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Peter T Chattaway

Narnia: Pre-release discussion of LWW

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Personally, on re-reading LWW recently, I was struck by how Aslan's cry of "Let the prince win his spurs!" reminded me of a mafia don telling someone to "make his bones". And I was struck by how the new film changes, or softens, this line, so that now Aslan simply tells the other people something like, "This is Peter's fight."

It's certainly an interesting question. If we do as Lewis wanted and treat Narnia as a "supposal" rather than a pure "allegory", then we DO kind of have to confront the fact that the Aslan of the books behaves noticeably different from the Christ of history, whether by appearing in full royal regalia (as opposed to being born a peasant among animals), or by taking up arms (as opposed to starting a noticeably pacifist counter-cultural movement), and so on.

Then again, there has always been a somewhat different tone between the First and Second Comings of Christ, and perhaps Lewis has conflated them somewhat, by going straight from the death and resurrection of Aslan to the violent and ultimate defeat of the satanic Witch. When he wrote LWW, he didn't know he was going to write any sequels, so he can be excused for the fact that he eventually had to revisit the Second Coming all over again, in The Last Battle.

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Started reading the book again recentely and was remindd that it was written originally for a little girl called Lucy. We've heard lots from Douglas Gresham on this film, but I wondered if this Lucy was still alive, and what her take on the adaptation of her story was.

Matt

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The Guardian weighs in... UK papers have been trashing this film.

But so far, so good. The story makes sense. The lion exchanging his life for Edmund's is the sort of thing Arthurian legends are made of. Parfait knights and heroes in prisoner-of-war camps do it all the time. But what's this? After a long, dark night of the soul and women's weeping, the lion is suddenly alive again. Why? How?, my children used to ask. Well, it is hard to say why. It does not make any more sense in CS Lewis's tale than in the gospels. Ah, Aslan explains, it is the "deep magic", where pure sacrifice alone vanquishes death.

Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.

Tolkien hated Narnia: the two dons may have shared the same love of unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons - even children; both their fantasy worlds and their Christianity assumes that rigid hierarchy of power - lord of lords, king of kings, prince of peace to be worshipped and adored. But Tolkien disliked Lewis's bully-pulpit.

Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.

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MLeary wrote:

: The Guardian weighs in... UK papers have been trashing this film.

Actually, MLeary, this article is more of a comment on Lewis than on the film, isn't it? It also refers back to the glowing five-star review that The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave to the film -- a review I linked to in the post-release thread a couple days ago.

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MLeary wrote:

: . . . UK papers have been trashing this film.

Okay, MLeary, now I'm curious to know which papers you've been reading. Studio Briefing reports today:

The first British reviews of Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are the kind movie ads are made of.
Consider Peter Bradshaw's five-star review in the Guardian, which includes these opening comments: "The result is a triumph. It is gorgeous to look at, superbly cast, wittily directed and funny and exciting by turns. It unfolds the slim book into a rich visual experience that is bold and spectacular and sweeping, while retaining its human intimacies. I can't see how it could be done better." Under the heading "A Winter Wonderland," David Edwards comments in the London Daily Mirror: "Boasting astonishing special effects, great performances from the cast and the wickedest witch of all time, films don't get much better than this." Sukhdev Sandhu's review in the Daily Telegraph, which includes the observation that "this must be the first Hollywood picture in ages to feature baddies -- wolves, in fact -- who speak with American accents," is much more restrained, but it concludes this way: "Look at it too closely and it tends to fall down. But the same could be said for the first couple of Harry Potter films, and that series has improved hugely over time. This is a worthy opening salvo."
The first reviews in the U.S. have also begun trickling in. They are not nearly so passionately enthusiastic as the British ones
, but most are quite positive. Writes Carina Chocano in the Los Angeles Times: "What's best about it is that it seems real by the logic of childhood -- it looks as things should look, if kids had it their way."

BTW, nice to know I'm not the only one who noticed that the bad-guy wolves are the only characters with American accents.

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From last Saturday's Globe and Mail:

Though not every pint-sized audience member will understand that context, the filmmakers worked hard to anchor
Narnia
in a particular time in history, while avoiding troublesome stereotypes. "I think there's a rather dishonourable tradition in Hollywood in giving, particularly children, the idea that evil characters are dark," suggested the British actress Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch. "She doesn't look Jewish . . . [or] like an Arab, and I figured it was extremely irresponsible to do anything other than make her look like the ultimate white supremacist, which is what she is, and as Aryan as possible. Because apart from being a fantasy film, it's also an historical film. These are Second World War children, and their father's fighting fascism, and I thought she should look like a Nazi so I actually threw [in] a Nazi salute."

The filmmakers did make one significant alteration to the source material.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
, which was written in 1950, is run through with the sexism common for its time. It includes a scene in which Father Christmas distributes weapons to a trio of children in anticipation of battle. "Battles are ugly when women fight," he tells the girls, Susan and Lucy.

The line caused some consternation for Adamson and led to a discussion -- characterized by the producer Mark Johnson as a "fight" -- with Gresham over the director's desire to change the line. "That may have been acceptable in the 1940s," recalled Adamson, "but after doing two movies that I think are empowering for girls [he co-directed
Shrek
and
Shrek 2
], I didn't want to them turn around and say: 'Susan, you don't get to use that bow, you have to rely on your brother.'" Gresham, who is the protector of C. S. Lewis's words, accepted a compromise line that doesn't single out the girls.

So a

gratuitous climactic kill

is thrown in, just to satisfy the girl-empowerment crowd. Interesting.

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Actually, MLeary, this article is more of a comment on Lewis than on the film, isn't it? 

I would say she hates the film and Lewis and Christianity with equal fervor, and spends time making sure we can see this clearly from each direction.

Okay, MLeary, now I'm curious to know which papers you've been reading. 

The Guardian had two ed. pieces that used that bashed the film (one more specifically about its marketing). The Scotsman for some reason had a negative review of it in the Sunday edition, fortunately it was awfully written. Jonathan Ross slammed it. I just read the papers I buy in the shop around the corner.

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Admittedly, she is always polarizing. An outspoken atheist, she basically plays a foil to some imaginary pundit of "the American religious right." So she wouldn't be a very good representative of the British press as a whole, but then again, neither would Peter Bradshaw who has so profusely gushed about the film.

Edited by MLeary

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Anyone familiar with Laura Miller's The Magician's Book? Radio interview with her coming up later this evening ... the teasers for the interview say she felt "betrayed" by discovering, as a teenager, the Christian themes in the Narnia books, which she'd loved as a child. She seems to have some good things left to say about the books, but also repeats the tropes about them being misogynist, anti-Muslim (despite the Calormenes being portrayed as image-worshipping pagans, a practice Muslims would find abhorrent), etc.

But anyway, since when is it an act of "betrayal" for an author to incorporate his own worldview into a work of fiction? Doesn't every author do that? As a parent I've been re-reading, among other things, Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books and discovering that they have morals, mostly about the nature of friendship ("The Dream" is, methinks, particularly profound), that I completely missed as a child. But I do not feel "betrayed" in any sense by the realization that Lobel was trying to teach me something.

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