Written by: Erik Beck, Special to CC2K
“Don’t you hate being treated like children?”
“We are children.”
“We didn’t used to be.”
That’s Peter’s argument at the opening of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and it’s great one, more so even, because it’s not in the book. In fact, a lot of what’s in the movie wasn’t in the book. In some ways that’s a problem, because even more than the first film, it’s a different genre than the book. But in other ways, it deepens and enriches the experience and comes out stronger.
In September of 1999, I complained to my future wife that the first three Harry Potter books did not hold up to the Chronicles of Narnia. When she asked why, I answered with one word: “Edmund.” None of the characters in Rowling’s world could hold a match to Edmund, and none of them needed the kind of redemption he required in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Over the years, this opinion has waned a bit; Rowling made her series progressively darker (with every major character save Hermione eventually needing redemption) while my time away from Narnia has given me a clearer picture for what they really are. As much as I love Edmund and Eustace (third book), the rest of the characters in Lewis’ series are very straightforward, and the lines between good and evil are very simply drawn. That’s because the books are of a fairly straightforward genre: children’s book as Christian allegory.
The films on the other hand, are young adult action / fantasy films. They have grand battle scenes, fantastic visual effects and a plot that continually moves forward without meandering. Perhaps that’s a bit problematic. Part of the reason for the battle scenes is because the book, like the first one, is a bit thin; it’s both quite short (all the books are) and they don’t quite hold up as well to adult readings as The Hobbit or Harry Potter. After all, these books are meant for kids.
The films are intended to draw in a wider audience. That would account for the addition of the battles (with a lot more violence than I would probably find acceptable for a six or seven year old reading the book) and a bit of romance (I certainly don’t remember any romantic interest between Susan and Caspian in the book). But those aren’t the most important addition. That comes in the middle of the film.
I remember this part of the book clearly (plus I just looked it up). Nikabrick and the hag and the werewolf want to bring the White Witch back to help, because Aslan and the Kings and Queens have not come. There is a fight, where the four Pevensies first meet Caspian and Nikabrick and his companions are killed. In the film however, they bring back the Witch, a glorious scene of evil offering itself up to save them all from certain death (and a chance to bring back newly Oscar winning Tilda Swinton, who is always magnificent). It brings a fuller experience to the allegory aspect by offering them a choice that they must either take or refuse. Knowing these characters, you know they will not take it, but the way in which it is refused is also magnificent. This, along with a stellar opening sequence, are the best parts of the film.
One problem that gnawed at me throughout the film was that it’s hard to care about the final fate of the Pevensie children. It’s not that we know the final fate (SPOILER WARNING for anyone who hasn’t read all seven books; but if you haven’t read all the books, why would you care what I think of film?). I mean, after all, the Pevensies die young. It’s that, to conclude the allegory, this life is simply a shadow of the life that comes beyond. If that’s death for them, why worry about them dying?
Prince Caspian has always been my favorite of the books. I wonder though, if The Voyage of the Dawn Treader might end up being my favorite of the films. After all, while this is a good film (and it is a good film, probably better than the first one), the next one will have just as much adventure, will probably have more of Reepicheep (great in the book, great on film) and will bring Edmund and Lucy back to the forefront. After all, it is not only Edmund and Lucy who are the far better characters (my poor wife who played Susan on stage in grade school will always have a soft spot for her), but they are played by better actors. Skandar Keynes, who was so good as Edmund in the first, continues to show he not only looks like a young Malcolm McDowell, but has the same glowering intensity as well and Georgie Henley, who was such a light hearted presence in the first film has only grown in stature and talent. So we won’t have Peter and Susan around in the next film. But let’s hope they find some way to work in Tilda Swinton.