DecentFilms on Prince Caspian: Lewis’s Themes and Ideas are “Largely Lost.”

DecentFilms on Prince Caspian: Lewis’s Themes and Ideas are “Largely Lost.” May 15, 2008

When it comes to The Chronicles of Narnia films, well… I want them to be great. I want them to be entertaining, yes. But more than anything, I hope that the filmmakers finds ways to preserve the ideas at the core of the story. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they did a decent job, but some of their decisions suggested that they failed to understand some of Lewis’s ideas. And in stripping Aslan of some of his authority, they weakened the character and the core of the story.

Steven D. Greydanus’s review of Prince Caspian includes high praise for Prince Caspian as a piece of big-screen entertainment. He even goes so far as to say…

There is definitely an up side: Not only is Caspian a better-made film, in some ways it manages to improve on Lewis’s plot without violating its spirit.

But does the movie capture C.S. Lewis’s vision? Is it a satisfying adaptation of the book?

Greydanus says it doesn’t… and it isn’t.

And as Christian film critics are already in a mad rush to rejoice about this movie, I’m linking to Greydanus so that more readers come to see just how much of Lewis’s vision was unnecessarily cut from the movie, or revised enough to tamper with what the story means.

Here’s a link to a new, expanded version of the article Greydanus published yesterday, in which he asked the filmmakers about the changes they made.

And here’s an excerpt from his thorough, thoughtful review of the movie:

… while the essence of Lewis’s plot is preserved, the themes and ideas behind the story are largely lost. If the first Narnia film got perhaps two-thirds of Lewis’s intended meaning, Caspian is lucky if it gets a quarter. That may not directly detract from its merits as escapist fantasy, but Lewis fans with regrets about the first film will feel betrayed by the second … and not just because events have been changed.

Perhaps most damagingly, the filmmakers eviscerate the crucial theme of skepticism about the existence of Aslan and the Kings and Queens of Cair Paravel, as well as the whole world of Dwarfs, Talking Beasts, and spirits of wood and water.

No longer do we see Caspian’s nurse dismissed for telling the young prince stories of Old Narnia, or his tutor Dr. Cornelius daring to instruct Caspian in these matters only in private. This might not matter so much if the film had other ways of making the point … but it doesn’t. The whole notion that stories of Old Narnia are anathema in modern Narnia is simply omitted.

Worse, Trumpkin the dwarf — in Lewis an archetypal lovable skeptic … whose heart knows better than his head — no longer shows any sign of disbelieving the old stories. This Trumpkin appears to believe that Aslan and the Pevensies were real in their day, but abandoned Narnia long ago, leaving the Narnians to fend for themselves. This fatally undercuts the theme of Enlightenment rationalism and skepticism which is basic to the whole point of the book.

Almost as diminished is the theme of faith and sight, with faith opening one’s eyes to the extent that one believes. We do get the scene in which Lucy sees Aslan when no one else does — but not the rest of the plotline, in which Aslan is at first invisible to the children until one by one they begin to see him in proportion to their openness and willingness to see him. The whole drama of the scene in which Lucy disputes with the others about which way to go is passed over almost incidentally, with none of the momentousness that it has in Lewis.

Again, I don’t have a problem when filmmakers revise stories and bring them to the big screen… so long as they admit what they’re doing, and so long as what they do contributes to a meaningful result. It sounds to me like a lot of the changes to Prince Caspian were unnecessary, and that they resulted in something less meaningful. If that’s true, that’s a shame, and we should hope that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader ends up in more capable hands.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

2 responses to “DecentFilms on Prince Caspian: Lewis’s Themes and Ideas are “Largely Lost.””

  1. Thanks for the comment. My post was focused on what Greydanus thought of the film’s translation of the core ideas in the book.

    Even in the title of the post, I acknowledged that Greydanus found it entertaining. And you’re right that he points out places in which the film improves upon the book, insofar as it makes the plot more compelling.

    But it’s a strong statement to say: “while the essence of Lewis‚Äôs plot is preserved, the themes and ideas behind the story are largely lost.” And he makes that argument persuasively, I think.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of his review (that’s my review of your review of his review of the movie… )

    Can I use html here? Well, I guess we’ll find out.

    For better and for worse — and it’s quite a bit of both — the big-screen Prince Caspian takes far more creative license than its predecessor. There is definitely an up side: Not only is Caspian a better-made film, in some ways it manages to improve on Lewis’s plot without violating its spirit.

    My reading of that (and the rest of the review) is that it isn’t a full stop bad adaptation; there are lots of thematic elements that get lost in the translation, but it is much more nuanced that saying that “it is not a good adaptation of the book”. That it stays true to the “plot” (at least) of the book. It has mixed results, with the spiritual elements often being the ones to fall by the wayside, but it still has laudable elements.

    I haven’t seen the movie (am just reading the book with my daughter in the hopes that I can see it when it comes to Dawson Creek), so this is not my personal view of the film, just of what Steven said.

    Sorry. Let’s put that in a manner you’re more used to:

    Heathen reviewer!!!! Gah!!!

    I do look forward to seeing it, because even cracked vessels can still bear water. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds profound.