Prince Caspian: My Take (Spoiler Alert)

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If there ever was a fan of Narnia, it’s me. I first read the Chronicles as an eight year old boy, and I have read and reread the books so many times I can’t even begin to count. What those books awakened in me was longing, a longing for I-knew-not-what, a longing I could not shake or rationalize or hide, a burning desire that turned into a lifelong search for truth as I spent my teens and twenties devouring the C.S. Lewis catalog.

I’ve said that to make it clear that I completely understand the comments of others who are irritated and frustrated at the changes made to the story by the moviemakers. I agree with all of that and could easily list the changes. It is frustrating to go to a movie that is supposed to be an adaptation of a dearly loved book and find that it’s only loosely based on the story. When I saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I had many of the same expectations as everyone else and was duly frustrated.

I went to see Prince Caspian for the first time on Monday, with a friend who had never read the books, and I went with a completely different mindset. I knew it would be loosely based on the book, so I tried a different approach; I received it as a stand-alone movie, not as an adaptation. On Tuesday I saw it again with my kids, then yet again on Friday with my wife and both kids.

The benefit of doing so was that I was able to truly receive it, rather than constantly battling the comparison in my mind between book and movie. One of Lewis’ books, An Experiment in Criticism, was especially helpful in this regard as it has taught me to make the effort to fully receive a work before evaluating it. That’s hard to do, but this time I did it. I received Prince Caspian for the most part without evaluating. And in receiving it so openly a strange thing happened.

I was seriously moved by it.

At many points in the movie I was prompted – no, driven – to commune with God.

When Edmund comes up to Peter at the end as all looks dark, tosses away his spent crossbow, looks sideways into Peter’s face, unsheathes his sword, and they both run forward yelling “For Aslan.” Edmund’s character throughout this movie, in contrast with the dark, selfish Edmund of LWW, is beautiful all the way through – and I love how it is performed.

When Peter’s self-effort attitude, his trying to be a king, fails. It’s the same thing I see when Neo fails the jump program, and when Morpheus says, “Stop trying to hit me and hit me!” and when Yoda says, “Try not. There is no try. Do – or do not.” And the Apostle Paul: “When I will to do good, evil is present.” Self-will, striving, trying to be, is not the same as Christ-reliance (or Aslan-reliance), resting/abiding, stepping out in faith, and knowing who you are in Christ.

I also love the contrast at the end of Caspian when Peter really begins to live in the “faith which works by love.” His motivation at the end is not to prove himself or “be somebody,” but to simply do what must be done for love’s sake. He starts shouting, “For Aslan” when he leads a charge rather than “For Narnia.” He is really stopping the nonsense about “I am a king, can’t everyone realize that?” and is simply being one.

I loved the moment where Lucy says to Aslan, “The others wouldn’t listen to me” and Aslan replies, “Why would that stop you from following me?” and Lucy repents immediately without any rationalization.

But the biggest thing that happened was that as I watched the credits roll, as I walked out to get in my van for some errands, a huge and inconsolable sense of longing came rumbling up from my inmost being. It was a question that has no answer in this world, an ache with no balm, a desire with no fulfillment in this world. It was a grown up version of what I experienced reading the Narnia books as an eight year old boy.

As I drove to Costco I wept. I wept in sheer desire for this world’s paradigm to be totally over and to have a reigning King established – a King I can see, touch, love, worship face-to-face. I wept for the battle of faith to be cleared away, the devil shut down, and total unity established between all. I gave myself over to God in a more complete way because I watched this movie unguardedly, as a child, with no preconceived notions of what it should or ought to be.

What rose up in me after, as the longing quieted, was battle-perseverance – based on the unalterable fact that this world’s paradigm, Satan’s dark masquerade, will come to the guillotine, and all creation will be set right again in beauty and simplicity. I want to take as many people with me as I can. I want to cut a wide swath in the enemy lines. I want Jesus to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I want to fight the good fight of faith and finish the race well.

Back to the movie. We naturally desire things that we love and adore to remain the same. But things in this world change. Times change. Human consciousness has changed. For one thing, American audiences in general are not as literate as they used to be. I remember after the first Narnia movie going into Borders and seeing lame Narnia rewrites in the children’s section. Some dullard parent there said, “I’m so glad they put these out for children” and I thought with no small irritation, They were written for children in the first place, you dufus!

If you check the difference between the BBC and American versions of Pride and Prejudice you’ll find the American version to be a lot more about great camera shots of the achingly beautiful Keira Knightley in various gorgeous settings; the BBC version is much more about the dialogue. I love both versions, but my point is that to some degree moviemakers are considering the American audience and changing things according to their perceptions of that audience.

I’ve often encountered people’s desire for things to stay the same – in bluegrass. Bluegrass is a music form that for some people is very nostalgic and moving, and for that reason they want every band that has a banjo in it to play it like Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs. Thus, reviews in bluegrass mags and blogs sometimes read like this: “Here are my expectations. Did your record meet my expectations? No. Therefore I’m giving it two stars out of five.”

What they don’t realize is that human consciousness changes. There is no way to truly recreate Bill Monroe’s music. We can have the outer form down. We can learn from it, learn deeply. But his music was from a consciousness that went through the Depression, early Jazz, a low tech world with no iPods or TVs or cell phones, community music and dances, cabins in the hills, model T Fords, early radio, roots blues, and fiddle tunes brought over from the British Isles. It was the era of the Waltons. For most people these days, songs and emotions about horse-drawn buggies and the little cabin home on the hill are mere nostalgia rather than real life.

Back to Narnia. It’s not that the original Narnia books aren’t relevant exactly as they are. But society has changed; perseverance in reading and the ability to read complex sentences are dropping in America like a Yukon thermometer in late October. Many people think Lewis’ books – his grown-up ones written for the average reader in the mid 20th century – are too hard to read. But they’re not too hard. We get better at hard things by doing them persistently. But for the most part we’re a microwave society, and reading is just too much work; TV and video games are a lot easier than having to actually think.

As a result we’re seeing an imprecision in language, lazy speech, and many words changing meanings entirely. It’s ironic that in a nation more and more obsessed with “Expressing Myself” people are less and less able to do so except by listening to music that is “cool” and wearing the “right” clothes, buying the hippest new gadgets and vehicles, and imitating the banalities of godless, empty, but famous people.

Like, they’re all, like, so “<facial expression>” and so I’m all, like, going, “Know what I mean?” and stuff and everything.

I hope the next director sticks closer to Lewis. I’d love to see real adaptations of the books. But expectations and preconceived notions have to be set aside in order to receive, experience, and truly evaluate any work of art. I managed to do that with Caspian, and had a beautiful experience – and I’ll be doing the same with the next.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


25 Comments

  1. Charlotte

    I really loved Caspian. I went with the exact same mindset at you… I knew it would be different, and it was- but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I can’t decide if I think it’s better than the first one or not….

  2. sevenmiles

    What an amazing post, Ron. I will be processing what i just read for quite a while. I love the Rabbit Room. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  3. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Great thoughts, Ron.

    I’m amazed that you and I saw the same movie and had such different reactions to it, especially given our near-equal parts C.S.L. nerdiness (you’re older than I am so you’ve had more time to hone your nerdiness). After a few weeks’ thought I’ve boiled my annoyance down to be only at the things in the movie that they changed for no real reason. Like when Aslan tells Lucy that, “Every year you grow, I will grow,” instead of, “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” The only reason I can think of for that change is a flippant disregard for the original. The original text isn’t any longer, so time isn’t an issue, and it isn’t any harder for an American audience to understand, so clarity isn’t an issue. I suspect that rubbed you wrong too.

    But it looks like I ended up doing what we’ve discussed here in the RR before, when it comes to art: I looked for the bad rather than the good (though I really tried not to, honest). Maybe I could’ve been moved much the way you were had I looked for the beauty in it.

    Can I also just say how happy it makes me that the Rabbit Room is the only place I can think of where bluegrass, theology, and fantasy novels can be part of the same discussion?

    Awesome.

  4. Ben Ward

    I didn’t discover Narnia until adulthood, but my children already love Aslan. When people ask me if I liked the movie, I tell them, “It was a very good movie… but it was NOT Prince Caspian.”

    I think the world can appreciate and properly characterize some deep Christian concepts–hope, loyalty, victory, et. al. But can we expect them to understand the deeper magic such as the the deity of Christ which was undermined by the weakening of Aslan’s character?:

    THE BOOK: (To Lucy) “No one is ever told what would have happened.”

    THE MOVIE: “None of us can know what would have happened.”

    I don’t think an unbeliever would easily see the HUGE difference in these two statements.

  5. Jim A

    “It’s ironic that in a nation more and more obsessed with “Expressing Myself” people are less and less able to do” – Ron Block

    Somewhere in the background I hear Andy G’s “Original Cliche” playing as I re-read that. That is awesome. How true, how true.

  6. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Ron – great post, as always. I just saw the film too and like you was profoundly moved. You echo my feelings exactly.

    Andrew – your post was excellent, too, and in fact played a big part in my enjoyment of the movie. You laid it’s deficiencies out on the table and expressed your disappointment in a way that helped me to do so as well, but pre-emptively. I was disappointed with LWW and honestly had little desire to see this movie. My boys did, however. So we started to read the books before going to see the movie, and I read your post and Overstreet’s post. It helped me process my disappointments before even seeing the movie, so they weren’t as much of a distraction while I actually sat in the theater. It was also a warning to us to STOP reading the book before the film. We saw it on Thursday afternoon and resumed reading it again on Thursday night, and that, I think, may be the perfect way to experience these adaptations.

    Considering there seems to be a willful downplaying of Aslan’s deity-like qualities (every year you grow so shall I), I was still profoundly moved. In spite of all of it’s Hollywood bravado, I heard a still small voice speak to me, convicting and renewing. Bear in mind, I didn’t WANT to have this experience with this movie and in some ways was determined to not like it or let it speak to me. And yet I found myself in tears for much of it. It was exactly what I needed to hear (see) at the time. Now reading the book after the fact, the convicting and renewing is going deeper and is more subtly nuanced.

    I often say that one of the greatest proofs of the veracity of Christianity is how it has survived 2000 years of being mishandled by the church. Maybe the same could be said of these films, that it is a testament to the old magic of Lewis’ books that God’s spirit stubbornly clings to every scene even after they’ve been put through the Hollywood machine.

  7. Phil G.

    I saw the movie monday and also agree totally with you Ron. Even though it was not really true to the book, I am still grateful that the books I loved as a child are now being brought to the big screen and that previous scenes from the book that were held only in my minds eye are now being visualized on screen with amazing skill.

  8. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Andrew, I echo Jason’s comment – your post set me up for the good experience. My hopes were high for Caspian and God quite deftly dashed them through your post. Only then could I have gone with the mindset of “This is a movie, not a book adaptation.”

    Like Jason, I didn’t go expecting a great experience. And several times during the movie, as when Aslan said, “Every year you grow so shall I”, I started to pop out of the “receiving” mindset and back into book-comparison. But each time it happened I said “No” to it, set preconceptions aside, and entered again into the movie.

  9. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Some thoughts on Lucy saying, “Maybe He is waiting for us to prove ourselves to Him.” Now, in a certain sense this is untrue of God. He is not waiting for us to prove ourselves virtuous, or good, or holy, before He will act. He’s not waiting for us to make the first move in that sense.

    But He does wait for His people to grab on in faith. God, for some reason, has chosen to limit the channeling of eternal Reality into the temporal by the amount, tenacity, and quality of faith that we choose to exercise. “According to your faith, be it done unto you.” “Your faith has made you whole.”

    And that’s where Aslan was waiting for Peter. Through most of the movie Peter is trying to be a king. He’s trying to let everyone know he’s a king. He’s self-conscious about it, self-absorbed by it, and none of it comes right until he is humbled by failure. All of Peter’s unbelief and self-effort fall to the ground when he is humbled; after that, he begins to truly be a king – not trying to be one, or letting everyone know he is, but simply just being one. And his focus turns from saving Narnia to being the Aslan-instated High King that he is.

    Christ within us cannot rise up to give us victory and an overcoming life as long as we’re going to take credit for it. As long as we are walking in the false self of ego, performance-based identity, and needing the approval of others, we won’t see Christ in the mirror. All that has to be let go – usually in the blinding light of failure.

  10. Charlotte

    Proprietor- AAAAAHHHHHhhh! I thought that too when Aslan said that to Lucy! I was so frustrated! It isn’t “I grow too” but “you will find me bigger”! Oh that was annoying…. 🙂

  11. Charlotte

    Whoops… sorry, don’t know what that random smilie face is doing in there…..

  12. easton crow

    Well, I saw the movie Sunday with the whole fam. All enjoyed it a lot. I was pretty teary throughout the ending. I have to say, and I am in the big minority here, that I think many parts of the film improved on the book. Even though I love Narnia, I have always found Caspian to be the weakest of the books. Its narrative style is convoluted and drags terribly through the beginning. I never actually managed to finish the book until I was an adult reading it to my kids. Then, of course, i bawled like a little lost child through the whole ending.
    As far as the movie goes, I thought their exposition moved at a much better pace. I figure they could have left out the attack on the castle and actually keep more of the interaction with the animals. However, to be honest, the whole section with the animals and the dwarves and Bulgy Bears, really was pretty dull stuff. The castle attack really helped to define characters and heighten the issues.
    From a filming standpoint, i thought this was some of the best I have seen. The nimble jumping and climbing of the fawns in the sactle attack and the battle scenes was so surprising, but so right for creatures that are part goat. The cavalry charges of the Telmarines made my heart ache for their beauty.
    The only thing that I wish had been included was the ending where Bacchus and company along with the vines and trees liberate the town. But then i would have been a blubbering mess all over the theater.

  13. Stephen @ Rebelling Against Indifference

    Thanks for the post, Ron. Like Andrew, I’m a little amazed we saw the same movie. I wanted to enjoy this as a good movie without expecting it to be a good adaptation, and I haven’t read the book in probably ten years, but because I knew how much they had changed I wasn’t able to enjoy it. During the scene with the White Witch, the projector in the theatre I was in shut off, and there was black for a couple of minutes until they got the projector running again. I was half-hoping that they wouldn’t be able to get it running again so I’d have an excuse for not seeing the whole thing, I thought it was so bad. If I see it again, I’ll try harder to look for the good like you did. Thanks for the different perspective.

  14. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stephen,

    The older I get the more I realize that our perceptions, preconceptions, attitudes, etc., filter all the input we receive. I’m finding, in digging into expanding and honing my guitar and banjo technique, that I’ve held misconceptions and skewed paradigms for a long time. “I can’t play fast bluegrass guitar.” “I don’t have enough dexterity.” So I began asking questions rather than making statements: “Why can’t I play fast bluegrass guitar?” “What is the difference between my guitar technique and that of my favorite players?” “Is it possible for me to develop more dexterity and speed?”Shifting my perceptions, seeing things in other ways, is really expanding not only my mind but my experience, and I’m watching the fruit of that expansion in my playing. Our perceptions drive us – or we can change them.

    By no means am I saying “Everything is relative.” But our perception of things is relative. Even Biblical truth, though absolute, is filtered through our paradigms, our perceptions, our theological constructs put there by our pastors, teachers, etc. Quite often in order to move into deeper relationship with God, we have to have these constructs busted to pieces. That’s what happened to me in the mid nineties. The superstructure of “my theology” came crashing down and for the first time I came to the Word as a child. “I think I know what this means. But only You really know for sure. Show me, Lord.” Doubtless this paradigm-crashing goes on till we see Him face to face, as we go deeper and deeper into being the Kings, Saints, Holy Ones that Christ by one sacrifice has made us.

    The Bible calls this paradigm shifting “being transformed by the renewing of our minds.” In order to renew, we have to first recognize that we need to do so; we must strip off old mind-clothes – to become a child. And so we begin to take God at His Word, rather than interpreting His Word by what such-and-such a pastor or theologian said God meant.

    We can come to any sort of art or any experience with the same mindset. We can receive it, take it in, “eat it.” Accept what it is, not focus on what we wish it would be. And then ruminate on what it means, what the artists meant, how well they achieved what they set out to do, and how much response we feel in ourselves to their work of art. It’s the same attitude as coming to the Word; we set aside “What I think” in order to receive the thoughts of Another.

    I don’t do this all the time, but I’m doing it more and more.

  15. Jeff

    Wonderful! Another Experiment in Criticism fan!

    Lewis’ thoughts about receiving a work of art before judging it have been instrumental in my learning how to appreciate art that I don’t find immediately compelling. Alas, I am still learning…

    This was a great review… so full of great insights (about the movie, too).

  16. Tony Heringer

    “As I drove to Costco I wept. I wept in sheer desire for this world’s paradigm to be totally over and to have a reigning King established – a King I can see, touch, love, worship face-to-face. I wept for the battle of faith to be cleared away, the devil shut down, and total unity established between all.”

    Ron, I teared up reading this one. Stop it. 🙂

    I have those moments in worship and other times — they are powerful and overwhelming.

    “When Peter’s self-effort attitude, his trying to be a king, fails. It’s the same thing I see when Neo fails the jump program, and when Morpheus says, “Stop trying to hit me and hit me!” and when Yoda says, “Try not. There is no try. Do – or do not.” And the Apostle Paul: “When I will to do good, evil is present.” Self-will, striving, trying to be, is not the same as Christ-reliance (or Aslan-reliance), resting/abiding, stepping out in faith, and knowing who you are in Christ.”

    This reminded me of another line from Paul. In Colossians 1:29 Paul says “To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

    I read these books to my kids when they were little and should probably re-read them. Especially in light of a great new work just released by Michael Ward called “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis” (http://www.planetnarnia.com/).

    According to my Mars Hill liner notes (another shameless plug, sorry) its about “how C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were shaped by medieval cosmological beliefs about the seven planets” If you guys think you are Narnia nerds, well, this guy’s got you beat – hands down. 🙂

    Caspian, according to Ward, is based on Mars (the God of War). So, appropriately we saw this film on Memorial Day. A good time was had by all.

    Thanks again for the post.

  17. Marc

    Thank you so much for your post. Like others here, I relish the fact that the rabbit room is just a place where ideas and thoughts are shared, without rancor and without shame. So I’m glad to read different perspectives on the same thing. I definitely want to go back and watch Caspian again with a different mindset, knowing that my “hopes were dashed,” so that now I can look at it for what the filmmakers are presenting as opposed to what I want. Thank you again!

  18. patrick

    the makers of Prince Caspian kept to the original story surprisingly well, all thinks considered… i heard they were going to make it into a silly pure-action flick, but thankfully this was not the case

  19. brad

    Hollywood has many reasons for making movies. Few of which have the intension of proclaiming the truth of Christ. With that in mind i as you Ron did my best to leave my presuppositions at the popcorn stand with my money.
    even an adaptation of Lewis will render the basic truth and the Holy Spirit will take it and use it. So, as for the reason for filming this literary masterpiece
    What does it matter Christ is proclaimed and in this I rejoice!

    Some, to be sure, preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. 16 These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause [me] trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice.

    Philippians 1:16-18

    and thanks for the trifecta of Characters. Neo, Yoda, and paul that was a nugget of joy amidst an excellent review filled with truth and encouragement! thanks.

  20. Stacy Grubb

    I really want to return and read this after I’ve seen the movie (the Spoiler Alert has me wary of reading it right now). I’ve always been the type of person whose mind kind of blanks out when watching a movie (oddly enough, since I’m obsessed with symbolism in reading) and I’m realizing that I’ve probably missed out on a lot of connections in being a viewer detached from her brain. Since this review is getting rave reviews, I’m anxious to see what all the fuss is about!

    Stacy

  21. Kristen

    Thanks for the great perspectives and reviews…….I just want to say that in the movie, just the very presence of Aslan left me highly emotional……I wept with every encounter, which just helped me see that I need to spend so much more time with my God and Savior…..

    The other revelation I got out of the movie that I just feel compelled to share (and I’ve read a ton of entries and never commented)……is at the end when Aslan finally comes on the scene to the battle…….it is a representation of the Manifest Presence of God in our lives…and I think the movie depicts it so visually powerful…….

    We try to fight and fight these battles on our own, forgetting even to put on our “armor” sometimes……..but when He comes, He brings to LIFE all the rest of sleeping Old Narnia, like the trees…….so by the power of His manifest Presence, He brings both life and victory!

    Anyway, I really like the comments and thoughts about Peter’s kingship…….thanks Rabbit Room, this is truly a welcomed blessing to my life and challenge to my walk with Christ!

  22. Nancy C.

    There’s not a better way to end the day than reading the Rabbit Room while listening to an exciting little rain storm tap patterns on my window. Thanks for the post, Ron. I’ve been a huge Narnia fan since college and have shared them with my daughter. Like you, when I watch the movie adaptations I try to set aside my annoyances with plot finagling and just enjoy the visual spectacle of the story told in the movie. The characters were like old friends and the sense of longing you described is the same in the movie as in the book.Thank you (and everyone else on this page) for taking the time to share your thoughts. As usual, Ron, you challenge me as a Christian, a musician and a writer. Thanks. -Nancy C.

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