Voices

War games

Narnia film plays down Lewis' culture conflict

Issue: "Unify and conquer," June 14, 2008

In a letter to a young girl named Anne, C.S. Lewis explained that his novel Prince Caspian is about the "restoration of the true religion after corruption." The story takes place 1,300 years after Aslan defeated the White Witch. Now Narnia has forgotten Aslan, most of the animals have stopped talking, and a rigid, freedom-denying materialism rules. The Pevensie children and a motley crew of "Old Narnians" are charged with restoring the old ways. That is to say, Prince Caspian is about the challenge that faces Christians today: bringing Christianity back to a civilization that has forgotten Christ.

The movie version of Prince Caspian has its charms, and viewers should generally tolerate cinematic additions to written works (see WORLD, May 31/June 7). But the movie replaces Lewis' culture war with just regular war, omits the key symbolic episodes, and plays down the story's meaning.

Here are some thematic elements that did not make it to the silver screen:

Atheism

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The "New Narnians" make a point of not believing in lions. The Telmarine government and educational system forbid any mention of Aslan or of the civilization associated with him. But even many of the "Old Narnians" trying to bring back the old ways do not believe in Aslan either.

Grace

Aslan finally gets through to the atheist dwarf Trumpkin by "pouncing" on him. The great lion plays with the dwarf like a cat with a mouse until the two become "friends." In the movie, Aslan deals with Trumpkin by roaring at him. An image of wrath replaces a picture of God's grace.

Faith

Missing in the movie is the episode in which the Pevensie children must follow Aslan in the dark, even though they cannot see him. They must trust his word and the testimony of Lucy who has experienced him personally.

Freedom

Missing in the movie is Aslan's "romp," in which everyone whom Aslan has freed joyfully processes through Narnia, bringing liberation. The scene in the book includes Lewis' critique of progressive schools, with both teachers and students freed from a boring, materialistic education. The point is important: Christian influence is not a matter of power and control; the cultural fruit of the gospel is genuine freedom.

Vocation

The Old Narnians and even the Pevensie children lose their battles. It takes Aslan to restore the true religion. But the lion does so through ordinary people-and ordinary talking animals-fulfilling their callings. This entails doing one's duty in the various vocations of the family (brothers and sisters looking out for each other) and the rest of the social order (Caspian learning how to be a king; Peter risking his life in single combat; squirrels, bears, badgers, and mice all playing their part according to their different natures).

A good movie adaptation, while perhaps tinkering with a book's incidents, should still convey its meaning. Let us hope that the filmmakers beginning work on the next Narnia production, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, keep its theme in mind. That tale of oceanic adventure, according to what Lewis told Anne, is about "the spiritual life."

Comments? Email Ed Veith at gveith@worldmag.com.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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