Failure of marketing and being released between two other summer blockbusters weren’t the only reasons behind the relative lackluster success of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian film last year. In my last column, I offered those among three reasons Caspian didn’t do as well compared to its 2005 predecessor. Also a factor was the Caspian book’s lack of popularity compared with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
But even more relevant to writers and readers of Christian speculative fiction than marketing issues is how both Narnia films succeeded or failed in presenting timeless themes — especially where elements of faith and Christianity are concerned.
I’d like to explore those next, focusing on storytelling and faith themes that apply to the creation of any Christian speculative story, not just a big-budget film.
4. Film adaptation issues
Some viewers were not too thrilled with changes made to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, not so much in terms of plot alterations, but dialogue. The Pevensie children, the Narnian creatures and even the messianic lion Aslan had many of their most notable lines removed in favor of modern-sounding speech that often seemed out of place.
Though many dialogue and even plot changes for Prince Caspian got better, I maintain that the screenwriting team just doesn’t get fantasy. As a result, both dialogue and overall atmosphere of what makes a classic was substituted for cheaper-sounding modern phrases and attitudes.
I’m not referring directly to the infamous kiss between Susan and Caspian at the film’s end. That was a natural result of the larger problem — the lack of awe manifested by the Narnians at the return of their thousand-year-old kings and queens. Missing from the film was any reverence or air of magic and mystery that, in the words of one character in the book, is reminiscent of King Arthur coming back to modern-day Britain.
Unfortunately, this seemed to be the same lack of awe exhibited by the screenwriters. Some complained that PC didn’t have the “magic” of LWW, but that was partly the point of the story. Yet even when the magic came back, it wasn’t shown as very magical. It was just assumed.
5. Faith-based changes
Among Prince Caspian’s more interesting adaptation aspects was the screenwriters’ sincere efforts to enhance the book’s themes of faith and trust in what others can’t see but you can. So unlike the book, the film delayed Aslan’s arrival until the very end, and added in Peter’s efforts to win battles without trusting in Aslan to lead the way.
But these changes were seemingly made by folks unfamiliar with Christianity. I think they were sincere and wanted to respect “people of faith” out there, and overall they did well presenting C.S. Lewis’s themes of faith and restoration in the film. But some would argue — I among them — that they overstressed the human-faith elements so much as to make the story imbalanced.
In one of the most eyebrow-raising line revisions, Lucy even tells Peter that maybe Aslan is waiting to make his move until he sees that they and the other Narnians have “proven ourselves to him.” I don’t think you have to be a “Calvinist” to think this seems questionable at best. Isn’t this more of a legalistic view of how one earns the favor of God, or a god? Such thinking is common in non-Christians, but it should be foreign to Christianity and, I would argue, not found in the Prince Caspian book or the other Chronicles.
Meanwhile, it seems people’s lack of familiarity with PC compared with LWW was compounded by the first book’s and film’s more clear representation of Biblical themes, such as Jesus and His death. Many Christians recognized that story element in Lion and wanted to take advantage of another Big Screen Evangelism Opportunity. (Arguably, some excited Christians went too far, “spray-painting” the Wardrobe with megachurch sermon series asking if people had their own “Turkish Delight” temptations and whether they realized that “Aslan” died for them, too.)
So for the first film, the religious hype built on itself. But Prince Caspian, even with its themes of faith and world-restoration, somehow wasn’t seen as equal. Evangelical fervor didn’t rise up and buy bulk tickets the second time around.
I’m still not sure why, but I’m guessing that because LWW was more popular in the book series, and Caspian didn’t have as direct a Biblical parallel — Aslan dying to save a sinner — Christians may have simply taken it for granted. This seems a shame, because in many ways the redeeming-the-universe aspects of Caspian are even more clear than those of Lion. Perhaps Christians might do well to recognize that just as with Lord of the Rings and other stories, one need not see overt Gospel parallels in a story in order to love it and enjoy its Biblical themes.
In the concluding column, I hope not just to complain about the “darkness,” but offer my own hopes and suggestions for how the next Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader could correct these shortcomings and bring audiences, especially Narnia readers, a much better film.
Meanwhile, what do you think about the films, their pros and cons? What other parallels do you see between the Narnia books and films and other speculative faith-fiction?