Saturday, January 14


Further Thoughts on Narnia

I wrote a glowing review of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe shortly after it came out in mid-December. I still stand by it, and thought the afternoon I spent watching it was a very enjoyable one. Those who haven't seen it, still ought to. That being said, I was not blind to its flaws. My main point in writing my review was not to let, as the old addage goes, the better be the enemy of the good. For a special-affects-laden, big-budget fantasy film--which have such a tendency today to turn into preposterous, gibberish-laden trainwrecks--it was surprisingly good, and embodied a good chunk of the feel of the book, even if some of the message was blunted by the absence of the Emperor-beyond-Sea and a partial misreading of the Deep Magic. That a movie so openly showing themes of Christ-like love, sacrifice and chivalry should be produced by a major studio and is doing great at the box office is nonetheless a wonder.

But I do admit there were flaw, and it is instructive to consider them, now that the film has had a month to win its spurs at the box office. One of them which I hadn't really thought about was recently brought to my attention by a friend of mine, who recently wrote to me to say:
One thing that I wish had been preserved from the books was the touch of foreboding or terrible mystery that the book conveyed in the repeated phrase "Aslan is on the move." Badger, in the book, explained that "he's not a tame lion, but he is good" or something to that effect. "So he's safe then," asked someone else. "Safe! Who ever said anything about safe!" says Badger. This sort of thing is nowhere to be found in the movie where Beaver describes Aslan as the "top geezer" and "king of the whole wood". I would say that the Aslan of the movie is much more a "Marcan" Aslan (if even that), whereas the Aslan in the book is definitely "Johannine". He is big, he is the king, but the movie doesn't give him a terrible majesty.
The 'he's not a tame lion' or a 'safe lion' lines being reduced in their importance or cut entirely, is very unfortunate, I agree. It's also unfortunate (somewhat less so) that they cut the romp he had with Lucy and Susan post-resurrection. This may be a strange thing for me to comment on, but it strikes me that you can't have one without the other.

This second piece is less essential--had they had it with the Aslan they portrayed, it would have lessened his majesty even more significantly--but it shows they didn't try to tackle the complexities of the characterization of Aslan--just like many filmmakers find it impossible to characterize the complexities of Christ, at least without understanding properly Who He Is. They managed to get some of Christ's mercy and tenderness, I think, and some of Christ's majesty--but certainly nothing quite awe-inspiring: it might have been too much on-screen for the Witch to run away screaming from Aslan, but seeing her at least sweat a bit might have hinted at the petty tyrant that she is under her paper-white skin.

I will say, though, at least Aslan is not boring or sentimental, like most pseudo-reverent attempts of filmdom to depict the holy--for example, most films of Our Lord's life save The Passion, Rosselini's overrated and often hokey Little Flowers of St. Francis, or the preposterously dated Brother Sun, Sister Moon, where lunacy and platitude replace much more fantastic and even terrifying mystical realities.

With regards to Aslan's romp, when one has a "terrifying" God, one is free to have One Who is equally loving (and even humorous) as He is majestic, for there is thus no fear of diminution. Even God's laughter is awe-inspiring, to paraphrase Chesterton. Rather than understanding the framework which these extremes fall in, the filmmakers opted for a safer, middle path. Had they tried to go for the gold, the results could have been either spectacular if they had succeeded--or ludicrous, if they failed. The result in Narnia are dependable and decent, but not quite aspiring to be Christ, the Lord of Thunder, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. (That being said, I still find a lot to love in Liam Neeson's characterization: but that doesn't mean it could be better). Now that I think about it, Aslan strikes me as a more 'natural' figure than one supernatural in this portrayal, which misses the mark. It's less a sin of commission than omission, and I find, in this case, it easier to forgive.

The Beavers' comment was a bit unfortunate (as much as I love the Beavers, the "top geezer" phrase--which I didn't really notice 'til now--makes me cringe) and if I remember correctly the Beaver spoke very reverently of the Lion in the book. Perhaps trying to express the phrase "Aslan is on the move" and the inward reaction of the chldren visually would have been impossible, but it would have been nice if they'd tried. Another element in that scene which I seem to remember omitted is the Beaver's head-bowing reverence at the name of Adam, which is a rather nice quasi-liturgical (so to speak) detail that got lost in the shuffle.

I still greatly enjoyed the movie, of course--I'd consider it a good film for
today's rather low standards--but that doesn't mean it couldn't have been
better. I am nonetheless optimistic for Prince Caspian and look forward to seeing it on the big screen next year.

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