So apparently, someone’s really making another Narnia movie: The Silver Chair. They’ve even picked out a screenwriter (http://www.hypable.com/2013/12/05/chronicles-of-narnia-the-silver-chair-screenwriter-david-magee/).
I have very mixed feelings about this news. On the one hand, I’ve always thought The Chronicles of Narnia could make great movies, and The Silver Chair is one of my favourite books–and also the first Narnia book I read. (I didn’t care much about chronology when I was eight.) But so far, no one has ever managed to make a decent Narnia movie, though it’s not for lack of trying.
First, there was a cheesy cartoon version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that aired on CBS in 1979.
Nice for under-ten-year-olds, maybe, but unfortunately I didn’t find this until I was well past that age. Then there were the four dreadfully-produced BBC movies of the late eighties.
I actually grew up watching these, at the same time I was reading the books. They had one thing going for them: they followed the plot and dialogue of each book as carefully as any purist could desire. But bad child acting, terrible special effects, lousy music, and creepy makeup were always getting in the way of the story. I remember particularly disliking the BBC Silver Chair as a little kid. No offense to Tom Baker, but I’m pretty sure Puddleglum wasn’t supposed to be scarier than the Queen of Underland.
Then, to my initial delight, Disney and Walden Media brought Narnia to the big screen in 2005.
Like BBC, they started with Wardrobe. And to be fair, that movie was pretty good. There were some gratuitous chase and battle scenes, and it broke a few Narnian laws that any true fan of the books should have spotted (Narnians don’t ride Talking Horses except in battle, and unicorns? NEVER), but overall it had the right story. The Stone Table scene was almost as devastating as it was in the book (I think that’s still one of the most harrowing passages of literature I’ve read), which made Aslan’s return a truly wonderful moment. And of course, the special effects were eye-popping, especially compared to ye olde BBC.
But then Prince Caspian came out, and after that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the stories just kept getting worse and worse. Prince Caspian turned Susan into a poofy-lipped warrior princess with an inexplicable crush on Caspian, gave the Telmarines bad Spanish accents, and relegated Aslan to a secondary character. Dawn Treader got rid of the accents and cast a perfect Eustace, but the ridiculous invented “evil green smoke” plot was still enough to ruin the movie.
There are a lot of difficulties involved with making the Narnia books into movies. The fact that they’re not written in chronological order, and they’re not always about the same characters, makes them harder to turn into a franchise than, say, Harry Potter. But the biggest problem is that C.S. Lewis’s worldview, which heavily influences his stories, was already politically incorrect when the books came out and is even more so now. Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with lines like “Battles are ugly when women fight” and “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” So, trying to please the fans of the book and at the same time trying to stay within the bounds of PC-land, they settle for clumsy paraphrases that sound good to nobody. Whatever you think of Lewis’s beliefs, glossing over them just does not make for a better story.
Which is why I’m not optimistic about the Silver Chair movie. The screenwriter they’ve picked, David Magee, does have an Oscar nomination, but that was for The Life of Pi, probably the most politically-correct movie dealing with religion that I’ve ever seen–and one of the furthest away from C.S. Lewis’s philosophy. So…I’m not very hopeful. But you never know. Maybe Aslan will perform a miracle!
It’s tough to make a faithful adaptation of a book that lives and breathes a philosophy you disagree with and/or don’t understand. But the fact that so many people have tried testifies to the power of the Narnia stories: people who would never pick up Lewis’s Bible absolutely love his fairytale. Which is why, whether or not anyone ever makes a good Narnia movie, I’m glad we’ve got the books. Namarie!