Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

"I cannot say what he says, Oyarsa, in your language." - Out of the Silent Planet

Review

I thought that "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was a very good movie. It is pretty faithful to C.S Lewis's book and quite moving at times. Mr Tumnus's house, the Beavers' cottage and the White Witch's palace all looked very much like Pauline Baynes illustrations -- although I had my doubts about Cair Paravel. The talking animals were extremely convincing, although some of the monsters were less so. All the main characters should be nominated for Oscars, and Tilda Swinton should actually win one. The religious content was neither overlooked nor overplayed. Above all, it succeeded in making me feel that I was in Narnia. I enjoyed it very much indeed.

Analysis

I

In Chapter 12 of C.S Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" the Pevensie children meet Aslan for the first time. The Lion asks them what has happened to their brother Edmund. Mrs. Beaver tells him that he has betrayed them and joined the White Witch. "That was partly my fault, Aslan," says Peter. "I was angry with him, and I think that helped him to go wrong."

This is a good and generous act on Peter's part. It isn't Peter's fault that Edmund is a bully: Lucy thinks he was turned bad by a "horrid" school. It isn't Peter's fault that Edmund is bewitched by the magic Turkish delight; it isn't Peter's fault that Edmund decides to lie about having been in Narnia with Lucy. But when he discovers this lie, Peter calls his brother a "poisonous little beast". In Mr Tumnus's house, he shouts down Edmund's perfectly reasonable comment that there is not much that four children can do to rescue the Faun from the Witch. Had Peter not been angry, or if he had forgiven him sooner, then Edmund might not have sneaked out of the Beavers' house and gone to the Witch. Peter has told Aslan the exact truth -- his anger helped Edmund to go wrong, so he is partly responsible for the betrayal.

In Andrew Adamson's (1) movie version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", when Aslan learns that Edmund has betrayed his family, Peter says "That was my fault. I was too hard on him." Susan puts her hand on Peter's shoulder and says "We all were." For some reason, movie-Peter takes all the blame for Edmund's misconduct on himself.

In Chapter 16 of the book, Aslan arrives on the battlefield, along with the prisoners who he has freed from the Witch's castle. The Lion leaps onto the Witch and the freed prisoners charge her army. Lewis tells us that, once it is clear that the Witch is dead, all the bad creatures surrender or flee.

In the movie, the Lion tears out the Witch's throat with as much ferocity as is compatible with a P.G certificate and then says solemnly "It is finished." Adamson has spent the last month telling the media that there is no specific, unique or necessary "Christian" interpretation of the story: nevertheless, movie-Aslan adds an explicit religious gloss to a scene which, in C.S Lewis's book, doesn't have one.

Chapter 17 of the book, Edmund is mortally wounded from his battle with the White Witch. Lucy puts a few drops of her magic elixir into his mouth, and waits to see if he will recover.

"There are other people wounded" said Aslan....
"Yes, I know", said Lucy crossly. "Wait a minute."
"Daughter of Eve" said Aslan in a graver voice "Others are at the point of death. Must more people die for Edmund?"

In the movie version Lucy waits and sees Edmund come back from the point of death. His two sisters embrace him, and Peter says, with mock severity "Why can you never do what you are told?" This family reunion comes to an end when Lucy bounds off (without being prompted) to tend to the other wounded soldiers. In the book, Lucy is mildly reprimanded for caring more about her brother than about a group of strangers: in the film this is accepted without question.

So: Adamson's movie is quite astonishingly faithful to C.S Lewis's book. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be able to play this kind of game. (If you tried to put scenes from Tolkien alongside scenes from Jackson, your little head would explode.) It's a scene by scene, if not quite a line by line, translation of the story from book to movie. But fairy tales and disney-multiplex-franchise-movies speak a different language and inevitably in the course of the translation, something gets lost.

II


The problem with the movie doesn't come where I expected it to.

It wasn't the child-actors. Peter looked too much like Prince William, and Lucy said "actually" too often, but they were all pretty natural and convincing. I felt that I was watching 'real' kids, not drama school prima donnas.

It wasn't the character of Aslan. You can't put God on the screen and you can't make the audience feel that "some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music has just floated by" when they hear his name. But a larger-than-life Lion that sounds like Qui-Gon (Obi-Wan was unavailable) is a pretty good cinematic representation of numinous wisdom. Aslan's first entrance -- a gigantic paw emerging from a tent; all the various centaurs, cheetahs and rhinos falling to their knees; Peter, slightly awkwardly, saluting with his sword -- was one of of two unequivocally magical moments in the film. If we'd never heard of "CGI" I think that we'd have assumed that this was a real lion, borrowed from circus and bribed to do what the director told it to. But Aslan's movements are slower and more regal than a real animal's. That adds to his mystique; like a lion, and yet not quite like a lion. I do regret that we entirely lost the playful side of his character: he does let the girls ride on his back, but we don't see the "mad chase" round the hill, "such a romp as no-one has ever had except in Narnia."

The other genuinely magical moment, surprisingly, was the arrival of Father Christmas. Many people, including Tolkien and Roger Lancelyn Green thought that his appearance in the book was a great mistake.(2) The film navigates this fat jolly minefield by avoiding any stereotypical "coca-cola" imagery. Yes, he has a beard; yes, he is dressed in red, and yes he rides a sleigh ("I've been driving one of these longer than the Witch has!"). He even laughs, although he avoids saying "Ho-ho-ho". But until he produces his sack, you could easily not realise who he is. James Cosmo plays him absolutely straight, as if this is the first time anyone in the world has ever worn a Santa suit. As in the book, the incongruity of the scene is its real point. It's not strange that Father Christmas should be giving out gifts; it's not odd that the heroes should be given magical weapons; but it is very odd that the High King should get his sword as a present from Father Christmas....and this oddness somehow puts a new shine on the cliché.

Department of Polly Toynbee: The line "Battles are ugly when women fight" is changed to "Battles are ugly affairs."

The religious element was handled with a fairly light touch – not laid on with a Gibsonian trowel, but not ignored, either. The death of Aslan is genuinely horrifying, due less to the zoofull of CGI hags and minotaurs than to Tilda Swinton's lumininously evil White Witch. It would have been so easy to have camped up this part, turned her into someone's ugly sister. Instead, Swinton is a kind of female Iago; speaking softly and plausibly and only occasionally allowing the mask to slip. When she whispers "Did you think by all this to save the human child?" we feel Aslan's despair and humiliation. We don't see the knife pierce Aslan – in general, the film tones down the books slightly bloodthirsty atmosphere - but the film unflinchingly squeezes every last tear out of Susan and Lucy. The actors are excellent, convincingly fighting back tears rather than sobbing. Susan's first reaction is, in fact, a forced smile "He must have known what he was doing."

Department of Polly Toynbee: In neither the book nor the film is Aslan "thrashed" by the Witch's minions, although he is tied up and shaved. Perhaps our Polly was confusing Lewis with Gibson? An easy mistake to make.

So: the four children, the Witch, the death and resurrection of Aslan and even Father Christmas – the film handles them all with great confidence and style. And it all looks absolutely terrific; the first shot of Tumnus and his parcels and the lampost and Lucy just takes your breath away -- they've brought Narnia to life, how have they done that?

The problems start when Adamson has to make up stuff for the characters to say.


III

C.S Lewis is at his best when he is talking to his readers in his own voice: telling them, often in summary form, what happened next or how someone feels. When Aslan dies he writes:

I hope no-one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been -- if you've been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you -- you know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.

--as good a description of grief as I think anyone has ever managed.

He is less good at dialogue, although in the more mythical sections of the story, his characters often get good lines. When Edmund arrives at the castle, the Wolf says "Welcome, fortunate favoured of the Queen, or perhaps not so fortunate." Many of these lines are carried over into the film: Lucy tells Tumnus that he's "the nicest Faun I've ever met"; Edmund tells the White Witch that his siblings are "nothing special." Adamson only rarely gives in to the Jacksonian urge to redistribute lines between characters. When he does so, it's usually for a clear reason. In the book, when the Witch demands Edmund's blood, a talking bull says "Come and take him!" In the film, the line is given to Peter, which fits in with his hero role, and shows that he really has forgiven his brother. (3) And it was a very good idea to give Mrs Beaver's lines about how Aslan will "always be coming and going" to Mr Tumnus: it means that the Narnian section of the film is neatly book-ended by conversations between him and Lucy.

But when the characters are engaged in ordinary conversation, Lewis's writing ranges between the bland and the positively bad. No modern actor could be expected to say "We've fallen on our feet and no mistake. This is all going to be perfectly splendid" to end sentences with "By Jove!" and "Great Scott!" or to describe things as "beastly". Although Lewis's characters talk a lot, most of what they say is concerned with pointing things out ("Look, there's a robin!") or explaining what they are going to do next. No real relationship or dynamic between them ever emerges. Edmund is treacherous; Peter is angry but forgives him; Lucy is good; Susan is...their sister – but except in so far as it drives the plot they have no real voices of their own.

This is not really a fault on Lewis's part, but a characterstic of the fairy tale form he is writing in. We experience Narnia more vividly because we see it through the eyes of a non-descript Everyboy and Everygirl. Either we imagine that we are in Narnia or we we imagine for ourselves what kinds of children Peter and Lucy must be. The Brother's Grimm don't tell us what Hansel and Gretel studied at school, or what Rapunzel did all day in the tower. But in a movie we are necessarily looking at four specific people represented by four specific actors: they have to be fleshed out as people. And you can't have a movie script where four people spend all their time agreeing with each other: Adamson has to give the group an internal dynamic. This gave me a sense that I was watching two movies simultaneously. In the background is Lewis's story, faithfully rendered; beautifully visualised; powerfully acted. But in the foreground is a "character driven" story about four wartime evacuees that Adamson has made up out of his head.

Just as the fairy tale genre imposes limits on Lewis, so the movie genre imposes limits on Adamson. Hollywood is founded on a Deep Magic that determines what kind of stories can exist. Everything must center on a single hero, who must be central to, or preferably initiate, the action. The hero must be faced with a choice between doing the Right thing and doing the Wrong thing. This choice must involve Personal Growth -- the hero at the end of the movie cannot be quite the same as he was at the beginning. For most movie heroes, from Rick Blain via Han Solo to Merry and Pippin, this Choice has usually been cast in the form "Should I stay or should I go?" Because movies are a democratic genre, the Right Thing is usually defined as a platitude: not Justice or Democracy, but a Good which literally everyone can agree on. It is good to keep promises; it is good to stick together as a family; it is good to help people who have helped you; the bond between Father and Son (and Mother and Daughter, but that's obviously less important) is sacred in an almost literally religious sense; it is good believe in yourself. And at some point in every movie the Deep Magic demands that someone should say "Why don't you try and get some rest?"

Adamson's tells the only story that the Rules of Movie allow him to tell. But it is at times hopelessly at crossed purposes to the story by C.S Lewis on which it is ostensibly based.

IV

We begin with an air-raid during the blitz. The first image in the movie is of German aircraft over London.

This has a triple function:

1: The Deep Magic requires that something should go "bang" within the first five minutes of a movie, otherwise "it's boring"

2: It spells out the concept of "evacuation" for the benefit of any slow boys in the back row. (4)

3: It introduces the central theme of Adamson's invented plot, which which is the conflict between Peter and Edmund.

(It is also "kewl" to start a fantasy movie with a scene from a war film: do you remember how the Oscar Wilde biopic started out looking like, of all things, a Western?)

Since Peter (as opposed to Aslan) is the hero of Adamson's story, as much of the action as possible has to center on or be initiated by him. Adamson has seized on Peter's remark that Edmund's fall is partly his fault and made it the organising principle of the first half of the movie. Peter treats Edmund badly in order that Peter (the hero) can be completely (as opposed to partly) to blame for Edmund's fall. Edmund's repentance can thus be "about" Peter's self-recognition, keeping Peter in the central position. However, this strategy has the incidental effect of making Edmund a more sympathetic character. In the book he is merely spiteful; here, he is to some extent a victim of his ill-treatment. This, in turn, changes the meaning of Aslan's sacrifice. In the book, he is dying for a very nasty and spiteful little boy - giving the light for the darkness. In the film, he is dying to extricate someone from the results of bad choices for which they were not entirely to blame.

So, in this opening scene, we see Peter rushing back into the house (with doodlebugs falling all around him) to rescue Edmund. This establishes that he is a basically decent sort who loves his brother; and that Edmund is stupid and disobedient. Once they get to the bomb shelter, Peter calls Edmund an idiot and asks "Why can't you ever do what you are told?" This rather puts us on Edmund's side -- no-one wants to be told off by their big brother. And the reason Edmund returned to the house is to retrieve a photograph of his soldier Dad, for which we can hardly blame him. Edmund especially idolizes his absent father ("If Dad were here, he wouldn't send us away") and thus especially resents the fact that Peter tries to take on a fatherly role. Pretty much the whole of Adamson's plot has been established. Not quite Oedpus Rex, but still.

The next scene shows the children at the railway station, being evacuated to the country, and saying farewell to their mother (5). The main themes of Adamson's story are further established: Mrs. Pevensie explicitly puts Peter in loco parentis. Peter "promises" to take care of the others. Promises are important and unbreakable in Movies. (It will be remembered that in Jackson's parody of "Lord of the Rings", Sam's stated reason for leaving the fellowship and going to Mordor was neither loyalty nor love for his master, but "I made a promise to Mr. Gandalf. A promise.") "I promised Mum..." is going to become a refrain throughout the Adamson thread of this film. Peter immediately tries to behave like a father, and Edmund immediately resists it ("I know how to get on a train".)

The credits roll over the train-ride to the Professor's house. Before we have seen any wardrobes we have undergone a kind of magical journey: from the nasty urban reality of bombs, railway stations into a rural arcadia where people still travel by horse and cart. As the train puffed through the astonishingly unspoilt countryside and the silly new age theme tune played in the background, every single member of the audience simultaneously thought "Hogwarts Express!"

The first ten minutes or so in the Professor's house are an extremely well-characterised elaboration of Adamson's basic themes. Peter tries to take on the role of Father; Susan needles him for doing it inadequately ("Well, that was nicely handled") and Edmund sulks because Susan is trying to Mother him. ("Yes Mum"). Peter is far too willing to tell Edmund off, but very reluctant to do so to Lucy. This tends to put us on Edmund's side. By the time Edmund meets the White Witch we, like him, are losing patience with Peter. We can understand why Edmund likes the idea that when he is King of Narnia, Peter will be his servant. (In the book, the deal is that Edmund will be King and Peter and Lucy will be Dukes and Duchesses.) Edmund's betrayal is motivated by a wish to humiliate Peter. Peter thus is kept center-stage.

So, we have a positively Ibsenesque little family drama. A surrogate father being cut down to size by a wannabe surrogate mother; and a rebellious son who accepts neither of them due to his (admirable) fidelity to his absent father; and who has therefore become embroiled in a scheme to make his brother-father into his servant. Lewis's fairy tale is a much simpler conflict between three good children and one traitor.

In the book, when the children discover Tumnus's house wrecked by the White Witch, everybody but Edmund agrees that it is their duty to try to help him. Here, Lucy wants to help Tumnus, but Susan and Peter (like Han Solo, Merry, Pippin and those Cheese-Eating-Surrender-Monkeys) think that We Should Stay At Home and Not Get Involved. Susan thinks that This Is Not Our War; Peter's over-riding concern is to keep his brothers and sisters safe, because "I promised Mum." This remains their motivation right through their first meeting with Beavers, up to the point when Edmund consummates his treachery. Discovering that they are the subjects of an ancient prophecy doesn't make any difference. We may also detect the increasingly cancerous influence of Joesph Campbell at this point: the first stage of the journey of the Hero is the Refusal of the Quest. "We aren't heroes. We come from Finchley". (It's not that I like the Empire. I hate it. But there's nothing I can do about it right now. It's all such a long way from here.) It is only when they discover that Edmund has run off to join the Witch that Peter agrees to go and meet Aslan at the Stone Table. But Peter does this only in order to enlist Aslan's help in rescuing Edmund. Arguably, Aslan's sacrifice itself is made sub-ordinate to Peter's need to keep his promise.

In Lewis, the Pevensies accept the reality of Narnia almost immediately. When they step through the Wardrobe, they are transformed into characters in a fairy tale. They seem to know this and behave like fairy tale characters should. Adamson keeps his children anachronistically out of place in Narnia for as long a possible. Susan accepts the existence of magic wardrobes and fauns, but still affects to be surprised by talking beavers. They continue to make references to our world – Lucy boasts that she is the tallest girl in her class ("actually"); Edmund tells the Witch what Mum thinks about Peter. Even after they have met Aslan, Lucy and Susan are still wondering about whether they can take some Narnian dresses home to Mum in the England of rationing and clothes shortages.

But just as Lewis's characters go from being "real" children to fairy tale characters, so Adamson's go from being "real" children to Movie characters. The tipping point is the arrival of Father Christmas. Peter's acceptance of his sword is, in some sense, an acceptance of his role as Hero. Adamson celebrates this by plunging him into the stupidest scene in the movie – and the only one which has no basis in the book. In the land of Movie, the end of the long Winter represents, not the onset of Spring and the return of the true King, but a Hazard for the movie-hero to overcome. The frozen river they are trying to cross starts to melt. All pretense of being 1940s schoolchildren is abandoned. (Not that this pretense ever went much deeper than striped pajamas and a habit of calling everyone Sir.) They realise that they are Action Movie characters. Peter develops an Indiana Jones like ability to, er, surf on lumps of frozen ice. Sticking a sword into the ice would be a good thing to do in the middle of a frozen lake. Apparently. Susan drops out of her mumsy-big-sister role, and realises that she is the Spunky Side Kick of a Movie Hero. "Just because a man in a red suit gives you a sword, that doesn't make you a hero!" But it does, Sue, it does. That's the whole point.

The characters are, incidentally, a little confused about whether to speak British Movie or American Movie. They play cricket, but they say things like "We could all use the fresh air" and "I guess I could try". The Witch says "He turned you in -- for sweeties" as opposed to, say, "He grassed you up -- for candy."

Edmund's scenes in the Witch's castle arguably improve on the book. The idea that Edmund should meet Tumnus in the Witch's dungeon is inspired. It keeps Tumnus on stage – he rather disappears from the book after the first few chapters – and it allows Edmund to see the results of his pettiness. Adamson has already drawn a direct parallel between Tumnus and Edmund: both planned to hand Lucy over to the White Witch, but Tumnus changed his mind, explicitly because he was ashamed of letting down the memory of his solider father. ("We're not really very similar at all.") When Edmund arrives in the wreck of Tumnus's house, it's he that notices the picture of Tumnus Snr. on the floor – taking us right back to the first scene. Again, because we feel that Edmund has blundered into his situation, we feel sorry for him as he grasps the enormity of what he has done: when the Witch turns Tumnus to stone, we feel more sorry for Edmund, who caused it, then for Tumnus himself.

As we've seen, when Peter meets Aslan he takes all the blame for Edmund's treachery because he was "too hard on him." This is an interesting phrase. Edmund resents Peter for having tried to take the place of his father; but Peter sees that the problem is that he has been a bad father: demanding too much of his "son" and over-reacting when he does something bad. (In Movies, "Bad" means "Strict": we never see a Father suddenly realising that he has been too lenient with his son.) This is Peter's Moment of Personal Recognition on which everything else turns.

In the book, we are told that, after Edmund is rescued from the witch and forgiven by Aslan:

"Everyone wanted very hard to say something that would make it quite clear that they were all friends with him again -- something ordinary and natural -- and of course no-one could think of anything in the world to say." ..

Adamson, however, is able to think of something. Peter says "Try and get some rest" and then adds with a smile "And don't go wandering off." Adamson's family plot is effectively resolved at this point. Peter, by pretending to tell Edmund off, concedes that he has been a bad father; Edmund, by smiling, accepts Peter's paternal role and his own place in the pecking order. Susan, incidentally, stops trying to be motherly and starts fooling about in the river with her kid sister. Everything is now in the proper order. All that remains is for Peter, just before the battle, to experience Heroic Self-Doubt (Copyright Viggo Mortensen) and for Edmund to say "Aslan believed in you. And so do I."

Quite astonishingly, even after Aslan has appeared and Edmund has been rescued, Peter still keeps singing his should-I-stay-or-should-I-go song. Now that they have Edmund back, they have to go home "because I promised Mum". This is appallingly impoverished writing: we are being asked to entertain the notion that Being Asked to Become King by Jesus Christ or a Furry Analogy Thereof is trumped by I Made a Promise To My Mum. And we all know the main character can't miss the big climax, in any case. Granted, Peter's scheme is that he should stay and fight while the other three go home, but that only suggests that he hasn't been paying attention: the prophecy requires four human children to be monarchs.

No-one ought to be surprised that the battle, which takes place off-stage in the book, is played out in all its glory. As the ranks and ranks of monsters and animals lined up for the cavalry charge; as we see Peter and the White Witch facing each other across the valley and the gryphons dropping rocks on the enemy, and an honest to god phoenix lighting up the sky, everyone in the audience must have thought "Doesn't Peter Jackson do this kind of thing so much better?"

Putting the battle on screen has one unintended consequence: it means that we actually see Edmund realising that he should strike at the Witch's magic staff, rather than at the Witch herself. In the book, this occurs off-stage, and when Aslan arrives, the first thing Peter does is tell him that it was his brother's bravery and good sense that saved the day: a nice gesture of magnanimity and generosity which would have fitted in nicely with Adamson's invented story, but can't fit into a Movie which requires a climax in which Stuff Blows Up.

And so we are left with Susan giving Edmund the magic elixir, which, as we have seen, is given a very different spin from that in the book. In the book, the fact that Lucy has to go and tend the other soldiers first indicates that family is not the only important thing. This would utterly contradict Adamson's invented storyline, which is about how a dysfunctional set of siblings, running away from one war (in which they are helpless bystanders), establish healthy, functioning relationships by finding themselves in the middle of another (in which they are pivotal figures.) The idea that there is anything more important than family simply cannot be expressed in the language of Movie.

When the battle seemed to be turning against the good guys, Peter told Edmund to "take the girls and go home", so when Edmund is revived, Peter says "Why can't you do what you're told?" in a friendly, ironic manner. This is the same thing he said to him in anger in the bomb shelter. The fact that the line is said twice, but in a different context, establishes that there has been Character Growth: Peter is now longer "too hard" on Edmund, and Edmund now respects Peter. So the Deep Magic of Hollywood is satisfied, and we can all go home.

V

None of this really matters.

There is only one important question to ask about this film. "Did it, or did it not, put a lump in your throat during the key set-pieces?" According to this criteria, Adamson's "The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe" succeeds admirably. Lucy's first trip to Narnia; Father Christmas; the first appearance of Aslan; Edmund's rehabilitation; Lucy and Susan at the stone table – all these scenes must have had everyone apart from Polly Toynbee reaching for their pocket handkerchiefs.

So despite the Disneywood nonsense, the film actually remains pretty close to Lewis's intentions. The point of Aslan's death is not that it is a rather clumsy "allegory" of the Atonement; but that our reaction to it is emotionally congruent with what our reaction to the death of Jesus would be if we believed that story were true. Ten years from now, children who saw this film will not remember that the explanation of the Deep Magic was rather truncated or that there was some dross about Family and Doing the Right Thing. What they will remember is how sad they were when Aslan died, and how happy they were when he came alive again, and how the "real" Father Christmas is scary and holy as well as being kind and jolly. Poetry is lost in translation; but myth remains the same in any language.

NOTES:


(1) The director's name is, of course, an allegory. "Adamson" means "Son of Adam", so "Andrew Son-of-Adam" and "Peter Son-of-Adam" are symbolically brothers. In the Bible, the apostles Andrew and Peter are brothers. Just as Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, so Andrew Adamson brings Peter Adam's Son to Aslan. (The director's name is also a deliberate reference to the movie "Born Free", which is itself an allegory of the conversion of C.S Lewis. Joy Adamson made friends with a lion called Elsa, which is very nearly "Aslan" spelled backwards. This represents the fact that it was the experience of "Joy" which led Lewis to "befriend" Christ.)

(2) In fact, he is indispensable to the symbolism. In the story his arrival represents the beginning of the end of the White Witch's "always winter but never Christmas" spell. (The English "Father Christmas" is primarily the personification of the season although he acquired the habit of gift-giving from the Dutch-American "Santa Claus".) At a religious level, it's important that Aslan and Father Christmas arrive at the same time. But Lewis is also invoking a world where Father Christmas and Christ, the merry making and the holiness are inseparable parts of the same festival. He claims that one Easter Sunday he heard a toddler chanting "chocolate eggs and Jesus risen!" and commented "This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable theology."

(3) Peter drawing his sword to defend Edmund is an allegory of Peter drawing his sword to defend Jesus in Gethsemane. Santa giving Peter a sword is an allegory of Christ telling Peter to put away his sword.

(4) I think the film is confused about the nature of evacuation. The kids who were sent away from railway stations with name-tags round their necks were part of an organised programme, where whole schools were sent to the countryside and compulsorily billeted with strangers. The Pevensies know that they are going to meet Mrs McCreedy; and Mrs McCreedy evidently knows they are coming. So surely this a private arrangement between the Professor and Mrs Pevensie. Why the name tags?

(5) Lucy mentions that their mother is called "Helen". This suggests that Edmund and Peter are allegories of David and Douglas Gresham, who were taken by their mother Helen Joy Gresham to live in an old house that was owned by a learned Professor, who knew about secret worlds.


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61 comments:

Alcuin Bramerton said...

A group of small children
Is going to the cinema
In Southwold, Suffolk.

Their childminder
Is a thin woman
With a briefcase.

"What have you got
In your briefcase, Miss?"
Asks one of the children.

"Three pounds of Semtex plastic explosive
Timed to go off at 3.45pm today,
And two and a half thousand ball bearings."

"Is your briefcase strong enough
To contain the explosion?"

"No, darling.
My briefcase is strong enough
To contain the explosive,
But insufficiently robust
To contain the explosion itself."

"Won't it make a bit of a mess, Miss?"

"I hope so, darling.
But then it'll be nice
And quiet won't it?"

Andrew Rilstone said...

But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Matthew Woodcraft said...

You said:

C.S Lewis is at his best when he is talking to his readers in his own voice telling them, often in summary form, what happened next or how someone feels.

Yes. I think one of the hardest things about dramatising these books is finding a way to deal with scenes where we're directly told something very important about what a character is thinking or feeling.

For example, CSL can write:

When he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable. But he still wanted to taste that Turkish delight again more than he wanted anything else.

If I saw the film without having read the book, I'm not sure that I'd be able to tell whether the Turkish delight had so enchanted Edmund that he had no choice about what he did. I think the film even leaves open the possibility that Edmund was under no enchantment at all, and the witch's line about betraying the others for candy was true.

Robert Rodger said...

Wonderful stuff!

I did note that at least twice you used "Eustace" when you meant "Edward." Is this some sort of freudian-slip?

David Hogg said...

Great review Andrew. I share many of your observations with one exception. I really wanted to strangle Edmond. No, I really did. In fact just thinking about him now is getting me all worked up again. One of the most poignant parts of the film for me was the betrayal of Lucy by the vile Edmond. He visited Narnia, knew it was real, and then denied all knowledge. The performances of the young actors were particularly good in these scenes, and you had to believe that Lucy's heart had indeed been broken. A thought occurs though. Did (movie) Edmond disavow Narnia in order to prevent his older siblings from being captured by the white witch? Any thoughts? (Be gentle)

The scene I enjoyed the most was when Lucy first visits Tumnus' home. I can't quite explain exactly why I found it so moving. Perhaps it was the total lack of incidental music, no doubt done to enhance the effect of the music when it did begin. The tranquility and stillness of the scene, punctuated by the faun discovering his courage and allowing Lucy to escape was, for me, done by director at the top of his form.

The question I find myself asking is why I was not moved like this by any scene in Jackson's over-wrought LOTR. I should have been. I recently watched Ralph Bakshi's incomplete and deeply flawed animated version and honestly think he did a better job of Boromir's death than Jackson. I'm not sure I can explain why. Lack of top notch acting perhaps will always hurt (Scofield vs. Heston in "A Man for all Seasons"). Adamson seems to have found some very competent and believable performers. I cannot think of any real weaknesses, even amongst the children.

Anyway, as I said, great review.

Now,what did you think of King Kong?

Endie said...

David Hogg said:

>>The question I find myself asking is why I was not moved like this by any scene in Jackson's over-wrought LOTR.

I almost agree with you, but the exception rather proved the rule, for me. I spent much of the Narnian excursion on the edge of tears (big, rugby-playing non-crying type that I am), and certainly with a lump firmly obstructing my throat.

In the LotR series, that only happened once, as the Rohirrim chanted "death" before their (apparently) hopeless charge at Pellenor. Still gives me a cold shiver to think of.

Mike Taylor said...

A fascinating analysis. For me, the bottom line of the problems with the film is the whole nothing-is-more-important-than-family. Given that the whole point of the Narnia stories (I refuse to call them "The Chronicles of Narnia") is that there is something (or rather someone) more important than family, the director's insistence on conventional hollywood motivation and morality is a bit of an immovable object.

Could it have been handled any differently? Yes, but it would have taken a lot of directorial courage -- more than someone's who's been handed responsibility for a potentially lucrative "franchise" can be reasonably expected to show. The other path the film could have taken would be to adopt not only the content of the book (which the current film does faithfully) but its spirit -- allowing the children to stand as a facades that Lewis wrote and working with those shallow characters to draw out there themes that the author intended. Maybe this would have had to be done at the cost of introducing a narrator, and maybe that would be too alien for contemporary audiences. I don't know. But it's the kind of experiment I would have been eager to see the results of.

Kevin Meehan said...

Thank You Andrew. I had to smile when I realised in my buildup to the film that I was looking forward almost as much to what you would say about the movie as I was to the movie itself! I appreciate your counterpoint to all these filmic recastings of the Good Old Stuff.

I can't fault your criticisms, and the way you analyse the incursion of 'Disneywood' articulates nicely what I experienced only as an haze of unfamiliarity hanging over the snow-laden trees.

I was a bit disappointed in the resurrection scene, though. I wanted Adamson to linger with the weeping girls just a bit longer, stretch out the despair for a few more seconds, and then reveal the living Aslan... somehow differently. I'm sure an opportunity was missed. Have you ever seen the animated version, done twenty or so years ago at about one thousandth of the cost? That version moved me more at this ciritical moment. And they caught the mood of lightness and joy that followed it much better.

But Kudos to Adamson and his crew for caring about getting it right, and not dropping the ball. Can't wait for the next one.

And I LOVED the gryphons!

Louise H. said...

What surprised me, looking back at it, is how incidental the film makes Aslan. Without knowing about the book, one might reasonably have supposed from the film that the entire point of the sacrifice of Aslan was to get him out of the way so that Peter could come out of his shadow to lead the battle.

And my Hollywood honed sensibilities were offended by the death of the White Witch; that clearly was the event that Peter's role had been leading up to.

Aslan came across as a sort of Obi Wan who doesn't have the decency to stay incorporeal once dead and let the hero get on with it.

Charles Filson said...

When I recently read the books to my children this line stood out to me more than any other. I realized that he was probably talking about the death of his mother, and it nearly brought me to tears. I'm glad that you also found it so powerful.

I hope no-one who reads this books has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been -- if you've been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you -- you know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.


On 'sweeties', I don't know anybody who uses the phrase 'sweeties'. My grandmother used to say 'sweets', instead of candy. And maybe my mother said 'don't eat too many sweets' a time or two, but 'sweeties' stood out like a sore thumb in the movie. I assumed it was British-English. I was wrong then?

Excellent review as always. Nice description of the plot. I have to admit that I did like seeing a source for Edmund being a beast. Having him resent his brother stepping into his father's shoes made sense.

I also liked the battle. The book always disappointed me for not showing the battle on-stage.

NickPheas said...

I certainly didn't find myself thinking 'Doesn't Peter Jackson do this kind of thing better', indeed I find myself in full agreement with Endie. The battle is splendid, what with swooping griffins, cheetahs darting forwards like fighters emerging from a battle fleet and some of the best realised centaurs yet seen on screen.

Not quite on a par with the charge of the Rohirrim, but at least as good as any of the other battles Jackson gave us.

If anything it was too splendid. Too clean. Battles should be ugly things, whether or not women fight, but this bright affair isn't ugly.

Part of this of course is the PG unwillingness to ever show any blood, instead we get to see a few creatures knocked over, and the Witch turning a lot more into stone, not that that's a threat any more. But little in the way of ugliness. There are no characters to mourn.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I did note that at least twice you used "Eustace" when you meant "Edward." Is this some sort of freudian-slip?

Idiot.



Fixed.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I think that Adamson probably leaves out the notion that the Turkish Delight is magic deliberately, so there is no possible ambiguity in Edmund's motivation. In the book, I don't think that the "magic" Turkish delight means anything more than that it is supernaturally delicious: there is no sense that Edmund is bewitched.

Incomprehensibly, the reference to Turkish Delight in the movie increased the sales of the stuff over Christmas (I think, like sticky dates, it's a Christmas treat in any case.)

The Daily Telegraph helpfully points out that

The storyline, in which the White Witch offers Edmund enchanted Turkish Delight, is frequently interpreted as a Christian allegory, with Lewis substituting the sweet for the apple from Adam and Eve.

which is just plain and simply as wrong as a very wrong thing. (The prize for the Most Creative Misreading, however, goes to the person who thought the elaborate box the Witch magics up implied that the Turkish Delight is an allegory of, er, the Eucharistic Host.)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/12/26/narnia26.xml

"Sweets" is the normal English word for confectionary of any kind. (And yes, "sweet-shop" sounds much less exciting than "candy-store".) "Sweeties" is what you would say to a baby. "Grassed up" is what informers do to each other in cockney gangster movies. I meant to say that "turned you in" sounded rather American, but "sweeties" sounded rather English. I probably ought not to be so oblique.

Did you notice that Tumnus bribes Lucy by promising her sardines "by the barrel"; and the Witch bribes Edmund by promising him "whole rooms full of Turkish delight"?

Andrew Rilstone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew Rilstone said...

Battles: But didn't you think that the cavalry charge ran the gamut of cavalry charge cliches? Close ups of commanders; elegaic music playing in the background as the armies charge, the music more or less blotting out all the battlefield sound; then the soundtrack cuts out altogether, and we get a few moments of silence; then an exaggerated heart beat to represent tension. When the two armies come together, the sound resumes but there's no music; just the sound of swords and armour.

Proposed Phd Thesis: Cavalry charges as a metaphor for orgasms in modern fantasy cinema.

I also enjoyed the way in which, when Edmund was wounded the soundtrack went silent, the action slowed down, and we saw Peter mouthing the word "Edmund" in slow motion. In real battles, I think people probably respond to trauma either by going catatonic or with black humour. But in movie-land, when a friend is wounded, the Deep Magic says you have to yell his name. (If his name is "No!", that means he's actually dead.)

I also liked the Gryphons.

Savoy6 said...

things:

1. Lucy’s decision to zip off and minister to the wounded army is not totally spontaneous. After reviving Edmund, the kids are having their little hug-fest, with dead and wounded soldiers all around them, when Aslan walks up, breaths on a nearby stone satyr, and looks at Lucy. Lucy takes the hint that she’s supposed to go help with the healing, smiles, grabs her vial, and runs off. In the movie she got the hint without Aslan having to scold her or even speak.

2. The overhead shot of the griffins dropping rocks on the witch’s army looks exactly like the overhead shot of the German bombers dropping bombs on London. It’s another way the movie completes a circle because this time it’s the good guys bombing the bad guys the way it should be. For me that was a big “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

(If his name is "No!", that means he's actually dead.)

Andrew, you are thoroughly unsafe to read amongst imbibable liquids.

I recently watched Ralph Bakshi's incomplete and deeply flawed animated version and honestly think he did a better job of Boromir's death than Jackson. I'm not sure I can explain why.

I didn't see the former, but Jackson's version of that scene had me fidgeting and going, "All right, already, let him die," a full five arrows before Boromir fell over.

(Apologies for the lack of reverence. But I mean really!)

Enjoyed reading this review. I came away feeling much the same--very respectful and faithful adaptation with a thematic re-interpretation (family substituted for the book's emphasis on Christ) that I didn't find unpleasant.

My immediate reaction was, "Having to make do without a narrator to tell you, 'OK, Edmund is about to be a total beast to everyone, but please don't hate him, there are Reasons,' this movie did a good job explaining Edmund's beastliness. Very cool!" Obviously mileage varies.

Did any of y'all run into people who, un-previously-familiar with the books, were convinced this movie was shaping Lucy up either A) for predation of a more modern-world kind at the hands of Mr. Tumnus, or B) a future non-platonic relationship with same?

(OMG, the much-ado of signing up for a blogger.com blog I'll never use just so I can try to sound clever in someone else's blog comments! Good silly Gods rampant, people!)

Charles Filson said...

Well yes, the battles were terribly cliched, but I was still moved by the Centaur general. When he responded to Peter's tentative "Are you with me?" with "To the death." in a tone as if he were saying 'Of course,' it rather got me. Also the scene where Peter falls behind the retreat and the Centaur and Rhino give each other that look of resolve to die in service to their king and then charge to their not-so-certain deaths, got me choked up as well.

I didn't take much note of Tumnus and his 'buckets of sardines'. I figured it was how you would tempt a child from rationed blitz Britain, but I suppose the similarity is striking. But that's why I read your review with such relish. I can just let the film wash over me emotionally and count on you to pick out all that clever stuff.

Hey, and when you are ready to give your dissertation on that thesis I'd love to attend. It sounds lovely.
I have this idea now of writing a quirky romantic comedy, and when the central couple finally make the beast with two backs, cut to a calvery charge, or the explosion of a giant space station. Hey...there might be something there.

I was pretty glad of the actor they got to play Tumnus. Those early scenes of a half-naked man tempting a little girl into his house with treats might have come off really creepy with the wrong acting and directing.

Oh, and my brother brought some Turkish Delight to christmas dinner. It was ghastly. Like a big gum-drop covered in confectionary sugar. Ugh.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Andrew:

Incomprehensibly, the reference to Turkish Delight in the movie increased the sales of the stuff over Christmas

Not so incomprehensible, really. You're a kid and you've just seen that, whatever the stuff is, it's good enough to make someone sell out their family. It's natural that you'd be curious. I was, when I first read the book (or did I watch the BBC mini first? Can't remember). Until, that is, I tasted the vile stuff.

I liked the movie a great deal less than you did, Andrew, which I find surprising given that your feelings for Narnia are so much stronger than mind. I especially disliked the Jackson-ization of the story - an attempt to tell Narnia by way of LOTR. I thought the film looked plastic and fake, and I really wish someone had taught the kid who played Peter how to hold a sword.

But, then, I'm apparently surrounded by people who didn't turn into a pile of goo at Jackson's version of Boromir's death scene, so a difference of opinion in this matter is hardly shocking.

Nicole:

Did any of y'all run into people who, un-previously-familiar with the books, were convinced this movie was shaping Lucy up either A) for predation of a more modern-world kind at the hands of Mr. Tumnus, or B) a future non-platonic relationship with same?

Hell, I was previously familiar with the books and I was convinced the movie was shaping up towards B. It really is a cluster-fuck of bad writing, bad direction, and horrible blocking of that last scene between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus (he's suddenly a few inches taller than she is instead of twice her size).

NickPheas said...

Cliche? Well yes. Call it that if you like, though I don't know if there's a distinction between Cinema Cliche and Movie Deep Magic. Is this one of those Freedom Fighter-Terrorist things?

Narnia used those cliches extremely well. That's all that really counts.

But I do agree that Peter's swordsmanship was diabolical. One of those centaurs really should have taken him to one side and explained that pointing your sword straight at the enemy with your arm fully extended only works is the enemy is obliging enough to run straight onto it. Which fortunately they generally were. Which was nice.

Gavin Burrows said...

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...
…family substituted for the book's emphasis on Christ…

Just an off-the-cuff thought, but…

Lewis wrote the book for a society he felt was preserving the formal devotions of religion without the content.

Maybe today that’s the way we feel about the family. Go and see films about the importance of family bonding and then never call our in-laws.

Arthur said...

Of course, it could be argued (and has been elsewhere by Dan H) that the emphasis on the Family in the movie did end up watering down the impact of the books, in quite a crucial way.

In particular, as Dan points out the films really make the Pevensies the saviours of Narnia, not Aslan. This turns Aslan's sacrifice on the Stone Table from the principle of ultimate Good and Hope sacrificing itself for the sake of an ill-behaved little boy into a big magic lion making a sensible tactical decision...

Earl Wajenberg said...

Nicole asked, "Did any of y'all run into people who,un-previously-familiar with the books, were convinced this movie was shaping Lucy up either A) for predation of a more modern-world kind at the hands of Mr. Tumnus, or B) a future non-platonic relationship with same?"

No, but a friend remarked that he felt a queasy hint of pederasty in the meeting of Lucy and Tumnus. I pointed out that, in the book, it's more like a meeting of two children, since Tumnus is barely taller than Lucy. Also, it being mere print, probably lessens the impact.

I noticed, in the movie, many creatures that were clearly fauns like Tumnus, but also creatures that were similar, but shaggier, with more animal-like faces. Do you suppose these were "satyrs," distinguished from "fauns" for the purposes of the tale? (Lewis mentions fauns and satyrs separately, in the books, though we never really meet a satyr.)

Earl Wajenberg

Earl Wajenberg said...

The Narnia-themed "Happy Meals(tm)" have shown up at our local McDonald's. We got one last Sunday, passed it back to our nine-year-old, who rummaged around and then said, in disappointed tones, "Oh, it's Edmund."

"What does he do?" I asked, "Betray you if you push the button in his back?" Actually, he lifts the lid off a dish of Turkish Delight, but I like mine better.

The Happy Meals version of Aslan just opens and shuts its mouth when you push the button and, thank God, does not say anything...

My daughter has had the Chronicles read through to her twice, the latest time just before the movie. Her pretending now includes herself in the role of "Leona," who is ... Aslan's daughter, whom he got by just wishing her up. So far, we've conquered Calormen and freed the slaves, who are mostly very grateful, but a paranoid few think we're taking them to be eaten by Aslan, so they try to assassinate Leona, who brushes them off and turns them over to Reepicheep for a spanking and a good talking-to.

Savoy6 said...

Andrew Rilstone said...

"But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

Dude, you are hilarious. Plus you speak American on like, Berlitz level 8. Why aren't you in Parliament? Where can I vote?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Thus spake Nick Cliche? Well yes. Call it that if you like, though I don't know if there's a distinction between Cinema Cliche and Movie Deep Magic. Is this one of those Freedom Fighter-Terrorist things?

By "Movie Deep Magic" I pretty much meant "cliche". I think that screen writers probably do have a "rulebook" which tells them what can and can't go into a movie. (It may very well be Vogler's "The Writer's Journey".) For all I know, there is also a "rule-book" for camermen and editors which defines which shots can appear at what angles in which contexts; and it may even be that according to the canons of their art, these rules are sensible. I tend to think that "every hero must make a life-changing choice" is less limiting than "if two armies charge towards each other, you must use this combinations of shots."

Thus spake Gavin: Go and see films about the importance of family bonding and then never call our in-laws.

I have my own half-formed theory on this. Movies take an inordinantly long time to make nowadays. Watch the DVD extras on "Lord of the Rings." Some of these people seemed to have been working 60 our weeks for seven years. One of them said something along the lines of "Of course, it means I missed my son's childhood, but I think it was worth it." That is: if you want to be in the movies, you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of family and social life. So naturally, movie-makers are inclined to tell stories in which people agonise about the choice between Family and Some Higher Cause.

"But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

Wish I could claim the credit, but there are currently 530 citations on google. I heard it first from D*ve S*m.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

abigail: ...horrible blocking of that last scene between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus (he's suddenly a few inches taller than she is instead of twice her size).

I honestly hadn't noticed. Isn't it just that they've both got their elbows on the same windowsill? Not that the explanation for their sudden height-levelling, by itself, can move a scene out of the category of Bad Blocking. Possibly, were they shown from a 3/4 profile such that the lower halves of their bodies could be seen, it would emphasize the way Tumnus had to bend over to get his elbows on the windowsill that Lucy maybe had to stand on tiptoe for to do same, and this is turn would give us the Adult Stooping To Converse With Child impression.

My brain just filtered everything through my memory of the book, I'm afraid, so I just failed to see the possibilities of wrongness. Sounds like there are folks in both camps. (I personally think that some of the folks that I've met face-to-face who are in the "OMG Pedophile!" camp, though, are using a 2005 filter inappropriate to the story in the first place. One such of my acquaintance was creeped out because Tumnus and Lucy did so much hand-holding. Oh, that evil, lewd hand-holding.)

Kevin Meehan said...

Andrew Rilstone: By "Movie Deep Magic" I pretty much meant "cliche". I think that screen writers probably do have a "rulebook" which tells them what can and can't go into a movie. (It may very well be Vogler's "The Writer's Journey".)

They definitely do have a rulebook - its called 'Story' and its written by Robert McKee. Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens are amongst his disciples.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

With all this talk about the way that Adamson and his ilk skewed the story towards a hero's journey, specifically Peter's, I really do wonder how they're going to handle the next installment in the franchise, Prince Caspian. Caspian essentially goes through the same thing Adamson put Peter through in LWW (except that, in Caspian's case, that's actually in the book), and I wonder how the writers will deal with having their former hero become the Obi-Wan character, and where that will leave Aslan.

One thing I hope the PC film will keep is the children's scene in the ruins of Cair Paravel. It always bothered me that, for the most part, Lewis glossed over what must have been a terrible trauma for the kids - from powerful, extraordinary adults they went back to being powerless, ordinary children - and that scene in PC perfectly conveys their sense of loss and bewilderment.

NickPheas said...

For all I know, there is also a "rule-book" for camermen and editors which defines which shots can appear at what angles in which contexts; and it may even be that according to the canons of their art, these rules are sensible. I tend to think that "every hero must make a life-changing choice" is less limiting than "if two armies charge towards each other, you must use this combinations of shots."

This rather remins me of conversations about Citizen Kane. Or indeed Will Eisner.

There are certain ways of expressing things in the vocabularies of the various media, comics, movies, that work. Yes, there is probably a laziness to accept the existing vocabulary instead of going out and finding different ways of expressing things, but I don't think this was ever going to be the kind of film that pushed the boundries of film making.

And they work. An actual battle (he guesses from reading and occassional rubber swording) is a confused mess of a thing. The accepted cinema vocabulary gives an impression without the confusion, which is what you want for a childrens film.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Rilstone said...
I have my own half-formed theory on this. Movies take an inordinantly long time to make nowadays. Watch the DVD extras on "Lord of the Rings." Some of these people seemed to have been working 60 our weeks for seven years. One of them said something along the lines of "Of course, it means I missed my son's childhood, but I think it was worth it." That is: if you want to be in the movies, you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of family and social life. So naturally, movie-makers are inclined to tell stories in which people agonise about the choice between Family and Some Higher Cause.


Nice theory. Apparantly Enid Blyton always used to put in her books that she tried her stories on her children first. Of course she never did, too busy writing the next one. Her kids would then read this in the books, and feel profoundly weird…

But it kinds of fits inside my wider theory, like a cross between a microcosm and a concentrate. All working hours tend to be longer nowadays. Meanwhile the family, once on a voluntary code of conduct with the State, is now increasingly regulated and even sanctioned. (I’m talking about the British context here, but I doubt it’s much different nowadays.)

Plus films are life accellerated as well as concentrated, so by taking your kid to see such a movie you can convince yourself you’re going through ‘pivotal moments’ with them that would actually take years in real life.

The elevated importance of the family in films and books is counterposed by a diminishing of importance in real life.

Gavin Burrows said...

NB By "I doubt it’s much different nowadays"...

...I course meant "I doubt it’s much different elsewhere"...

...but was sabotaged by my own idiocy.

Louise H. said...

Meanwhile the family, once on a voluntary code of conduct with the State, is now increasingly regulated and even sanctioned. (I’m talking about the British context here, but I doubt it’s much different nowadays.)

I have to say that as a British parent I don't feel particularly regulated. Maybe the regulation comes in for younger children, but even when I was a mother of a small baby and quite severely mentally ill I don't recall anyone being terribly interested in how Son was being brought up.

Given that we are still allowed to hit our children in public (as long as we don't leave marks), give them TVs in their bedrooms from toddler age, induct them into bizarre religions and take them to MacDonalds I can hardly see that we could be described as over regulated.

The only thing we seem to be obliged to do is to see that they are educated, and even that's waived if there's a cheap holiday in it somewhere.

Theo Axner said...

Department of Polly Toynbee: The line "Battles are ugly when women fight" is changed to "Battles are ugly affairs."

I've got to say IMO that was a big improvement. Even when young, the original line struck me as stupid. "Oh, yeah, and all-male battles aren't ugly?"

Great review, by the way.

Gavin Burrows said...

Louise H. said... I have to say that as a British parent I don't feel particularly regulated.

Compulsory parenting classes? Sanctions against parents for child truancy or other forms of ‘misbehaviour’? National database of all children? None of that ‘regulation’ enough for you?

This is probably as much Blair and his cronies trying to snatch good Daily Express headlines as some sinister conspiracy, but the net results seem pretty similar.

The worst form of regulation are the ones which quickly become naturalised. Ten years ago, when the first CCTV cameras went up here in Brighton, I’d notice them. Something exceptional has to happen for me to notice them now. They’ve just become part of the landscape.

(PS Before we get completely sidetracked by this, having less available time for your children was my dominant point!)

Dan Hemmens said...

What surprised me, looking back at it, is how incidental the film makes Aslan. Without knowing about the book, one might reasonably have supposed from the film that the entire point of the sacrifice of Aslan was to get him out of the way so that Peter could come out of his shadow to lead the battle.

Yeah, that was my big problem. He goes from "Christ Figure" to "Generic Movie Mentor". I'm genuinely surprised that Andrew felt that the religious elements were left intact given the absence of Aslan.

And on a sidetracking note...

Compulsory parenting classes? Sanctions against parents for child truancy or other forms of ‘misbehaviour’? National database of all children? None of that ‘regulation’ enough for you?

Just to clarify for the non-Brits in the audience, who no doubt have images of men in black suits coming around and dragging every man and woman in Britain away to "compulsory parenting classes", or attaching electrodes to the genitals of people whose kids run lollipop sticks along railings, all of these things are measures of last resort, designed to deal with persistant offenders.

Essentially, it's the doctrine of "I blame the parents" enshrined as law. You can make arguments either way, but it certainly isn't the Orwellian nightmare it shounds like.

Tom R said...

I'm utterly ashamed - ashamed - to say that, until Andrew pointed it out, I completely missed the "Adam['s] Son" parallel. Aaaargh. And I am who whose main response to "LOTR" was "shouldn't a film with lots of panoramic shots of glaciers and fields be directed by 'the Malborough Man', not 'Peter Jackson'?"

OTOH, I do seem to be the only person in Blogarnia (AFAIK) who's picked up on one other intriguing pop-cultural allusion which (AFAIK -- my copy has been lent, and of course the libraries' copies are all booked out) was not in the Original Texts:

14. Surely the Van Nattens http://www.cathyseipp.journalspace.com/?entryid=679, if no one else, would have spotted (if not on their first viewing, then at least by their sixth or seventh) the crypto-Satanism lurking in a scene where a bearded, horned-headed, goat-legged fellow says to a child "Please allow me to introduce myself...", and, moments later, she answers "Pleased to meet you..."!

Gavin Burrows said...

Dan Hemmens said...
Just to clarify for the non-Brits in the audience, who no doubt have images of men in black suits coming around and dragging every man and woman in Britain away to "compulsory parenting classes", or attaching electrodes to the genitals of people whose kids run lollipop sticks along railings, all of these things are measures of last resort, designed to deal with persistant offenders.
Sorry to derail another thread (after the Dr. Who one) but… not really true, this. Not the men in black suits (at least not seen any down my street) but not your other option either…
The Action Plan will include a focus on the most problematic families coupled with a much wider extension of parenting classes to ensure parents get the help they need to fulfil their responsibilities in bringing up their children. This will be backed up by the creation of a new National Parenting Academy for professionals working with children and families. This will equip a new generation of workers with advanced skills to address acute parenting and family problems which can be a trigger for anti-social behaviour.
Ruth Kelly said: "Only by tackling the root causes of anti-social behaviour can we put respect back into our communities. Our action plan is a balance of support and sanctions, providing greater help to families to prevent problem behaviour but strong sanctions when they cross the line.”

http://www.gnn.gov.uk/Content/Detail.asp?ReleaseID=183610&NewsAreaID=2

With Anti Social Behaviour Orders and the like, there’s been an increased blurring of the line between guidance and compulsion. There’s been a shift from the State as arbiter, enforcing fixed and specific regulations dispassionately and objectively, to the State as personal guardian – there to tell us what’s good for us. First example I can think of with this was actually a Tory one, the Job Seekers’ Allowance allowed ‘consultants’ to give ‘job seekers’ a ‘directive’ in finding work. There was no pre-approved list of directives, or even any specified limitations on what it could contain. It was just presumed the consultant would know best what was in the job seeker’s interests.

This all seems a weird mishmash between:
i) the very modern idea that you can only know previously common-sensical things like how to bring up a child if you’ve been told them by a professional and got awarded a certificate at the end
ii) the 19th Century philanthropic idea that the State should interfere as little as possible in the world of business but as much as possible in the life of the individual or family, and in fact always knows what’s best for us

Arthur said...

In terms of religious symbolism, by the way, I'm amazed nobody here has mentioned how the window the children break has an Islamic crescent-and-star on it...

Jon Swift said...

Narnia made me a born-again Christian:
http://jonswift.blogspot.com/2006/01/narnia-made-me-born-again-christian.html

B. Durbin said...

Rather than genuine Turkish Delight, I prefer Aplets & Cotlets (or Fruit Confits by the same company). They're jellied confections covered in powdered sugar, but they're firmer and not flavored with rosewater but with fruit juice, so they taste closer to jam than to gelatin.

It was mentioned that in rationed Britain, it might have been months or years since Edmund had gotten any candy.

Phil Masters said...

Round here, Turkish delight comes in various flavours. And I'm told that authentic Turkish delight - from, say, the shop in Istanbul run by the family of the guy who allegedly invented it - comes in even more. The buffalo milk version is apparently to die for.

But yes, the real point with a story set in WWII is that sweet rationing was pretty severe. Actually, one could get hold of some sweets, but in strictly limited quantities. (Completely eliminated my mother-in-law's sweet tooth, apparently.) For kids with a taste for sugar, the idea of an unlimited supply would have seemed pretty seriously impressive.

Dan Hemmens said...

But yes, the real point with a story set in WWII is that sweet rationing was pretty severe.

I'm not certain that was supposed to be a factor, actually. In the book the WWII aspect was barely touched upon. Lewis wasn't writing a "story set in the second world war", he was writing a fairytale. Children like sweets, so if you want to tempt a child, you use sweets to do it. It's a gingerbread cottage by any other name.

It's like "always winter and never Christmas". It makes absolutely no sense from a setting perspective - Narnia's "Christ" is Aslan, who certainly wasn't born in the middle of winter. However if you want to present a state of affairs which a child will consider to be Very Bad Indeed, you have to go some to beat "always winter, and never Christmas."

Phil Masters said...

In the book the WWII aspect was barely touched upon. Lewis wasn't writing a "story set in the second world war", he was writing a fairytale. Children like sweets, so if you want to tempt a child, you use sweets to do it.

Quite probably. But rationing did last until the early '50s - though I'm not sure when sweets came off the ration - so even at the time of writing, the idea of "unlimited supplies of sugary sweets" may have had a potency for children that it doesn't quite have today. Not that Lewis was making a conscious "wartime" reference; simply that he was writing in the context of the time. (Just as saying that Calormene food used oil rather than butter was meant to make Western readers go "blurgh", but in an era when Britons spend more on olive oil than every other cooking fat put together, just reads as insular gibberish.)

Though kids do still like sweets, I know.

Dan Hemmens said...

Not that Lewis was making a conscious "wartime" reference; simply that he was writing in the context of the time.

You're quite right, but I think that's an important distinction to make. Modern readers often confuse stories written in a particular age with stories *explicitly set* in a particular age (which leads to things like the Pevensies having evacuee-tags, and the movie opening with a shot of a German bomber).

It's almost like looking at Star Trek: the Next Generation and saying "Hmm, Diana Troy must be in there because in the 23rd century, all spacegoing vessels will have onboard counsellors" rather than saying "Hmm, Diana Troy must be in there because, in the early 1990s, psychotherapy was taking off in a big way."

Gavin Burrows said...

Dan Hemmings said:

I'm not certain that was supposed to be a factor, actually. In the book the WWII aspect was barely touched upon. Lewis wasn't writing a "story set in the second world war", he was writing a fairytale.


While you’re probably right about Lewis’ intentions, how often do we actually read books according to the author’s intentions? When I read the books as a kid all the stuff about rationing and evacuees seemed as otherly as the sections set in Narnia. It was a kind of cosy other-world, like visiting your grandparents.

I still see those books now as a kind of window onto the attitudes and values of the time, a sense we wouldn’t get without the wartime setting. Moreover, the end of the war seemed like the end of many of those values, making the books a kind of swan song.

To go back to an earlier debate about Susan, parties and invitations, I don’t doubt there’s a conservatism and snobbery at work there. But I also see a kind of incipient critique of the modern notion of ‘anti-childhood’ where kids get dressed in trendy clothes and jewelry before they’ve left toddler-hood.

A large part of the reason I see Harry Potter as so risible is the lack of this sense. As soon as the real world becomes modern suburbia, all you’re left with is the snobbery.

Obviously I’m reading this into the books. But if you’re not reading into, you’re not really reading from.

Phil Masters said...
Children like sweets, so if you want to tempt a child, you use sweets to do it.


There’s got to be a sketch in there.

“Turkish delight?” I want a playstation or it’s no deal, you old hag!”

Andrew Rilstone said...

Mr Google says that sweets came of rationing on Feb 5th 1953. (LWW was published in 1950.)

The only reference to the War is in the first sentence of the book. Hooper's 'Companion and Guide' refers to an early draft, written during the war, which refers to the children's father having gone away to do "war work." Since Hooper says that this draft is written on the back of the "Dark Tower" MS, it may be better for our sanity to put it to one side.

Andrew Rilstone said...

In "Voyage of the Dawn Treader", we are told that Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie have gone away to America because Mr. Pevenise has been invited to lecture there, and that they have taken Susan with them. Peter is being coached for an exam by the Profressor, leaving Lucy and Edmund to stay with Eustace.

From internal evidence, only a few years can have passed since "The Lion..." -- Peter, the eldest, is still a schoolboy; Lucy and Edmund are still children and therefore able to return to Narnia. Since "The Lion..." begin with them being evacuated, it pretty much has to be happening in 1939 or 40; which means that the "Voyage" is almost certainly set before 1945. In the deuterocanonical "Outline of Narnian History", Lewis gives the dates as 1940 and 1942. But why, then, did he come up with such peaceful reasons for the seperation of the family? (Wouldn't it have been simpler to make Mr. Pevensie a soldier rather than an academic? Come to that, we academics immune from military call-up? Would it have been advisable or even possible to cross the Atlantic for peace-time reasons in 1942?)

It seems pretty clear that, whatever he wrote in his after-the-fact campaign timeline, when Lewis wrote "The Voyage..." he had entirely forgotten about the supposed wartime setting of "The Lion..."

Lewis on food rationing: "I saw in the press the other day that one of our rulers had been making a speech in which she said that the British housewife now enjoyed a healthier and better diet than in 1939. The speaker left the hall not only alive but uninjured, which I regard as the finest testimony to British chivalry I've ever heard of." (Letter, 1939)

Phil Masters said...

Actually, whether Lewis liked it or not, I believe that research suggests that the wartime ration diet was healthier than the pre-war norm for an awful lot of Britons. The people running the rationing system worked very hard to make sure that the various allowances met some kind of minimum requirements, which is more than anyone did for most people's diets previously. Meanwhile, the army doctors examining the new draftees were discovering just how unhealthy many of them were.

Of course, all this is eeeevil science, and hence of no value. And the wartime ration-based diet was pretty bloody horrible by modern standards. (Lots of root vegetables.) And Lewis was commenting before wartime circumstances were safely in the past, so they couldn't be ringed with a nice safe rosy-tinted glow of nostalgia.

Phil Masters said...

(See, e.g., this page.)

Gavin Burrows said...

Phil Masters said...
Actually, whether Lewis liked it or not, I believe that research suggests that the wartime ration diet
was healthier than the pre-war norm for an awful lot of Britons.

More than this! Britain was as blockaded in the First World War as the Second, so had the same food shortages. But originally the market price of food was allowed to rocket, leaving it harder for regular folks to survive. Food rationing was brought in after a huge protest campaign and seen as a victory. (A bit like ‘allowing’ Londoners to shelter in the Underground during the blitz, what is now seen as part of the ‘natural’ course of warfare but actually came out of mass conflict.)

Also, after WW2 rationing was as associated with the post-war Atlee government as with wartime necessity. Many people saw it as part of socialist planning, against the chaos of the market etc. That’s partly why it lasted so long. It effectively lasted for longer outside of wartime than during it, something often overlooked.

However, for all that I see as positive that came from the post-war consensus, I also see a big downside. Rationing may actually be a good example here, it had benefits but also presupposes a big state intervention in our lives. Personally, I won’t be signing any petitions for it to be brought back. I see Lewis as pointing out some of those downsides.

Charles Filson said...

It is the God-given right of every person to act as stupidly as they like. This is one of the few rights, unlike sufferage, that nearly everyone takes advantage of.

Even if the government could lengthen my life by controling my diet, I still consider it my divinely granted right to eat a SLAB of carot cake when the mood strikes me.

Theo Axner said...

There’s got to be a sketch in there.

“Turkish delight?” I want a playstation or it’s no deal, you old hag!”


You haven't seen that old The Young Ones episode where they play hide-and-seek and Vyvyan, having hidden in the closet, blunders into Narnia?

"Would you like some Turkish Delight, Man-child?"
"Not particularly... you haven't got any kebab?"

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
It is the God-given right of every person to act as stupidly as they like. This is one of the few rights, unlike sufferage, that nearly everyone takes advantage of.

Even if the government could lengthen my life by controling my diet, I still consider it my divinely granted right to eat a SLAB of carot cake when the mood strikes me.


Personally I’d betray all of my in-laws for a finger of carrot cake, and throw in most of my friends and neighbours if there was some tiramasu going as well, but…

I think as individuals we have some responsibility towards the social. I doubt you would extend the “right to act stupidly” to driving the wrong way down the motorway, for example, but most of our actions affect others in more indirect ways. I don’t agree with the notion that those who smoke or follow poor diets should be deprived of health treatment but I contend the other way round is true – it should be part of my responsibility to others to look after myself.

Also, choice is only meaningful if its informed and genuine. Processed foods are more saleable than fresh because they’re more storeable so they get pushed more. They fit easier into a long-work-hours culture. People assume if they were that unhealthy they would be allowed to be sold etc.

Where I would part company with the idea of rationing is that this should all be done by empowering the state more. To that extent at least, I have a kind of sympathy with Lewis.

Theo Axner said...

You haven't seen that old The Young Ones episode where they play hide-and-seek and Vyvyan, having hidden in the closet, blunders into Narnia?


Beaten to the punch! Just as well I didn’t quit the day job.

Charles Filson said...

I think I was specifically talking about my diet.

The idea that we can reduce the social cost of health care by regulating everybody's diet can be logically extended to restricting smoking, alcohol intake, television watching, bloggin, and every other aspect of life.

My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.

The trouble is that once you start paying for my torn rotator cuff, then the issue of whether or not I can swing my fist gets a little bit more sticky.

But all in all, I think I would agree with you. Better that social responsibility be considered a duty rather than enforced as a law.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Even if the government could lengthen my life by controling my diet, I still consider it my divinely granted right to eat a SLAB of carot cake when the mood strikes me.

To take things back to rationing for a moment... You do realize most of the positive health effects were from giving a balanced diet to people who could otherwise only afford bread and tea, and not from forcing them to cut out the carrot cake? Poverty was a _lot_ worse before the Welfare State.


Britain was as blockaded in the First World War as the Second, so had the same food shortages. But originally the market price of food was allowed to rocket, leaving it harder for regular folks to survive.

I have a pamplet published by the "Food Conservation Society" around 1916, before rationing was introduced. I don't have it to hand because I'm at work, but the recommendations that stuck in my mind were:

(i) Buy only the most expensive food, so as not to deprive the poor of what they can afford.

(ii) End the practice of serving vegetables on slices of toast that are thrown away after the meal.

(iii) Teach your children to finish everything on their plate. Because children are incapable of understanding the real reasons, you should represent this as a matter of good breeding. (This last more-or-less verbatim.)

You can see why rationing won out over voluntary regulation.

Charles Filson said...

I think that someone mentioned rationing causing folks to eat more vege and less meat/wheat. This was what I was responding to.

If you are suggesting that feeding people who would otherwise go hungry or malnurished has health benefits, then I am shocked I tell you, shocked, that I didn't think of this unique idea myself.

Sam Dodsworth said...

I think that someone mentioned rationing causing folks to eat more vege and less meat/wheat. This was what I was responding to.

I'm sorry - I posted in a moment of rather unfair irritation.

culfy said...

Oi! Andrew!

We've just had the passing of the bill against religious hatred and the furore over the cartoons of Muhammed in Denmark.

So get off your backside and tell us what to think!

Please?????

Lars Konzack said...
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Lars Konzack said...
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