The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 12: Will We Ever Go Back?

We transition from the battlefield to the sea. Sea people leap and dive in the water. We don’t hear them sing, something they do around this point in the book, but it’s great to see them at all. The camera pans up to the Castle Cair Paravel, which looks as beautiful as I could imagine or better than that.

Aslan leads Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, all four dressed in beautiful Narnian garb, to the fabled four thrones. The beavers stand with two silver crowns for Edmund and Lucy and two golden crowns for Peter and Susan on cushions. In another Narnia book, The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis describes dwarf-made Narnians crowns as “not ugly, heavy things like modern European crowns, but light, delicate, beautifully shaped circles that you could really wear and look nicer by wearing.” I think the movie’s designs live up to that description nicely. Tumnus, whose amusing idea of formal wear is a dress scarf and nothing else, places a crown on each Pevensie’s head as Aslan gives a speech. “To the glistening eastern sea, I give you Queen Lucy the valiant, to the great western wood, King Edmund the Just, to the radiant southern sun, Queen Susan the Gentle and to the clear northern sky, I give you King Peter the Magnificent. Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen in Narnia. May your wisdom grace us until the stars rain down from the heavens.” In the book, those titles (valiant, just, etc.) are acquired by the Pevensies after years of reigning and they make more sense that way, but I understand why the movie didn’t feel like it had time to explain that and I don’t mind Aslan knowing what they would become, either through supernatural foresight or seeing their potential. This speech has some great shoutouts for fans of the book series. All the geographical information Aslan mentions comes from there and the stars raining down from the heavens is exactly what happens when the world of Narnia comes to an end in The Last Battle. Of course, a persnickety fan might point out that in The Horse and his Boy, a Narnian character says his fellow citizens have no use for sayings about wishing for their monarchs to live forever. (“I don’t want him to live forever and I know he’s not going to live forever whether I want him to or not.”)

If you look closely, you can see symbols of each king or queen on the back of their throne.

Aslan leads the guests in chanting, “Long live King Peter! Long live Queen Susan! Long live King Edmund! Long live Queen Lucy!” In a fun little gag, Mr. Beaver shouts, “long live Queen Lucy,” while his wife shouts, “long live Queen Susan!” Among the crowd, we see the fox has been saved from being a statue by Aslan.[1]C. S. Lewis never mentioned if the equivalent of the fox’s character was turned back in the book but he assured a younger reader that he was in a letter. If you have quick eyes, you can see a couple of badgers in the corner of another shot. Hopefully, one of them is the badger who was a friend of Mr. Beaver and whom the Witch turned to stone for helping Tumnus. More prominently, in the same shot as the fox, you can see the stone lion from the Witch’s courtyard, restored to flesh and blood but still with the moustache and glasses Edmund drew on her. Lewis described that act of Edmund’s as “something very silly and childish,” so he probably would disapprove of the visual joke. But I guess I’m silly and childish because it makes me laugh.

Later, we see Aslan walking along the beach, away from the castle. In the books, Aslan is described as always coming to Narnia from across the sea, so I took this as a nod to that, indicating that he’s returning to his home. On reflection though, it’s probably just because the sea is right beside Cair Paravel. Lucy runs out onto the balcony, the celebration visible behind her. She’s sad to see Aslan go without even a goodbye. “Don’t worry. We’ll see him again,” says a voice from behind her. It’s Tumnus. In the book, Mr. Beaver is the one to tell the Pevensies this and that arguably makes more sense since he and Mrs. Beaver are the main sources of exposition about Aslan and are implied to have been more devout followers of him than Tumnus. But I think the filmmakers were ultimately right to give the speech to Mr. T since his friendship with Lucy is so important, yet he has so little to do in the story. She asks him when they’ll see Aslan again. “In time,” he says ruefully. “One day he’ll be here and the next he won’t. But you mustn’t press him. After all, he’s not a tame lion.” Lucy looks thoughtful. “No,” she says, “but he is good.” Tumnus produces a handkerchief and hands it to her. “You need it more than I do,” he says. The two of them look back the seaside and see that Aslan has entirely vanished. Despite their sadness, they manage to smile acceptingly.

We cut to years later. The two kings and queens, now adults, are riding through the forest, hunting a stag. In the book, this is the legendary White Stag that can grant wishes to anyone who catches him. The movie doesn’t specify this, but it seems to be the subtext since they speak of “the stag,” not “a stag.” Edmund (Mark Wells-all the actors who play the Pevensies as adults are great by the way) slows down and asks his horse if he’s alright. “Not as young as I once was,” replies Philip. In this instance of riding a talking horse, I can’t even defend it by saying he’s training Edmund for war. What’s really annoying is that this the only instance in the scene of him speaking. Neither Philip nor any of the horses participates in their riders’ conversation or pays attention to what’s going on around them the way humans would. In the Narnia books, C. S. Lewis really worked out the implications of talking beasts and treated them as equals to the other intelligent species.

Edmund’s fellow monarchs rejoin him.

Susan (Sophie Winkleman): Come on, Ed.
Edmund: Just catching my breath.
Susan: Well, that’s all we’ll catch at this rate!
Lucy (Rachael Henley, sister of Georgie): What did he say again, Susan?
Susan: “You girls wait at the castle. I’ll get the stag myself.”

In the book, the adult kings and queens speak in a formal sounding medieval dialect. It might have been nice for the screenwriters to try to replicate this, but I don’t blame them for not doing so. Their dialogue in this scene was rather a pain to read in the book. Well, that’s to say it was a pain to read when I was a kid. As an adult who enjoys a good bit of Shakespeare now and then, I have no problem with it thought it’s still rather jarring to go from the rest of the book’s dialogue to “fair consorts, let us alight from our horses.” Anyway, the way Edmund is still a bit defensive about his sisters’ ribbing demonstrates that he’s still the same old Edmund while the concern he shows for Philip demonstrates how far he’s come. (I know I just criticized the bit with the horse, but I can have complicated opinions, can’t I?)

Everyone’s laughter fades as Peter (Noah Huntley) notices something strange and dismounts from his horse. The others follow suit. The strange thing is the lamppost, now overgrown with greenery.

Peter: What’s this? This looks familiar.
Susan: As if from a dream.
Lucy: Or the dream of a dream.

See how the horses are just acting like regular dumb horses?

Now we get my favorite bit of humor from the movie that’s not from the book though it is riffing on one from there. As Lucy stares at the lamppost, a memory stirs in her mind. “Spare Oom?” she says, causing the others to look at her in bewilderment. She runs into the thicket, and they run after her. (“Not again,” Susan grumbles. Another good funny moment.) As the Pevensies go deeper into the woods, they find themselves brushing against fur coats rather than pine branches. Then they tumble out the wardrobe into the old spare room, their old ages again[2]By which I mean the ages they were when they first went to Narnia, not that they reverted to being in their seventies or anything. and in their old clothes. The door to the room opens and Prof. Kirke enters. “Oh. There you are. What were you all doing in the wardrobe?” he asks with a twinkle in his eye. The Pevensies stare at each other in bittersweet wonder. “You wouldn’t believe us if we told you, sir,” says Peter. The professor raises his eyebrows and tosses Peter a cricket ball. “Try me,” he says.

As the end credits start to roll, a pop song starts. Now there are some people who hate the idea of pop music playing over the credits of a Narnia movie or any movie that takes place long before such music was invented. Me, I don’t really think you need any songs for the end credits of any given movie. It strikes me as an extra expense when you already have a musical score you could use. And I hate the idea of pop songs in the body of a Narnia movie itself, but I don’t necessarily mind them in the credits. In fact, I think having a modern song play over the credits of a historical story can emphasize that the themes in that story are still relevant today. It’s probably a stretch though to say that any of the songs that play over the credits of this movie do that with their rather vague lyrics. But I like the first one, I Can’t Take It In by Imogene Heep. Harry Gregson-Williams’s score for the last scene does a really nice job of transitioning into it so the sudden change in musical style doesn’t jar too much and the title expresses the marvelousness of finding Narnia in a wardrobe and all that it entails.[3]Another of the credits songs, Wunderkind by Alanis Morissette is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.

Before too long, the credits pause, and we see Lucy sneaking into the wardrobe room in the middle of the night. On my first viewing, I thought this was an outtake since there was an earlier scene like this in the movie. But, no, this time Lucy has no candle and when she opens the wardrobe door, a voice behind her says, “I don’t think you’ll get back in that way.” She turns to see Prof. Kirke, sitting on the windowsill in his bathrobe and pajamas. “You see, I’ve already tried,” he says ruefully. Lucy stares wistfully into the now ordinary wardrobe. “Will we ever go back?” she asks. “I expect so,” says the professor, closing the wardrobe door, “but it’ll probably happen when you’re not looking for it. All the same, best to keep your eyes open.” In the book, the part of his speech about keeping one’s eyes open was about finding others who have visited worlds like Narnia. I think it made more sense in that context, as the professor’s advice is rather contradictory this way. (“It’ll probably happen when you’re not looking for it” but “keep your eyes open?”) Lucy takes his hand and smiles at him as they leave the room. In their absence, the wardrobe door opens a crack. Lights pour out from it along with the sound of Aslan’s triumphant roar. Both the pre-credits ending and this post-credits one beautifully capture the spirit of the book’s ending. I love that our final image is of a door closing, symbolizing how the door to Narnia is closing for us as well as the characters.

The movie is dedicated to the director’s children, Isabelle and Sylvie by the way. Aww!

Concluding Thoughts

On the whole, I think this is a great movie with a beautiful sense of childlike awe and wonder, what the source material describes as “that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.” I think it’s got a great story with great themes, great casting, great visuals, great music. (Well, maybe not all of the music is great but enough of it is.) I don’t think however that it has a great script. That’s not to say the script is terrible or anything. But even at its best, during the first act of the story or so, I would call it solid writing rather than inspired. The uninspired elements aren’t bad enough to keep the movie from being good, but they dilute the overall quality enough to hold it back from being as great as it could easily have been. As frustrating as that is though, I honestly find movies where everything is great except for the script, as long as that script is OK rather than terrible, less frustrating than movies where the script is the only thing about them that’s great.

It should be noted that while for many readers, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is their favorite Narnia book or even the only Narnia book they consider great, for me, it’s one of my least favorites in the series if not my least favorite period. Keep in mind though that being my least favorite Narnia books means I’d only grade it an A- rather than an A or A+. So I am going to be picky about any adaptation but not as picky as some fans. I’d argue that the many of the things this one adds or expands may be untrue to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe specifically but aren’t untrue to The Chronicles of Narnia in general. An emphasis on character development for the young leads and their relationships with each other, including conflict between them, is characteristic of The Horse and his Boy, The Silver Chair and The Magician’s Nephew. The Horse and his Boy and The Last Battle both feature epic battles. (It’s right in the title of the latter!) And even the short battle at the climax of the next Narnia book, Prince Caspian, is described in more detail than the one at the climax of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.[4]There’s also a case to be made that girl characters were more likely to be involved in action scenes in later Narnia stories. If you’re mainly a fan of the specific book which this movie adapts, you may not love it. But if you’re a fan of Narnia in general, you very well may. If I’m being completely honest, I kind of enjoyed seeing the familiar story be told in a different style. I even kind of enjoyed things like focusing more on the four children than on Aslan. It made me think about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from a different angle. I don’t believe it improved on the book as a whole and I’ll always wish it had been truer to some aspects of it. But I believe I’ll also always enjoy the movie for what is.

Phew! It’s been taxing doing one blog post per week for so long, especially with each one being so detailed. I still intend on giving the two other Narnia movies, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this treatment but I intend to take a nice long break first.

Bibliography

C.S. Lewis letters to children : Lewis, C. S. (Clive Staples), 1898-1963 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Lewis, C. S. (1954) The Horse and his Boy. HarperCollins Publishers.

Lewis, C. S. (1950) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. HarperCollins Publishers.

Lewis, C. S. (1955) The Magician’s Nephew. HarperCollins Publishers.

References

References
1 C. S. Lewis never mentioned if the equivalent of the fox’s character was turned back in the book but he assured a younger reader that he was in a letter.
2 By which I mean the ages they were when they first went to Narnia, not that they reverted to being in their seventies or anything.
3 Another of the credits songs, Wunderkind by Alanis Morissette is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.
4 There’s also a case to be made that girl characters were more likely to be involved in action scenes in later Narnia stories.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 11: It Is Finished

Surprise! Early post for Easter.

We transition from the map of the battlefield to a gryphon (voiced by Cameron Rhodes) flying over the actual place. I apologize for starting off this post with some criticism, but it annoys me that there are gryphons in this movie when there are none in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. “But, Stationmaster,” you say, “why shouldn’t gryphons be included in the fantasy kitchen sink that is Narnia? Aren’t you being ridiculous?” Well…maybe I am. I guess what bothers me is that while the books include creatures from different mythologies, the author made them his own. A Narnian centaur is different from your common or garden variety centaur. But he never made gryphons his own so I have no idea what a specifically Narnian gryphon would be like. As long as I’m criticizing, it’s unfortunate that this battlefield doesn’t take place near a ford as the book specifies. I understand that might have been difficult for staging and if it were just part of this story, I wouldn’t care. But the ford returns to play a greater part in the sequel, Prince Caspian, and because it hadn’t been established in this movie, it lacks the thematic significance it had in the source material.

Anyway, we see that Peter and Oreius are going to lead the cavalry and foot soldiers while Edmund and Mr. Beaver command the archers from higher ground.[1]The movie has Mr. Beaver wear armor in this scene by the way. In another Narnia book, a badger character refuses to wear any on the grounds that “he was a beast, he was, and if his claws and … Continue reading The gryphon lands beside Peter. “They come, Your Highness,” he reports, “in numbers and weapons far greater than our own.” Oreius counters by saying, “numbers do not win a battle,” which is kind of a corny line, but Peter has a good response to it. “No, but I bet they help.”

As battle horns sound from across the field, we see that there are two leopards in Peter’s army. This pleases me since there were also two leopards in the book.[2]You could argue Oreius replaced them in the movie. Actually, I think these might be cheetahs but I’m just going to imagine that they’re leopards because I want them to be a nod to the book.

The White Witch’s army appears on the horizon. I’m pleased to note a couple of giants on her side. They don’t do much, giants being an expensive special effect, but I’m glad they’re included because giants, both good and bad, play a big part in the Narnia books. OK, maybe not that big a part but they’re definitely a memorable one. (I just wanted to make a pun on “big.”)

We also see the Witch is in a chariot drawn by polar bears.[3]When I first saw an out-of-context promotional image for that polar bear-drawn chariot, I thought it was replacing her reindeer-drawn sleigh from the book. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I’m informed that she’s wearing a headdress made of Aslan’s mane, which is a really cool idea, but her wig is so bad that to me, it honestly looks like the headdress is just supposed to be part of it. After glancing back in Edmund’s direction[4]Ed nods but I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a signal since I don’t think Peter could see it from his location., Peter imperceptibly gulps[5]Well, obviously, it’s perceptible since I perceived it. But it’s not obvious and “subtly gulps” sounds weird. and draws his sword. His soldiers follow suit. “I have no interest in prisoners,” the Witch tells her general, “Kill them all.” Her army starts to charge. Long before they reach their opponents, Peter signals his gryphons to fly overhead and drop boulders on them. Some of the Witch’s soldiers are crushed but her dwarf archers shoot some of the gryphons too. In the extended cut of the movie, the Witch’s flying creatures also battle the gryphons in the air. That is the only thing besides the added springtime footage that I think improves on the theatrical version. I’m not super interested in battle scenes but if you’re going to have one with flying creatures on both sides, why wouldn’t they fight in the air? In both versions, after the gryphons retreat, the evil army is still surging forward in great numbers.

“Are you with me?” Peter asks Oreius. “To the death,” he replies. Sort of a weird exchange to have right then. It’s not like this would be a good time for Oreius to back out. But the actors manage to sell it as a legitimately emotional moment. Peter raises his sword again. “For Narnia,” he cries, “and for Aslan!” Not the most interesting battle cry but it feels very fitting considering what Aslan just did for everybody. Peter’s army charges to meet the enemy. I mentioned before that I’m not a fan of slow motion, but I think it works here just before the armies clash.

Once they start hacking and slashing, we go back to real time and then we somewhat abruptly cut back to the Stone table. This is technically the only example of a flashback in any of the Narnia movies since it takes place just before the sun rises and the beginning took place toward the end of the morning at the latest and quite possible midday. Apparently, at one point, the scenes were going to be in chronological order, but the director decided, probably rightly, that viewers would empathize less with Peter’s army if they knew what they do not. Susan and Lucy, who have been sleeping beside Aslan’s body, awaken. “We should go,” says Susan. “I’m so cold,” says Lucy. Their voices sound like they’ve both spent all their emotions. Susan gently leads Lucy away, but they pause to look over their shoulders at Aslan one last time. It’s all very sad.

As they turn back and continue walking, the ground suddenly trembles beneath their feet! They turn around to find that the Stone Table has split in two and the body on top of it has disappeared. “What have they done?” Susan whispers. As the sun rises over the hill, we hear a familiar music cue. It’s the same music that played when we saw Aslan for the first time. That’s no accident as he steps over the hill in time with the sun, mane intact and completely restored to life. I like the way the atmosphere of the scene changes from gray and chilly to warm and bright with his appearance.

Joyfully, the girls run around the Stone Table-the staging is somewhat awkward-and hug Aslan. “But we saw the knife…the Witch…” Susan protests. “If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice,” explains Aslan, “she might have interpreted the Deep Magic differently, that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Stone Table would crack and even death itself would turn backwards.” As he says this, the camera pans across the symbols carved on the rim of the Stone Table. In the book, these represent the Deep Magic. This pan is the only indication of that in the movie. Aslan’s explanation, by the way, is a bit different from the one in the book.

“…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.”

Personally, that idea has more poetic appeal to me than the White Witch misinterpreting the Deep Magic. Director Andrew Adamson feared that the book’s explanation made it sound as if Aslan had conned the Witch, using knowledge she couldn’t possibly have had, and wanted to make it clear that her weakness was due to her moral inferiority, not her lack of power or mechanical knowledge. I don’t see why the adaptation couldn’t have had it both ways. Just have Aslan say, “If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she would also have known of a magic even deeper than the Deep Magic,” or something like that but hopefully more eloquent. Oh well.

“We sent the news that you were dead,” says Susan, “Peter and Edmund will have gone to war.” Lucy whips out her dagger. “We have to help them,” she says. “We will, dear one,” says Aslan, laying a huge paw on her little hand, “but not alone. Climb on my back. We have far to go and little time to get there and you may want to cover your ears.” Weirdly, the roar he gives is actually one of the quieter ones in the movie.

I’ve got to say after Aslan’s death scene and the scene of the girls mourning him, which I loved, this resurrection scene feels disappointingly undercooked and anticlimactic. If I were a newcomer to the story, I wonder if I’d be annoyed that the movie spent so much time on this character’s sacrifice only to undo it in one little scene. This part of the book was much more emotional. What went wrong? I really don’t want it to blame it on Anna Popplewell and Georgie Henley whose performances throughout the movie are excellent. Maybe the fault lies in the pacing. In the book, Lucy and Susan are initially as freaked out by Aslan’s reappearance as they are ecstatic and need to be reassured that’s he not a ghost or a dream before they rush to embrace him. Keeping that might have made the movie’s version a bigger and more emotional moment. The way the dialogue in the film quickly turns to Peter and Edmund may also be a problem. In the book, after telling them about the Deeper Magic, Aslan romps around with the girls and even tosses them in the air with his paws before they ride on his back. (“Whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.”) Including that might have helped but I can’t blame the filmmakers for feeling it would be selfish of Aslan to take time to do that when he could be helping the Narnians. And that’s not even getting into the technical difficulties of such a scene!

The long and short of the matter and the impression I can’t escape is that the filmmakers just weren’t very interested in this scene, seeing it as a hurdle through which they had to jump to get back to the battle. I wonder if in their heart of hearts, the screenwriters would have preferred for Aslan to remain dead and for Peter or Edmund to be the one to defeat the White Witch. (They would have Edmund metaphorically, if not literally, defeat her in each of the two sequels so I feel like that theory holds some water.)

Meanwhile-actually, sometime later, the battle is raging. Peter and the Witch make eye contact across the field. There’s a great subtle joke here as Edmund, from his vantage point, yells, “Fire!” and one of his archers shoot a flaming arrow which transforms into a phoenix. There actually are phoenixes in the Narnia books so props to the movie for that.[6]Actually, there’s only one phoenix in The Last Battle and it’s not in the land of Narnia itself, technically speaking, but details, details! This phoenix creates a wall of flame between Peter’s troops and the Witch’s, but she magically extinguishes it with her wand. Peter orders his army to draw the enemy back into the rocks for an ambush from the archers.

Since phoenixes are associated with death and rebirth, it’s thematically fitting to have one at this point.

Now we’re with Lucy and Susan riding across the countryside toward the Witch’s melting castle on Aslan’s back. This ride is one of the big emotional highpoints of the book so it’s sad to report that we get less than a minute of it here.

Back at the battle, Peter is thrown off his unicorn when Ginarrbrik shoots it. Seeing his king down and the White Witch headed his way, Oreius charges her at her. He has to fight his way through her general, who dies with two weapons sticking out his back, to get to her but it’s to no avail. She ducks as he tries to slice off her head and, to Peter’s sorrow, turns him to stone with her wand. I’m sorry if I’m not describing this scene very well. It’s hard for me to enjoy it for two reasons. The first is that I find chase scenes more exciting than battle scenes. The second is that I resent this battle for taking time away from parts of the book’s climax that I love and wished to see fully depicted on the big screen. To be fair though, this isn’t a terrible scene or anything and I understand that battles are an expense in film with all the extras they require, so if filmmakers are going to include one, they’re also going to want to have their money’s worth. Taking that into consideration, I’ll actually write some things (sort of) in defense of this scene.

A common criticism of Walden Media’s Narnia movies is that they rip off of the Lord of the Rings movies which loomed large in the public consciousness at the time. People tend to either criticize this version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe either for trying to be too much like The Lord of the Rings or not enough like it and often both. I assume the criticism mostly comes from this scene since I can’t think of much else that the two stories have in common except for really generic elements like both being about heroes who go on a long journey by foot. I can’t say the accusations of this movie copying what was popular at the time are unfair, but I also can’t get too angry about it because…well, I can’t remember the specifics of any battle scenes from The Lord of the Rings well enough to notice which parts this movie is imitating. The only aspects that I know for certain were copied from those films were being filmed in New Zealand the use of WETA Digital. I can’t complain about either of those things since I think the movie’s locations are great[7]Though I think I prefer the ones from the Czech Republic. and so are the weapons, armor, etc. created by WETA. Should I wish for the movie to be less good? Also, while the Narnia books don’t have that much in common with the literary Lord of the Rings beyond some surface level aspects, there’s a significant overlap between the fanbases, so for a movie based on one to be influenced by movies based on the other isn’t the craziest idea. I mean, it makes more sense than for an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to try to be like Game of Thrones.

And I do like the way the movie cuts from Oerius being turned to stone to a stone centaur in the Witch’s courtyard. The theme for Tumnus’s lullaby is heard on the soundtrack as Lucy finds him reduced to a statue. Water drips from the walls to his body and off again like tears. (Actually, it looks more like sweat but I’m sure the movie meant us to think of tears.) As Lucy sobs and Susan comforts her, Aslan breathes on Tumnus, actually making his stone curls rustle. Slowly, color starts to spread over the faun as he comes back to life. Lucy happily introduces him to Susan. They look around to see all the statues in the courtyard reverting to normal at once. “Come, we must search the castle,” says Aslan, “Peter will need everyone we can find.”

If I was irritated by the ride on Aslan’s back getting short shrift, I’m furious at how quickly this passes. The scene of Aslan breaking the spell on the statues has some of my favorite descriptive writing in the book and strikes me as perfectly cinematic in its use of color.

I expect you’ve seen someone put a lighted match to a bit of newspaper which is propped up in a grate against an unlit fire. And for a second nothing seems to have happened; and then you notice a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edge of the newspaper. It was like that now. For a second after Aslan had breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back then it spread — then the colour seemed to lick all over him as the flame licks all over a bit of paper — then, while his hindquarters were still obviously stone, the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stone folds rippled into living hair. Then he opened a great red mouth, warm and living, and gave a prodigious yawn... Everywhere the statues were coming to life. The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colours; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.

To be fair, I feel like the movie already ruined the color contrast by having the walls of the Witch’s house be made of ice instead of gray stone. Oh well. If the movie only had to focus on one statue being turned back into flesh and blood, it made sense for that statue to be Tumnus, a character about whom we care.[8]In the earlier draft of the script, this scene and the ride on Aslan’s back were longer and closer to the book. I wish they’d stayed that way but on the other hand, Lucy’s first … Continue reading I do like the way the movie cuts from this scene to the Witch having turned a satyr to stone, making it clear that said satyr and her other victims will be saved when Aslan arrives without the movie having to show that happening. It also shows her turning a gryphon into stone in midair. Conveniently for her, when it falls to the ground and smashes, it crushes some of Aslan’s soldiers, not any of hers. The statue smashing means that there’s at least one victim Aslan won’t be healing. In the book, between his breath and Lucy’s cordial, it’s implied that the good army suffered no casualties at all, making the movie slightly darker in one way.[9]Of course, given how long the battle had been going before Lucy arrived, some soldiers probably died before she could heal them.

Seeing which way the wind is blowing, Peter calls to Edmund, telling him to escape, find the girls and bring them home. Mr. Beaver starts to lead Edmund away, but Ed stops, seeing the White Witch heading towards Peter with her wand while he’s busy fighting a minotaur. “Peter said to get out of here,” Mr. Beaver reminds him. “Peter’s not king yet!” says Edmund, running toward the Witch. According to the book, he had to fight his way through three ogres to get to her, making this bit a rare case of the literary version being more action packed than this movie’s. (That’s not a complaint. I think the three ogres would have unnecessarily slowed down the pace.)[10]The extended edition is a bit closer to the book by having Edmund fight his way past Ginarrbrik. It doesn’t work very well in my opinion. Edmund leaps in front of the Witch. When she tries to stab him with her wand, he steps aside and shatters it with his sword.

Now the ordinarily aloof Witch is as visibly furious as we ever see her. She stabs Edmund with her sword, and he falls to the ground. She tosses the useless end of her wand away. Peter has witnessed everything and he’s not happy. After finishing off the minotaur, he runs at the Witch. The two of them fight and the Witch is clearly the one in control. She also clearly enjoys toying with Peter though and draws out the fight. The sound of a lion roaring interrupts the battle. Peter and the Witch look up to see Aslan standing in the rocky area above them, alive and well. “Impossible,” breathes the Witch. That line and even the shot of her saying it recalls Susan’s reaction to seeing Narnia for the first time, a nice bit of parallelism.

Formerly stone reinforcements pour into the valley. Rumblebuffin, the giant from the book, gets a cameo.

Amusingly, we even see the timid Mr. Tumnus in berserker mode, take down some of the enemy. (That’s not a criticism; it’s supposed to be amusing.) The Witch resumes fighting Peter but now she clearly wants to kill him as fast as possible before Aslan gets to her. To his credit, Peter makes her have to work for it a bit. Eventually however, she pins his arm to the ground and knocks aside his shield. But before she can finish the deed, Aslan comes bounding across the field and pounces on her. Aslan takes a moment to stare her in the face, almost pityingly, before it’s implied that he bites off her head. (Hey, he’s not like a tame lion.) Then he turns to Peter, who has gotten up from the ground, and gravely says, “It is finished.”[11]Those are actually the last words of Christ before His death but, according to the director, this was unintentional. The phrase is generic enough that I believe him, and I don’t think it makes … Continue reading This is weird because there’s nowhere else in the film that we’re supposed to feel sorry for the Witch. As Mrs. Beaver says in the book, “she’s bad all through.”

She almost looks happy to die in this shot. Again, weird.

Susan and Lucy come running to Peter. C. S. Lewis described him as looking older after the battle and I think William Moseley captures that well.

“Where’s Edmund?” asks Susan. He’s lying on the ground, near death. Ginarrbrik limps towards him with his battleax raised but Susan kills him with an arrow. (Bleeding to death from an arrow wound is actually a rather slow and agonizing way to die, so don’t picture what is happening to Ginarrbrik offscreen throughout the following scene. Not if you’re tenderhearted anyway.) Edmund’s siblings gather around him, and Lucy takes out her cordial. She pours a drop of it in his mouth. After a long, scary moment, Edmund’s breathing returns to normal and he comes back to life. The others embrace him. “When are you going to learn to do as you’re told?” Peter asks affectionately. That’s…actually a good point. Since one of Edmund’s main vices has been pride and refusing to submit to authority outside himself, having his big redemptive act be one of disobedience doesn’t make much thematic sense. Modern writers seem to feel that heroism has to involve defying authority in some way. This makes it somewhat hard for them to write good Narnia adaptations.[12]While the good guys in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are fighting against their acting monarch, the book stresses that Aslan and the Pevensies are the land’s rightful rulers, and her … Continue reading

Edmund looks over the others’ shoulders to see Aslan. I feel like he should be more amazed to see him alive, especially since he should also have been wracked with guilt over his death. Anyway, Aslan breathes on a stone satyr and nods at Lucy. She runs over to a wounded body with her cordial. Again, the movie does a great job letting us know what they’re going to do without a long montage. And I believe after one more post, I’ll have covered this whole movie!

Next Week: The Prophecy is Fulfilled

References

References
1 The movie has Mr. Beaver wear armor in this scene by the way. In another Narnia book, a badger character refuses to wear any on the grounds that “he was a beast, he was, and if his claws and teeth could not keep his skin whole, it wasn’t worth keeping.” But, hey, beavers are less fearsome beasts that badgers.
2 You could argue Oreius replaced them in the movie.
3 When I first saw an out-of-context promotional image for that polar bear-drawn chariot, I thought it was replacing her reindeer-drawn sleigh from the book. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
4 Ed nods but I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a signal since I don’t think Peter could see it from his location.
5 Well, obviously, it’s perceptible since I perceived it. But it’s not obvious and “subtly gulps” sounds weird.
6 Actually, there’s only one phoenix in The Last Battle and it’s not in the land of Narnia itself, technically speaking, but details, details!
7 Though I think I prefer the ones from the Czech Republic.
8 In the earlier draft of the script, this scene and the ride on Aslan’s back were longer and closer to the book. I wish they’d stayed that way but on the other hand, Lucy’s first visit to Narnia, the one when she met Tumnus, was far too rushed in that draft and I’m glad it was revised.
9 Of course, given how long the battle had been going before Lucy arrived, some soldiers probably died before she could heal them.
10 The extended edition is a bit closer to the book by having Edmund fight his way past Ginarrbrik. It doesn’t work very well in my opinion.
11 Those are actually the last words of Christ before His death but, according to the director, this was unintentional. The phrase is generic enough that I believe him, and I don’t think it makes the movie particularly Christian, especially as Aslan says it long after his death, but it’s an amusing coincidence, isn’t it?
12 While the good guys in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are fighting against their acting monarch, the book stresses that Aslan and the Pevensies are the land’s rightful rulers, and her authority is bogus.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 10: You Have to Trust Me

Unable to sleep, Lucy tosses and turns in bed at night. A silhouette passes the transparent wall of her tent. It’s Aslan. Lucy wakes up Susan and, taking their Christmas presents with them, the two follow Aslan as he slips out of camp. In the book, Susan didn’t need to be awakened as she was also awake, worrying about Aslan’s strange moodiness. I kind of wish that could have been the case in the movie too. Just because Lucy is the less flawed of the two it doesn’t mean Susan can’t ever be sensitive.

I wrote in a previous post about the movie seeming to avert the idea of Aslan being omniscient but, in this scene, he arguably comes across as more omniscient than in the book. There he only noticed the girls following him when he turned around while they were in an exposed place with nowhere to hide. Here, without turning around, he says to them while they’re hiding behind a tree, “Shouldn’t you both be in bed?” That could just be implying that they’re really bad at stealth though. After an embarrassed moment, they approach him. “We couldn’t sleep,” explains Lucy. “Please, Aslan, couldn’t we come with you?” Susan asks humbly. “I would be glad of the company for a while,” says Aslan, “thank you.” They put their hands in his mane and continue through the woods. This scene is more dramatic in the book with Aslan moaning and stumbling and the girls tearfully begging him to tell them what’s wrong. Honestly, I’m OK with the way they do it here though. Partly because I don’t think the movie has succeeded quite enough in making Aslan scary for his vulnerability to have the same effect as in the source material. While Lucy is a bit cautious about touching him, it doesn’t come across as the terrifying liberty that the book implies. And partly because, given the direction this scene is headed, a lot of moaning and weeping might have felt like overkill.[1]No pun intended. That’ll make sense in a little bit.

Aslan: It is time. From here, I must go on alone.
Susan: But, Aslan-
Aslan: You have to trust me for this must be done. Thank you, Susan. Thank you, Lucy. And farewell.

Aslan walks off. The girls watch him go. But instead of returning to the camp, they sneak around and, crouching in the undergrowth, see that Aslan is going to the Stone Table, around which a crowd with torches waits.

This doesn’t look good. (The situation, I mean. The visuals for this scene are superb.)

Head bowed, Aslan makes his way through the Witch’s followers.[2]I’m not going to list all the species. If you’re interested, read the book or maybe look up some old promotional material for the movie. C. S. Lewis quipped that if he described some of these monstrous creatures, “the grownups would probably not let (kids) read this book.” The movie does a great job of making these monsters look hideously grotesque while still keeping within a PG rating. The White Witch’s soldiers also have a variety and a whimsy to their designs, making them visually fun where, say, the orcs from the Lord of the Rings movies were simply repellent.[3]I don’t necessarily mean that as a knock on those movies. After all, they were trying to tell a very different story from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with a different atmosphere and to … Continue reading The movie also does a pretty good job in this scene of showing that they’re afraid of Aslan.

The White Witch stands atop the Stone Table, waiting for Aslan, dressed in black and carrying a ceremonial knife. “Behold the Great Lion,” she says. Her followers laugh on cue. From their hiding place, Susan and Lucy look confused. The minotaur general cautiously prods Aslan with his battleax. Aslan doesn’t resist but a little snarl escapes him. The general looks back at the Witch, not quite confident in proceeding. But then, to the girls’ shock, he violent knocks Aslan to the ground. The Witch’s other followers draw near and jeer at him. “Here, kitty, kitty,” taunts Ginarrbrik, “do you want some milk?” I’m surprised the movie doesn’t have Lucy try to rush to Aslan’s assistance here and Susan hold her back. It would have made a lot of sense. “Why doesn’t he fight back?” Lucy asks. Susan has no answer. “Bind him,” commands the Witch. Her soldiers, now that they’re not as scared, rush forward and tie cords around Aslan’s paws, body and mouth. (According to the book, they tie them so tightly that they cut into his flesh!) “Wait,” the Witch suddenly says, “let him first be shaved.” The creatures cheer at this. Ginarrbrik comes forward, saws off a tuft of Aslan’s mane and holds it up like a trophy to much cheering. Others eagerly gather around and hack off the mane, tossing hair into the air like confetti. “Bring him to me,” says the Witch. The creatures roughly drag Aslan up onto the table-the way his jaw bangs against the stones can make you wince-and tie him there. Their bloodlust is at a fever pitch when the Witch holds up her hand and the scene goes silent.

Then four hags carrying torches start-wait, I’ve got to talk about the design for these characters. I’ve always assumed that by “Hags” the Narnia books meant stereotypically old and ugly Halloween-type witches as opposed to the beautiful enchantress archetype represented by the White Witch. But for whatever reason, the movie gives them these weird beaks. My guess is that they felt unattractive older women would look mundane in the company of all these horrible monsters. It’s a bit of an odd decision but it doesn’t distract me in context.

The hags start pounding out a rhythm with their torches. Other creatures take it up. Some of them hiss or bellow. The wolves howl. It’s awesomely eerie. I love the music here. It would be easy to simply make the scene scary, but I applaud the soundtrack for focusing on the sadness of it just as this scene in the book does. For me, the whole sequence is one of the most epic in the movie. It’s one of the parts that makes me believe I’m watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, not just a version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The White Witch kneels down and addresses her victim. “Now, Aslan,” she says, “I’m a little disappointed in you.” In the book, she begins this speech with the words, “And now who has won?” That strikes me as more dramatic but, oh well, I guess this isn’t bad. “Did you honestly think by all this that you could save the human traitor?” she asks. Lucy and Susan look at each other, aghast, as they realize the reason for Aslan’s lack of resistance. Don’t tell me they shouldn’t be able to hear from so far away and with the crowd making so much noise! It’s a great dramatic moment.

“You are giving me your life,” continues the Witch, “and saving…no one. So much for love.” That last line is really corny on paper, but Tilda Swinton’s delivery actually makes it chilling. The Witch rises and addresses her followers. “Tonight,” she proclaims, “the Deep Magic will be appeased. But tomorrow we will take Narnia forever!” In the book, that part of her speech came before her telling Aslan that his sacrifice will be in vain, and I think it flowed better that way, the idea being that once Aslan is dead, he won’t be able to stop her from killing Edmund and everybody else who is a threat to her. I wouldn’t say the movie’s rearranging ruins the speech though. You can still follow her logic; it just takes a little more thought. Anyway, her followers cheer and their rhythmic pounding speeds up, becoming more and more frenzied. The Witch raises her knife above Aslan. “In that knowledge,” she says, “despair…” Lucy seems to make eye contact with Aslan[4]Don’t tell me there’s no way she could do so! This is a great scene., silently begging him to do something.

“…And die!” concludes the Witch, bringing down her knife. The movie arguably makes the scene a tad darker than the book, according to which “The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.” Here the camera cuts between Lucy’s wide-open eyes and Aslan’s face as the life goes out of him. The girls hug each other and weep. “The great cat is dead!” shrieks the Witch. Her army cheers. “General, prepare your troops for battle,” she says, “however short it may be.”

We cut to the Stone Table after the Witch and her followers have left. In the dim light of very early morning, Susan and Lucy approach Aslan’s lifeless body. In a poignant detail original to this version, Lucy has a moment of hope and takes out her bottle of healing cordial. “It’s too late,” says Susan gently. “He’s gone.” She manages to smile through her tears as she tells Lucy, “He must have known what he was doing.” Some fans of the book might reasonably object that for Susan to be calm and collected enough (initially anyway) to tell Lucy this lessens the scene’s power. In the book, basically all either girl could do at this point was cry, hold hands and be silent. Lewis writes of them being up all night and crying until they have no tears left in them. I can understand someone not liking this little moment in the movie. But I’ve got to say I love it. Up until this point, Susan has been the most skeptical character in the movie, expressing incredulity at the ideas of a magical world inside a wardrobe, robins and beavers talking, ordinary children becoming heroes and Father Christmas.[5]Remember that this adaptation’s version of Father Christmas specifically told her to trust in her bow. That wording might have significance. For her to be the one to maintain that Aslan knew what he was doing when it appears to common sense that he made a terrible mistake and played right into the Witch’s hands, rather than the more intuitive Lucy, is a powerful character moment. We’ve also seen her try to be a mother to Lucy without much success throughout the story and it’s nice to see her be as comforting a presence as possible in this devastating situation.[6]The book also arguably had Susan show some impressive growth a little before this scene. Previously, she’d been the most fearful of the Pevensies, but she asked to accompany Aslan wherever he … Continue reading In any case, she and Lucy do break down sobbing and bury their faces in Aslan’s body afterwards though this doesn’t go on for as long as the book implies. The music also isn’t as emotionally intense as I’d have imagined, but it’s still beautiful in its subtler way.

A squeaking noise causes the girls to look up from their crying. They see mice are crawling all over Aslan’s body. Disgusted, Susan tries to shoo them away, but Lucy stops her, realizing that the mice are actually chewing away the cords. The girls help remove the last of them. Lucy strokes Aslan’s unmuzzled face before burying her own in it.

Susan: We have to tell the others.
Lucy: We can’t just leave him!
Susan: Lucy, there’s no time! They need to know.

Lucy can’t argue with this, but she still doesn’t want to move. Then she has an idea. “The trees,” she says. We cut to a strange wind blowing through the forest, scattering leaves and cherry blossom petals. It enters Peter and Edmund’s tent, waking them. The petals coalesce into the form of a dryad (Katrina Browne.)[7]Browne is actually credited as a Green Dryad, not a cherry blossom one but since this is the only dryad with a speaking role in the movie, I assume it’s she. “Be still, my princes,” she says, “I bring grave news from your sisters.” Lucy and Susan send no such message in the book, being probably too distraught to think of doing so. I approve of this alteration. Since a lack of dryads in Narnia is important in the next entry in the series, Prince Caspian, it makes sense to emphasize their presence in this one.

I’ve never noticed before how creepy those eyes are though.

As the rest of the camp awakens, Peter sadly comes out of Aslan’s tent. “She’s right,” he says, “He’s gone.” He stares down at a battlefield map. Edmund is weirdly unphased by this, considering that he’s the one responsible for Aslan’s sacrifice. In the book, Susan even tells Lucy not to tell him about it lest the guilt be too devastating. Later books imply he was eventually informed as others mention Aslan’s death in front of him and he isn’t confused, so I guess I don’t necessarily mind the movie explicitly having Edmund learn of it but if you’re going to do that, have him react for crying out loud!

Still, I do appreciate how this scene demonstrates Edmund’s character development.

Edmund: Then you’ll have to lead us. (Beat) Peter, there’s an army out there and it’s ready to follow you.
Peter: I can’t!
Edmund: Aslan believed you could. So do I.

After being so resentful of Peter asserting any authority over him[8]Or Susan doing so for that matter., it’s really impressive to hear Edmund be the one to encourage him to take charge. I just wish Skandar Keynes, whose performance is generally stellar throughout the film, could have also conveyed that Edmund was experiencing horrific feelings of guilt during this moment. “The Witch’s army is nearing, Sire,” Oreius tells Peter. “What are your orders?”

Next Week: ….

References

References
1 No pun intended. That’ll make sense in a little bit.
2 I’m not going to list all the species. If you’re interested, read the book or maybe look up some old promotional material for the movie.
3 I don’t necessarily mean that as a knock on those movies. After all, they were trying to tell a very different story from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with a different atmosphere and to a different audience. But if you ask at which evil army, I enjoy looking more, it’s the Narnian one.
4 Don’t tell me there’s no way she could do so! This is a great scene.
5 Remember that this adaptation’s version of Father Christmas specifically told her to trust in her bow. That wording might have significance.
6 The book also arguably had Susan show some impressive growth a little before this scene. Previously, she’d been the most fearful of the Pevensies, but she asked to accompany Aslan wherever he was going, no matter how bad it might be.
7 Browne is actually credited as a Green Dryad, not a cherry blossom one but since this is the only dryad with a speaking role in the movie, I assume it’s she.
8 Or Susan doing so for that matter.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 9: Whoa, Horsie!

Peter emerges from his tent in the morning to see Oreius passing by. Oreius motions with his head to where Aslan and Edmund stand on a rock in conversation. The book says that “There is no need to tell you (and no one ever heard) what Aslan was saying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot.” You might expect this movie with its emphasis on character journeys to want to dramatize such an important moment in Edmund’s development. But, no, they stay true to the source material, leaving it ambiguous what is being said and whether Aslan was more stern or more compassionate. And while it may not make sense in theory to refrain from dramatizing it further, I think it works beautifully in practice.

I love the lighting/colors in this shot.

Susan and Lucy emerge from their own tent. Lucy sees Edmund, calls his name and starts to run towards him but Peter holds her back out of respect for the privacy of this moment. Edmund hears Lucy’s voice however and Aslan gives him a stern nod. The two of them slowly walk toward the other Pevensie children. I appreciate how the movie slows down and really gives this scene some gravitas. You really feel Edmund’s shame and awkwardness as well as the mixed emotions of his brother and sisters. The quiet music is also beautiful.

“What’s done is done,” says Aslan, “There is no need to speak to Edmund about what is past.” He leaves them alone. Edmund has a hard time at first meeting anyone’s eyes. With an effort, he blurts out a “hello.” Lucy runs over and gives him a hug which he returns. Susan puts a hand on his shoulder and gives him a gentler hug once Lucy’s is done. Peter’s expression is still somewhat lacking in friendliness. It’s unclear whether he wants to hug Edmund too or strangle him.

Susan asks Ed if he’s alright and he says that he’s a little tired, doubtless something of an understatement. “Get some sleep,” says Peter, a little curtly. Edmund starts to walk away, looking as if he wished for a warmer reception from his brother. On impulse, Peter calls after him, “And Edmund-” For a moment, it seems that Peter is going to pour out his heart, but he reconsiders and simply says, “try not to wander off.” That line could easily have come across as a rebuke. Indeed, in the earlier version of the script, that’s exactly what it was. But here it plays as friendly banter. The fact that Peter comes feels comfortable enough to joke about Edmund’s betrayal with him really shows that all his forgiven between the two.

After Edmund’s gone, Peter’s smile fades though. That may be less because of his feelings about Edmund himself however than it is about his worries over something else.

At a first glance, this movie seems much faster paced than the book that inspired it. That’s because the book is largely devoted to the scenes of characters walking and eating.[1]I don’t mean that as a criticism! It’s how C. S. Lewis himself described the books he wrote, walking and eating being some of his favorite pastimes. But this impression is something of an illusion. It’s right at this point in the book, when “everyone wanted very hard to say something which 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,” that the White Witch requests a meeting with Aslan. The movie actually adds a scene or two, one of them a dialogue scene, in between. It’s not so much that the movie is fast paced, and the book slow paced as it is that they have different interests.

The Pevensies have a picnic. Edmund, how dressed in Narnian clothes, wolfs down bread and cheese, understandably starving. Peter says he’s sure the Narnians will pack plenty of food for the journey back. “We’re going home?” asks Susan incredulously. Up until now, she’s been the one insisting that they all return to their own world. But now when that seems about to happen, she sounds disappointed, which is strangely convincing. Peter says he’s sending his siblings back since he promised their mother he’d keep them safe, but he intends to stay and help Aslan’s army. “But they need us,” says Lucy, “all four of us!” Peter argues that it’s too dangerous. “You almost drowned,” he reminds her, “Edmund was almost killed!” To the others’ surprise, Edmund interjects that that is why they have to stay. (Presumably, he’s referring to the circumstances around his near demise, not Lucy’s.) “I’ve seen what the White Witch can do,” he says, “And I’ve helped her do it. But we can’t leave these people behind to suffer for it.” Lucy wordlessly grips his hand. There’s a moment of silence. Now I’m a pretty individualistic loner-type for whom the military holds no appeal, so the fact that the movie was able to move me with the Pevensies deciding to risk their lives to help a country means it deserves some kind of medal!

“I suppose that’s it then,” Susan says calmly. She rises from the table and walks away. “Where are you going?” asks Peter. “To get in some practice,” she says with a smile, picking up her bow and arrows. Fans of the original book and of the character of Aslan in particular may reasonably criticize this adaptation for emphasizing the role of the Pevensies at his expense but it’s worth noting that Edmund, Susan and Peter all show major character growth here, for seemingly no other reason than meeting him.[2]Of course, a viewer less enchanted with the movie than I might say that’s an example of badly structured character arcs. That should count for something. We get a brief scene of Susan practicing her archery on a field a bit removed from the camp. Amusingly, Lucy also practices throwing her dagger and turns out to have a better aim than her older sister. Peter and Edmund are also practicing riding on horses and sword fighting. The book, by the way, never depicted them training for battle at all. You could argue that by adding this bit, the movie makes their survival a tad more realistic. You could also argue that it’s still unrealistic and by trying to make it less so, the movie actually draws attention to the implausibility. But I won’t make that case.

Mr. Beaver comes running across the field, scaring Edmund’s horse who neighs and rears. “Whoa, Horsie!” says Edmund. “My name is Philip,” says the horse (in the voice of production manager Philip Steuer.) “Oh, sorry,” says an embarrassed Edmund. The moment is worth a chuckle but it’s actually one of the parts of the movie that annoys me most as a fan of the Narnia books, which state emphatically that talking horses are not to be ridden or used as beasts of burden.[3]Also, the name Philip does not sound at all like the horse names in The Horse and his Boy. It’s true that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe itself doesn’t mention this but this movie has already shown signs that the screenwriters skimmed the other books in the series at least and we’ll see more signs later. It would have been nice if they could have remembered that rule. It may be a little thing but it’s something that stands out about the Narnia books. As a fan of those, I want to watch these movie adaptations and imagine that I’m seeing the world of Narnia come to life before my eyes. The absence of the no-riding-talking-horses rule makes this movie’s world feel less like Narnia to me. It’s also worth noting that in the final book in the series, The Last Battle, seeing a talking horse be treated like a dumb animal so infuriates the good guys that they gruesomely kill the perpetrators without giving them a chance to defend themselves.[4]The Last Battle is somewhat darker than the average Narnia story. Had the movie series been able to adapt that book, it wouldn’t have been impossible for them to make that plot point work. After all, the horse wasn’t just being ridden but whipped and abused. But it would be a lot easier to sell if they established that talking horses should be differently from regular horses right from the start.

To be fair, the books do give an exception to the rule: “in war where everyone must do what he can do best.” Training Edmund for battle could technically count as that with some generosity. By the way, Peter’s horse is actually a unicorn, something that also isn’t supposed to be ridden in Narnia. The Last Battle also depicts unicorns as talking, something Peter’s unicorn never does. Technically, that makes it even less accurate to the book series but if they had to have the first inaccuracy, I’d rather they do the second since it actually makes the first less annoying. I know there are people out there who would laugh at me devoting so many words to this little moment, but their laughter doesn’t alter my opinion. Tiny moments in an adaptation can be what make fans of the original cheer the most and they can nag like mosquitoes.

Anyway, back to the story. Mr. Beaver tells the boys that the White Witch has demanded a meeting with Aslan. We cut to the Witch being carried into the camp in a portable throne by cyclopses. There are no cyclopses among the Witch’s followers in the book, but they fit. Ginarrbrik goes before the litter, crying, “Jadis, Queen of Narnia and Empress of the Lone Islands!” Those Lone Islands are mentioned briefly in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but aren’t really relevant until The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.[5]For that matter, the Witch’s first name, Jadis, is also mentioned once in the book and only becomes relevant much later in the series. The fact that the movie gave them a shoutout even though they didn’t need to do so makes me happy. See? Little details can make or break an adaptation. If I weren’t bothered by Edmund riding a talking horse, I couldn’t enjoy the mention of irrelevant islands and be consistent.

Aslan’s soldiers boo the Witch and her entourage as they approach Aslan’s tent. In the book, while Aslan and the Witch are described as the only ones who seem totally at their ease in this scene, it’s also implied that the Witch is still intimidated by Aslan. We get a closeup of his face and then a closeup of her face which can be interpreted as her being nervous but could just as easily not be interpreted that way. As much as I’ve praised Tilda Swinton’s aloof performance, there is a danger with aloof characters. It can be hard to tell what they’re feeling.

As the Witch alights from her litter, she makes eye contact with Edmund before turning her attention to Aslan.

Witch: You have a traitor in your midst, Aslan.
Aslan: His offense was not against you.
Witch: Have you forgotten the laws upon which Narnia was built?
Aslan (snarling): Do not cite the Deep Magic to me, Witch! I was there when it was written.
Witch: Then you’ll remember well that every traitor belongs to me. His blood is my property.

In the book, Aslan comes across as more relaxed and seems to be toying with the Witch. His initial response to her first words is “well, his offense was not against you.” That one word, “well,” makes his tone more casual, humorous even, and less defensive than it is in the movie. When the Witch accuses him of forgetting the Deep Magic, he says, “Let us say I have forgotten it. Tell us of this Deep Magic.” Presumably, the filmmakers didn’t want Aslan to seem too in control for fear the scene would lose tension. (When Aslan rebukes her, the Witch actually seems a little triumphant at having gotten a rise out of the lion.) As we’ll see with the battle between Aslan’s army and the Witch’s, they also really wanted this to be an underdog story. Personally, I think having Aslan be totally calm, on the surface anyway, is more interesting and I actually think it could have heightened the suspense by making viewers worry that he might be overplaying his hand. Oh well.

In response to the Witch claiming Edmund’s blood, Peter draws his sword. “Try and take him then,” he says. In the book, that line[6]Well, actually, the line is “come and take it then” in the book but never mind. is actually said by a bull with a man’s head.[7]Not to be confused with a man with a bull’s head. I think transferring it to Peter is a good way of confirming that the brothers are reconciled. The White Witch gives Peter a condescending look. “Do you really think that mere force will deny me my right, little king?” she says. “Aslan knows that unless I have blood as the law demands, all of Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water. That boy will die on the Stone Table as is tradition! You dare not refuse me.” Edmund looks devastated by this news as you’d expect. His emotions are a bit more complex in the book.

He felt a choking feeling and wondered if he ought to say something; but a moment later he felt that he was not expected to do anything except to wait, and do what he was told.

I think that’s more interesting than what the film does but it probably would have come across as bad acting so changing it was the right call. Actually, you could argue that Edmund’s reaction is true to the book in that he’s disturbed but refrains from saying anything.

In the book, by the way, we learn a little more about this mysterious Deep Magic/law but not much more. It was apparently created by Aslan’s father, the Emperor beyond the Sea, and is engraved on his scepter. That really raises more questions than it answers though. This Emperor is mentioned in a couple of the books, mostly prominently in this, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but never appears or receives much more than a mention, so I think it was reasonable for this adaptation to drop him.[8]From a Christian theological perspective, the Emperor corresponds to God the Father and Aslan corresponds to God the Son. However, this is never really developed and in The Magician’s Nephew, … Continue reading Anyway, Aslan says he’ll talk with the Witch in private and leads her into his tent. We cut to sometime later as the Pevensies and the rest of Aslan’s followers are waiting for a verdict. The movie does a good job of capturing the book’s description of this scene with even small background noises being prominent in the nervous silence.

I also like how Edmund works out his nervousness by pulling grass apart. It feels very realistic.

Everyone’s attention turns to the tent as the Witch emerges, followed by Aslan. She gives Edmund a piercing look. Aslan’s head is bowed, and it really feels as if he’s about to admit defeat. But then he says, “She has renounced her claim on the Son of Adam’s blood.” The scene is kind of brilliant. It fools you into thinking Aslan is going to say the opposite of what he does without him or the Witch doing anything that doesn’t make sense. That is to say, it doesn’t make sense now, but it will once we know all as we will shortly. “How do I know your promise will be kept?” demands the Witch. Aslan roars at her. When he did that in the book, “the Witch, after staring for a moment with her lips wide apart, picked up her skirts and fairly ran for her life.” Here she just sits down, looking scared, which manages to be less lame than you’d imagine. It’s perfectly valid for book fans to criticize the adaptation for not having the Witch be scared of Aslan enough but the filmmakers must have wanted her to be somewhat scared of him or they wouldn’t have included this moment at all.

Nevertheless, as her bearers carry her away, the Witch looks over her shoulder at Aslan with an I’ll-Get-You-For-This expression. Everyone is clapping Edmund on the back and congratulating him and his brother and sisters. Lucy looks over at Aslan, expecting him to be rejoicing too. But instead, he bows his head and, with a brief, sad glance at her, goes back into his tent. Lucy is disturbed by this quickly gets caught up again in the celebration. No moment like this is described in the book but Lucy and Aslan have a very close relationship in later installments of the series[9]According to Prince Caspian, she “understood some of his moods.”, so this feels very consistent with that.

Next Week: So… What’s This Promise Aslan Has to Keep Now?

References

References
1 I don’t mean that as a criticism! It’s how C. S. Lewis himself described the books he wrote, walking and eating being some of his favorite pastimes.
2 Of course, a viewer less enchanted with the movie than I might say that’s an example of badly structured character arcs.
3 Also, the name Philip does not sound at all like the horse names in The Horse and his Boy.
4 The Last Battle is somewhat darker than the average Narnia story.
5 For that matter, the Witch’s first name, Jadis, is also mentioned once in the book and only becomes relevant much later in the series.
6 Well, actually, the line is “come and take it then” in the book but never mind.
7 Not to be confused with a man with a bull’s head.
8 From a Christian theological perspective, the Emperor corresponds to God the Father and Aslan corresponds to God the Son. However, this is never really developed and in The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan fills God the Father’s role of Creator.
9 According to Prince Caspian, she “understood some of his moods.”
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 8: This is Peter’s Battle

Remember how at the end of Part 4, I wrote that we’d reached a place where I felt the movie’s quality, the quality of its writing anyway, started to go downhill? Well, I’m happy to report that we’ve now reached a point where it starts going uphill again. I’m not sure if it’s as consistently great as it was before, at least from an adaptation standpoint, but I find it closer than it was during that middle section we just went through, maybe because the characters whose dialogue I enjoy the least talk less.

As Peter, Susan, Lucy and the beavers walk uphill toward Aslan’s camp, we see what appear to be a horse’s hooves. The camera pans up to reveal that the hooves actually belong to a centaur who blows a horn signaling our heroes’ arrival. (By the way, the movie portrays some centaurs as being female even though, like fauns, they’re a one-sex species in mythology.)

I love the colors in this part of the movie! Actually, I love the art direction throughout this whole film, but we’ve reached a turning point of sorts when it comes to the visuals that makes it worth bringing up the topic again. The bright green of the hillside contrasts with the black and white visuals that have defined Narnia up till now. Not that those weren’t beautiful in their own way. Sheesh, I can theoretically understand some viewers finding them easier on the eyes. But in context, they come across as very refreshing. And the bright, almost circus-like colors of the tents make Narnia feel like something out of a storybook. It’s perfect.

Right before the characters enter the camp, Lucy notices a couple of dryads who wave at her. This movie series portrays the dryads’ bodies as being composed of seemingly windblown leaves and flower petals. The book depicts them more as people with bark for skin and leaves, willows and moss for hair and clothing. I’d have preferred something like that, but I don’t dislike these dryads. Actually, I appreciate that they don’t look like the ents in the Lord of the Rings movies, which still loomed high in the public’s memories when this movie was released.

Lucy waves back at the dryads. This moment reminds me of one from another Narnia book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Lucy makes eye contact with a Sea Girl e.g. a mermaid.

Neither could speak to the other and in a moment the Sea Girl dropped astern. But Lucy will never forget her face…Lucy had liked that girl and she felt certain the girl had liked her. In that one moment they had somehow become friends. There does not seem to be much chance of their meeting again in that world or any other. But if ever they do, they will rush together with their hands held out.

As they enter the camp, various Narnian creatures stare at the humans in awe. Susan nervously wonders why, and Lucy suggests she looks as strange to them as they do to her. In another look-they-really-do-love-each-other moment, Mrs. Beaver starts to groom her fur and her husband tells her to stop fussing because she looks lovely. Aslan’s soldiers fall in behind the Pevensies as they approach a big tent in the middle of the camp.

Outside stands a centaur (Patrick Kake.) This character isn’t from the book but he’s true to the Narnia books’ depictions of centaurs in that he’s intimidatingly stern[1]In the book, Prince Caspian, a character says that “no one ever laughed at a centaur., wise and noble though he’s more of a warrior whereas in the books, centaurs are defined more by being astrologers/prophets. His name is Oreius, which sounds like it could easily be a name from the Narnia books, but it should be the name of a faun, not a centaur. (Centaur names in the books include Glenstorm, Cloudbirth and Roonwit. Faun names include Tumnus, Mentius and Obentinus.) Oh well, nice try.

Peter unsheathes his sword and salutes Oreius. “We have come to see Aslan,” he says, his voice trembling. That’s not a criticism of Moseley’s performance. He’s clearly supposed to be nervous.[2]As well he should be. In the book, Mrs. Beaver says, ““if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just … Continue reading Oreius turns toward the tent and all the soldiers bow.

A tremolo is then heard on the soundtrack that give me the shivers, more so, regrettably, than the music that plays when the tent flap opens and Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), who is here revealed to be a lion, steps out. Peter, Susan and Lucy kneel before him. Now one of the most memorable parts of the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Narnia books in general is the feeling that Aslan’s presence inspires in all the characters.

People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.

Every fan hopes seeing Aslan onscreen will give them this feeling. Does it in this movie? Well…for me, not really. To be fair though, I’m not sure how it could. While the fact that Aslan is a lion is certainly part of what makes him “terrible”, it’s not just that.[3]In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a character who has been transformed into a dragon describes meeting Aslan thus. “I was terribly afraid of it… I could have knocked any lion out easily … Continue reading And while we can theoretically understand why meeting a lion is scary for the characters in the movie, it’s not that scary for us to watch it onscreen, knowing that the lion is a good guy who won’t eat them. Aslan doesn’t really do anything intimidating in this scene in this book. It’s more a matter of his aura, something that might be easier to describe in a book[4]Though even with that medium just saying that someone has an aura can be unconvincing by itself, especially if you lack C. S. Lewis’s eloquence. than to actually generate in a movie.[5]I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for a movie. One I’ve written about on this very blog, The Prince of Egypt, kind of nails the numinous effect which Lewis gave Aslan in its burning … Continue reading I’m not bitter toward the filmmakers for their failure because, while there are things they perhaps could have done better[6]In the book, the characters are in such awe of Aslan, that none of them dares be the first to address him and they get into a little argument over it. Including that might have helped the movie sell … Continue reading, I get the impression from the actors’ performances, from the soundtrack and the general staging that they were trying.

As Aslan’s voice, Liam Neeson is…fine. The fact that his isn’t one of the best vocal performances in the movie actually says great things about the voice acting and acting in general in it. He sounds suitably soothing when comforting the Pevensies and suitably stern when confronting the White Witch. He just isn’t much about which to write home for such a major character. According to the book, Aslan’s voice “was deep and rich and somehow took the fidgets out of (the characters.”) Neeson’s voice isn’t particularly deep, which I think may actually have been a good thing as a deep voice is the obvious route to go with a lion. It also might have worked better for the character though. On the plus side, Neeson’s voice can reasonably be described as rich. Previous actors portraying Aslan have all hammed it up in the role in their own unique ways and there is something refreshing about Neeson’s Aslan not being a ham. I can’t blame those other actors for wanting to ham it up with such a big character, especially the ones in radio dramas which depend almost solely on them to bring that character to life, but hearing a version of Aslan deliver his lines like a normal person does make for a nice change.

I like the bell designs on Aslan’s tent. They can be considered a nod to the fact that this is supposed to take place over Christmas even though the movie seems a little embarrassed by the Christmas part of the story.

The ensuing dialogue is fairly close to the corresponding conversation in the book.

Aslan: Welcome, Peter, Son of Adam. Welcome, Susan and Lucy, Daughters of Eve. And welcome to you, Beavers. You have my thanks. But where is the fourth?
Peter: That’s why we’re here, sir. We need your help.
Susan: We had a little trouble along the way.
Aslan: Captured? How could this happen?
Mr. Beaver (after an awkward pause): He betrayed them, Your Majesty.
Oreius: Then he has betrayed us all!
Aslan: Peace, Oreius. I’m sure there’s an explanation.

This is a minor but, I think, interesting difference between the book and the movie. In the former, Aslan never asks for an explanation for Edmund’s betrayal, not that we learn anyway. (He has a private conversation with Edmund later to which we are not privy.) Lewis just writes that “something made” Peter give a partial explanation anyway. It can be inferred though that Aslan’s presence was that something. Meeting him seems to accelerate character development for each of the Pevensies in both the book and the movie. “It was my fault really,” Peter says at this point in the latter to his sisters’ surprise, “I was too hard on him.” Susan puts a supportive hand on her older brother’s shoulder. “We all were,” she says. That isn’t really true since Susan wasn’t really hard on Edmund that we saw. In fact, you’ll recall that when Peter and Lucy were upbraiding him, she tried to change the subject. But after seeing Peter and Susan butting heads for so much of the movie prior to this moment, it’s very heartwarming. “Sir, he’s our brother,” adds Lucy. “I know, dear one,” says Aslan, “but that only makes the betrayal all the worse.” That’s also a minor but interesting change from the book. Lewis doesn’t have Aslan verbally condemn Edmund here. Neither does he blame Peter or excuse him. He “merely stood looking at him with his great unchanging eyes. And it seemed to all of them that there was nothing to be said.” Again, that’s something that’d be hard to accomplish in a film as opposed to a book. “This may be harder than you think,” says the cinematic Aslan. His literary counterpart says something similar when Lucy asked him if he could save Edmund. According to Lewis, “Up to that moment Lucy had been thinking how royal and strong and peaceful his face looked; now it suddenly came into her head that he looked sad as well.” The movie’s animators capture that well. I think it would have been even more powerful if Aslan’s face had looked sterner before this moment and it’s not like they were incapable of that. His features are quite stern looking in some other scenes. Still, as it is, the movie does a great job with this pivotal scene.

Later, at sunset, Peter stands on a hill overlooking the camp. He has now changed into a Narnian outfit. The book never specifies that he or his brother or sisters do this, but it makes perfect sense, given the state their clothes would realistically be in at this point, and it allows costume designer Isis Mussenden to showcase royal Narnian garb, something Lewis doesn’t describe in great detail but the beauty of which he stresses.[7]He also emphasizes that in Narnia, unlike in our world, fancy clothes are actually comfortable. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Peter’s Narnian costume isn’t really Mussenden’s best work but don’t worry. We’ll see better examples of it shortly. Aslan comes up behind Peter and points out to him a shining castle on the seacoast in the distance. “That is Cair Paravel, castle of the four thrones on one of which you will sit, Peter, as High King.” Peter doesn’t respond enthusiastically to this. Aslan asks if he doubts the prophecy. “No,” says Peter, “it’s just…it. Aslan, I’m not who you think I am.” To his surprise, the lion responds, “Peter Pevensie, formerly of Finchley. Beaver also mentioned you planned on turning him into a hat.” Some fans may be disappointed in that moment since it seems to imply that Aslan is omniscient-or more “niscient” than your average lion-only to humorously subvert it. In the books, Aslan is meant to be the Christian God who is omniscient but, to be fair, the book version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does have moments that imply Aslan isn’t. (He outlines two possible battle plans, one for fighting the White Witch in the forest and one for assaulting her castle if his army can’t cut her off from it and in the same scene, he gets distracted and asks Peter to repeat a question.) But in the very next book in the series, Prince Caspian, he says he’s sometimes wondered if the character of Reepicheep, whom he’s never met face to face, thinks too much about his honor. The plots of The Horse and his Boy and The Silver Chair depend on Aslan, at the very least, being able to accurately predict the future. His lack of omniscience in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is something of an example of Early Installment Weirdness, something of which the book has a fair bit. Of course, the filmmakers clearly did research on the later Narnian installments so maybe I shouldn’t let them off the hook so easily.

“Peter,” Aslan says, “there is a Deep Magic, more powerful than any of us, that rules over all of Narnia. It defines right from wrong and governs all our destinies, yours and mine.” This metaphysical Deep Magic, which corresponds to the Christian concept of God’s Law, is easily one of the weirdest parts of the book, especially as it’s not introduced until the last third of the story and proves integral to it. I understand the screenwriters introducing it a little earlier here, if only by a couple of scenes. I don’t love the way they describe it though. Somehow it sounds vaguely like the Force in Star Wars. Maybe what rubs me the wrong way about the phrasing is that it implies the Deep Magic outranks Aslan. To be fair, that’s not entirely wrong. When someone asks Aslan in the book if he can do anything against the Deep Magic, he responds with grave anger. And in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when a character expresses incredulity that a magic spell could have the power to make Aslan visible, he says, “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?” Whether Christians believe God is somehow bound by his law is a tricky question, one I’d prefer these screenwriters not try to answer so glibly. But what I do like about this part of the movie is that we get more subtle foreshadowing that Aslan is planning to do something painful for him. When he talks about having no choice regarding his own destiny, he turns his face away from Peter, hiding a rather sad expression from him.

Peter doesn’t pick up on Aslan’s melancholy. (I don’t mean that as a criticism of the character by the way.) “But I couldn’t even protect my own family,” he protests. “You brought them safely this far,” counters Aslan. “Not all of them,” Peter says wistfully. “Peter, I will do what I can to help your brother,” says Aslan[8]I wish he said, “all I can,” since that’s closer to what he says in the book but that’s a nitpick., “but I need you to consider what I ask of you.” He looks down at his subjects in the camp below. “I too want my family safe.” It’s a moving moment that recalls a scene from another of the Narnia books, The Magician’s Nephew, in which Aslan expresses empathy for a character’s concern for their family but asks them to put it on hold for the sake of Narnia.

We cut to the Witch’s camp where Edmund is gagged and tied to a tree. Ginarrbrik taunts him. “Is our little prince uncomfortable? Does he want his pillow fluffed? Special treatment for the special boy. Isn’t that what you wanted?” This dialogue is no more subtle than that during the melting waterfall scene, but for whatever reason, it works a lot better for me.

Back at Aslan’s camp, Susan and Lucy have been given Narnian dresses that are better examples of Isis Mussenden’s talent than Peter’s outfit and are admiring their reflections in a stream.

Lucy (approvingly): You look like Mum.
Susan: Mum hasn’t had a dress like this since before the war.
Lucy: We should bring her one back! A whole trunkful!
Susan: If we ever get back.

Susan notices Lucy’s face falling at those last words and apologizes. “We used to have fun together, didn’t we?” she says. “Yes,” says Lucy wistfully before adding with a laugh, “before you got boring.” The girls have a splash fight in the stream then they go up the bank to get towels. Susan removes one from a clothesline, only to reveal a snarling Maugrim behind it. “Please don’t try to run,” he says, “we’re tired.”

“And we’d prefer to kill you quickly,” adds another wolf (Jim May.)[9]I’m aware this wolf is called Vardan in the credits, but no one says his name in the film proper, so using it feels weird to me. The movie is in a bit of a tricky spot here. In the book, Peter ends up rushing to his helpless sisters’ rescue and this adaptation doesn’t want to change that. Indeed, it has built up Maugrim as an enemy of Peter specifically in a way the book didn’t. But in this day and age, the trope of a female character needing a male character to save her life has fallen so out of favor as to be offensive. The movie finds a graceful compromise by having Susan need to get past Maugrim to get her magical horn from Father Christmas, which she’s left with her old clothes, and having her hit him with a towel to do so.[10]If you’d like my opinion on the controversy over the Narnia books’ portrayal of gender, here’s the shortest answer I can give. While Lewis did go on record as being antifeminist in … Continue reading Back on the hilltop, Peter and Aslan hear the horn. “Susan!” cries Peter and runs in the direction of the sound. In the book, Aslan had to tell him it was her horn. That would have made more sense, but I understand the movie wanting to tighten the pace of a suspenseful action moment. (I guess we can assume Peter had a general idea of where his sisters were and knew anything like a warning signal from there meant trouble.) Susan and Lucy have climbed into the branches of a tree but the wolves are snapping at the former’s dangling ankles and those aren’t the thickest branches either. Peter comes running with his sword, yelling, “Get back!” The wolves turn their attention to him.

“Come on,” says Maugrim, “we’ve already been through this before. We both know you haven’t got it in you.” Suddenly, Aslan’s clamps down on the non-Maugrim wolf, leveling the playing field for Peter. Oreius and some other soldiers from the camp arrive but Aslan tells them to stay their weapons on the grounds that “this is Peter’s battle.” With one last taunt (“You may think you’re a king but you’re going to die like a dog!”), Maugrim pounces on Peter, knocking him over. The girls scream. Suddenly, both Peter and the wolf lie still. Susan and Lucy leap down and run over. Maugrim is dead with Peter’s sword in his stomach while underneath him, Peter is very much alive. The three Pevensies hug, all of them looking somewhat traumatized, much as the book describes at this point.[11]Well, it describes Peter and Susan as crying. Lucy isn’t the focus as much in this part of the book.

Perhaps surprisingly, given how this adaptation ups the action from the book, this scene isn’t as exciting to watch as its literary equivalent is to read.

(Peter) rushed straight up to the monster and aimed a slash of his sword at its side. That
stroke never reached the Wolf. Quick as lightning it turned round, its eyes flaming, and its mouth wide open in a howl of anger. If it had not been so angry that it simply had to howl it would have got him by the throat at once. As it was — though all this happened too quickly for Peter to think at all — he had just time to duck down and plunge his sword, as hard as he could, between the brute’s forelegs into its heart. Then came a horrible, confused moment like something in a nightmare. He was tugging and pulling, and the Wolf seemed neither alive nor dead, and its bared teeth knocked against his forehead, and everything was blood and heat and hair. A moment later he found that the monster lay dead, and he had drawn his sword out of it and was straightening his back and rubbing the sweat off his face and out of his eyes.

To be fair though, I’m not sure how the film could have captured that intensity except by filming the scene from Peter’s point of view and that might have cost it is PG rating. I think PG was the right rating for this movie to aim. You could argue that the descriptions of violence in the book are technically more gruesome, but I’d describe it as a book that’s good for kids if they have parental supervision and I’d prefer an adaptation’s rating to correspond to that.

Anyway, Aslan lets go of the other wolf who runs away, whimpering. “After him,” says Aslan to Oreius. “He’ll lead you to Edmund.” Oreius and a party of other swift soldiers chase after the wolf. Then Aslan turns his attention back to the Pevensies. “Peter, clean your sword,” he says. In the book, his line is “you have forgotten to clean your sword.” The contrast between the intensity of what just happened, and the mundanity of Aslan’s chiding is pretty funny and I wish the movie could have kept that. We cut to Peter kneeling with his sword now clean and Aslan putting his paw on his shoulder. “Rise, Sir Peter Wolfsbane,” he says, “knight of Narnia.” In the book, he concludes by saying, “And whatever happens, never forget to wipe your sword,” again making this a funny moment.[12]Though it should be noted that for all that Aslan’s words are jarring in their mundanity, keeping your sword clean is important as you don’t want it to rust. Oh well. If the movie had to omit the humor there, it’s a decent enough serious moment.

Night has fallen on the Witch’s camp, and we see some of her monstrous followers preparing weapons. This is a bit of change from the book in which she only summons them after she’s learned of Maugrim’s death. The movie wisely refrains from showing the most gruesome of the creatures until the point the book shows them though. The Witch’s minotaur general (Shane Rangi) is discussing a battle plan with her. I don’t get why the movie has the minotaurs’ bodies be entirely covered with hair. They’re supposed to be like men with the heads of bulls. But to be fair, Narnian minotaurs don’t have to be exactly like classical depictions.

The wolf comes running into camp, followed by Aslan’s rescue party. The Witch and the general go to investigate. They find several of their soldiers dead, Edmund gone and Ginarrbrik gagged and bound in his place. There’s even a knife stuck in his cap! The idea that Oreius and company would have the time to do all that and leave before the Witch and her reinforcements arrived to stop them is pretty ridiculous but the visual is amusing enough that I’ll allow it.[13]In the book, as I mentioned, the Witch’s army hadn’t arrived yet and one of Aslan’s soldiers knocked her wand out of her hand. She was only able to escape by magically disguising … Continue reading

In the book, the Witch is about to kill Edmund right before he’s rescued, preventing the prophecy of the four thrones being fulfilled that way. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the movie doesn’t do this since it makes her dumber.[14]You could argue she was already dumb in the book for waiting as long as she did before trying to kill Edmund. In an earlier draft of the script, she planned to kill Edmund as soon as she could do so … Continue reading Anyway, the Witch brandishes a knife of her own and for a moment, it looks like she’s going to kill Ginarrbrik in anger. But she only cuts his bonds. “You’re not going to kill me?” he asks hopefully. “Not yet,” she says. Then she turns back to her general. “We have work to do.”

Next Week: Do the Pevensies Go Home or Stay and Fight? And Just What Work Does the Witch Have in Mind?

References

References
1 In the book, Prince Caspian, a character says that “no one ever laughed at a centaur.
2 As well he should be. In the book, Mrs. Beaver says, ““if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
3 In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a character who has been transformed into a dragon describes meeting Aslan thus. “I was terribly afraid of it… I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it — if you can understand.”
4 Though even with that medium just saying that someone has an aura can be unconvincing by itself, especially if you lack C. S. Lewis’s eloquence.
5 I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for a movie. One I’ve written about on this very blog, The Prince of Egypt, kind of nails the numinous effect which Lewis gave Aslan in its burning bush scene. A kids’ fantasy movie of a similar vintage to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Nanny McPhee, does a great job making its title character come across as both “good and terrible at the same time.” Nanny McPhee arguably has some advantages over Aslan in that she dresses in black and actually does scary things when we first meet her.
6 In the book, the characters are in such awe of Aslan, that none of them dares be the first to address him and they get into a little argument over it. Including that might have helped the movie sell the “Aslan effect.”
7 He also emphasizes that in Narnia, unlike in our world, fancy clothes are actually comfortable. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
8 I wish he said, “all I can,” since that’s closer to what he says in the book but that’s a nitpick.
9 I’m aware this wolf is called Vardan in the credits, but no one says his name in the film proper, so using it feels weird to me.
10 If you’d like my opinion on the controversy over the Narnia books’ portrayal of gender, here’s the shortest answer I can give. While Lewis did go on record as being antifeminist in other things he wrote, Narnia doesn’t relate to that much and half the accusations of misogyny it receives contradict the other half. Some say it’s misogynist because it portrays stereotypically feminine female characters positively and stereotypically masculine ones negatively. Others say it’s misogynist because it portrays stereotypically masculine female characters positively and stereotypically feminine ones positively. (Many of the books’ young heroines could be described as either.) These two things can’t both be true, so half of the criticism must be wrong.
11 Well, it describes Peter and Susan as crying. Lucy isn’t the focus as much in this part of the book.
12 Though it should be noted that for all that Aslan’s words are jarring in their mundanity, keeping your sword clean is important as you don’t want it to rust.
13 In the book, as I mentioned, the Witch’s army hadn’t arrived yet and one of Aslan’s soldiers knocked her wand out of her hand. She was only able to escape by magically disguising herself as a boulder. While this is a memorable scene, I understand why the filmmakers omitted it since it amounted to randomly giving the Witch a new power and then not having her ever use it again.
14 You could argue she was already dumb in the book for waiting as long as she did before trying to kill Edmund. In an earlier draft of the script, she planned to kill Edmund as soon as she could do so on the Stone Table in keeping with tradition. In the book, she expresses regret over not being able to do that but decides that beggars can’t be choosers.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 7: Some Man in a Red Coat Hands You a Sword

The Pevensies and the beavers are trudging across a vast frozen lake. There’s a nice transition from the white landscape to the white sky. Mr. Beaver, who is far ahead, calls behind him, “Come on, humans! While we’re still young.” Peter takes the weary Lucy on his back. “If he tells us to hurry one more time,” he says, “I’m going to turn him into a big fluffy hat!” William Moseley’s line reading indicates that he’s less annoyed with Mr. Beaver than trying to cheer up Lucy with humor. This is noteworthy in retrospect because in this movie’s sequel, Moseley’s performance would pass up on most of the opportunities it had to make Peter likeable. “Come on,” Mr. Beaver calls again. “He is getting a little bossy,” says Lucy. “No, behind you! It’s her!” cries Mrs. Beaver. The Pevensies turn around and see a sleigh in the distance. Lucy gets off of Peter and they race for their lives. Sharp-eyed viewers, unfamiliar with the book, will be able to guess that this a misdirect when we see that the sleigh is being drawn by reindeer but they’re gray rather than white like the White Witch’s deer. (In the book, they were brown. Maybe the filmmakers thought gray would be less obviously not white than brown would be.) Fans will already be able to guess what’s coming.

Our heroes hide in a ditch. They hear the sleigh stop and see a tall shadow pass over them.

Peter reluctantly volunteers to get out and check to see if its’ safe, but Mr. Beaver insists on being the one to do so, saying, “you’re worth nothing to Narnia dead.” There’s a nice they-really-do-love-each-other moment as Mrs. Beaver objects that her husband isn’t worth anything dead either. He appreciates the sentiment but sneaks out of hiding anyway. After a tense moment, his head pokes down over the culvert’s upper lip. “Come here! Come here,” he says, ” I hope you’ve all been good because there’s someone here to see you!” They climb up out of hiding to see a white-bearded man (James Cosmo) in red[1]Actually, it’s more of a brown but whatever. standing in front of the sleigh. Lucy’s face lights up. “Merry Christmas, sir,” she says. “It certainly is, Lucy,” he replies, “since you have arrived.” Yes, this is Father Christmas.[2]They never say his name aloud in the movie, presumably because American kids might not be familiar with it. Not saying the name allows them to assume it’s Santa Claus while English kids can … Continue reading

The inclusion of this character in the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has always been controversial. Both the people to whom C. S. Lewis showed his draft felt he didn’t fit but Lewis stubbornly insisted on keeping him. Unsurprisingly, given that this adaptation has less of an emphasis on charming tea parties and more of an emphasis on military preparations, the filmmakers were tempted to cut Father Christmas and have Aslan give the children their gifts.[3]The 1979 made-for-TV cartoon did the same thing though weirdly they still had another character refer to Father Christmas. Were they speaking literally or metaphorically? But whether it was the insistence of C. S. Lewis’s literary estate, fear of fan backlash or some storytelling instinct of their own, the character was included though their intentions were to portray him “not as a jolly old St. Nick with a bag of video games but as a wise old Norse warrior, returning home after years of battle, full of both hard-earned wisdom and love for the children.” I’d argue that was already how C. S. Lewis depicted him, minus being Norse or a warrior.[4]And, hey, it’s not like Lewis specifically wrote that he wasn’t a Norse warrior.

Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him, they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

I actually imagined Father Christmas in the book to be more serious than James Cosmo plays him as being in the movie. He doesn’t go “ho, ho, ho,” but he does chuckle quite a bit throughout the scene, and he shows more of a sense of humor than his literary counterpart, apologizing for scaring the characters but adding, “in my defense I have been driving one of these longer than the Witch.” He does get the glad part though and the music that plays during the scene matches the description of glad-but-solemn quite well. It’s one of my favorite parts of the soundtrack. “I’ve put up with a lot since I got here but this…” Susan whispers to Peter. That line likely reflects the screenwriters’ own reaction to encountering Father Christmas in the source material. If the movie had emphasized the line, I’d probably find the self-aware lampshade hanging annoying, but the director wisely keeps Susan’s incredulity in the background and for the most part, plays the joy of the moment straight. “I thought there was no Christmas in Narnia,” she says out loud. (Nobody’s actually mentioned that to her in this movie that we’ve heard but I suppose we can infer Lucy did so offscreen.) Father Christmas sadly affirms that this has been true for a long time but “the hope that you have brought, Your Majesties, is finally starting to weaken the Witch’s power.” That is probably the line in this adaptation most criticized by fans of the book which portrays Aslan as being responsible for the return of spring and Christmas to Narnia, not the prophesied kings and queens. I’m not as mad as some fans about this, mostly because the change didn’t surprise me. From comments I’d read from the director and just the way the movie itself had been setting up the story, I figured it would be Pevensies’ presence in Narnia that would break the Witch’s spell in this version. It’s considered bad storytelling nowadays to have side characters be the main ones to save the day rather than your heroes, so I had already resigned myself to this inevitable change, annoying as it is for fans of the character of Aslan.

Anyway, even with all the hope they’ve brought, Father Christmas says the Pevensies could probably use some help against the Witch, so he pulls out a sack and gives each of them some gifts. He hands them out in the reverse order that he does in the book. Perhaps this is because the movie wants Peter to be a bigger hero than he was in the book[5]Well, actually he was just as big of a hero in the book, but the book wasn’t particularly interested in his heroism. and so also wants his gift to be the big climax of this scene. First, Father Christmas gives Lucy a bottle. “The juice of the fire flower,” he explains. “One drop will cure any injury.” He also gives her a fancy dagger-the props in this movie are beautifully designed-though he tells her he hopes she’ll never have to use it.

I’m pretty sure the design of that vial holder is supposed to evoke the sun. In the book, those fire flowers are said to grow “in the mountains of the sun.” Nice!

“I think I could be brave enough,” Lucy argues, a little uncertainly. “I’m sure you could,” says Father Christmas, “but battles are ugly affairs.” This is a change from his potentially controversial line from the book, “battles are ugly when women fight.” Personally, I think changing the line was the right idea since it would have seemed like a political commentary on women in the military and I prefer to keep political commentary out of my escapist fantasies.[6]Of course, I understand why writers want to include commentary about issues that are important to them, and I don’t expect them to avoid writing about those issues just to please me. But I … Continue reading Honestly, even if I wanted this story to make a case against women in the military, Father Christmas’s original line doesn’t exactly do that very well. (Battles are ugly by definition.) Then again, you could argue the new version of this line isn’t unanswerable either since other characters are going to be sent into battle despite its ugliness. But to its credit, the movie is going to hang a lampshade on that, one that actually makes me laugh. I think there’s a value to keeping Lucy’s question about whether she should fight in the battle, despite the controversy it invites, since it differentiates her character from that of Susan who is quite happy to just have weapons for self-defense and permission to sit out any battle.[7]In the later Narnia books, The Horse and his Boy and The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis would have his heroines, one of them an older Lucy, take part in battles albeit only as archers. This may not have … Continue readingSpeaking of Susan, Father Christmas gives her a bow and a quiver of arrows. In a fun, whimsical touch, the quiver has her initials (S. P.) on it. “Trust in this bow and it will not easily miss,” Father Christmas tells Susan. “What happened to ‘battles are ugly affairs?'” she objects. “And though you don’t seem to have a problem making yourself heard,” he chuckles, handing her an ivory horn shaped like a lion’s mouth, “blow on this and wherever you are, help will come.” Susan manages a smile and thanks him, though characteristically she still seems a little uncomfortable with these special gifts.

Then it’s Peter’s turn. Father Christmas gives him a sword and a silver shield with a red image of a lion on it. “The time to bear these may be near at hand,” he explains. “These are tools, not toys. Bear them well and wisely.” Peter gravely accepts his gifts and seems much more openminded about using them than Susan is about using hers, which doubtless disturbs her.

If you look closely, you can see the prophecy in the book that was cut from the movie inscribed on the sword. (The prophecy about Aslan being the one to bring spring, ironically enough.)

You know what annoys me about how this scene plays out in the movie? Unlike in the book, the beavers don’t get any presents. They’re the ones who have been denied Christmas for most of their lives, not the humans! C. S. Lewis had Father Christmas’s gift to Mr. Beaver be to repair his not quite finished house and his gift to Mrs. Beaver be a new and better sewing machine to replace the one she was worried about the White Witch ruining. (See why that should have been kept?) An earlier draft of the screenplay alluded to these gifts without specifying what they were but, alas, that bit didn’t survive the editing process.

Sure, they’re smiling but I can tell they’re disappointed on the inside.

“Now I must be off,” says Father Christmas, putting the sack back in his sleigh. “Winter is almost over and things do pile up when you’ve been gone a hundred years. Long live Aslan and merry Christmas!” As he drives off, everybody waves and calls, “merry Christmas,” after him. “Told you he was real,” Lucy says to Susan. I feel like eight is a bit old to still believe in Father Christmas but it’s a funny line. Despite my various nitpicks, I really am grateful this scene wasn’t scrapped from the movie for fear of being too cute. The joy of it makes a nice break from what is tense, dramatic part of the story.

Speaking of tension and drama…

“He said winter was almost over,” muses Peter. “You know what that means,” he says to his sisters, “no more ice.” We cut to the frozen river they’re supposed to cross, which is not looking so very frozen anymore.

I can resign myself to an adaptation adding an action scene to this part of the story. I don’t love the idea, but I don’t passionately despise it either. However, from when I first heard the specific idea for this action scene, I thought it didn’t make sense thematically since the melting of snow and ice is supposed to be a good thing in the story. The book at this point states that they couldn’t have kept to the river valley because it was flooded with melting snow, but that didn’t matter since the Witch could no longer pursue them in her sleigh and they could afford to take their time.[8]The 1979 cartoon would also add an action scene at this point with the Witch’s sleigh almost catching up to the characters. But in that one, the coming of spring would save the day as it slowed … Continue reading Fortunately, when I saw the movie for the first, I was so caught up in the action that I forgot to worry about thematic considerations. On subsequent viewings, knowing exactly what’s going to happen, I find my mind wandering more. Oh well.

“We need to cross now,” says Peter. Lucy suggests Mr. Beaver make a dam. “I’m not that fast, dear,” he says. I feel like that’s obvious, but I guess they had to point it out to all the little kids watching.

Peter: Come on!
Susan: Wait! Would you just think about this for a minute?
Peter: We don’t have a minute!
Susan: I’m just trying to be realistic.
Peter: No, you’re trying to be smart! As usual!

Yeah, this isn’t the most interestingly written scene in the film. The actors do the best they can with the generic dialogue though. Susan receives motivation to follow Peter when she hears wolves howling from not too far away. We briefly cut to the White Witch’s sleigh driving across the same landscape our heroes traversed in the last scene. Back at the river, Mr. Beaver volunteers to be the first one to cross, which doesn’t make much sense since, as a beaver, he presumably weighs less than the humans and wouldn’t be the best test subject but oh well. The ice cracks somewhat as he gingerly makes his way over it. “You’ve been sneaking second helpings, haven’t you,” his wife calls triumphantly. “Well, you never know which meals going to be your last,” he says, “especially with your cooking.” That line annoys me because the book implies that Mrs. Beaver is an excellent cook. I dislike seeing her reputation besmirched for the sake of a middling joke. With the frozen waterfall to their left and the flowing river to their right, the other characters gingerly start to follow Mr. Beaver. The ice cracks under their feet but initially no piece sinks or drifts away until they’re off it. In all fairness, this bit is effectively nerve-wracking. If I sound like I hate the action sequences in this movie, I don’t. It’s just that the scenes that aim for majesty or picturesqueness or childlike awe and wonder in general strike me as not only closer to the original book’s spirit but more memorable as cinema in their own right. This bit is just…fine. “If Mum knew what we were doing,” Susan murmurs. “Mum’s not here!” Peter snaps. The dialogue is again obvious, but I appreciate how it reinforces the theme of the kid characters being thrust into this situation where they have to suddenly be adults.

Icicles start to fall from the waterfall. Is it about to completely collapse? No, the wolves are running across it! They jump down and block their prey’s path. Even if running back across the crumbling ice were feasible, more wolves appear behind them. One of the ones in front, not Maugrim, grabs Mr. Beaver by the neck. Peter unsheathes his new sword and awkwardly points it at Maugrim who says, “put that down, boy. Someone could get hurt.” Do you see what I mean about this character being full of pulpy bad guy cliches? (I apologize for using “pulpy” as a descriptor so much lately. Suggest a better word and I’ll be happy to use it for variety.)

Mr. Beaver: Don’t worry about me! Run him through!
Maugrim: Leave now while you can, and your brother leaves with you.
Susan: Stop, Peter! Maybe we should listen to him.
Maugrim (chuckling): Smart girl.
Mr. Beaver: Don’t listen to him! Kill him! Kill him now!
Maugrim: Oh, come on! This isn’t your war. All my queen wants is for you to take your family and go.
Susan: Look, just because some man in a red coat hands you a sword, it doesn’t make you a hero! Just drop it!
Mr. Beaver: No, Peter! Narnia needs you! Gut him while you still have a chance!
Maugrim: What’s it going to be, son of Adam? I won’t wait forever. And neither will the river.

OK, there are a number of things this dialogue is doing or trying to do. One of them is to try to build enmity between Peter and Maugrim so that when the former later kills the latter, it will be a more satisfying moment. (In the book, that was the only chapter that really focused on Peter’s coming of age, which the movie wants to be, more or less, the emotional center of the story.) On that level, it works.

Another thing it wants to do is present Peter with a dilemma. Should he listen to the wolf and possibly save Edmund or not? That part of the scene is pretty dumb since, unlike the White Witch when she first met Edmund, Maugrim is transparently villainous and there’s no reason to believe he would just release Edmund and let all the Pevensies go if Peter were to put down his weapon. In fact, there’s a good argument to be made that it’s ridiculously out of character for the sensible Susan to fall for Maugrim’s obvious lies. I’d make the counterargument that while the character of Susan is supposed to be pragmatic, she’s also supposed to be a bit of a coward. (No offense meant. I’m a bit of one too.) I can buy that with all the stress she’s under that she’d panic and temporarily lose her normal good sense even though I don’t love how that plays out here.

Another thing this scene is doing or trying to do is to give voice to all the contradictory thoughts and impulses going through Peter’s mind without him actually saying anything. Susan and Maugrim are voicing his doubts and insecurities as well as the obligation he feels to his family while Mr. Beaver is voicing the other obligation he feels to fulfill the prophecy and save Narnia. That aspect of the scene strikes me as somewhat annoyingly heavy handed. But you could argue that’s the point. The viewer maybe feels overwhelmed by the lack of subtlety just as Peter feels overwhelmed by his high-pressure situation.

Water starts to spurt out of the waterfall. The long-frozen icicles tremble. But Peter gets an idea. “Hold on to me!” he cries to the girls. They do so as he plunges his sword, not into Maugrim, but into the ice directly in front of him. The ice above collapses and all the characters are engulfed by water.

I’ve got to say it was a shocking decision on the movie’s part to kill off Peter, Susan, Lucy and the beavers here. Definitely a change from the book and not what you’d expect from a children’s movie, but I think it works.

Just kidding! After a moment of silence, a chunk of ice surfaces on the river with Peter, Susan and Lucy clinging to Peter’s sword which still sticks out of it. How did he know the sword wouldn’t split the ice apart? Or that the chunk around it would be big enough to support them all? I don’t know. This is one of those scenes that rewards not thinking about it. Fortunately, if I like a movie and it needs me to not think about it, I’m willing to not think about it. But since I’m doing this lengthy in-depth analysis, I suppose I must. I guess you could say Peter was trapped in any case and this idea was worth a shot.

As the ice floats downstream, Lucy almost slips off, but Peter grabs her shoulder, almost losing hold of his sword in the process. The beavers, who naturally can swim in the cold water, reappear and push the ice toward the shore, allowing the Pevensies to climb off it. But then Peter realizes that he’s not clutching Lucy but only her coat. “What have you done?” screams Susan. We get a shot of the icy rushing river.

Oh, poor Lucy! She was so young, so innocent, so…no, it’s another fake out. Lucy is elsewhere on shore, looking for her coat. Peter just hands it to her, too overjoyed for words. “Don’t worry, dear, your brother’s got you well looked after,” says Mr. Beaver. “And I don’t think you’ll be needing those coats anymore,” says Mrs. Beaver. As the characters pass some frozen trees, we see the frost on them melt and buds start to blossom. Then we cut to later when the previously snowy wood is almost entirely green, more flowers are blossoming in fast motion and Peter, Susan and Lucy have abandoned their coats. Of course, those coats would have been useless even if it were still winter, considering that they’re now cold and wet. Why aren’t Peter, Susan or Lucy getting hypothermia from their dip in the icy river? Magic, I guess.

Meanwhile the White Witch stands…wait. That’s it? Returning spring to Narnia is one of the story’s main goals and a big part of its appeal to the emotions. This seems like the obvious time to have a montage of the landscape changing from white to brown to green. You can’t say it would have made the movie too slow as we just had a tense action scene. I feel like the film earned the right to stop and smell the roses and some its best scenes are when it does just that.

In 2006, an extended cut of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was released. It was a pretty obvious cash grab. The reinstated footage added up to a little more than six extra minutes, mostly consisting of awkward moments that were rightly cut from the theatrical version. But there are a couple of bits that genuinely improve the movie. One of them is the arrival of spring, which is a more drawn-out moment if only by a matter of seconds. They’re seconds well spent. The scenery is lovely, it’s refreshing to see the characters enjoy it, especially Susan the worrywart, and we actually see them passing the hill of the Stone Table. In the book, Aslan’s camp is originally right next to the sacred table, and he later moves it. That would be expensive and time consuming to show in a movie, so the camp is portrayed as removed from the table right from the start. But confusingly, the characters still refer to the camp as being at the Stone Table even though we don’t see it until a later scene somewhere else. This is still a bit confusing in the extended cut but nonetheless relatively easier to parse. Clear exposition sadly isn’t a strength of any of the Narnia movies but that’s less of a problem with this first one then it is with the 2008 Prince Caspian or the 2010 Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

You can just barely see the Stone Table just a little to the left on top of that hill in the center.

Meanwhile the White Witch stands by the now clear waterfall with Edmund and Ginarrbrik. “It’s so warm out,” says the dwarf as he starts to remove his coat. The Witch gives him a look. While she retains her aloof attitude, she’s clearly furious inside. Ginarrbrik wisely excuses himself to check the sleigh. We see Edmund smile for the first time since he sat on the Witch’s throne. The wolves, who have survived the river, appear with the fox in one of their mouths. “We found the traitor,” one (in the voice of either editor Jim May or fellow editor Sim Evan-Jones; IMDB isn’t clear) says to the Witch, “He was rallying your enemies in the Shuddering Woods.” In the book, the fox or the fox’s dramatic equivalent was caught celebrating Christmas along with some other Narnians. The movie, as I’ve mentioned before, emphasizes military matters over feasting. (I don’t mean that as a criticism, but I don’t mean it as a compliment either.) Shuddering Wood is the name of a location in the Narnia books though so props for that. The wolf drops the fox on the ground. “Ah, nice of you to drop in,” says the Witch. Here is one of the things that makes Tilda Swinton’s performance in this film so great. Given an obvious villainous one-liner like that, she manages to make it sound menacing. “You were so helpful to my wolves last night,” she continues, “Perhaps you can help me now.” The fox hangs his head. “Forgive me, Your Majesty,” he says. “Don’t waste my time with flattery,” says the Witch, sounding pleased, nonetheless. “Not to seem rude,” says the fox, “but I wasn’t actually talking to you.” It’s a great moment. The Witch’s head swerves to look at Edmund and she continues to stare at him in fury as she moves closer to the fox and points her wand at him.

“Where are the humans headed?” she demands. The fox doesn’t look like he’s going to answer. She raises her wand to strike but Edmund suddenly gets between her and her victim. “Wait! No, don’t,” he says, “The beaver said something about the Stone Table and that Aslan had an army there.” The fox shakes his head, but the Witch seems pacified. “Thank you, Edmund,” she says, “I am glad this creature got to see some honesty-before he died!” She touches the fox with her wand and to Edmund’s horror, he turns to stone. The book had mentioned this ability of the Witch’s in the second chapter and the movie had been gradually building up to it, but this moment is the first time in either version that we actually witness her turning someone into a statue and it’s still shocking. She then smacks Edmund’s face and tells him, “Think about whose side you’re on, Edmund, mine or theirs.” The book describes this as the first time in the story that Edmund felt sorry for someone other than himself. That isn’t the case in this movie as we’ve already seen him pity Tumnus, but he still gains more sympathy from the audience.

I’m not sure how Edmund could have had time to hear about Aslan’s army and its location, considering how quickly he got from the beavers’ house to the Witch’s. And I’m not even sure if there was a narrative purpose to him withholding the information from her before, only to spill it now. In the aforementioned earlier draft of the script, Edmund’s well-meaning confession comes before the melting waterfall scene and knowing which direction the other Pevensies are headed is how the wolves are able to catch up with them there. That would have made more storytelling sense, but I do prefer the pacing of the final version. “Gather the faithful,” the Witch instructs her police, “If it’s a war Aslan wants, it’s a war he shall get.” That’s another cliche line that Swinton makes chilling. She’s helped by the fact that as she says it, the Witch randomly zaps a passing butterfly, turning it into stone.

Next Week: We’ve Seen the Wardrobe. We’ve Seen the Witch. Now It’s Time for the Lion.

Bibliography

Lewis, C. S. (1950) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. HarperCollins Publishers.

Moore, Perry. (2005) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Official Illustrated Move Companion. Disney Enterprises Inc.

References

References
1 Actually, it’s more of a brown but whatever.
2 They never say his name aloud in the movie, presumably because American kids might not be familiar with it. Not saying the name allows them to assume it’s Santa Claus while English kids can rightly assume it’s FC.
3 The 1979 made-for-TV cartoon did the same thing though weirdly they still had another character refer to Father Christmas. Were they speaking literally or metaphorically?
4 And, hey, it’s not like Lewis specifically wrote that he wasn’t a Norse warrior.
5 Well, actually he was just as big of a hero in the book, but the book wasn’t particularly interested in his heroism.
6 Of course, I understand why writers want to include commentary about issues that are important to them, and I don’t expect them to avoid writing about those issues just to please me. But I don’t feel obliged to enjoy their work either.
7 In the later Narnia books, The Horse and his Boy and The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis would have his heroines, one of them an older Lucy, take part in battles albeit only as archers. This may not have been so much him changing his position as it was him realizing that keeping the girls away from warfare was an impractical rule when he was giving each book at least one point-of-view character who was a girl and giving many of them battles for climaxes.
8 The 1979 cartoon would also add an action scene at this point with the Witch’s sleigh almost catching up to the characters. But in that one, the coming of spring would save the day as it slowed down the sleigh. To be fair, while it seems like a bad thing at the moment, spring will also end up saving the characters by the end of this scene. Sort of. It’s kind of an odd plot point.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 6: I’m Cranky Now

As Edmund enters the White Witch’s courtyard, he looks up and sees what appears to be a giant man about to hit him with a club, but it turns out to be a stone statue. Fans of the book will recognize this as Rumblebuffin the giant, who becomes a major source of comic relief in the second-to-last chapter. In this movie, he’ll just be a cameo since giving a lot of characterization to minor characters who aren’t introduced until a story’s climax doesn’t seem to work as well in a movie as it does in a book. (That’s one of the reasons literature is the more interesting of the two mediums in my opinion but never mind about that now.)

Edmund cautiously makes his way across the courtyard, which is full of stone statues of Narnian creatures, all of whom look as if they’re either about to attack or are cringing in terror. Since this version of the story hasn’t established that the White Witch turns people to stone yet[1]Though genre-savvy viewers probably guess she does at this point., this scene arguably doesn’t make the same impression as in the book but that doesn’t mean it makes a bad impression. Sheesh, you could argue it’s more interesting if we don’t know what the statues are right away. It’s a wonderfully eerie bit.

At one point, Edmund’s feet brush against a pile of charred logs on the ground. He picks one up and makes an ash moustache and glasses on the face of a stone lion. In the book, the reason Edmund does this is that he believes the stone lion[2]Who also becomes a source of comic relief at the climax by the way. is Aslan, the sound of whose name has filled him with such dread. But in the movie, we haven’t been told Aslan’s species yet, so this moment feels a bit random and doesn’t really fit in with the scene’s creepy tone. Maybe it would have been better if, as in the book, the lion were the first statue Edmund encounters.[3]This was so in an earlier draft on the screenplay.

In a great jump scare albeit one the book handed to the movie, Edmund tries to step over what appears to be a stone wolf, only for it to rear up, snarling, and pin him to the ground. “Be still, stranger, or you’ll never move again,” it says (in Michael Madsen’s voice), “Who are you?” Michael Madsen is the only voice actor in the movie whose casting I can’t decide if I like. He sounds suitably gruff and scary but something about his line readings bothers me just a tad. Maybe it’s because he’s the only Narnian in the film who sounds like he has an American accent. The others either speak with English accents of some sort or another or sound too generic to place.[4]Another exception is Kiran Shah as Ginarrbrik with his Persian accent. Since this wolf is one of the White Witch’s followers though it arguably makes sense to give him a different accent from the followers of Aslan. But, given the historical backdrop the movie has established, wouldn’t it make more thematic sense for the bad guys to have German or Japanese accents?[5]For the record, I don’t think either the movie or the book should be interpreted as a metaphor for World War II. That idea really falls apart if you think about it for any length of time. C. S. … Continue reading I guess that would have had its own drawbacks. Maybe it just bugs me that this wolf is written like a generic bad guy from a pulpy, even cheesy, action movie and has a voice to match. Of course, the character was always a generic bad guy but not a pulpy one. Anyway, Edmund hastily explains his identity and his relationship to the Witch. The wolf lets him up. “My apologies,” he says, “fortunate favorite of the Queen-or else not so fortunate.” That line is from the book. It’s kind of sad that that’s rare enough to be worth mentioning.

The wolf leads Edmund upstairs to an empty throne room and tells him to wait there. Once he’s alone, Edmund sits on the throne and grins, obviously imagining himself king. “Like it?” asks a cold voice. Edmund jumps up as the Witch enters, followed by Ginarrbrik. Since I just described the movie’s writing, for one character anyway, as being pulpy and even cheesy, I’m happy to say that the following exchange is one of the best written parts of the movie and even improves on the book by having the Witch toy with Edmund before unleashing her anger on him.

Witch: Tell me, Edmund, are your sisters deaf?
Edmund: No.
Witch: And you brother, is he…unintelligent?
Edmund: Well, I think so, but Mum says-

“Then how dare you come alone?!” shouts the Witch. Edmund feebly protests that it’s not his fault as the Witch continue to lay into him. “I did bring them halfway,” he says, “they’re at the little house at the dam with the beavers.” Ginarrbrik raises his eyebrows and the Witch, after pausing and twiddling her fingers a bit, resumes her former iciness. “Well, I suppose you’re not a total loss then, are you?” she says. Then she turns back to her throne, clearly having no more interest in Edmund. “I was wondering,” he says, “could I maybe have some more Turkish Delight now?” The Witch turns to Ginarrbrik. “Our guest is hungry,” she says coldly. (Sorry for all the corny winter-related puns in this post. And right after I called the movie’s dialogue cheesy! Those puns are just so irresistible.) Ginarrbrik starts to lead Edmund out of the room at knifepoint, saying, “This way for num-nums!” In the book, it’s actually a different dwarf who brings Edmund food and drink. I kind of wish that could have been kept to show that the Witch has many dwarf minions, not just one, but fantasy movies like this are expensive enough without unnecessary speaking parts. Edmund and Ginarrbrik pause as the Witch calls, “Maugrim,” which viewers may remember was the name of the captain of her secret police. The wolf steps forward. “You know what to do,” she says. Maugrim howls and more wolves appear out of various alcoves and entrances. As Edmund looks on in horror, they run out of the room and out the castle. The movie does a good job of making them look scary except for one ill-advised slow motion shot where they’re obviously regular wolves and not evil. Slow motion is usually a bad idea in my opinion. It looks silly way too easily.

That is not the face of Evil.

“Hurry, mother, they’re after us!” cries Mr. Beaver as he bursts into his home with the non-treacherous Pevensies. “Right then,” says Mrs. Beaver and begins packing. “What is she doing?” Peter demands. Mr. Beaver just throws up a hand in exasperation. “You’ll be thanking me later,” explains Mrs. Beaver. “It’s a long journey and Beaver gets pretty cranky when he’s hungry,” to which Mr. Beaver says, “I’m cranky now!” As a fan of the book, I have mixed opinions about this scene. On the one hand, Mrs. Beaver calmly packing while everybody else freaks out about the coming secret police is one of the funniest parts of the book and I love that it’s included here. On the other hand, it feels like the comedy here is more at Mrs. Beaver’s expense than it is the book. There, when everyone else protests that they need to get away as soon as possible, she calmly explains that they have no hope of outrunning the Witch or her forces in any case and that their best bet is to “keep under cover and go by ways she won’t expect” and that it’d be foolish for them to leave without taking any food, all of which is true in the movie too but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. The only ridiculously silly thing Mrs. Beaver says in the book’s version of this scene is “I suppose the sewing machine’s took heavy to bring?” Even that is somewhat understandable, given what the secret police did to Tumnus’s house. No sewing machine is mentioned in the movie. How do you write a version of Mrs. Beaver that leans into comedy and not include that hilarious line about the sewing machine? Pearls before swine, I tell you, pearls before swine!

The wolves arrive and start tearing through the walls of the house. (Don’t ask me why they don’t try breaking down the door.) But once inside, they find the place empty. One of them finds a cupboard opening to a secret underground tunnel, which sort of corresponds to the “old hiding place for beavers in bad times” in which our heroes took refuge for the night in the book. “Badger and me dug this. It comes out right near his place,” explains Mr. Beaver. “You told me it led to your mum’s!” says Mrs. Beaver accusingly. Do you see what I mean about the movie leaning into cliches about bickering married couples with these characters? Lucy trips on a root and when the others stop to help her, they hear that the wolves are now in the tunnel. In the book, our heroes leave well before the secret police arrive and are able to avoid them. While adding a chase scene is arguably part of making Mrs. Beaver’s preparations come across as sillier, I don’t necessarily mind since I love a good chase scene and while a chase scene is technically against the spirit of the book in that it’s not from the book, it doesn’t feel deeply antithetical to it or anything. Setting the source material aside, how does the ensuing chase scene work just as a chase scene? Well, it’s fine though I don’t think anyone would call it a highlight of the film.

For a moment, it looks like Mr. Beaver has accidentally led them to a dead end, but it turns out there’s a hole above. The group clambers out into another part of the woods and blocks the entrance with a nearby barrel. When they have time to catch their breaths and look around, they see that this little village is full of stone animals, including a stone badger. “I’m so sorry, dear,” says Mrs. Beaver to her husband. “He was my best mate,” he says sadly.

“What happened here?” asks Peter. “This is what becomes of those who cross the Witch,” says a new voice. It’s a fox (voiced by Rupert Everett.) This character will end up corresponding to a fox from the book but whereas that fox was a groveling victim of the White Witch, this one turns out to be a wily rebel against her. I like the character and Rupert Everett does a great job of voicing him[6]Though I’m given to understand that Everett himself, while eager to be part of an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was unhappy with the result, feeling that talking animals … Continue reading but I’m not a fan of the way he’s written.

Mr. Beaver: Take one more step, traitor, and I’ll chew you to splinters!
Fox: Relax. I’m one of the good guys.
Mr. Beaver: Yeah? Well, you look an awful lot like one of the bad ones!
Fox: An unfortunate family resemblance but we can argue breeding later. Right now, we’ve got to move.
Peter: What did you have in mind?

The term, “good guys,” feels too American to me to sit right in a Narnia movie.[7]“One of the goodies” might have been an improvement. Besides which, this whole exchange feels like something from a quippy action movie. Not that I don’t enjoy a fun quippy action movie now and then but it’s really not what I want from a Narnia adaptation. Basically, everything this fox says and a good deal of what the beavers say as well as anything out of Maugrim’s mouth feels like it belongs in a Star Wars-style action movie and not even a particularly distinguished one. Two of the screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who would stick with this film series to the end, later went on to write Marvel movies and I’ve got to say, yeah, that feels about right.[8]I hasten to add that from what I’ve heard, some of their scripts for Marvel were really good with Avengers: Endgame even being put up for awards consideration. I hate myself for doing this but I’m going to have compare this movie negatively to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie, which was released the same year and was also based on a popular English children’s fantasy novel. For all that that movie irritates me, both as an adaptation of its source material and as an overall viewing experience, and as much as I prefer The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) on the whole, I must acknowledge that John Augst’s script for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feels like it was written by a wordsmith with a specific style, not produced by some automatic Hollywood screenplay writing machine. The generic pulpiness of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‘s script is particularly strong in this middle section so it’s a good thing it directly follows a really strong opening act, getting viewers invested in the characters, and is the most action filled part of the movie, making it easy to get caught up in the story and ignore the low quality of dialogue. For me, it doesn’t make the movie bad, but it keeps it from being as great as it could very well have been.

Back to the movie. We cut to the wolves bursting out the tunnel. They surround the fox, seemingly all alone, just as he’s finishing sweeping away the refugees’ footprints with his tail. (The movie doesn’t spell out that he’s doing that, but it can be inferred.)

Fox: Greetings, gents. Lost something, have we?
Maugrim: Don’t patronize me. I know where your allegiance lies. We’re looking for some humans.
Fox: Humans? Here in Narnia? Now that’s a valuable bit of information, don’t you think?

The voice actors do a good job of conveying that the idea of humans being something truly out of the ordinary in this world. As the fox speaks, we pan up to see that the Pevensies and the beavers are hiding in the branches of a tree. One of the wolves grabs the fox’s body with its jaws. Peter has to cover Lucy’s mouth to keep her from crying out and one of the beavers has to do the same for the other. I can’t tell which because apparently, I’m racist towards beavers.

Sorry. They all look alike to me.

“Your reward is life,” says Maugrim, “it’s not much but still…” The fox raises a paw and for a moment, it looks like he might betray the heroes but, no, he says they went north. “Smell them out,” commands Maugrim and the wolves toss the fox’s limp body aside and run off. (I don’t know why their noses can’t lead them to the tree. Just go with it.) Fortunately, the fox’s wounds don’t prove to be fatal. We cut to Mrs. Beaver tending to them as the characters gather around a campfire. The fox explains that the badger and the other stone animals were caught helping Tumnus. (Apparently, Tumnus wasn’t actually in his house when the wolves broke into it. They had to track him here.) “Are you alright?” a concerned Lucy asks the fox in response to his yipping. This is a neat bit of foreshadowing as Lucy will soon become something a doctor albeit because she’ll receive a magic potion, not because of any particular medical skill on her part.

“I wish I could say their bark was worse than their bite,” quips the fox. You see what I mean about this dialogue being really generic? That’s the most obvious and predictable joke you could make about doglike characters in this scenario! “Stop squirming! You’re worse than Beaver on bath day!” Mrs. Beaver tells the fox. “Worst day of the year,” Mr. Beaver confides to the Pevensies. I’m not proud that I laughed at that line when I first heard it, but I did, and it is refreshing to see Susan and Lucy smile at it after seeing them be betrayed by their own brother and chased by fearsome wolves.

“Thank you for your kindness but I’m afraid that’s all the cure I have time for,” says the fox, rising. “You’re leaving?” says Lucy, disappointed. The fox bows to her, saying, “it has been a pleasure, my queen, and an honor.” This is the first time in the movie someone addresses any of the Pevensies as royalty[9]Unless you count Ginarrbrik calling Edmund “Sire.” and it’s something of a cool moment. “But time is short,” he continues, “and Aslan himself has asked me to gather more troops.” The beavers are impressed by this news. “You’ve seen Aslan?” Mr. Beaver asks incredulously. “What is he like?” Mrs. Beaver inquires. The fox smiles. “Like everything we’ve ever heard,” he says. If my memory of the filmmakers’ audio commentary is correct, this exchange was something of a late addition to the movie in response to test audiences feeling that the character of Aslan hadn’t been built up enough. A common criticism of this adaptation from book fans is that it doesn’t do enough to establish Aslan as the awe-inspiring figure C. S. Lewis intended. While this little moment doesn’t render that criticism untrue, it’s still a nice gesture.

The fox also tells the Pevensies they’ll be glad to have Aslan on their side in the battle against the Witch. Susan quickly disclaims any intention of them fighting. “But, surely, King Peter, the prophecy…” the fox protests. “We can’t go to war without you,” says Mr. Beaver. All Peter can do is exchange a sad glance with Susan and says, “we just want our brother back.”

Edmund meanwhile sits in the White Witch’s icy dungeon with his legs chained. He gnaws at a hunk of dried bread. When it makes him gag, he tries to drink water from a cup but it’s frozen. Props to the adapters. The water wasn’t frozen in the book, so they actually managed to make Edmund’s sufferings worse. A prisoner in the adjoining cell asks for the bread if Edmund doesn’t want it. It’s Mr. Tumnus! (This is something of a change from the book which implies that Tumnus has already been turned to stone around this point. That’s just an observation, not a complaint by the way.) “You’re Lucy Pevensie’s brother,” he says. “You have the same nose.” Do Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley really have similar noses? I’ve never noticed. “Is your sister alright?” he asks. From outside comes the noise of wolves yapping. “I don’t know,” Edmund says miserably.

Tumnus and Edmund scoot away from each other as the Witch enters, followed by Ginarrbrik. In my last post, I criticized the decision to have the Witch’s fortress be made out of ice, calling it cliche for a winter-themed villain but the way the lighting in these scenes combines with her coloring really conveys that she’s in her element, making her extra intimidating, especially combined with the camera angles that emphasize her height. “My police tore that dam apart,” she tells Edmund, “Your little family are nowhere to be found.” The Witch grabs Edmund by the collar and lifts him into the air. (The character is noted for her strength in the books.) “Where did they go?” she demands. “I don’t know,” says Edmund. She drops him. “Then you are of no further use to me,” she says, raising her wand. Edmund is clearly seconds from being a lawn decoration. His mind races. “The beaver said something about Aslan,” he blurts out. Tumnus looks up and the Witch is rendered momentarily speechless. Another fan complaint about this adaptation is that it portrays the Witch as less frightened of Aslan than she is in the book, undermining the message that the powers of Goodness are stronger than those of Evil. Again, this critique has some weight behind it but, to be fair, the Witch’s reaction to the news of Aslan in this scene can easily be interpreted as fear and it’s a great dramatic moment.

“Aslan? Where?” she asks. Tumnus anxiously interjects that Edmund as a stranger to Narnia couldn’t possibly know that. Ginarrbrik hits him on the head with the butt of a weapon. (I’m sorry I don’t know that particular weapon is called.) The Witch turns back to Edmund. “I said where is Aslan?” In response to Tumnus’s desperation, Edmund backpedals, saying, “I don’t know. I left before they said anything. I wanted to see you,” he adds, trying to turn it into flattery. In the book, Edmund tells the Witch everything about Aslan and the Stone Table as soon as he meets her. The movie has him withhold information to increase suspense though it doesn’t really end up impacting the plot at all. After observing Edmund suspiciously, the Witch calls for a guard who I think is an ogre. This is another minor change from the book which doesn’t introduce us to the Witch’s non-dwarf, non-wolf followers until the story’s final third. The movie has them slowly start to trickle in, starting here though we won’t see them in great numbers, including the ugliest ones, until the same point as in the book.

The Witch orders the guard to release Tumnus. He smashes the faun’s chains while they’re still on his hooves(!) and drags him before her. “Do you know why you’re here?” she asks. “Because I believe in a free Narnia,” he says. Ugh! That has to be the clunkiest line in the movie and it depresses me that it was given to such a well-cast actor in the role of such an iconic character. The Witch points at Edmund. “You’re here because he turned you in,” she says, “for sweeties.” Then she has the guard take Tumnus away and orders Ginarrbrik to ready her sleigh. (“Edmund misses his family.”) As he’s dragged off, Tumnus looks reproachfully at Edmund who, once he’s alone, buries his face in his knees. This does demonstrate the White Witch’s sadism but as a way to make Ed feel guiltier, which I assume was the intent, it doesn’t really make sense. Technically, it was his siblings and the beavers he betrayed “for sweeties.” He just blurted out Tumnus’s secret without having any idea of the consequences. I guess you could argue that by joining with the White Witch he was betraying all of Narnia or something like that. I do understand why the screenwriters felt the need to do something to show that Edmund was feeling guilty since viewers of the movie don’t have the direct access to his thoughts that readers of the book do.[10]You could argue that at this point in the book, Edmund wasn’t really feeling guilty so much as he was regretting his misdeeds for selfish reasons but that may be overanalyzing.

We transition to morning when the other Pevensies and the beavers stand atop a huge rock bridge, giving them the lay of the land. (This scene is kind of notorious among the fanbase for its poor greenscreen though, personally speaking, it doesn’t bug me much.)

Mr. Beaver: Now Aslan’s camp is near the Stone Table just across the frozen river.
Peter: River?
Mrs. Beaver: Oh, the river’s been frozen solid for a hundred years.
Peter: It’s so far!
Mrs. Beaver: It’s the world, dear. Did you expect it to be small?
Susan: Smaller.

That dialogue really doesn’t make sense. It’s true that in the Narnia books, the children who travel back and forth between worlds call going to the world of Narnia going to Narnia. But that’s just shorthand. Narnia is technically a country, not a world.

Meanwhile, Edmund exits the dungeon under the custody of Ginarrbrik and sees to his horror that the Witch has a new statue in her courtyard.

The Witch’s sleigh rockets out of the gates of her castle. Edmund is forced to sit at her feet. In the book, for purposes of stealth, she doesn’t use sleigh bells at this point. It sounds like she does in the movie, making her less smart but making it a better fake out for the viewers when…well, we’ll get to that in the next scene.

Next Week: The Spell Begins to Break

References

References
1 Though genre-savvy viewers probably guess she does at this point.
2 Who also becomes a source of comic relief at the climax by the way.
3 This was so in an earlier draft on the screenplay.
4 Another exception is Kiran Shah as Ginarrbrik with his Persian accent.
5 For the record, I don’t think either the movie or the book should be interpreted as a metaphor for World War II. That idea really falls apart if you think about it for any length of time. C. S. Lewis did allude to real world dictators in the last chapter of The Magician’s Nephew, his prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in which Aslan tells two children from Edwardian England “Soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants…”
6 Though I’m given to understand that Everett himself, while eager to be part of an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was unhappy with the result, feeling that talking animals didn’t work in live action.
7 “One of the goodies” might have been an improvement.
8 I hasten to add that from what I’ve heard, some of their scripts for Marvel were really good with Avengers: Endgame even being put up for awards consideration.
9 Unless you count Ginarrbrik calling Edmund “Sire.”
10 You could argue that at this point in the book, Edmund wasn’t really feeling guilty so much as he was regretting his misdeeds for selfish reasons but that may be overanalyzing.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 5: He’s a Beaver! He Shouldn’t Be Saying Anything!

I might have been exaggerating for dramatic effect when I said we were leaving behind the most consistently great part of the movie with the last post in this series. The scene of the Pevensies discovering that Tumnus’s house has been broken into and vandalized some time ago is quite effective in its ominousness.

Edmund accidentally steps on the picture of Tumnus’s father and sees that it’s been slashed. I assume that by having Edmund desperately try to rescue a picture of his father earlier the screenwriters were giving him an extra reason to feel guilty here. That doesn’t really make sense though since there’s no way Ed could know the faun in the picture was Tumnus’s father, let alone that said father was a soldier like his who may very well have died on the battlefield. Oh well. Interesting idea anyway.

Peter finds a note written in a rather jagged, fearsome looking scrawl pinned to the wall and reads it aloud. The language is from the book though somewhat simplified for pacing purposes.

The Faun Tumnus is hereby charged with high reason against her Imperial Majesty, Jadis, Queen of Narnia, for comforting her enemies and fraternizing with humans. Signed: Maugrim, Captain of the Secret Police. Long live the Queen.

Susan: Alright, now we really should go back.
Lucy: But what about Mr. Tumnus?
Susan: He was arrested just for being with a human! I don’t think there’s much we could do.
Lucy: You don’t understand, do you? I’m the human! She must have found out he helped me!
Peter: Maybe we could call the police.
Susan: These are the police.
Peter: Don’t worry, Lu. We’ll think of something.
Edmund: Why? I mean, he’s a criminal!

This is another strong dialogue scene that is true to the characters from the book.[1]Well, except for Peter being a tad more flustered. I especially like the bit about the police, underlining how these kids are used to having adults help solve their problems and now have to solve them on their own, even be pitted against adults. In both the book and the movie, Tumnus’s trashed home and Maugrim’s letter mark a major turning point in the story. While the White Witch has been established as a threat to the characters already, her wickedness has been implied a lot more than shown and we get the impression the story is about to get a lot darker and more suspenseful. All that is well conveyed. Still, as a fan of the literary source material, I have a few nits to pick.

The bigger one is that it’s disappointing that all Edmund says is that Tumnus is a criminal. In the book, he actually makes a reasonable argument to Peter-or a reasonable sounding one anyway, pointing out that they’ve been dropped in a world about which they know nothing, that Tumnus could have been lying to Lucy and the White Witch could very well be a good person for all they know. He’s trying to delude himself, of course, since he wants her to have been the telling the truth to him about a crown and unlimited Turkish Delight. But readers can understand how he could delude himself and maybe even imagine themselves thinking along the same lines if they were in his situation. It’s regrettable that the movie cuts most of this in the interests of tighter pacing.

Another omission is that while Susan does immediately advocate going home after hearing Maugrim’s note in the book, she changes her tune shortly after though with reluctance.

“I’ve a horrid feeling that Lu is right,” said Susan. “I don’t want to go a step further and I wish we’d never come. But I think we must try to do something for Mr. Whatever-his-name is — I mean the Faun.”

This arguably makes her a more nuanced, interesting character than in the movie. Of course, the cinematic Susan will eventually come around to her literary counterpart’s perspective after she undergoes some development. In the book, while character development was implied for all the Pevensies, Edmund was the only one with a real arc and even with him much of it was offstage. The movie, as we’ll see, tries to give each of its leads a significant character arc except for Lucy and she has so many dramatic moments that it’s easy to forget she doesn’t technically have much character development. And to the film’s credit, I think Susan’s character arc is one of its best.

Anyway, the Pevensies hear a voice saying, “psst,” from outside. They glance out the door and see a robin, the first bird we’ve seen in Narnia, hopping up and down on a tree branch, chirping and seemingly beckoning to them. “Did that bird just psst us?” asks a bewildered Susan. They step outside and the robin flies away. In the book, the robin actually leads them quite some distance from the house before flying off, so distant in fact that they realize they’ve gotten lost. In the movie, it’s not even clear if the robin really was trying to communicate with them or if they just imagined it. Still, I’m glad the robin got a cameo in this adaptation since most leave it out and it’s very memorable in the book.

The Pevensies hear a twig cracking behind some rocks and the mysterious voice going, “psst,” again. Peter, Susan and Lucy draw closer together for protection, but Edmund doesn’t. This whole section of the movie does a great job visually portraying his isolation from his siblings. As with the reveal of Mr. Tumnus earlier, I feel like the music takes on a slightly over-the-top quality that gives away that this tense moment is building up to a comedic anticlimax.[2]Well, it’s not an anticlimax in that what the characters are hearing is a big deal but it’s not something scary. What emerges from behind the rocks turns out to be a beaver. Peter bends down and extends his hand, going, “here, boy, here, boy.” The beaver stares at the hand before saying (in Ray Winstone’s voice), “Well, I ain’t going to smell it if that’s what you want!” I’m not a fan of this moment because in the Narnia books, C. S. Lewis states that talking animals[3]He typically refers to them as talking beasts. can be told apart from dumb ones just by looking at their faces. Also, I’m not really sure if someone encountering a beaver in the wild would try call them like a dog or a cat. I mean, beavers aren’t as dangerous as wolverines or anything but they’re still wild animals. That being said, the contrast between the siblings’ different reactions to this reveal, with Edmund and Susan looking terror-stricken, Peter being embarrassed and Lucy just laughing, are pretty funny.

And it’s worth remembering this adaptation’s historical context and appreciating the animation of Mr. Beaver, as this character is called, and the story’s other talking animals. Previous adaptations could only have human actors in costume which didn’t really capture the Lewis’s depictions of them. While the CGI for the animal characters isn’t as convincing as that of Tumnus’s legs, I actually think they look more real than a lot of other CGI characters in modern family popcorn movies.[4]I sometimes get the impression that modern moviemakers have just given up on making computer animated elements in their fantasies look real and solid. I’m so glad the first Narnia was made … Continue reading By the way, the book implies (and all but states) that the talking beavers are as big or bigger than the children. This is consistent with how talking beasts are portrayed throughout the Narnia books, but the movie was probably wise to have them be the size of regular beavers. They’d likely have looked terrifying otherwise.

Lucy stops laughing when the beaver calls her by name. He sadly hands her a familiar looking piece of cloth.

It’s the handkerchief she gave to Mr. Tumnus. “He got it to me just before they took him,” Mr. Beaver explains. “Is he all right?” asks Lucy. Mr. Beaver looks around warily. “Further in,” he says and hurries into the woods. Peter and Lucy automatically start to follow him. But Susan grabs them. “What are you doing?!” she asks in a muffled shriek.

Edmund: She’s right! How do we know we can trust him?
Peter: He said he knows the faun.
Susan: He’s a beaver! He shouldn’t be saying anything!
Mr. Beaver: Everything all right?
Peter: Yes, we were just talking.
Mr. Beaver: That’s better left for safer quarters.
Lucy: He means the trees.

After exchanging helpless glances with Susan, Peter, along with Lucy, follows Mr. Beaver. The other two Pevensies reluctantly. As the sun sets, they arrive at Mr. Beaver’s house which sits atop a dam he’s built across a frozen river.

We’ve now come to a rare instance of the movie improving on the book’s writing. In response to the sight of smoke coming from his chimney, Mr. Beaver says, “Looks like the old girl’s got the kettle on, a nice cup of Rosie Lee,” which conveys more personality than just “it looks as if Mrs. Beaver is expecting us.” Then we get some dialogue similar to the book though not exactly the same. Lucy compliments Mr. Beaver on his home[5]It’s Susan who does so in the book by the way. and he says, “Oh, it’s merely a trifle, you know. Still plenty to do, ain’t quite finished it yet. But it’ll look a business when it is done.”[6]In the book, he just says, “Merely a trifle! Merely a trifle! And it isn’t really finished!” Mrs. Beaver (voiced by Dawn French) can be heard inside the house, saying, “Beaver, is that you? I’ve been worried sick! If I find you’ve been out with Badger again…” Her voice trails off as she comes outside and sees her human guests. “Oh,” she gasps, “those aren’t badgers. Oh, to think that I should live to see this day!” Then she turns on her husband. “Look at my fur! You couldn’t have given me ten minutes’ warning?” To which Mr. Beaver replies, “I’d have given you a week if I’d thought it would have helped.”

OK, let’s get this out of the way. I’m not a big fan of how the beavers are written in this movie. They’re the main comic relief, which is a bit of a stretch from their counterparts in the book, but I don’t hate the idea in the theory. After all, the literary Mrs. Beaver does have one hilarious line in the scene of her preparing to flee her home and a couple of fairly funny lines elsewhere. And what with the dramatic stakes having been upped and the characters about to be given their main goal, it does feel like the right time in the story to introduce new comedic supporting characters. I guess my problem is how cliche the comedy feels with the beavers being written like a stock old married couple. On reflection however, C. S. Lewis also wrote the beavers like a stock old married couple. (One of Mrs. Beaver’s humorous lines in the book is saying that Peter and her husband are acting “just like men” in letting the tea get old while discussing weaponry.) I guess my problem is that while the Narnia books do contain stock jokes about stereotypical married couples, etc., they also often display a more distinctive style of humor. (The wonderful character of Puddleglum in The Silver Chair with his weird combination of optimism and pessimism is the probably the greatest example of this.) This movie’s humor, on the other hand, even when it’s really, really funny, is basically all generic movie humor. And even when C. S. Lewis was making stock jokes in the Narnia books, they were still really funny. The bickering of the film’s beavers isn’t horribly unfunny or anything but neither does it bring the house down.[7]From what I remember of the filmmakers’ audio commentary, part of the director’s reasoning behind playing the beavers so much for laughs was to get around viewers’ potential … Continue reading

Having said all that, I really do love the casting of their voice actors. I know that may sound strange in the case of Dawn French since she’s primarily a comic performer and I’ve just criticized the beavers’ comedy. But it’s arguably more important to have a hilarious performer when the writing for a humorous character isn’t all that hilarious and French. I also don’t feel like the quality of her line readings drops whenever Mrs. Beaver gets a serious moment, not noticeably so anyway.[8]OK, French doesn’t give the most harrowing emotional performance ever or anything but it’s not like the movie was meant to be Schindler’s List with beavers.

The Pevensies find the beavers’ banter funnier than I do except for Edmund who remains sullen and suspicious as ever. Mrs. Beaver invites them inside for “some food and some civilized company,” the implication being she doesn’t consider her husband civilized. In a nice touch, Susan finds it easier to trust the practical, motherly Mrs. Beaver who is kind of her furry soul sister. She, Peter and Susan follow her into the house, but Edmund lingers outside. He’s noticed that the two hills the White Witch pointed out to him are within walking distance. “Enjoying the scenery, are we?” Mr. Beaver says, eyeing him suspiciously. Edmund doesn’t reply but silently goes into the house. This is a great moment original to the movie that establishes Mr. Beaver suspects Edmund’s treacherousness beforehand rather than just having him say he always suspected it after the fact as in the book.

Peter, Susan and Lucy are seated around the beavers’ dinner table while Edmund sits apart as usual. I’ve got to say the set design for this house is rather disappointing. It’s true that C. S. Lewis describes the pragmatic beavers’ abode as more practical than Tumnus’s, with no books or pictures, but his description also made it just as picturesque in its own way. You’d never guess that from this adaptation. Did the movie have to make everything inside the color brown? Maybe the problem isn’t so much the design as the pacing. This scene doesn’t really give us a good chance to look around the way we had with Tumnus’s cave.

This shot is the best view the movie gives us of the house’s interior. You have to pause it really quick to get a good look.

“Isn’t there anything we can do to help Tumnus?” Peter asks. “They’ll have taken him to the Witch’s house,” explains Mr. Beaver, “and you know what they say. There’s few that go through them gates that come out again.” Mrs. Beaver, fearing that Lucy might be saddened by this news, rushes over with a plate of refreshment. “Fish and chips?” she says, proffering what appears to be fish garnished with woodchips. This may be a very brief moment, but it really irritates me. The book lovingly describes the meal of creamy milk, potatoes with “deep yellow butter,” freshwater fish and “a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll” that the beavers give their human guests. The descriptions of food in the Narnia books are arguably a big part of their appeal and I resent this adaptation changing that for the sake of a pun and not even a particularly funny pun.

“There is hope, dear lots of hope,” Mrs. Beaver tells Lucy, referring to Tumnus’s fate, not the quality of the food. “Oy! We’ve got a right bit more than hope,” says Mr. Beaver. Then, leaning forward and lowering his voice, he says, “Aslan is on the move.” Now we come to one of the most memorable and lyrical bits of the book that is sadly kind of unfilmable.

None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream, it feels as if it had some enormous meaning — either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.[9]This actually takes place before they go to the beaver’s house in the book and it’s implied to be part of why Peter, Susan and Lucy trust him while Edmund still does not.

The only way the movie could indicate emotions that specific would be to have each character say something like, “Wow! I don’t know why but when you said that name, I felt suddenly brave, etc.” And that could easily come across as clunky. Instead, the camera pans across each Pevensie’s face as music plays. Except for Edmund, each one instinctively smiles. I think that’s what they’re supposed to be doing anyway. But as much as I love William Moseley’s, Anna Popplewell’s and Georgie Henley’s performances in this film, their facial expressions just aren’t interesting in this moment. And while Skandar Keynes’s Edmund looks suitably wary at the mention of Aslan, that’s how he’s looked for several scenes now, so it doesn’t stand out much.

“Who’s Aslan?” he asks. Mr. Beaver laughs, assuming he’s joking, which doesn’t endear him to the boy. He’s astonished to realize the Pevensies really have never heard of Aslan. “He’s only the lord of the whole wood,” he says, “the top geezer, the real King of Narnia.” As a fan, I cringe at that “top geezer” line, given with what reverence the character of Aslan is described the beavers in the book. To the movie’s credit, I think the line may have been improvised by Ray Winstone. To the movie’s discredit, the improv could have easily been cut out and wasn’t. I do like the way Edmund frowns at hearing Aslan described as Narnia’s king since he’s after that title himself. “He’s been away for a long while,” says Mrs. Beaver. Remember what I wrote about Dawn French doing a good job with her character’s dramatic lines considering she’s mainly known as a comic performer? Well, that line is a good example. You really do get an impression from her voice that the citizens of Narnia have been regretting Aslan’s absence and yearning for his return for quite some time. “But he’s just got back,” Mr. Beaver explains excitedly, “and he’s waiting for you at the Stone Table!” Susan expresses surprise that someone important would be waiting for them specifically.

Mr. Beaver: You’re blooming joking! (to his wife) They don’t even know about the prophecy!
Mrs. Beaver: Well then?
Mr. Beaver: Look. Aslan’s return. Tumnus’s arrest. The Secret Police. It’s all happening because of you!
Susan: You’re blaming us?
Mrs. Beaver: No, not blaming! Thanking you!

If Mr. Beaver didn’t want that to sound like blame, maybe he shouldn’t have said it in such an angry voice. I’m kind of with Susan here. Anyway, Mr. Beaver explains that there’s a prophecy in Narnia.

When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done.

“You know, that doesn’t really rhyme,” says Susan. “Yeah, I know it doesn’t but you’re kind of missing the point,” protests Mr. Beaver. There are Narnia fans out there, many of them perhaps, who cringe at that “doesn’t really rhyme” line as much as I cringe at the “fish and chips” and the “top geezer” lines since it amounts to a joke at the original book’s expense. But I don’t cringe. Actually, it really makes me laugh. Maybe it’s because Anna Popplewell has great comedic timing. Maybe it’s because I hate eye rhymes. For me, it’s one of the movie’s best jokes.[10]As a poet, I would describe C. S. Lewis as a marvelous prose writer. Returning to the scene, “It has long been foretold,” says Mrs. Beaver, “that two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve will defeat the White Witch and restore peace to Narnia.” In the book, there are actually two (sort of) rhyming prophecies, one about the children and another about Aslan.

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

And the one about Aslan is actually treated as more important with Mr. Beaver mentioning the one about the Pevensies and Castle Cair Paravel almost as an afterthought. (“The quickest way you can help (Mr. Tumnus) is by going to meet Aslan. Once he’s with us, then we can begin doing things. Not that we don’t need you too…”) This is problematic for Christian fans of the books as well as non-Christian who really like the character of Aslan since he, corresponding to God, is supposed to be the ultimate hero. For what it’s worth though, you could argue that the fact that Aslan is God makes it self-explanatory why his return to Narnia would be a big deal and if the movie had to cut one of the prophecies, it was more important to retain the one explaining why four random kids coming to Narnia would be a big deal. “And you think we’re the ones?” says Peter. “Well, you’d better be,” says Mr. Beaver, “because Aslan’s already fitted out your army!” The book actually doesn’t mention that Aslan has any army until we actually meet them. As we’ll see, the movie really expands on the military aspect of the story. I’m not overjoyed about this since movies about war don’t interest me much but, to be fair, it’s not like there was no military aspect in the original book at all and a few of the other Narnia books have an even greater one.

Susan reminds Peter that the whole reason they were sent away from London was to avoid war. (You’ve got to love that bit of irony.) “I think you’ve made a mistake. We’re not heroes,” Peter apologetically tells the beavers. “We’re from Finchley,” adds Susan as if that inherently disqualifies them. (I’m not saying that to poke fun at the movie. I think the movie itself is poking fun at Susan.) She thanks the beavers for their hospitality in what C. S. Lewis would have described as “her most annoying grownup voice” but insists that she and her siblings have to go now. “You can’t just leave,” protests Mr. Beaver. “He’s right,” says Lucy, “we have to help Mr. Tumnus.” This is probably the biggest change the movie makes to the book’s story. The literary Pevensies never really express any enthusiasm about being the ones to save Narnia, but they don’t really question why it should be them or try to back out of it either. Truth be told from here on in the book, Lewis treats Peter, Susan and Lucy like chess pieces and doesn’t give them much in the way of inner lives. That never bugs me when I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but I can theoretically understand the screenwriters feeling like it was a flaw. I wouldn’t say the fairly standard reluctant hero arc they gave the characters, mainly Peter, was necessarily the best or the only way to fix that though. Still, it’s not a bad standard reluctant hero arc either. Some of it is quite touching.[11]And if the word, standard, sounds too judgmental, I’ll readily allow that there were plots and characters in the Narnia books that were also stock plots and characters. Those just aren’t … Continue reading Peter and Susan are a lot more likeable here than some reluctant heroes. They don’t act annoyed by the beavers or anything[12]Well, maybe Susan does a little but that feels broadly true to the character from the book series as a whole. and since they don’t have any obvious superpowers, it makes perfect sense that they wouldn’t believe they could help save Narnia.

I also don’t feel like Peter’s feelings of fear and uncertainty in the movie are that much of a stretch from the book’s character. When he’s called upon to rescue one of his sisters in a later scene, Lewis writes that “Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.” Doing the brave and honorable thing despite fear is a minor theme in the book, as we saw earlier with the Pevensies deciding whether to try to help Tumnus or go back to their own world, one on which the movie expands, not something it pulls out of nowhere. It’s also worth noting that other good kings in the Narnia books express a sense of unworthiness when offered the role so this really doesn’t feel untrue to the books’ portrayal of leadership to me. And Lucy being the only sibling to instantly accept the Call to Adventure feels true to her role in the books too.

It’s possible, maybe even likely, that part of the motivation for this change on the part of the filmmakers is that they weren’t comfortable with the idea of the Pevensies deserving the roles of kings and queen just by virtue of being human and prophesied and especially with the idea of Peter deserving the role of high king just by virtue of being firstborn. Having the characters themselves question that was a way of making them more relatable from their point of view. You can definitely argue that C. S. Lewis was too enamored of the idea of natural hierarchies himself to convey their romantic appeal to anyone who didn’t already share his feelings.[13]Though the Narnia books certainly don’t suffer from this anywhere near as much as That Hideous Strength does. You can also definitely argue that modern screenwriters are too skeptical about the idea of natural hierarchies and that their fantasies would be better if they just relax and accept them, if only for the sake of their stories. I can see both sides. There’s a school modern criticism that is skeptical of the whole idea of prophesied heroes, seeing them as lazy storytelling. I sympathize with this criticism, but I also think prophesied heroes have a poetic appeal into which both versions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the movie and the book, tap.[14]In The Horse and his Boy, Lewis uses the prophesied hero trope with the twist that neither the reader nor the hero himself learn about the prophecy until after it’s been fulfilled.

While I’ll defend this added character arc on the whole, I have to admit that it comes with some major downsides. Having Peter initially refuse to go to the Stone Table means cutting one of his most memorable lines of dialogue in the book, where he tells the beavers that he’s longing to see Aslan “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.” The reason he might feel frightened is that in Mrs. Beaver’s words, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” In arguably the book’s most memorable line which is totally absent from the movie’s version of this scene, Mr. Beaver says that Aslan isn’t safe, but he is good. Thankfully, the movie will give us a version of that line towards the end, and it will be a nice moment though you could argue the movie won’t have Aslan scary enough for it to really make sense. Then again, you could say the same of the book. (Aslan’s scariness there is less about anything he does than it is the atmosphere his presence creates. More on this later.) Of course, there’s no reason the movie couldn’t have used the line both in this scene and towards the end. It’s not like the screenwriters are averse to callbacks. Another omission I consider unfortunate is not clarifying that Aslan is the one being (or possibly one of very few beings) that the White Witch can’t turn into stone. Without that established, it’s unclear why she doesn’t just do that and solve her main problem. Then again, this version of the story hasn’t established that she can turn anyone into stone yet.

Phew! Where we in the plot again? Oh yeah. Peter tells Lucy that there’s nothing they can do and that it’s time for them to go. He then turns around to see that Edmund has mysteriously disappeared.

“I’m going to kill him!” he grumbles. “You may not have to,” says Mr. Beaver ominously. “Has Edmund ever been to Narnia before?” We cut to Edmund making his way through the snow. As in the book, he’s left behind his coat but isn’t going back for it.

Mr. Beaver and the Pevensies are on his trail. They come to a stop when they see the White Witch’s house in the distance and Edmund about to enter it. I’m not a fan of the movie decision to have the Witch’s castle be made out of ice. It strikes me as obvious and cliche for this kind of villain. I’d have preferred a stone fortress like in the book. That would have been grimmer and fit in with her turning her enemies into stone statues. Stone also has certain grim connotations that ice doesn’t. After all, the latter melts and the former doesn’t. (I guess making her home out of ice is supposed to be a boast on the Witch’s part. “I don’t need to worry about it melting because my winter will never end!”) Even if the house had to be made of ice, I don’t love the design which looks more like a bunch of pointy ice shards stuck together than a building in which one could actually live. But, while it may lack grimness, the eerie light coming from the Witch’s house does allow the characters to get a good look at Edmund.

In the book, of course, the Pevensies don’t actually see him do this. Mr. Beaver just explains to them that he’s doing it. I actually love this change on the movie’s part. True, it’s questionable how the characters could run all the way to the Witch’s house, run back to the beavers’ house, pack and then flee before her police caught up with them,[15]Actually, they don’t do that as we’ll see. but this way it feels a lot more credible that they would take Mr. Beaver’s word that their own brother could betray them and the visual of them watching Edmund, helpless to stop him, packs a real emotional punch. Lucy tries calling to him, but Mr. Beaver shushes her. Biting his lip, Peter starts to run after Ed, but Mr. Beaver stops him.

Susan: We can’t just let him go!
Lucy: He’s our brother!
Mr. Beaver: He’s the bait! The Witch wants all four of you!
Peter: Why?
Mr. Beaver: To stop the prophecy from coming true! To kill you!

They look back at the castle in time see the gates closing behind Edmund as he passes through them.

Don’t ask me who’s controlling the gates.

Susan lashes out at Peter. “This is all your fault!” she says. “None of this would have happened if you’d just listened to me in the first place!” I know there are some fans of the book’s characters who feel the movie sullies them by having them fight with each other too much. I guess this is an example of that, but I don’t really mind. After all, around this point in the book, Susan does say, “Oh, how I wish we’d never come,” which isn’t really an I-told-you-so line but, given her early suggestions that they leave, isn’t very far from it. And, given the characters’ terrible situation, it feels believable to me that they would panic and turn on each other this way. Peter and Susan look like they’re about to get into a really nasty tiff when Lucy interrupts them. “Stop it!” she says. “This isn’t going to help Edmund.” I love the irony of Lucy the youngest pointing this out rather than the older, more pragmatic and ostensibly more mature Susan. “She’s right. Only Aslan can help your brother now,” says Mr. Beaver. “Then take us to him,” says Peter before giving the Witch’s house one last look.

Next Week: Remember That Captain of the Secret Police Who Arrested Mr. Tumnus? We Meet Him.

References

References
1 Well, except for Peter being a tad more flustered.
2 Well, it’s not an anticlimax in that what the characters are hearing is a big deal but it’s not something scary.
3 He typically refers to them as talking beasts.
4 I sometimes get the impression that modern moviemakers have just given up on making computer animated elements in their fantasies look real and solid. I’m so glad the first Narnia was made before that trend.
5 It’s Susan who does so in the book by the way.
6 In the book, he just says, “Merely a trifle! Merely a trifle! And it isn’t really finished!”
7 From what I remember of the filmmakers’ audio commentary, part of the director’s reasoning behind playing the beavers so much for laughs was to get around viewers’ potential discomfort with talking animals. I don’t understand this as most cultures tell stories about animals that talk. There are probably more people familiar with the concept of them than there are with fauns.
8 OK, French doesn’t give the most harrowing emotional performance ever or anything but it’s not like the movie was meant to be Schindler’s List with beavers.
9 This actually takes place before they go to the beaver’s house in the book and it’s implied to be part of why Peter, Susan and Lucy trust him while Edmund still does not.
10 As a poet, I would describe C. S. Lewis as a marvelous prose writer.
11 And if the word, standard, sounds too judgmental, I’ll readily allow that there were plots and characters in the Narnia books that were also stock plots and characters. Those just aren’t as noticeable nowadays because they’re using older storytelling conventions.
12 Well, maybe Susan does a little but that feels broadly true to the character from the book series as a whole.
13 Though the Narnia books certainly don’t suffer from this anywhere near as much as That Hideous Strength does.
14 In The Horse and his Boy, Lewis uses the prophesied hero trope with the twist that neither the reader nor the hero himself learn about the prophecy until after it’s been fulfilled.
15 Actually, they don’t do that as we’ll see.
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Pride and Prejudice (2005): Style Over Substance?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Jane Austen fandom is one of the hardest groups to please as fans of the 2005 movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice will attest in exasperation. Critics enthusiastically praised the film’s beautiful cinematography, its use of visual symbolism, its cast, particularly Keira Knightley in the lead role of Elizabeth Bennet, and generally found it to be a delightful and highly emotional viewing experience. It also was nominated for multiple awards and director Joe Wright won a BAFTA for best new filmmaker. But many fans of the book and Jane Austen in general, though certainly not all of them, bitterly condemn the movie for dumbing down its source material’s satire with sentiment, altering characters and being historically inaccurate.[1]I’m not going to get into the historical accuracy issue since it requires more research than I feel like doing.

I can’t say I agree with the more extreme fan criticisms of the adaptation. It’s hardly the utter abomination some would call it. The script by Deborah Moggach sticks close to the book’s broad storyline though not always to its spirit and includes many of its most hilarious lines of dialogue (“Well, if Jane does die, it will be a comfort to know it was in pursuit of Mr. Bingley”) though not as many it could have. Brenda Blethyn as the flighty Mrs. Bennet, Donald Sutherland as the dryly sarcastic Mr. Bennet, Kelly Reilly as the preening Miss Bingley and Tom Hollander as the sycophantic Mr. Collins with his air of perpetually reading off cue cards are all fun. The movie does a decent job of capturing its source material’s humor. I love the way Wright shoots the dance/argument between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) like it’s a boxing match and the ensuing montage of the Netherfield Ball that keeps track of all the characters’ storylines in one long continuous shot. The soundtrack is nice if you like piano music. Overall, the movie is a very pleasant viewing experience if you like this kind of film and if you don’t, then it’s honest enough about what it is that you know not to watch it.

However, I have to say I lean negative on the movie. My reasons for doing so are a tad different from what you might expect. Unlike many of the adaptation’s detractors, I watched it before reading the book, having seen Douglas McGrath’s Emma and wondered if Jane Austen movies were a great thing that I’d missed out on all my life. After watching it, I decided not. That’s not to say I hated the movie or anything, but I couldn’t understand from it why Pride and Prejudice was considered a great story. Only when I read the book in its entirety years later did I get it.[2]Though I still honestly prefer Emma.

Many fans of the book who dislike the 2005 movie cite the 1995 BBC miniseries written by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langton as the better, more faithful adaptation. Fans who prefer the 2005 adaptation tend to describe that one as stuffy and dull by comparison. (Ironically, the 1995 series was originally seen as an unusually modern, sexy, audience friendly version of Pride and Prejudice.) I want this post to be about book vs movie, not miniseries vs movie but I can’t resist bringing up an early scene original to the 1995 adaptation, one that in my opinion actually improved on the book by getting us invested in the characters of Elizabeth and her older sister, Jane, right away.

Elizabeth: If I could love a man who would love me enough to take me for fifty pounds a year, I should be very well pleased. But such a man could hardly be sensible, and you know I could never love a man who was out of his wits.
Jane: Oh, Lizzie! A marriage where either partner cannot love nor respect the other, that cannot be agreeable to either party.
Elizabeth (re: their parents): As we have daily proof. But beggars, you know, cannot be choosers.
Jane: We are not very poor, Lizzie.
Elizabeth: With father’s estate entailed away from the female line, we have little but our charms to recommend us. One of us at least will have to marry very well and since you are quite five times as pretty as the rest of us and have the sweetest disposition, I fear the task will fall on you to raise our family fortunes.
Jane: But, Lizzie, I would wish…I should so much like…to marry for love.
Elizabeth: And so you shall, I’m sure. Only take care you fall in love with a man of good fortune.
Jane: Well, I shall try to please you. And you?
Elizabeth: I am determined that nothing but the very deepest love will induce me to matrimony so I shall end an old maid and teach your ten children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill.

Compare this with the first conversation between Elizabeth and Jane (Rosamund Pike) we get in the 2005 movie.

Elizabeth: If every man in the room does not end the evening in love with you, I am no judge of beauty.
Jane: Or men.
Elizabeth: No, no, they are far too easy to judge.
Jane: They’re not all bad.
Elizabeth: Humorless poppycocks in my limited experience.
Jane: One of these days, Lizzie, someone will catch your eye and then you’ll have to watch your tongue.

That’s basically good writing. Even fun writing. But it focuses on only the most generic of romcom tropes from Pride and Prejudice and this is indicative of what’s to come.

Having said that, I don’t think everything about the 1995 miniseries is superior to the 2005 movie. I think I like Keira Knightley’s performance as Elizabeth better than Jennifer Ehle’s. While Ehle is a fine actress, her sweet little smile throughout the 1995 Pride and Prejudice makes it hard for me to buy her as the cynical, sarcastic Elizabeth Bennet. Even in some moments, though not all of them, when her character is really angry or upset, she maintains that same smile. (I almost wish she were playing Jane instead.) Knightley smiles plenty in the role too but her smile conveys more mischief. Actually, the 2005 adaptation’s characterization of Elizabeth goes too far in the opposite direction of the 1995’s one, making her far too emotional and fiery. She’s considerably angrier and more flustered at Mr. Collins’s tactless proposal to her here than she is in the book and seems genuinely scared that her father will make her marry him. She’s also more visibly bitter towards her various family members for their bad behavior. While the dialogue in her climactic confrontation with Darcy’s domineering aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Judi Dench) stays reasonably close to that in the book, Elizabeth seems as if she’s about to burst with emotion throughout it and afterwards runs to her room crying and yelling over her shoulder for everyone to leave her alone. All this was doubtless to make her a more modern heroine, but it ignores the fact that a big part of what has won the literary Elizabeth Bennet the admiration of so many readers, historical and modern, is her cool emotional control. Without it, she seems like a much more generic heroine.[3]To be fair, the 1995 miniseries also had Elizabeth lose her temper more than she does in the book in the scene of Mr. Collins’s clumsy attempt to comfort the Bennets in their distress, even … Continue reading

While Elizabeth may lash out at her family in the movie more than in the book, the adaptation counterintuitively wants them to be more sympathetic than they are there. I can live with Mrs. Bennet being more loveable than Austen meant for her to be[4]The movie does retain her being ridiculously happy about her youngest daughter’s eventual marriage instead of seeing it as a sadly necessary evil as everyone else does but her final scene in … Continue reading but the film could really stand to do more to establish the youngest and most boy crazy Bennets, Kitty (Carey Mulligan) and Lydia (Jena Malone), as negative characters. For the first half, they come across as giggly and silly but not particularly selfish or callous or even particularly annoying. In a scene of Jane receiving some painful news, they’re uncharacteristically quiet as if out of respect for her. Because of this, Lydia feels like she’s arbitrarily turned into a different character in the second half.

Then there’s Mary Bennet (Talulah Riley) who comes across somewhat pretentious but not nearly as arrogant and unlikeable as she does in the book.[5]She’s also far too pretty to be the plain sister even though that still seems like how she’s supposed to appear. Or am I just the only one who finds straight hair attractive? She still speaks smugly of one of her sisters being ruined but only briefly and without coming close to her literary counterpart’s insensitivity. She still sings terribly at the Netherfield ball but afterwards she runs away crying and humiliated, making her much more self-aware than in the book. This combined with her discomfort in social situations does a great job of making Mary sympathetic, but I don’t see how her being sympathetic benefits the story. If anything, it hurts it as it’s unclear why Jane and Elizabeth aren’t nicer to her, and she doesn’t get any kind of ending.[6]The modern Pride and Prejudice update, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, also would have Lydia and Mary be more sympathetic than in the book but it would do so more deliberately and alter their … Continue reading For all its problems, the Bennet family in the movie doesn’t come across as dysfunctional as in the book so there doesn’t seem to be a pressing need for Elizabeth or Jane to get married and escape from them except for the financial motive which Jane says isn’t important to her anyway.

One character I think Deborah Moggach writes better than Andrew Davies is the romantic false lead, Mr. Wickham (Rupert Friend.) The initial banter between him and Elizabeth does a great job of making him seem like a better match for her playful character than the dour Mr. Darcy. Working against this however is Friend’s performance which is strangely stiff and unappealing.[7]Speaking of unappealing, I’m not a fan of this adaptation’s decision to portray Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) as such a comic bungler. It makes it hard to root for him to end up with the … Continue reading His tone when he describes Darcy as unfairly persecuting him is so transparently petty that it’s easy to guess his account isn’t to be trusted. I suspect this was because the movie was so enamored of the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth that it didn’t want viewers to consider that someone else might be better for her even for a moment.

This Pride and Prejudice really bets everything on the central love story, downplaying the book’s character development and moral messages as much as possible to focus solely on it and for the film’s fans, this is a big part of its appeal. I’m not such an Austen Nazi that I can’t stand things like Darcy’s first proposal taking place during a torrential downpour matching the characters’ stormy emotions and his second, more successful one taking place in a misty meadow at sunrise. It’s definitely more swoony than Jane Austen’s realism would have allowed but I’d be happy to enjoy it on its own terms if I were really enjoying the love story.[8]And for what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s against the spirit of the book to portray Elizabeth as loving the beauties of nature. Austen had her be excited to tour the countryside … Continue reading But that’s the thing. I don’t particularly enjoy the movie’s central love story. That’s because when you take away all the character development and moral messages from the book, it isn’t very interesting.

Well, that description’s not totally fair. The movie certainly doesn’t take away all the character development for the leads from the source material. It stays too true to the plot for that. Elizabeth is still shocked to hear Darcy’s side of Wickham’s story and realize she likely misjudged both men. But she comes across as more disappointed in Wickham than guilty about her own actions. You could also interpret her as being genuinely attracted to Darcy and mortified that one of her main reasons for turning down his proposal was invalid. Here’s what she thinks in the book at this point.

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried.—”I, who have prided myself on my discernment!—I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust.—How humiliating is this discovery!—Yet, how just a humiliation!—Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly.—Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

She never says anything in the movie that indicates remorse so powerfully. A few scenes later she rants to her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners (Penelope Wilton and Peter Wight), against men, saying that they’re all “either eaten up with arrogance or stupidity.” Her aunt warns her that her speech “savors strongly of bitterness.” This comes from the book, but the movie has less time than the book to develop the characters. Showing Elizabeth’s disdain for her own behavior at this point is more important than showing her be disgusted with Darcy. In fact, this is where she should be starting-just starting, mind you-to respect him.

There’s also not anything that indicates Darcy’s repentance as powerfully as this quote from the book.

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoiled by my parents, who, though good themselves, (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable,) allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.”

While the movie retains his unexpected friendliness to Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle, there’s no indication that they challenged his expectations of people “in trade.” It feels more like he was always a nice person who was misunderstood rather than generally admirable but snobby and full of himself and needing reformation. There are two drafts of the script available to read online and both of them include a moment where Darcy tells Elizabeth he’s been thinking about how he appears and acts to others. This wasn’t nearly as powerful as what Jane Austen had him write but it would have been a step in the right direction and it’s frustrating it was cut.[9]Speaking of those drafts, neither of them contains my favorite line in the movie that’s not from the book. When an embarrassed Elizabeth limply says she doesn’t want to see Mr. … Continue reading

Of course, there always was an extent to which Darcy was misunderstood in the book. There one of the main things that made Elizabeth think better of him was hearing how well regarded he was by his servants and tenants. Recall his housekeeper (Meg Wynn Owen in the movie) praising him while giving a tour of Pemberley. This was originally in the script but is inaudible in the final movie. Because of that, it honestly comes across as if Elizabeth is just reassessing his character because he has a cool house. Between then and his second proposal there’s only one scene of Darcy and Elizabeth enjoying each other’s company, the one when she meets his sister, Georgiana (Tamzin Merchant.) It’s well written but it’s one of the least interestingly shot scenes in the movie, having none of the flair of the earlier scenes of tension between the reluctant lovers. In the book, Elizabeth was insulted by Darcy telling her he liked her “against his reason.” Their love story was about the two of them learning it was reasonable for them to love each other. But the movie seems to find the idea of being loved against someone’s better judgement perfectly romantic. That might be the main thematic difference between it and the book.[10]In the movie’s defense, the part of the story that takes place at Pemberley is a pain for adapters since it’s where Darcy and Elizabeth really bond with each other, but Austen … Continue reading The result is a very generic “they hate each other and then suddenly they don’t” love story. The filmmakers were so enamored of the idea of Pride and Prejudice being the template for every well-known romantic comedy that came afterwards that they forgot to include anything that made it unique.[11]Besides which they forgot that Much Ado About Nothing was the real original romcom!

OK, I began this post with the intention of forging a middle ground between the lovers and the haters of this movie, but now I see that most of it has been devoted to criticizing it. That’s because most of the things I like about it can be summarized in sentences while the things I find underwhelming or distracting about it require a lot of explanation. But there are a lot of people who love this movie and despite what my summary of its detractors’ criticisms might lead you to believe, many of them are people who also love the book. For all of what I wrote about how it bungles the character development of the leads and the theme of admitting one’s wrongs, it does end with Elizabeth telling her father, “I’ve been nonsensical. He’s been a fool, about Jane, about so many other things, but then so have I. You see, he and I are both so similar. We’re both so stubborn.” I just find that much less interesting and morally conscious than what Jane Austen wrote. Still, this is a decent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice even if it can never compete with the best one.

This, obviously.

Next Week: Back to Narnia

References

References
1 I’m not going to get into the historical accuracy issue since it requires more research than I feel like doing.
2 Though I still honestly prefer Emma.
3 To be fair, the 1995 miniseries also had Elizabeth lose her temper more than she does in the book in the scene of Mr. Collins’s clumsy attempt to comfort the Bennets in their distress, even lashing out at Jane though she apologized afterwards. This didn’t bother me. I don’t think Elizabeth should never be visibly upset, just not as often as in the 2005 movie.
4 The movie does retain her being ridiculously happy about her youngest daughter’s eventual marriage instead of seeing it as a sadly necessary evil as everyone else does but her final scene in the movie makes her much more self-aware and dignified than the equivalent moment in the book.
5 She’s also far too pretty to be the plain sister even though that still seems like how she’s supposed to appear. Or am I just the only one who finds straight hair attractive?
6 The modern Pride and Prejudice update, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, also would have Lydia and Mary be more sympathetic than in the book but it would do so more deliberately and alter their relationships with the other characters to match.
7 Speaking of unappealing, I’m not a fan of this adaptation’s decision to portray Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) as such a comic bungler. It makes it hard to root for him to end up with the sweet, dignified Jane. Her relentlessly thinking the best of everyone could potentially be played for laughs too, making them a better match, but it isn’t here.
8 And for what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s against the spirit of the book to portray Elizabeth as loving the beauties of nature. Austen had her be excited to tour the countryside with her aunt and uncle and be impressed by Darcy’s magnificent grounds.
9 Speaking of those drafts, neither of them contains my favorite line in the movie that’s not from the book. When an embarrassed Elizabeth limply says she doesn’t want to see Mr. Darcy’s house because “he’s so…rich,” Mr. Gardiner says, “Good heavens, Lizzie, what a snob you are! Objecting to poor Mr. Darcy because of his wealth! The Poor man can’t help it.” I’m willing to bet that was written by Emma Thompson, who reportedly did uncredited touchups on the script, rather than Deborah Moggach.
10 In the movie’s defense, the part of the story that takes place at Pemberley is a pain for adapters since it’s where Darcy and Elizabeth really bond with each other, but Austen didn’t write any dialogue between them during it. Why did she do that to us?
11 Besides which they forgot that Much Ado About Nothing was the real original romcom!
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 4: If You Think About It Logically

Peter and Susan stop in their tracks as they find Lucy hugging the professor (Jim Broadbent) and sobbing into his stomach.

An angry Mrs. Macready appears. (“You children are one shenanigan shy of sleeping in the stable!”) The professor calms her down and sends Lucy with her to have some hot chocolate. Peter and Susan try to sneak away but he summons them to his office and not for hot chocolate.

Professor: You seem to have upset the delicate internal balance of my housekeeper.
Peter: We’re very sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.
Susan: It’s our sister, sir. Lucy.
Professor: The weeping girl.
Susan: She’s upset.
Professor: Hence the weeping.

Theoretically, as a fan of the book, I don’t really approve of making the character of the professor be this sarcastic, but Jim Broadbent’s dry deliver and comic timing are perfect, making this one of the funniest bits in the movie.[1]The 1988 miniseries portrays the professor as a goofy, bumbling, childlike eccentric and from what I understand, so do many stage adaptations. That actually strikes me as further removed from the … Continue reading Also, as a fan of the book, I’m a little miffed that Peter tries to stop Susan from telling the professor about the Lucy situation, saying that they two of them can handle it themselves. In the text, Peter is actually the one who advocates getting an adult involved, saying, “it’s getting beyond us.” To be fair though, since Susan is generally portrayed as being less often right than Peter or Lucy, there’s something to be said for having her be the one who knows when to ask for help, making things more nuanced.[2]You could also interpret Peter in the movie’s scene less as too proud to ask for help and more as not wanting his youngest sibling sent to an insane asylum.

The professor’s intrigued reaction to hearing that Lucy believes she’s found a magical forest inside the upstairs wardrobe clearly indicates the filmmakers had the entire Narnia book series in mind, not just The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Some fans might find the scene overly full of fanservice, but I think it’s fair to point out that C. S. Lewis hadn’t worked out the professor’s entire backstory when he wrote the first Narnia book and if he had done so, he might have this scene more like the screenwriters did. Speaking for myself, this particular fan enjoyed the service.[3]In this context, “fanservice” means referring things that only fans will understand or remember, not anything to do with nudity.

Susan: She won’t stop going on about it.
Professor (awed): What was it like?
Susan: Like talking to a lunatic!

That line always makes me laugh. Anna Popplewell probably had the best comic timing of all the younger actors in this movie. Anyway, back to the conversation.

Professor: No, no, not her! The forest.
Peter: You’re not saying you believe her?
Professor: You don’t?
Susan: Well, of course not. I mean, logically it’s impossible.
Professor: What do they teach in schools these days?

That line was funnier in the book where it was something of a catchphrase for the character. (“I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.”) Peter points out that Edmund said he and Lucy were only pretending about Narnia. When the professor asks if Edmund is usually more truthful than Lucy though, Peter admits that it’s usually the other way around. “Well, if she’s not mad and she’s not lying, then logically we must assume she’s telling the truth,” Prof. Kirke says. This is his conclusion in the book too, but Peter and Susan brought up other objections to Lucy’s story there, mainly that there was nothing in the wardrobe when she showed it to them and that her alleged adventure took no time. I’m sympathetic to making movie adaptations faster paced than their literary source material but it’s unfortunate that it makes the character look less smart as they ignore obvious arguments to make. It’s also regrettable that the scene ends with the professor telling Peter and Susan they should believe Lucy on the grounds that “she’s your sister, isn’t she? You’re her family. You might just try acting like one.” In the book, it’s fun and surprising how the professor makes the case for believing Lucy with sheer reasoning and philosophical open-mindedness rather than appealing to sentiment. Plus, you know, Edmund is part of Peter and Susan’s family too and the professor isn’t advocating believing him. The book’s version of this exchange concludes rather unsentimentally with the professor telling them that a good way to deal with Lucy would be for everybody to try minding their own business. But I guess Hollywood can’t help itself from indulging in sappy speeches about love and family and good dental hygiene. Still, the movie’s version of the scene is still basically good in its way and, considering that it’s a dialogue driven scene, something that probably lends itself more to the page or the stage than screen, and one that isn’t strictly necessary to the plot, maybe Narnia fans should be grateful it was included at all.

We cut to the Pevensies playing cricket outside the next day or some days later. Edmund is preoccupied, doubtless by thinking about the White Witch and her succulent Turkish Delight, and gets hit with a cricket ball, something I’m sure we all enjoy seeing after what he did to Lucy. “Wake up, Dolly Daydream,” says Peter. Why the filmmakers thought expression from the book like “by Jove” and “Great Scott” were too corny to use but the modern audiences would accept “Dolly Daydream” is beyond me but oh well.[4]I honestly do understand why the screenwriters didn’t use those expressions from the book since we now tend to associate them with comedic stereotypes of English people, not serious dramatic … Continue reading Edmund, probably trying to finagle a way to get back to Narnia, asks why they don’t play hide and seek again. Peter reminds him that he was the one that said it was a kids’ game. (Edmund didn’t actually say that that we heard but it’s easy to infer that he said it offscreen. The implication earlier was that Lucy was always trying to get her siblings to play hide and seek with her to their annoyance.) “Besides we could all use the fresh air,” says Susan. “It’s not like there isn’t air inside,” grumbles Edmund. That’s what I’d tell my mother when I was a kid and she pestered me to go out and get more fresh air.[5]Though not those exact words. It didn’t work on her. As Susan says the fresh air line, she glances at Lucy who is apart from the rest of the Pevensies, seated under a tree and looking rather sad. This is a bit different from the book which states at this point in the story that Peter and Susan by avoiding the subject of the wardrobe had managed to reach an understanding with her. I can understand the movie feeling that this would have been too time consuming to show. It’s also possible they felt having the characters be estranged for longer would make for better drama.

Peter pitches the ball again and this time Edmund hits it, smashing one of the stained-glass windows of the professor’s house in the process. Lucy’s expression when she looks up suggests she’s happy to see him get in trouble.

The Pevensies go inside to the scene of the crime and find that the cricket ball has also knocked over a suit of armor. Before Peter and Edmund can argue about which of them is at fault here, Mrs. Macready-or the Macready as they refer to her-is heard coming and they make a run for it. In the book, the characters are trying to avoid her because she’s giving a tour of the old house and has instructed them to keep out of her way.[6]A suit of armor does play a role in the book’s version of the scene albeit an inconsequential one. Edmund and Peter are looking at it “and wondering if they could take it to bits” … Continue reading I’ve read some fans opine that this change makes the characters sillier and considerably less mature than in the source material. (After all, it’s not like they can avoid facing up to the consequences for long, staying in the house as they are.) For whatever reason though, this doesn’t bug me. Maybe it would bug other viewers less if the movie made it clearer that we were supposed to laugh at the characters’ immaturity rather than playing exciting chase music on the soundtrack. I’ve got to say I love that music though. I also love the way no matter which direction the Pevensies run in this scene, they always seem to hear footsteps coming towards them, forcing them to change direction until they’re finally forced into the wardrobe room. This really captures the book’s equivalent scene which I mentioned in a previous post. (“Whether it was that they lost their heads or that Mrs. Macready was trying to catch them
or that some magic in the house had come to life and was chasing them into Narnia they seemed to find themselves being followed everywhere…”)

Edmund doesn’t stop running once they’re in the room but heads straight for the wardrobe flings open the door and impatiently urges the others to get inside. Doubtless, he’s thrilled by this unexpected opportunity to take his siblings to the Witch’s house and become king.[7]Could he have deliberately broken that window to orchestrate this? Nah, that’d be crazy! This is actually a tad different from the book. There, once Peter and Susan start to notice that it’s strangely cold and wet in the back of the wardrobe, Edmund actually says, “Let’s get out. They’ve gone,” his reluctance to let his older brother and sister know of his dishonesty momentarily winning out of over his lust for power and Turkish Delight. I like that kind of complex characterization in a book, but I imagine it would have just been confusing in a movie where it’s harder to establish Edmund’s goals. Anyway, Susan expresses incredulity at the suggestion they hide in the wardrobe but ultimately that’s what they do when they hear footsteps outside the door. As the children squeeze in together, Peter and Susan fall backwards and land in Narnia. They rise and gape at the landscape in amazement. This may not be quite as magical as the scene of Lucy seeing Narnia for the first time[8]It’d be weird if it was since we, the viewers, have now scene the place twice before. but that’s a high standard. It’s still a cool moment in its own right. In fact, this movie as a whole has a beautiful, childlike sense of awe and wonder.[9]This is especially impressive considering that the director’s main claim to fame prior to this was codirecting the Shrek movies, much of the comedy of which was about deflating childlike awe … Continue reading “Impossible,” breathes Susan. (Remember that line for the climax.)

“Don’t worry,” says Lucy, “I’m sure it’s just your imagination.” That line makes her sound smugger and more vindictive than her character in the book. Some fans may object to that. What reconciles me to it is that both this movie and its two sequels will make Lucy the most idealized Pevensie, which she was in the books too but not quite to the same extent.[10]In the cinematic Voyage of the Dawn Treader, her main flaw will be that she doesn’t realize her own awesomeness. Suffice to say her weakness in the literary version was related but somewhat … Continue reading It’s good to have reminders that she’s not completely perfect. “I don’t suppose saying we’re sorry would quite cover it,” says Peter. That line could have easily sounded glib, but I have to give credit to William Moseley (and maybe to director Andrew Adamson.) He actually makes it sound like a heartfelt apology.[11]It may be significant that in both the book and the movie, Peter apologizes to Lucy, but Susan doesn’t. “No, it wouldn’t,” says Lucy before hitting him with a snowball, “but that might!” Peter and Susan laugh and start making snowballs of their own. It’s a nice, joyful moment. Edmund, looking sulky, refrains from joining the snowball fight and looks for the two hills the Witch pointed out to him. He’s interrupted by Susan throwing a snowball at him. “Stop it!” he cries, unwisely drawing attention to himself.

“You little liar!” says Peter. In the book, he and Susan don’t figure out that he lied about Narnia until he mentions that they should go near the lamppost, something Lucy never mentioned to any of them. I kind of enjoyed that since it’s fun to see Edmund accidentally give himself away after he’s been such a jerk. But I also understand the screenwriters feeling that Susan and Peter would naturally realize that he’d been lying once they saw Narnia for themselves. You could argue they tried to keep to the spirit of the book’s scene by having them only stop to realize Edmund’s duplicity after he draws their attention to himself. Peter insists Edmund apologize to Lucy. When he doesn’t, he moves toward him threateningly, Edmund quickly acquiesces. As you can guess, his apology doesn’t sound very sincere. “That’s alright,” says Lucy with a smirk. “Some little children just don’t know when to stop pretending.” Again, that makes her sound more vindictive than in the book though I doubt anyone watching isn’t on her side.

As in the book, Susan the peacekeeper tries to change the subject at this point. “Maybe we should go back,” she says. “Shouldn’t we at least take a look around?” asks Edmund, gesturing in the broad direction of the Witch’s house. “I think Lucy should decide,” says Peter, much to her gratitude. “I’d like you all to meet Mr. Tumnus,” she says. Susan objects to hiking in the snow in her summer clothing. “I’m sure the professor won’t mind us using these,” Peter says as he passes out fur coats. “Anyway, if you think about it logically, we’re not even taking them out of the wardrobe.” In the book, it’s Susan who makes that suggestion. It might have been nice to keep that since in both the books and this movie, Peter is portrayed as being right more often than Susan and this would have been an opportunity to make their relationship more nuanced and show a good side to her practicality. “But that’s a girl’s coat,” Edmund objects when Peter hands him the garment. “I know,” says Peter. The I’ll-Get-You-For-This look Edmund gives him is perfect.

We get a little montage of Lucy leading the others through the forest as the musical theme from the opening credits returns. It does a good job of showing that she and Peter are delighted with Narnia, Edmund is unhappy, and Susan is somewhere in between.

As they’re in sight of cave, Lucy is telling her siblings how great it’ll be at Tumnus’s. Her voice trails off as she sees that the door to his home has been torn off its hinges. She gasps and runs toward the cave.

I’m sorry to say we are now leaving behind the most consistently strong portion of this movie. That’s not to say that everything from here on is going to be weak. Some of it will be wonderful. But it will be a long time before we get as many scenes in a row that I consider great as we’ve covered in these first four posts.

Next Week: We Take a Break from Narnia for Valentine’s Day

References

References
1 The 1988 miniseries portrays the professor as a goofy, bumbling, childlike eccentric and from what I understand, so do many stage adaptations. That actually strikes me as further removed from the book’s characterization. If the professor absolutely has to be played for laughs, I think I’d prefer he be dryly sarcastic.
2 You could also interpret Peter in the movie’s scene less as too proud to ask for help and more as not wanting his youngest sibling sent to an insane asylum.
3 In this context, “fanservice” means referring things that only fans will understand or remember, not anything to do with nudity.
4 I honestly do understand why the screenwriters didn’t use those expressions from the book since we now tend to associate them with comedic stereotypes of English people, not serious dramatic characters. (And for many, it’d be impossible to hear “Great Scott” without thinking of Back to the Future.) There’s even a school of criticism that claims that such phrases weren’t even really used by kids in the 1940s or 50s and that C. S. Lewis’s use of them in the books reflect how out of touch he was with youth at the time. It would also would have been harder for the movie’s younger, less experienced actors to deliver them convincingly. But, as a fan of the Narnia books, I still admire adaptations that retain the Pevensies’ old-fashioned language even though I don’t believe it’s strictly necessary to do so.
5 Though not those exact words.
6 A suit of armor does play a role in the book’s version of the scene albeit an inconsequential one. Edmund and Peter are looking at it “and wondering if they could take it to bits” when Lucy and Susan warn them that the tour is on the way. I like to think the suit of armor’s fate in the film is a nod to that.
7 Could he have deliberately broken that window to orchestrate this? Nah, that’d be crazy!
8 It’d be weird if it was since we, the viewers, have now scene the place twice before.
9 This is especially impressive considering that the director’s main claim to fame prior to this was codirecting the Shrek movies, much of the comedy of which was about deflating childlike awe and wonder.
10 In the cinematic Voyage of the Dawn Treader, her main flaw will be that she doesn’t realize her own awesomeness. Suffice to say her weakness in the literary version was related but somewhat darker.
11 It may be significant that in both the book and the movie, Peter apologizes to Lucy, but Susan doesn’t.
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