebuffs Aslan’s acceptance of him, arguing that he should not be accepted because he had served Tash not Aslan for his entire life. Aslan responds simply that he counts that worship of a false god as service to Aslan himself and things are hunky dory for Emeth. Now that’s not pluralism (as he still posits Christ is the only way), but it’s certainly not far from that form of ecumenicalism that evangelicals scorn (as he posits that though Christ is the only way, there are less overt ways to get to Christ than by simply naming Christ).

    @Carissa – Really, if one can’t make sweeping generalizations about evangelicals, then what’s the point of getting up in the morning. As far as your example though, are those really evangelicals you’re describing? They sound closer to fundamentalists. Evangelicals have generally come to embrace Lewis as the literary hero of the fold (with Tolkein his dubious Prince Regent). It’s why people like Philip Can’t-Write-a-Coherent-Story-to-Save-My -Life Pullman was able to identify him as such a good and visible target for his misplaced ire—because he is so generally beloved in evangelical circles.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Dane,

    First off, when a director adapts a book into a movie, it’s not a mere matter of taste to suggest that he should be faithful to artistic intent. In the DVD extras for the movie (and in the propoganda leading up to the movie), the director and producers clearly told people that they were going to remain as faithful as possible to Lewis’ intent. They even brought in his stepson as a, “consultant,” to bring a note of authenticity to their claims, though I don’t think his stepson was very discerning about that role.

    In other words, moviegoers had every reason to expect that the movie was going to tell them almost exactly the same thing as the book. And it did not. And I think it is justifiable, when the claim is that the movie is faithful to the book, to argue that it is not at all faithful to the artistic intent, which is more important than a high rate of detail similarities.

    Second, the Mona Lisas are great! But wouldn’t you say they tend more toward (as Rich would say) satire, or at least amusing juxtapositions of famous art and pop culture icons (LEGOS, Far Side, Motorcycles, etc.)?

    This to me isn’t the same thing as telling people that you’re going to make a movie version of an artistic work designed to communicate certain transcendent truths, and then change important characters in the movie version so that it communicates DIFFERENT truths than the author intended.

    Finally, I don’t think the section with Emeth was designed to throw away a lifetime of proclaiming the exclusivity of the gospel. Instead, I think it was designed to highlight Lewis’ understanding of universal morality. Here’s Wikipedia on the topic.

    “Universal morality
    One of the main theses in Lewis’ apologia is that there is a common morality known throughout humanity. In the first five chapters of Mere Christianity Lewis discusses the idea that people have a standard of behaviour to which they expect other people to adhere. This standard has been called Universal Morality or Natural Law. Lewis claims that people all over the earth know what this law is and when they break it. He goes on to claim that there must be someone or something behind such a universal set of principles. (Lindskoog 2001b, p. 144)

    ‘These then are the two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can not really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. (Lewis 1952, p. 21)’”

    In other words, I think Lewis was teaching not that Islam (or whatever) is a viable path to eternal life. I think he was suggesting that God accepted Emeth’s desire to pursue and serve him, and that his actions to those ends were appreciated as such, but that he still had to come to faith through Christ (Aslan). The scene in the “stable” is, I think, more similar to the thief on the cross than anything else.

    Whatever the correct interpretation of The Last Battle, it would clearly be wrong to suggest Lewis is a pluralist. So, as I mentioned before, if they cannot make the movie communicate his theology correctly, I’d rather they left that part out than turn it into some affirmation of all religions. If they did, I think it would again violate artistic intent.

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Healthy Interaction About Obama

  • Carissa Smith

    Dane, the folks I’m thinking of definitely would have called themselves evangelicals and not fundamentalists, and I think their dislike of Lewis and of fantasy in general was due more to personality than to theology. Back in the days of yore, Lewis was suspect and Tolkien was ignored except by junior-high nerd-boys (and me).

    But I think you’re right that Lewis has more recently achieved nigh-canonical status among some groups of evangelicals. (I attended the institution of higher learning where his wardrobe is enshrined.) Meanwhile, we’ve heard less from evangelical Lewis-critics. Is it because Rowling and Pullman have emerged as more attractive targets? Because Walden Media has marketed itself to churches? I dunno.

    Oh, and I’ve realized I never got around to answering Richard’s question about my dislike of the changes to Peter’s character. I supposed I shouldn’t have used the word “uncomplicated,” because really what I object to is that they’re making Peter like every other king or leader figure we’ve seen in recent film or literature. In other words, they’re not making him complicated–they’re making him whiny. I recognize that “uncomplicated” doesn’t usually mean “whiny,” so sorry about that. I think a lot of my objections tie in to the lack of admirable male characters in contemporary culture. I don’t want them to be flawless, because then they’d be uninteresting (not to mention unrealistic), but it would be nice to see something other than aimless, self-pitying boy-men for once.

    A lot depends on how Peter’s struggles are handled within the film. If we see Aslan giving him new strength to face his flaws, then I wouldn’t mind so much, because then it doesn’t imply that Aslan’s made him king without giving him the resources to be a good king. But I fear that will be the implication, simply because the screenwriters haven’t thought it through.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – If the producers of Narnia I did indeed proclaim that they were going to adapt as faithfully as possible, that’s one thing and they can certainly be judged according to how well they accomplished their goal. But that would then be something unique to their situation—a situation they themselves created by creating a contract between themselves and their audiences. And they should be held accountable to the strength of that contract (the strength of which I’m not certain how to determine).

    But this is not a general rule. Merely choosing to adapt something does not create any kind of standards as to how and to what degree an adaptation has to remain faithful to its source material. We keep going around on this but I think the burden of proof rests on you to demonstrate that there’s anything wrong with faithless adaptation. You did well to mention the producer’s “promise” in regard to Narnia I, but that affects only that production (and not even the production properly but more the claims of the producers).

    As far as Lewis and a lifetime of exclusivity goes, I don’t know how exclusive you want him to be, but in Mere Christianity he says, “Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

    With that in mind, I neither think the point of Emeth comes out of the blue nor does it speak to universal morality so much as it does to Christ’s hypothetical ability to save apart from his name.

    As far as the Mona Lisa adaptations I provided: yes, some of those adaptations were satirical and some were not. Do satires then get a pass from the supposed immorality of unfaithful adaptation? What about the ones that were not satirical but merely recontextualized or reimagined the Monal Lisa?

    @Carissa – Whether Peter is self-pitying or not, I think it fair to presume that as a child, he is still a boy or perhaps even a boy-man if he’s maturing. But I definitely feel you on the endless recycling of characters.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Dane,

    Can’t say I agree that once you “release” your work of art, people can take the name, the characters, the plot, and the name of the author and then make subtle changes that create a different experience. I don’t know if you’re looking for me to prove anything legally, I just think it’s dishonestly stealing another’s work to make your own point.

    Regarding Lewis, you are probably right. I had not seen that quote, and had always assumed the Last Battle story was more focused on the value of Emeth’s works once he came to Christ (Aslan). It’s a subtle enough point theologically that I still think if put in it will be more misleading than anything else, but if they merely copy the scene straight from the book I will have no reason to complain.

    The issue with the Mona Lisas is that it is obvious to those who see them that they are not the original, they are merely making some comment on top of the original. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is not making a comment on the books, they are claiming to faithfully reproduce the books.

    They are not saying, “This reminds you of the Chronicles of Narnia, but it has some key differences,” in the way that the Mona Lisas are. They are instead saying, “This IS the story of the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” And then they tell a story about a less-than sovereign Lion who acts more as a general than he does King of the Wood and son of the great Emperor over the Sea. To me, that’s simply a lie, and I fear they may get even further off track as the stories progress.

    Ben Bartlett’s last blog post..Healthy Interaction About Obama

  • http://solshine7.blogspot.com SolShine7

    I just hope it does well in theaters and the changes they made end up working out nicely.

  • Pingback: Friday Photo; Plus Tony Dungy, Bold Ambassador for the Kingdom; Narnia Update; Hallmarks of True Christianity; Isidor of Seville; Vodka-Buying Tips, More — Shining City

  • Leah Schroeder

    @Alan Noble -
    Our society has moved from a literary society to a cinematic society. Film affects the way our culture thinks more than books do now. It is sad but true. So, if we want our culture to interact with a story such as Narnia it will have to be made into a movie. That’s why I’m not disappointed when films like these are made into movies because at least the ideas that brilliant men like Tolkien and Lewis had are able to be explored even if it is imperfectly.

  • emj

    I just skimmed through some of the posts here and I’m totally new to the site but I would like to answer the question raised towards the beginning of the discussion.

    “Great post, but I think I’m pretty much with The Dane on this one.

    Concerning: “Can’t contemporary Hollywood give us an uncomplicated, noble king for once?”

    Why? The only purely noble king that ever was was King Jesus. Even David was pretty incredibly complicated (complex?) and less than noble at various times. And that’s that gives him depth and relatability. The same can be said with pretty much any other authority figure.

    I get why Aslan needs to be basically perfect. But I feel perfectly fine with them taking some liberties with Prince Caspian. After all, it’s not like our hope lies in him.
    - 7 April 2008 at 3:27 pm ”

    We don’t want to trust in any king but Christ. I understand that. But the story was meant to portray Peter as portraying the qualities of Aslan. I agree that the movie took too many liberties here. Peter doesn’t ever come to a point in the books where he is discontent. It doesn’t matter how he ‘felt’ when he got back to our world. He met Aslan and that is the point! The movie producers needed to leave that alone. Secondly, the reason movies need to be made that portray a noble king is that we are wired to love goodness and beauty. We don’t look for substitutes for God but we do need to love what He loves and hate what He hates. We are supposed to love it when the king of a story has the proper authority. Peter shows that in the book. He often reminds Prince Caspian that he is there in Narnia to help, not to rule again. I strongly disagree with the portrayal of Peter as seen in the movies. He doesn’t model the king he is meant to be in the books.

  • http://www.lightontherock.org/index.php/2008.html Yeshua

    Its such as you read my thoughts! You seem to grasp a lot about this, such as you wrote the guide in it or something. I feel that you could do with some % to power the message home a little bit, but other than that, that is wonderful blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.


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