The trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is out, stirring up all sorts of reactions from Narnia fans awaiting the movie's release on May 16.
With the filming now finished, director Andrew Adamson—who also helmed The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe two years ago—must now turn to the editing process, deciding what to keep and what to leave on the cutting room floor. I realize I'm a couple weeks late for a Christmas wish list, but nonetheless, here are a few things I hope Adamson will address as he puts the finishing touches on Prince Caspian, the movie.
First, please don't forget the apologies this time. In C. S. Lewis's original version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the scene where Edmund is reunited with his siblings begins like this: "Edmund shook hands with each of the others and said to each of them in turn, 'I'm sorry,' and everyone said 'That's all right.'" For reasons we can only speculate about, Andrew Adamson's film adaptation left out Edmund's brief but vital statement of remorse.
Lewis's protagonists are not just fallible, they are often very fallible. Like us, they can and will make mistakes, and when they do, Lewis is quite clear that there is a proper way to reconcile afterwards, one which begins with true repentance and a genuine apology. In the book version of Prince Caspian, after making mistakes, Trumpkin apologizes to the four children, Peter apologizes to his siblings and to Trumpkin, Lucy apologizes to Aslan, Susan apologizes to Lucy, and Peter apologizes to Aslan. And each of these apologies is the real deal—no excuses, no blaming someone or something else, and no false contrition as in "if my actions offended anyone, I am sorry they were offended."
Make Aslan awesome—literally
Second, please include the awe. Before the children's encounter with Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Lewis has Susan, who is always a bit too concerned with her own well-being, ask Mr. Beaver whether Aslan is safe. "'Course he isn't safe," the Beaver replies. "But he's good." Later in Lewis's narrative we get the famous line, "People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time."
Adamson's Aslan, while commendable, was not quite as good as Lewis's and was nowhere near as terrible.
It is not that in the first film Aslan was cuddly—when he roared, he really roared. But overall he was always a bit too safe. His terrible side, which we saw only briefly, needed to be present all the time. Narnia expert Paul Ford has pointed out the occurrence of "simultaneous awe and delight" which Lewis conveys in the Chronicles, a unique experience Ford labels as "numinous." While there was sufficient delight associated with Aslan in the first movie, he failed to generate the same level of awe found in the novel, and for book lovers, this was a significant loss.
In Prince Caspian, when the children finally meet Aslan, the narrator tells us that they feel "as glad as anyone can who feels afraid, and as afraid as anyone can who feels glad." This kind of awe, this profound mixture of feelings, will be a high standard for the next film to aim for.
Portray 'Susan the Grouser'
My third wish for the film may seem a bit odd at first: please, resist the temptation to portray Susan so positively. The Caspian trailer shows Anna Popplewell smiling, laughing, running, shooting, jumping, and, in general, looking totally appealing. The problem is that the Susan who appears in the second book is a mixed bag. Early in the story, her quick thinking and fine shooting saves Trumpkin. But around the midpoint of the book, Queen Susan the Gentle from the first tale disappears, and in her place we find Susan the Fearful, or, as Edmund somewhat generously labels her, Susan the "wet blanket." After Lucy and Edmund eagerly scramble down the gorge ahead of them, Peter must offer a reprimand, telling his older sister. "Oh buck up, Susan … Why, a baby could get down here. And do stop grousing."
The most egregious fault of Susan (now Susan the Grouser) is that she refuses to believe that Lucy sees Aslan, because no one else can. When Lucy finally declares that she must follow Aslan whether the others do or not, Susan threatens, "Supposing I started behaving like Lucy." The irony is that Susan would do well to make her actions more like those of her younger sister.
What's so wrong with making the movie Susan more delightful than in the book? In his essay "On Three Ways of Writing for Children," Lewis describes what he calls the Boy's or Girl's Book with its immensely likable schoolboy or schoolgirl—think of the Hardy Boys or the Nancy Drew series. In discussing this type of book, Lewis points out: "We run to it from the disappointments and humiliations of the real world: it sends us back to the real world undivinely discontented. For it is all flattery to the ego. The pleasure consists in picturing oneself the object of admiration."
By including some very unflattering aspects of Edmund in the first story and Susan in the second, Lewis keeps these works from becoming simply Boy's or Girl's Books. As we identify with his flawed protagonists, Lewis reminds us that our own actions and attitudes are not always as perfect as we think, and that each of us has the capacity for wrongdoing. Leaving out Susan's shadowy side might sell more movie tickets, but risks turning the second film into the very kind of story Lewis chose not to write. In addition, since this will be her last appearance in the Chronicles, making Susan all goodness and light would fail to prepare us for her (perhaps temporary) rejection of Narnia in the final book.
Show the Consequences of Choices
Wish number four: Stay firm on the truths about the two ways of living. Lewis wants to inform young readers and remind older ones that a life lived exclusively for self is not exciting or fun, but is a small, ignoble life. It is definitely not cool, or even very interesting. Lewis clearly asserts through the Chronicles that the self-centered life leads only to sorrow, isolation, and ultimately destruction.
This truth was made very clear in the first Narnia film's depiction of the White Witch, living all alone in her castle of ice, as well as in its grim portrait of the early Edmund and his betrayal. If the Caspian trailer is any indication, the film's visual rendering of Miraz's unhappy existence will provide further support for this claim.
It is impossible to miss Lewis's corresponding message: that the virtuous life, the life lived for something beyond one's self, is a real adventure, one with hardship that must be taken seriously, but an adventure not to be missed because it is the only path that leads to genuine happiness, real fulfillment, and true community. This second point was also vividly captured in the first film. In times like ours when the word virtuous has gone out of fashion, this is a truth we need to be reminded of again and again.
End It Right
Finally, get the ending right. The Caspian trailer shows the four children being drawn into Narnia from a London Tube station rather than from the platform at an "empty, sleepy, country station." This might not matter very much except that on the final page of the book, readers are told how the country station which had earlier seemed flat and dreary to the children now becomes "unexpectedly nice in its own way, what with the familiar railway smell and the English sky and the summer term before them."
Lewis does not want his readers to despise real woods because they have read of enchanted ones. Nor he does not want his protagonists to find their own world somehow diminished because they have been to Narnia. He wants the journey to make all real things in the Pevensies' world a little enchanted. And so they are. In these three everyday elements—the smell of the railway, the English sky, and the summer term—we find what might be labeled as a sacramental ordinary, a deeply rooted sense of enjoyment and appreciation of the commonplace that was an essential part of Lewis's life.
My wish list actually represents a genuine concern about the film. Why get so anxious about what, to many people, will be just a movie? The answer is that for me—and a good number of people like me—these books are on that list of special things in life that have become a part of us and have helped make us who we are.
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Devin Brown is a Lilly Scholar and a Professor of English at Asbury College, where he teaches a class on C. S Lewis. He is the author of Inside Narnia (Baker 2005) and the forthcoming Inside Prince Caspian (Baker 2008). He lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his wife Sharon and Mr. Fluff, their 15-pound cat.
All images are screen captures from the first trailer for Prince Caspian, courtesy Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media.
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