Podcast #26: Speaking of Narnia…

Podcast #26: Speaking of Narnia… May 21, 2008

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After having seen the latest installment in the Narnia series, Ben and Rich have a round-up discussion about its merits as a movie, as an adaptation of the book and as a spiritual allegory. They also count down their top 5 Stories that Sparked Our Imagination! You don’t want to miss it!

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  • Carissa Smith

    Nice ‘cast, guys. This whole time, I was wondering how someone who was a Christian but hadn’t read the book Prince Caspian would react to the movie, and it turns out Rich fits that profile! I’ve heard that confusion about the river god from several people now, so it seems like that’s definitely something they could have done differently for people who haven’t read the book.

    Okay, so now I’m gonna attempt my list of top 5 things that inspired my imagination as a kid (I’ll go with Ben’s version, because that’s the only possible way I can limit it to 5):

    1. The Lord of the Rings (books)
    2. The Chronicles of Narnia (books)
    3. Madeleine L’Engle’s books (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet)
    4. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles (books)
    5. Susan Cooper’s books (esp. Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; and The Grey King)
    6. The Last Unicorn (movie)
    7. Gandhi (movie)

    Okay, so I lied. That’s 7. A way more biblical number anyway, right?

  • I too enjoyed the books as a kid then later as an adult reading them to my son. Generally I agree with you Ben. The story is rich and meaningful, but the movie just falls short. But it is light years better than Adamson’s first installment.

    I was upset that several of my favorite lines from the book were changed to present a more open view of God, at least that’s the only reason I can come to for the change.

    What is the difference between saying “We can never know what would have happened.” and “Nobody is ever told what would have happened.” AND in the film, when Lucy comments on Aslan’s size, he merely replies, “Every year you grow, so shall I.” but in the book he says, “I am not [bigger]. but every year you grow you will find me bigger.”

    This is the pivotal moment of the book, the culmination of Lucy’s faith, the return of the King. And to screw with Lewis’ definition of Aslan as all-knowing and un-changing is horrible.

    Most non-Christians probably wouldn’t have caught the difference if they kept it the same as the book and the theologically attuned fans of the books like you and I would have been pleased.

    Also, the “river-god” is only mentioned briefly in a flashback. he’s bearded and his head is crowned with bulrushes, he’s not all water. You are right to say that the whole story is a play between skepticism and faith. because on the side of faith we see a great number of “gods,” Bacchus, Silenus, and the river-god, plus talking animals and marching trees, all obedient to the One True King. But the Telmarines are an Atheist or at best agnostic people who put their trust in the sword and the bow. Nikabrik would rather use sorcery to conjure up the White Witch rather than believe that Aslan is coming. How sad and how like our own day.

    Like I said, great book. Probably my #3 the series. But the movie just didn’t do it justice, I’m urging people to read the books and watch the movies, because they are getting better and my hope is that (if they keep doing them) they will eventually get it right.

    Logan Mauldins last blog post..On The Horizon: The Road

  • Oh, Rich,

    Like many others, when I heard Caspian declare “You keeled my father” my mind lept to another sword wielding Spaniard, Inigo Montoya, who complete the declaration, “Prepare to die.”

    Thought you might have been thinking that too.

    Logan Mauldins last blog post..On The Horizon: The Road

  • Logan, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

  • This is my last comment for this post, hopefully.

    rich, you mentioned that you like realistic fantasies or something to the effect, like Harry Potter. Well might I suggest one that I’m reading and thoroughly enjoying which will become a movie later this year. It’s called Twilight and it’s by Stpehenie Meyer. it’s the first in a series of three (so far) about a girl who falls in love with a vampire named Edward. I find myself falling into this story the same way I did into Hogwarts. It’s significantly longer than the first of the potter books but it moves so quickly you don’t really notice the length. Check it out.

    Logan Mauldins last blog post..On The Horizon: The Road

  • Carissa Smith

    I think I even muttered “Prepare to die!” under my breath at that moment. I read somewhere (can’t remember where now) that Ben Barnes worked on his accent BY WATCHING The Princess Bride. That’s just asking for trouble.

    I was thinking this morning about a couple of the other issues Rich and Ben mentioned in the podcast, specifically about Susan and Reepicheep.

    First, yeah, the kiss was dumb and random. I think I read somewhere that there was actually more romantic buildup in scenes that were filmed, but those ended up on the cutting room floor–to which I say, “thank goodness.” It did occur to me, though–and this is probably reading way, way into what may have just been a silly decision–that maybe this was the filmmakers’ way of trying to address “the problem of Susan” before filming The Last Battle. Philip Pullman (and other writers, but mostly Pullman) have objected to the fact that Susan doesn’t get to go to the New Narnia (Heaven) in The Last Battle–which is actually because she hasn’t died yet, but, according to Pullman, it’s because Lewis is punishing her for growing up and being interested in boys. Maybe the filmmakers are trying to head off that criticism right off the bat by showing that Susan can like a boy, even in Narnia, and that that’s okay? Probably not, but that’s what I chose to think. I also thought it might be their way of trying to give Susan a character arc like Peter’s, a way of growing in Narnia that prepares her for what she has to face back in England. Of course, it’s a pretty lame character arc if that’s the case, and one that’s pretty insulting to girls, but oh well.

    Now for Reepicheep. I was thinking that his character does seem a little out of place in the film, but I think that’s because they’ve changed the tone of the battle scenes from the battles scenes in the book (particularly the first one, which, as Ben mentions, wasn’t even in the book). I like what they did with the overall tone of the battle scenes, because they worked as illustrations of the disastrous consequences of not trusting Aslan. But you’re right that Reepicheep doesn’t quite fit with that new tone. That said, I did enjoy a lot of his humor. As a person of small stature myself, I am entertained beyond reason by short-jokes.

  • Ben

    Good comments, all!

    For me, the various discussions about water gods, mice, and women warriors really illustrate a key problem in trying to go from a book to a movie.

    In a book, a single author has (usually, if it’s quality) a consistent vision for the world he or she is creating. As a result, part of what makes the book loveable is the smooth and believable interaction between the various pieces of the story.

    For that reason, I think it’s extremely hard to make a movie equally consistent unless you focus on accurate portrayal of the essential nature of various story elements. In other words, I don’t mind certain lines changed- so long as they don’t portray the character differently than intended. I don’t mind extra battle scenes… as long as it highlights the themes the author was attempting to portray.

    When directors start messing with those elements, it creates inconsistencies in the vision of that fictional world. Love stories that don’t make sense, a Christ figure who doesn’t know what will happen tomorrow- these breaks in story consistency detract heavily from the pleasure of an artistic concept.

    This is why, I think, the Lord of the Rings films work so well. There are many story structures and lines that are different- but insofar as they achieve a consistent story structure, we love them.

    Now, can a movie adaptation make enough changes so as to create its own, newly consistent world? Generally, I think so. I have not read the Bourne series, but my brother has and he tells me that they are very different from the movies, right down to significant differences in the central character. However, the makers of the movies managed to create a convincingly consistent world with their movies. I think this one of the key reasons they were so popular.

    So, my hope for the Narnia series is that for future books, they would rely more heavily on accurate portrayal of characters and story elements rather than on their conceptions of what they want the story to be- that kind of fiddling just creates problems.

    Bens last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • “When directors start messing with those elements, it creates inconsistencies in the vision of that fictional world.”

    To this I would only say that I think the word directors there needs some sort of adjective. Maybe “poor” or “inadequate” or something. For there are certainly directors out there who exhibit such striking power over their screenplays that in the end the work is more their own creation than it is the sreenwriter’s and even so may exhibit wholly consistent characters.

    It is with weak directors (and/or adaptors for the screen) that we see with alteration of source the kinds of inconsistencies you’ve mentioned. We’ve yet to see any proof that Adamson is anything better than an average director. Certainly, he’s no David Fincher or Terry Gilliam or even Guillermo del Toro.

    The Danes last blog post..20080505

  • Hm, I really can’t say that any stories Inspired me as a youth. My imagination had always easily far outstripped anything I read as a child. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy stories (for I did!), but only to say that their effect was not so much on my imagination. Still, they all had their effect and I was even from an early age a tremendous devourer of stories in all shapes, sizes, and several other clichés. That caveat aside, here are five that had great effect on me for good or for ill.

    The Marvel Comics Universe:
    When I hit juniour high, my penchant for reading novels and excelling in school simply became unbearably uncool. I was conspicuous in my introversion and was desperate to not stand out amongst my friends. I didn’t care about being popular but I certainly didn’t wish to be unpopular. So I gave up my sizable involvement in more literate literature for a monthly barrage of comic titles (while a comic fiend would never be popular in juniour high/high school, it was entirely possible to ride the line between the two extremes and so I endeavored to do so).

    My replacement of novels with comics (and later, graphic novels) lasted until I graduated high school. Until surviving that youthful scholastic crucible was no longer at issue. In retrospect, I was likely too sensitive. But being that none of my close friends were all that academic, I felt my choice necessary at the time. And I guess I don’t really regret it much. Here’s why.

    Marvel Comics in the early-to-mid ’80s were experiencing a special period of experimentation and growth. Stories were being told with greater scope and drama than in the decade prior (at least the super-hero stories were). Stories were more literate than before. And comics had yet to embrace the awful excesses that would mark the speculator-driven ’90s. It was a good era to find some engaging stories and if it weren’t for my interest back then, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read even a fraction of some of the amazing works I’ve encountered over the last decade or so.

    The Works of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkein:
    These, in a way, worked a very negative influence on me. I read the first four books of The Chronicles in second grade but was stopped dead by The Horse and His Boy and didn’t return to the series until much later. (Anyway, it was the 70’s cover of The Voyage of the Dawn treader* that sold me on the series far more than the stories, so after reading Voyage my obligation to the series was complete). I read the first book-and-a-half of LOTR in fourth or fifth grade but the hobbits being lost in the woods seemed interminable to my young mind so I put that down again for a number of years.

    My woes began when I picked up these books again after high school (and after my moratorium on novels had been lifted). I adored them. Well, LOTR was awesome and The Chronicles were pretty alright – it was Lewis other works that caught my fire at the time (e.g., Pilgrim’s Regress, Till We Have Faces, some of his short stories). The problem was that this was right about the stage when I was trying to teach myself to write (having also skipped all that during my lamentable high school years). As is customary with new authors, I began by emulation.

    Can you imagine? Some punk nineteen year-old writing in a style cribbed from Lewis and Tolkein? The horror of it would be almost beyond imagining. And yet I don’t have to engage in fancy here because that was my life. The worst and most tortured prose of my writing career owes thanks for its existences to those two damnable figures of the literary pantheon: Lewis and Tolkein. Thanks guys. Thanks heaps.

    (I suspect this is how that Eragon kid will feel when he hits thirty—though he cribbed plot rather than style and cast a wider net than my own two guides. He’ll also hate his parents for allowing him to publish such dreck.)

    *note: It looked something like this, but with a light-blue/aqua backdrop instead of white. Seriously, that is an awesome cover and I cannot possibly imagine how something like this would inspire a kid to read the book (as pretty as it is).

    Watership Down:
    This was one of the final books I had read before my cooling off period. I needed something relaxing after having just read several more taxing books (for a fifth grader anyway), The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, Summer Lightning (not the Wodehouse one), and Wells’ War of the Worlds (which was not that complex, but I did keep wondering what a clergyman could be!). Richard Adam’s Watership Down was breath-taking for me and as one of the last books I had read for a long time, it has always stood out as being a fine example of what an adventure book should be.

    And as far as adventure goes, I still prefer it to LOTR, Harold Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

    Princess Mononoke:
    Granted I had already seen Akira (in 1990) and was twenty-four at the time I saw it, but Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke opened my eyes to the fact that there just might be something worthwhile in the realm of animated stories after all. I had always appreciated animation in concept; the idea of drawing scenes opened up a world of freedom for storytelling that CGI still cannot match. And yet, I had never seen that potential even come close to being realized.

    And then I saw, on a lark, Mononoke with a friend of my girlfriend at the time. We both left the theater awestruck.

    Over the following years, I followed Miyazaki’s career with great interest, seeking out all his older films and eagerly anticipating his coming ones (films like the sublime Spirited Away that Rich mentioned in his list). All in all Miyazaki’s studio, Ghibli, has crafted some of the finest films of all time (whether animated or not) and I briefly reviewed most of them here.

    Apart from Miyazaki’s work in animation, I sought out other worthy examples of the medium. This allowed me to experience a number of things I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. The work of Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paranoia Agent, and most recently, Paprika). The work of Yoshitoshi ABe (Serial Experiments: Lain and the much better Haibane Renmei). Things like Jin-Roh: The Wolf-Brigade, Cowboy Bebop, Grave of the Fireflies, et cetera. The only thing I wonder is why Americans have never been able to accept the medium as anything more than a vehicle for family-friendly entertainment.

    I mean, Iron Giant and The Incredibles are great and appeal to an adult mentality as much as to a kid’s, but beyond that, it’s either kid’s stuff or infantile adult humour. Nothing approaching what any critic would ever take seriously.

    Lord of the Flies:
    Because you’re interested in how pop-culture shapes, is shaped by, or otherwise interacts with our Christianity, I’ll include Golding’s novel as my fifth choice. I actually read this in seventh grade as an assigned book—one of maybe three books I can remember reading in juniour high (I usually just read first and last chapters, which enabled me to pass tests without actually reading the books). And it really did affect me. I had not yet been educated in the arts of total depravity in my Sunday school lessons (Sunday school was such a rip-off), but when the time came a couple years later, the concept seemed obvious. Well duh. Of course the heart of man is deceitful above all things. I read Lord of the Flies. I know how it works! So yeah, Golding’s novel rendered me forever immune to pap sentiment such as Anne Frank’s popular and robust claim about good hearts.

    Incidentally, the story is related in my Criterion edition of the ’63 film that it was really pretty horrifying for the producers because after not to long, the children used in the production began taking on their feral roles in reality, mercilessly abusing on the child who had been hired for the role of Piggy. When in the opening days of the shoot, all the children had got along well, they soon devolved at an alarming pace into base creatures of fear and power. Pretty sketchy stuff.
    ________________________________

    @Carissa – Were the Prydain Chronicles any good? My only encounter with them was sitting in theaters in 1985 watching Disney’s adaptation of, what, the second book in the series? And I remember seeing the antler-headed Horned King on the cover of one of my friend’s dog-eared copies of whichever of the books in which he featured. I’m not sure he inspired me, but at the time I did think he was Awesome (with a capital A in case you missed that).

    The Danes last blog post..20080505

  • Ben

    Dane, as you’ll notice I pretty much made that point two paragraphs later. And I never have or would attribute great talent or vision to Adamson.

    Bens last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  • @Ben – So you did! Apologies, I blame pain medication for my woeful concentration.

    The Danes last blog post..20080505

  • Moderate me? *sniff*

    The Danes last blog post..20080505

  • Alan Noble

    -Dane

    I’m not sure why the system did that. I didn’t ask it to moderate you. I’ll fix it. Just a sec.

  • I think it does that anytime I include links. Which should teach me not to include links, I guess. But I’m cantankerous ^_^

    The Danes last blog post..20080505

  • Carissa Smith

    Dane,

    The Prydain Chronicles are Awesome and nothing like the movie, which was a gross admixture of the first two books, but really nothing like them. Well, some of the characters have the same names. And there is an oracular pig and a black cauldron in both the books and the movie . . . but both of those actually come from Welsh mythology, as does much of the whole series. My husband hates Taran Wanderer, the fourth in the series, because it’s kind of an existentialist fable. I, having read it at age 6, would find myself strangely fascinated by Kierkegaard later in life. The Black Cauldron and The High King are definitely the best.

    Hmmm . . . I suppose I should give credit to Watership Down too, for being one of only two books that scared me so intensely that we had to stop reading it. (Prince Caspian was the other, as I believe I’ve mentioned in some other comment at some point). The Black Rabbit of death? Scariest. Bunny. Ever. I did finish the book when I was older (i.e., no longer 8), and I do appreciate its power. Plus, my family’s first dog was named Rowsby Woof, so the book was bound to have some effect on my imagination.

    By the way, that particular cover for Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the one with the aqua background)? That’s the one I have.

  • Carissa

    First of all, as to your list, I am in sync with you all the way through to number 5. And yes, Dane, the Chronicles of Prydain are fantastic. It’s amazing how formative to the imagination Tolkien, Lewis, Alexander, L’Engle, Cooper and others like them were to my life. Lewis says it best when he talks about how good fantasy literature has in it the deepest “joy” one can find outside of heaven. We can capture it in sacraments as well, but it creeps on us most unawares when we read an unexpected tale of wonder, awe, bravery and courage.

    I was just talking to a priest friend of mine the other day and confessed (not sacramentally, but honestly none the less) that if my eyes ever open on heaven, my first view of my Lord and Savior just might be that of the Lion of Judah, and I just might blurt out, “Aslan!” One of the cool things about the Chronicles is that they helped re-establish for me ( when I first read them so many years ago), the excitement and awe that Christ should have for all believers. Watching the new movie–don’t get on my case here–really was a religious experience for me. I watched it twice just to make sure, and it’s a safe bet I’ll see it several times more.

    Msgr. Eric R. Barrs last blog post..PRINCE CASPIAN: DOES THE FILM DO JUSTICE TO THE BOOK?