Saturday, April 23, 2011

Narnia from page to screen

By Tracy

Tim (now 8) and I just finished reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe together. It's a book I have some reservations about, but he's got a huge appetite for fantasy fiction just now (John's reading The Hobbit with him), and so in some ways it was inevitable.

This weekend we also watched the film version, and it was interesting to see the changes that had been made between the two formats.

Some were minor alterations to make the children seem more feisty (perhaps), such as their breaking a window with a cricket ball to send them hiding into the wardrobe (as opposed to the novel's idea, which has them merely seeking to escape visitors).

Others were minor gender-role revisions. (Tim had already observed that Susan's reluctance for adventure and pushing forward was "like Anne in the Famous Five" -- although to be fair, in both story-worlds the more nervous girl-character is offset by a braver one.)

All in all, the film would not be a disappointment for readers of the book -- though a comic scene Tim was looking forward to, in which the cowardly White Witch lifts her skirts and flees from Aslan's roar, became a mere sinking back into her chariot before him, removing the bathos I suspect Lewis was trying to associate with the ego of evildoers...

It was beautifully animated and the children were good in their roles. Tilda Swinton is a perfect White Witch and a hideous vision especially when she turns warrior-queen in the latter half of the film.

But it's always disappointing for me, the way that Lewis's story can turn what could be an image of non-violent response (Aslan's suffering at the Stone Table) into the core of a quasi-militaristic vision (self-sacrifice = the noble interpretation of war?).

Setting aside the question of whether the heavy-handed Christian allegory at times mars the story, Lewis comes across as at pains to avoid any possibility of pacifist ideals. Overtly, for the children in the story, growing up and growing better means accepting not only the need to do harm, but the "nobility" of doing so under the supposedly appropriate circumstances. (Lewis of course famously wrote a speech entitled, "Why I Am Not a Pacifist", so it's hardly surprising his fiction should be so hooked on violence.)


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