I was very excited at the chance to write a review of the The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. It's a movie I had eagerly awaited ever since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had shown 18 months prior. In anticipation I re-read Prince Caspian just before opening day. (This turned out to be a blessing and a hindrance.) Prince Caspian opened on the anniversary of the day I wedded my beautiful bride and, although it didn’t match our usual anniversary leisure, we easily managed to catch an opening-day matinée on our way out of town for the weekend.
(Let me here interject and state that I assume everyone reading this review is familiar with the original beloved children’s books The Chronicles of Narnia by well-known author C. S. Lewis. As a very succinct refresher of Prince Caspian, the four Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – return to the magical realm of Narnia, where they once ruled as kings and queens. They are called back to assist young Caspian in establishing his rightful position as the current monarch, despite the warring actions of Caspian's murderous uncle, Miraz. All the while they are wondering when Aslan, the powerful, loving, and enigmatic Christ-figure, would come to their aid. And now back to the show...)
In the first several scenes of Prince Caspian (the movie) it becomes apparent that there were some embellishments added to the original story and some rearrangement of the original storyline, both of which were to be expected. The book did not have enough content by itself to create a movie of such length (the longest movie of the weekend where we viewed it) and the book relied heavily on some internal storytelling that broke up the time line. The need for lengthening and for careful consideration of sequencing was clear long before filming began.
Continuing on to the next several scenes, there were more embellishments and more rearrangements, and then more, and then more. Nonetheless, the directing, acting, filming, costumes, special effects, and other elements (the scenery was breathtaking!) were all of the highest caliber. Still, with all the changes, however purposeful they may have been, it seemed to me that something was missing, something singularly Lewis-esque.
One of the greatest treasures of the Narnia books, in my eyes, is the presence of what I will call Lewis’s gems – numerous moments where Lewis sets up scenes so that the reader (young and old alike) can either know a hidden truth or strength or a bit of wisdom that the antagonist does not, or the reader shares with the protagonist in the learning or awakening of a great treasure or mystery. I cannot do these gems justice. The closest I can come is to say that they cause experiences deep within oneself, experiences that come from some other place.
Examples of such gems in Prince Caspian (the book) include: banners of amazement and confidence are raised as the star-reading centaurs arrive with prior knowledge of Caspian's sovereignty, offering their military support; the need for openness of heart is realized as the four children struggle to realize Aslan’s presence and leading, perplexedly only seeing him one by one; the free nature of Aslan's kingdom is seen as a young Telmarine student named Gwendolen instantly decides to join Aslan's ranks. Many of the gem scenes from the book appear in the film, but they feel muddled and altered or the point of the scene has changed to match the revised storyline. For one reason or another, many of Lewis's gems are lost.
Despite some missing-in-action gems, the movie increases the value of certain elements. For instance the partial summoning of the White Witch, despite the weaknesses in humanity that are portrayed in the scene, definitely adds challenging and spectacular drama beyond what is described in the book. As another example, the pervasive tension between Miraz and his military lords as portrayed in the movie is much better developed than in the book. Furthermore the one-on-one duel between Peter and Miraz exceeds countless other sword fights in known cinema with regard to realism.
I was very thankful to hear my favorite quote from the book included in the movie and surprised to hear it echoed in a later scene! The setting for the quote is when Lucy is questioning Aslan regarding why he hadn’t already shown up with a roar to save the day. As it reads in the book, Aslan responds, “It is hard for you, little one, . . . But things never happen the same way twice.”
This statement, “Things never happen the same way twice,” inherently stands in opposition to all things formulaic, and although there could be an immediate reference to certain aspects of screen writing, allow me to move past that to two other insights. It only took me twenty-four hours to realize that this statement could apply to the story of Prince Caspian itself. Lewis gave one telling of the story in the book; the movie gives a new telling with new facets of experience and truth. I should not have expected that the experience with the story in the book could have been repeated – something new needed to happen. This realization gave me some comfort.
A second application came to me another day later, and struck me deeper. While the wisdom and truth of Lewis’ gems are to be highly valued, I cannot stop there. I must keep listening as God continues to speak to me, to teach me, to bless me. The perfect lesson of one day must not distract from the perfect lesson of the next.
In closing, you can see that my reading of the book strongly influenced my viewing of the movie. The differences between my initial vision of what the movie should have been and what the movie actually was were magnified by the fact that I had just re-read the book. Yet still, good came of it. Without the review of Lewis’s writing, I may have missed the chance to put Aslan’s words into perspective in my own life and, looking forward, continue to find new gems.
Bob Thayne writes from Portland, Oregon where he is an engineer and an avid fantasy and science fiction reader.