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Prince Caspian

On Saturday, I joined my kids (and the rest of my daughter’s third grade class) at a viewing of the new version of the C.S. Lewis classic, Prince Caspian.

Joe Carter reviews it at Evangelical Outpost and opines that its great virtue is that it is a war movie (in the best sense) for children. I reply that he is certainly correct about it being a war movie and he is certainly correct that this is one of its great virtues. But I don’t think this is its chief virtue or that the book from which it is drawn is inferior to the movie version, as Carter claims. I think that the movie version is what it has to be in order to tell the narrative ("talky" as Carter calls it) story of Prince Caspian.

Carter further opines that "this is a Dad’s movie" because:

Moms simply won’t be able to appreciate seeing a teen boy getting thrashed in single-combat against a man twice his age. They won’t cheer heartily at seeing a teen girl expertly dehorse a half-dozen soldiers with a bow and arrow. Nor will they gasp with delight upon seeing a six-year old draw a dagger when faced with an opposing army.
To which, I say: poppycock. I sat with and was part of a whole row of moms perched on the edges of our seats, cheering and clapping at each of these scenes. Perhaps Carter thinks this because he’s hanging around with the wrong sort of moms? In any case, much of the criticism of the movie comes from those who say that it is too much like an action flick . . . relying too heavily on the battle scenes Carter (and my posse) cheered. But the critics are probably the sort of people who don’t really believe that there is anything worthy of the kind of risk and sacrifice on display in these scenes. Indeed, Carter himself comes dangerously close to forgetting there’s more to this "action" than the action itself. It is a war movie but, like all good war movies, it’s much more than that.

Carter is critical, for example, of the Prince Caspian character and of the portrayal of the animal characters, such as (my favorite) Reepicheep. He thinks they were given too much screen time (I think not enough) at the expense of the development of the Penvensie children’s characters. He’s right that the Prince Caspian character was probably selected for his devastating good looks and he’s right that his accent was pretty stupid (Castilian? I had always pictured Miraz and his kingdom as a kind of Middle-Eastern fiefdom . . .). But Caspian is a central character in the unfolding Chronicles drama. And, eye-candy or no, Ben Barnes did a very good job of establishing Caspian’s place in the story. The back and forth between him and Peter was perfect. Peter and Susan are (and must be) fading characters. Their pride--which I took to be a kind of metaphor for the pride of the Church--must come into and pass from being. The truth remains and passes on to a new set of guardians with each succeeding generation--and once a generation master’s its pride--it is time for it to go home. Besides, I think it would have been almost impossible for the Penvensies to have been any more fully developed.

The actors who play the Penvensie children are either possessed of great genius or they were supremely directed. The Peter and Edmund characters, especially, tell so much of the story with their eyes and expressions that it makes you wonder what sort of profound wisdom informs their understanding of the story. Even the added elements to the movie version (e.g., the proto-romance between Caspian and Susan) serve the higher truth of the film. As Peter is humbled by his need for Aslan, so too Susan (the warrior queen) is humbled by her need for the intercession of a strong male. Human pride (and, in Reepicheep’s case, mouse pride), not simple war for its own sake, is the real subject of Prince Caspian. Pride brings on the war, makes it necessary, and further complicates it as it gets underway. Submission to the natural order of things and trust in Aslan’s will (and mercy) sets things aright.

Discussions - 20 Comments

My 9-year old daughter thought the movie ruined the book, which we listened to on tape. There was hardly anything on Caspian's teacher, Dr. Cornelius, for one thing. Too much war, not enough jaw.

There was NOT enough about Dr. Cornelius, Ken. You're right about that. That was a major flaw. I also thought Reepicheep got short shrift because he's not just a diversion (as one could argue the DLF is) but a kind of jumping in point to the whole story for the little ones . . . but I'm working on a memory of the book that is almost two years old. My daughter's class, however, had just finished reading the book together that Friday. They all thought that Cornelius and Reepicheep needed more time on screen (which I take to mean "character development"). They also thought the scene with the White Witch was over-done and too explicit. But I enjoyed seeing the explicit redemption of the regular king (Edmund) as he took back some of his dignity from the high king (Peter)--as if to prove that even those closest to God can sometimes move very far from Him. I begin to wonder if there isn't some kind of statement in this book about the separation of Church and state . . .

So Narnia is about the American Founding? The Penvensies could have been sent to America, as Martin Gilbert was (to Canada, I believe).

The plot changes were unnecessary. I didn't think PC the book was as weak as Joe Carter makes it out to be.

Many in my family have seen this movie, all the kids were raised on it, all of the Lewis stories being very good to read aloud. This was no one's favorite, but it was loved as part of the series. We all had discussed how hard it would be to film, not being a linear story, so much told in flashback, the actors from the first movie already being too old for the characters, all of the talk and explanation (which is why there is so little of Cornelius)and yet we thought the story would be told, for continuity with the series and and because of the ready-made audience of those who love those books and would see the movies, if well done, over and over.

None of them liked it. They were all stunned by the special effects, much better than the first movie and of the "what God would have done if He had the money" sort. "Why tell a good story when you can spend money like that?" They all vie to tell me what is greatest travesty and betrayal of Lewis and his great vision. I don't know if I will see it now, and NOT for the reasons Joe Carter mentions.

My oldest son played Peter in the play of LWW I wrote for our home school group, and has always identified with him. "An incompetent wimp," was what he called the movie Peter, "In the book you get the sense the kid might be some use, which was why Aslan chose him. Here, by the fourth time the centaur nods you are thinking, 'Wouldn't someone be questioning Aslan's wisdom in sending for these particular children, by now?'"

Some changes from book to screen are necessary, but from what I hear, the movie guts the book of both story and message. "What a waste!" was all I have heard.

On the other hand, my daughters-in-law, who have not read the book, liked the movie well enough, although not the carping of their husbands.

For Lewis fans, here
is an interesting take on Lewis' symbolism.

Should I be impressed that your third grader is reading Prince Caspian? I am indeed impressed.

Some of you might be interested in this piece by R.R. Reno (Nov. '06). It opens with discussion of Prince Caspian and jumps into a wider discussion about the Church Fathers.

Don't be too impressed, Ken. They all read it together and it was required, after all.

I always thought there was some subterranean connection between the woman who raises Prince Caspian telling him all those wonderful stories, and the Pink Floyd song "Matilda Mother."

So maybe the problem with the movie is that its too much of a dad's flick. Stories first, then heroes.

And fairy stories held us high...

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

Carl Scott, that is a wonderful insight even if it does not in an ironclad way to this film (because I think the criticism of it is too harsh). I think you hit upon something lovely and deeply true. Stories first . . . If there is a problem with this version of the story it may be that it tries the tell the story as if it were embedded within the action, instead of leading up to the action. Perhaps that doesn't work as well as the directors had hoped it would. But film making, like politics, may be the art of the possible. Still, I think it comes pretty close.

Kate, I hate to tell you that your kids are wrong . . . but they are wrong about the Peter character. I think he is an excellent actor, appropriately (for his age) brave and alternately confused/too proud (as he would be), and a great model (in the end) for the power of faith. Remember that Lucy's greater faith is the faith of a child . . . she has to come back to Narnia in order to develop it further. Peter and Susan go home. Lucy will make her own mistakes later on and question Aslan in her way and for her own purposes. We all do. The point is to triumph over ourselves in the end in cheerful submission. This Peter did that very well. And yes, Aslan chose him because he knew Peter would buck . . . the bucking is a necessary prelude to wearing the yolk well.

If I could have changed one thing, I would have wanted Peter to accept the offer for a second respite - and when sitting down make it clear that he was doing it to buy time for Lucy and Aslan. To show his particular faith, his understanding that mortal force of arms and winning and losing were not really at issue. Not quite perfectly done.

What I did think was brilliant was NOT showing Aslan early on, when Lucy claims she saw him and no one else does. We, the audience, don't see Aslan either, and so we have to wonder, or rely on our knowledge of the book. If we saw Aslan too it would be obvious.

(Peter Jackon makes this mistake all through Lord of the Rings by giving us reaction shots focused directly on the hobbits when they are supposed to be hiding when one of the big points in Tolkein is that when a hobbit hides in the woods, it's basically impossible to see him. But we are supposed to believe that an immortal magical unkillable wraithlike being can't see a midget wearing red surrounded by greenery. By contrast, when the Pevensie children are 'hiding' the camera shows them only for a moment in the corner of the screen, makes it clear the enemies have no line of sight to them, and then moves off of them as they retreat even further.)

Now I must go see the movie to be able to argue with my son, looking for what you say is there.

The point is to triumph over ourselves in the end in cheerful submission. I do understand submission, not that mine is always cheerful. I wish it were, but know in that experience to have the hope of, maybe not cheer, but joy, ultimately. We are all disposed to let good triumph, but might not see good as good in the moment. So, it can be hard to be cheerful in submission.

luagha, my children complained that there was not enough Aslan. They particularly missed when Aslan raises Narnia, but here I feel out of my depth at not having seen the lack they complain of. They did like what you liked about not showing Aslan to back up Lucy's contention and thereby making the audience experience doubt. Well, now this is something I must see.

Kate, I know exactly what they are complaining about, because it was something that I was looking for myself. There is an extended sequence in the book where Aslan awakens the Narnia that has been sleeping. It is His walking that awakens the trees, that brings back the spirits of the water and the wood that the Telmarines had put to sleep with their denigration and denial. And he also runs through the Telmarine villages awakening their souls as well - there's a specific scene where schoolchildren are being disciplined by a rigid parody of a schoolmarm and are similarily freed to remember themselves. I always felt that that sequence was about Aslan doing with joy what he had done with war in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And that that was what he meant by 'Nothing ever happens the same way twice.' (There is a nod to the schoolchildren scene in the book with some kids in a little parade with Aslan in the movie, but it doesn't convey the wonder of Aslan's extended sequence in the book.)

luagha, that is exactly the sequence and I do not see why it would not have been glorious to show, given the special effects described to me in other parts of the movie. I presume it did not comport with the theme of the movie, although it perfectly captures the supernaturally powerful essence of Aslan. I would have liked to see it. Then again, I do, in my mind, whenever I read the book.

That this was left out makes me wonder how the producers and directors will handle Enter text The Magician's Nephew and especially The Last Battle.

My kids and I are reading (re-reading with my older one) The Horse and His Boy. I want to know why (besides the fact that the children from LWW aren't in the story and--in our time--would grow too much in between to have been useful in Caspian) they chose to skip this book. It is fabulous and a great tale--especially for boys--of adventure and danger and I also think it speaks to uniquely "boy" emotions in a beautiful way. Couldn't they have filmed this simultaneously with Caspian and delayed the release of the latter? And I also think they should have released the Magician's Nephew first . . . though I understand why they didn't do that from a marketing point of view.

The children from LWW are in that story, they are just not featured in the story, and are not exactly children in it. Thought, that might actually work with these actors at the ages they are, now. It is very much a "boy" book, and some seasons I like it the best.

There is a version of the print series that places "M.N." first and has "H.B." fourth, I think. The producers of these movies will have missed a beat if they do not film The Horse and His Boy pretty soon after Dawn Treader. Also, to the filming, won't they have to do Last Battle in there, too? What a job these folks took on.

You are right Kate. See how poor my memory is? My excuse is that I only came to this series because of my children--having never read them (or even hearing of them) as a child. At least these movies will have the wonderful effect of not giving future adults the same excuse! That, in itself, is a truly wonderful thing.

I, or we, my husband or I, read the series aloud at least once for every child. That comes to at least six times. Also, the first time through, I became engaged with the stories and read them myself after the kids were asleep. I think I did this more than once for the joy of reading passages like the one luagha describes, above. I, too, had not read these before I was reading them to my children. This is just another reason to have children, to enjoy their literature.

Actually, when I am done with the projects I have before me, I think I will need to read those stories, and a few childish others to feel like myself, again.

Reading to them is always (even when I'm exhausted or they're hyper) the BEST part of every day. It really is not hard to get them to love beautiful things, is it?

No, it isn't, and joy to you in that pleasure.

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