Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Mark and I went to see Narnia yesterday. We didn't have high expectations. Mark doesn't like fantasy at all, and I've really burned out on the book after teaching it so often. I used to love the Narnia books as a kid, but of late I've come around to Philip Pullman's way of thinking about them. (Note that his opinions are much more nuanced in this New Yorker article than in the more frequently cited Guardian piece from some years ago...) I was always sorry that Susan didn't get to go to heaven in The Last Battle (my sympathy for her probably has to something to do with the fact that I'm the Susan in my family, the second child and oldest daughter). I didn't catch on to the racism in The Horse and his Boy when I was a kid, but reading it to Mariah several years ago I began to want to edit it on the fly. And lately I'd been especially annoyed by the avuncular tone in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; for example, when Aslan announces that they have to hurry in order to defeat the witch before tea-time. Yeah, right.

Well, there's none of that in the film. When Father Christmas gives Lucy a dagger, he does indeed say that battles are ugly, but he doesn't add "when women fight," as he does in the novel. Susan gets to shoot an arrow in the battle, in fact. The opening of the film is terrific, and demonstrates one of the ways movies can and should depart from books, by showing us what can only be hinted at in print. Where Lewis gives us a sentence in which he notes that the children "were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids," the film shows us an air-raid, and then the children's mother crying as she puts them on the train. It also shows us what bombing looks like, something that gets echoed later in the battle scene.

As others have said, Lucy's entrance into Narnia is especially well done. She looks like a real kid, for one thing--snaggle-toothed and a little dough-faced. And when she and Tumnus first meet they scare each other in a way that feels completely believable. (Again, as others have said, Tumnus is one of the triumphs of the film. He's fabulous.) Tilda Swinton is terrifyingly beautiful and freakish all at once. The landscape is golden. (Why is New Zealand the location of choice for fantasy epics?)

I was sucked in throughout. While I can not help suspending disbelief when I read the novel--mostly because Lewis keeps reminding me that I'm reading a novel--I had no such problem with the film. In fact, I was weeping off and on throughout. (OK, I'm a little overwrought anyway, and I often weep at bad films, but this was different. Take my word.) I could quibble with a few things that I do like in the novel that the film left out--especially the food! (My favorite subject, of course!) But overall, I liked the film a lot, better (in fact) than I like the book.

Yes, that's the heresy: I think the film is better than the book.

Some other time I may want to talk about Christian allegory in general, and my opinions of Lewis's version of Christianity. I'm not crazy about it, to put it mildly--onward, Christian soliders, and all that. The film, contrary to my expectations, seems to me to downplay that angle, frankly. I may come up with some criticisms later. But it was exactly what I needed yesterday afternoon.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Wonderful review, Libby. I'm hoping to see it this weekend.