Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
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.