Narinia vs Hollywood

Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy highlights a review on how Hollywood interpreted the first two Narinia books. Of particular note was this bit:

Then follow some remarkable lines. Says Peter, “Don’t you ever get tired of being treated like a kid?” “We are kids,” Edmund wryly observes. “Well, I wasn’t always,” Peter retorts. He is obviously remembering that he used to be a king in Narnia—and he wants the kingship back.

Director Andrew Adamson helps us understand just what is going on in this scene in a commentary that is one of the bonus features on the Prince Caspian DVD. Adamson explains,

I always felt . . . how hard it must have been, particularly for Peter, to have gone from being high king to going back to high school, and what that would do to him, do to his ego. . . . I always thought that would be a really hard thing for a kid to go through.

Adamson acknowledges that this emotional turmoil was “not something that C. S. Lewis really got into,” but as director he wanted “to create more depth for the characters, more reality to the situation.” He wanted “to deal with what all the kids would go through having left behind that incredible experience and wanting to relive it.”

This emotional realism was Adamson’s explicit aim, and as a result, the screenwriters who put this scene together were actively encouraged to think about what it would be like to go from “king” to “schoolboy”—not a pleasant prospect, of course, and one to which any of us might react with bitterness and resentment, just as Peter does.

Right, any of us might react that way—but that is because we have not breathed the air of Narnia. We are thinking like ordinary persons (and worse, like self-sufficient, twenty-first-century, Western intellectuals) instead of like knights or kings. In Lewis’s telling of all of the Narnia tales, the children’s experiences as kings and queens in Narnia consistently transform them into nobler, more virtuous people in their own world. They are not spoiled children wanting to be kings again; they are noble kings who carry that very nobility back into their non-royal roles as schoolchildren.

But not so in Hollywood. To be a king at all is to hunger for power forevermore, like a tiger that has tasted human blood and ever afterwards is a “man-eater.” To lose imperial power by being transported back to England is to become a bitter, sullen, acrimonious brat. That is just what Peter has become, and his folly is the driving force behind most of the action in the movie.

Says one commenter:

I honestly don’t think Lewis would be at all happy with the way the kids are portrayed in either film.

In the first film they’re constantly looking to run away. It’s really sad because the movie does a great job of establishing the parallelism between the fascism being combated in WWII and the White Witch’s fantasy world police state. But instead of the Pevensies wholeheartedly joining in, they are constantly looking to run away even up until the last battle. This is very different from the book where they join in almost immediately. WWII is their parent’s war and the battle against Jadis is their war. The movies really only get Edmund and Lucy right. Peter is wrong and Susan is only ok.

In the second film Peter is a total jerk. He brawls in the train station. He’s constantly chaffing with Caspian. He’s seduced by the power offered by the White Witch. He’s impatient and gets his troops slaughtered at the castle is a race for glory. In the book, he’s the High King. He’s the man who led the army of Narnia’s golden age. He’s the experienced one.

And that’s the real problem. In the books, the kids are largely worthy of Aslan’s trust. They’re virtuous but fallible with strengths and weakness. In the movies they’re not. Lucy is and Edmund gets the whole dark badass thing going on, but why would Aslan appoint Peter as the High King over all Narnia past, present, and future?

Personally — and maybe I’m a bit cynical and biased here — I think that this reflects the dominant mindset among Hollywood elites. Like the big stars and producers that couldn’t figure out why Fireproof was so popular, or the hubristic disaster that was the remake of the Clash of the Titans, Hollywood has a huge problem understanding basic concepts of humility and honor. The notion that someone could not wish to wield power — and that such a person may be better equipped to do so — is anathema in a culture that is based on self-gratification, narcissism, exploitation, and the blind pursuit of power. Moderation, self-restraint, and sacrifice are becoming nothing more that tropes used to fuel angst and psychosis, and are seldom shown as true virtues anymore.


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