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The Baggage of Narnia

Posted at 2:46 PM on December 7, 2005 by Euan Kerr (1 Comments)

I come to this year's Narnia movie bearing a grudge.

It's almost 40 years since I discovered the CS Lewis classics, and began the delightful journey through "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and the six other novels in "The Chronicles of Narnia." I really loved these books, and this affection heightened the sense of disappointment and almost betrayal I felt when I finished reading the final volume, "The Last Battle" and the religious underpinnings of the stories suddenly became clear.

As a kid, I didn't know Lewis was a theologian, nor that the books are allegorical tales of redemption through Christianity. Aslan the lion is a Christ figure, and not terribly subtly. It was not that I objected to the religious ideas, it was more that I felt duped. It was a bit like discovering someone had slipped spinach into my ice-cream.

I'd enjoyed the stories so much, only to find that I'd swallowed some grown-up's ruse to further religious education. Ultimately I felt foolish, which is never a welcome human emotion, and particularly painful as a child.

That being said the Narnia story made sense to me. All the pieces fit together. Despite C.S. Lewis saying he was opposed to seeing a film adaptation of the story, there have been a couple of compelling television adaptations, which worked very well.

Fast forward to December 2005 and I prepared to set aside my grudge, because now we have a Narnia for the 21st century.

Or do we? Well, we have a movie anyway.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," to use its full title, opens with German bombers flying over London during the Blitz in 1940. It's an evocative image for people like me, a 20th century Briton. I was born 15 years after the end of World War II, but the conflict still cast its shadow into many aspects of our lives. I had a visceral feeling of fear seeing those bombers, which brought a strange sense of nostalgic comfort too.

The movie is very well constructed, beautifully shot, with a very sad depiction of the four children at the center of the story being evacuated out of London because of the bombing. They leave their mother behind. As the story continues and the strange and magical creatures begin appearing, it's very convincing. Mr Tumnus the faun (who, despite having hooves, is one of the great portrayals of male human fallibility,) is played perfectly by James McAvoy. He is half computer-generated. The completely human characters, particularly the children don't do so well. I saw the film with Malcolm the 15 year old, who came out rolling his eyes, muttering about how much he hated child actors. I thought that was a little unfair, but there are times when they are out-acted by the cartoon beavers. Tilda Swinton does play the White Witch with a marvelous cold maniacal glee however.

Early on in the film I had my epiphany: "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is a period piece, and it hasn't worn well. As a result the movie feels simplistic and dated. It is a story from an era when the world had just been through a terrible, traumatic war, riddled with the horrors of fascism, culminating in the Holocaust. In a way it was a time when there were few gray areas, particularly when it came to defining good and evil. The human characters are wooden and unquestioning, bound by stereotypical ideas of honor and courage.

We again live in difficult times, but it's a time where there is a little more skepticism, and even in a fantasy world such as Narnia, there needs to be some logic. There's no problem with the fauns, the centaurs, and the talking animals. This is a children's story after all. But when a multi-million dollar CGI operation creates an army rebelling after a century of dictatorship, it makes it harder to believe that army would simply allow a teenage boy to assume command. It works in the quiet of an arm chair or a reading room, but it doesn't work on the big screen.

Comments (1)

Many movies have recently been made for film that have been modified for entertanment purpouses. I have been dissapointed to see some books on film that end up missing some of there beauty for the sake of entertainment. I was sceptical about the Narnia movie because I have alwaysed loved the book for it self. To my surprise I was not dissapointed. The movie followed C.S.Lewis's tale well. I enjoyed the move, it's plot and massage was symbolic and clear just like Lewis's writing. No one should walk into the movie exspecting to see the next Lord of the Rings, but a child like Passion of the Christ. Over all, I really enjoyed and recommend seeing it.

Posted by Mel | December 10, 2005 8:45 AM

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