Clive Staples Lewis was a celebrated Anglo-Irish novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist whose impact and influence lives on.

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Battle Fatigue: A Review of Prince Caspian

May 16th, 2008 | Skip to comments

Prince Caspian is the perfect summer movie for audiences that know nothing about Narnia, or, even, perhaps would prefer to know nothing about Narnia. For in its 2 hours and 40 minutes, you will spend ample time in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, William Wallace’s Scotland, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, and maybe even fleeting moments in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, but you will not spend more than 15 minutes in the world that Aslan made and that C. S. Lewis invented.

Is that a bad thing? Not if your goal is to erase the basic tenets of the Narniad, and re-envision the realm as primarily grim internecine warfare, a land, 1300 years since we last visited, surprisingly full of crossbows and catapults and other Vader-like war machines. There is evil in this world, but its roots are fundamentally different from Lewis’s version, for in his book, the problem with Narnia is suppressed knowledge, a spiritual amnesia, a people separated from its own nature, a true prince denied his throne. Here viciousness and vice are simply personal ambition writ large—a common enough, even commonplace conflict. And enough to fill a screen with more deaths per frame than perhaps any other summer movie will provide.

The cineplexes will soon flow with blood, guts, action, adventure, mayhem, and CGI. And on that score, Prince Caspian will hold its own; it is at least twice as good as last summer’s Transformers, more technologically impressive than its predecessor, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and, certainly, filled with enough whimsy and valor (primarily in Peter Drinklage’s Trumpkin and Eddie Izzard’s Reepicheep) to please a wide range of moviegoers hungry for Shrek 4.

But, simply put, this no more a movie about Narnia than Shadowlands was about C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. The opening titles suggest that it is “Based on the Book by C. S. Lewis,” and, in the sense that character and place names are derived from his original work, fair enough. But almost from the start the liberties taken from Lewis emerge that rob the dedicated, affectionate reader of The Chronicles of that familiar sense of belonging, that “inconsolable longing” that suggests “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.” These moviemakers know movies; they don’t know, perhaps have never been to, Narnia. And it shows. For this scent we know well, this tune we hum constantly, and this country is all too overbooked.

Please don’t mistake these comments as mere rant, seeping from another wounded, disappointed apologist looking for spiritual pegs on which to hang his allegorical garments. Atmosphere is everything to Lewis: it’s what makes a countryside, a sunrise, a waterfall, a poem, a book, worth viewing, worth inhabiting. Prince Caspian, the book, is awash in nature, of boisterous Bacchanalian grandeur and joy—and thereby we are drawn in, captivated, enchanted, incarnate. Adamson has a glass eye and tin ear for such subtleties. This is epic movie making, not nuanced scene-setting; the closest the movie comes to it is near the end when the trees clasp their hands and the river rises up to restore order and balance in Narnia. More of this, sir, and less of the rest.

Anyone making this sequel would face the unenviable task of following perhaps the most beloved book of all those that Lewis wrote: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is a hard act to follow both theologically and, perhaps, cinematically, for is there anything that happens in Prince Caspian as momentous and as personally moving as confronting the raw evil of an oppressed Narnia, the anticipation of Aslan’s arrival, the climactic spiritual warfare between him and Queen Jadis, followed by his resurrection and the renewal of Narnia? The Fall, the Sacrifice, the Redemption, the Reign. How can that be topped? It can’t.

But it can be extended and branched out by gathering a new cast of characters placed in circumstances equally perilous and challenging. What would happen if Narnians forgot who Aslan is? What if they became oblivious to their history and the true story of their redemption? Lewis knew this theme well, for it described his own experience of the modern world, a world drowning in its own self-afflicted amnesia. And thus he wrote a much different sort of story to bridge them and us onto the Narnian future, bringing the Pevensies back in a rather ingenious time-displacement story told simultaneously retrospectively (through Trumpkin’s account of Dr. Cornelius’ mentorship over Caspian) and prospectively (through his familiar narrator’s wistful voice).

Prince Caspian, thus, is about what happens next, what happens when the mystique and the mystery of life has been stripped away or treated contemptuously—about what happens when Aslan’s true nature and the Pevensie’s righteous reign are discarded or buried or ignored. A movie made of such poignant substance, could be transcendent, lyrical, mythopoeic, could be a wondrous standalone tale in itself—as the forgotten kings and queens of Narnia return not a moment too soon to help the noble but naive Prince Caspian learn his destiny and help true Narnians recover their birthright. Regrettably, that is not the movie Andrew Adamson and his crew have chosen to make.

Prince Caspian is meant as an indigenous story, a story that begs to be told by, for, and through the inhabitants on the other side of the wardrobe, er, railway. Unfortunately and inexplicably, this script relentlessly mistrusts Lewis’s narrative emphasis on character development and the role of honor and integrity and substitutes mere battle armor, a mindless proliferation of arrows and blades. With the lavish attention to state of the art CGI, it may seem perverse for me to say that the movie lacks imagination. It is, in its failures, too literal.

This is a movie that not only downplays exposition—absent are explanations of why and how Caspian must be tutored by Dr. Cornelius, why Nikabrik may doubt the existence of Aslan and choose to cavort with hags and werewolfs who can reanimate a dead Queen Jadis, why the Pevensies would long to see the hide-and-seek, reluctantly heroic, passive-aggressive Aslan again in the first place—it seems to depise it. An outsider to the Narnian universe must wonder, if not from the beginning, in various junctures, why this is all happening, in this order, for these reasons: all resulting in confusion, creating head-scratching puzzlement over what exactly it means to be a Narnian, and why it would be honorable to fight for its heritage against these evil Telmarines.

Aslan’s deployment here is quite perfunctory, and essentially reduced to a rather cynical cameo; while Narnians are dying heroically, he is roaming the woods, awaiting Lucy’s arrival to remind her of how brave she is. He shows up at the movie’s climactic scene not so much to save the day (it is too late for that), but to demonstrate his power over nature, soliciting the question, where were you in reel one?

The item that I object to most in this screenplay is transferral of the temptation to conjure up the White Witch to Caspian and Peter—not something that Lewis would have approved; it fits neither their character nor the flow of the plot. It barely explains why even the world-weary dwarf, Nikabrik, whose faith has been shattered, would be so inclined, so desperate. Whence comes his rage and doubt? Lewis provides that motivation and in the book’s most poignant scene, uses Nikabrik’s own comrades to explain why his twisted logic would bring further ruin upon Narnia.

In the end, too much battle left this Narnian admirer and Lewis lover fatigued and bad-tempered. Some very good actors, including those playing the Pevensies, are not given much to do. More’s the pity. We can only hope that Michael Apted, the director named to oversee The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” will be more respectful of the Narnian worldview and provide the franchise some spiritual depth, and moral courage. At least we have more of Reepicheep to look forward to; let’s hope his personality does not morph into his lesser second cousin twice-removed, Mickey.


  1. Plenty to be disappointed about here, from this perspective, to be sure. But I also think the film is a step in the right direction for the franchise. LWW felt too much like storytelling by committee (with game tie-ins a huge consideration) and this film at least seems to have, at its core, a concern for making a good film. And personally, the book as always struck me as much darker than you find it.

    Apted will be a good match for Dawn Treader, I think — and because of the material, it almost much be lighter and more naturally lending itself to the atmosphere for which you long.

    But I’m just not sure a major studio film will ever deliver that kind of atmosphere… and also manage to rake in $500 million, which is the kind of expectation levied upon this franchise. Business considerations alone almost dictate that you will continue to be disappointed by these films.

    Comment by Greg Wright — 16 May 2008 @ 2:13 PM

  2. I must say I was also disappointed in the movie as a whole. For one thing, the dialogue was slow and seemed overly dramatic.

    Comment by Brent — 18 May 2008 @ 1:55 AM

  3. I really must object to the negative portrayal of this film. In fact, I think Adamson did a stellar job of interpreting Lewis. It is an interpretation and as such is going to minimize some things and stress others. I’d like to reply more in depth, but would point you to my review on my website, I also have a newspaper article here

    Hope these comments add to this fascinating discussion and I thank you for opening this dialog. Please let’s all remember that seldom does the secular world give us anything remotely resembling Christianity. Adamson, whether he meant to or not, has given us a robust movie with great themes and values. I’ve seen the film twice already and am touched and moved by this world that has been in my own imagination for so many decades.

    Comment by Msgr. Eric R. Barr — 18 May 2008 @ 9:52 PM

  4. Msgr. Eric,

    Of course, your dissenting view is welcome.

    To be honest, I think your words are overly generous toward this crew–but will let the movie settle in my own imagination for a while, and look again later.

    This is a movie made by and for a generation two or three times removed from Lewis’s more literary audience–and so I concede that any movie so made will be an “interpretation.” I would just have hoped that Adamson’s script writers would have spent a little more time in Narnia than they seemed to have.

    I would point readers as well to the interesting exchange between Jeffrey Overstreet and Greg Wright

    Comment by Bruce — 19 May 2008 @ 9:12 AM

  5. Prince Caspian met my expectations, which weren’t extremely high in the first place. I had the most tremendous feeling of ‘loss-of-potential’ when I saw the very first film in theaters. Andrew Adamson, I immediately recognized, is a special-effects guru, and not much more. He is not exactly a story-teller, at least, he doesn’t know how to make things interesting without “gee-wow!” pictures. He is a visual artist, effectively conveying a great wealth of detail and thoughtfulness in a purely visual fashion (Think Thomas Kinkade?). But he lacks the ability Kinkade’s compatriot, James Gurney, demonstrated so well with his well-regarded visual storybook, Dinotopia. This is ability is, pure and simple, the ability to imbue and/or bring out personality in that which he is able to create with such vivid visuals.

    So, in this regard, I was not disappointed with the film. I knew Adamson would create a sugary visual masterpiece that was largely void of the necessary protein provided by character development.

    The fellow who played Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) struck me as a young actor who surely has the ability, but who was given nothing, apparently, to go on as far as his character is concerned.

    Two moments in the film really moved me. When Lucy actually goes to Aslan, and when Trumpkin finally sees Him. These were incredible moments in the book, and perhaps it is because I have such fond memories of them, going back to my childhood, that I felt they were effective. My only cries of distress came when they cut the scene with Trumpkin and Aslan off with “Now, do you see him!?” and then when Caspian and Susan kissed. The love interest was more than a bit annoying from the get-go, and then the kiss just made me want to hurl a brick through the screen.

    On the whole, I enjoyed the movie for what it was: glucose-loaded fantasy that still retained enough important smidgens of the Narnia I know and love to be effective, and especially palatable for little kids. Oh, and Reepicheep was pretty awesome.

    My expectations will not be forgiving at all with Dawn Treader. It is one of my favorites of the series (I’ll admit, Caspian is one of my least favorite). Here’s hoping that the Narnia films follow the trend of the Harry Potter films in making enough money with the first two to allow the third and fourth and so on to be edgier and involve a great deal more character development, as opposed to sheer visual magnificence.

    Who should do The Silver Chair? Vadim Perelman? Tom Tykwer? Michael Winterbottom?

    Comment by jlawrence — 19 May 2008 @ 9:23 AM

  6. For me, the question “where were you [Aslan] in reel one?” is what many of the characters in the film were asking–and what made the movie poignant and meaningful. For me, the film brought home in a new way (to a die-hard Narnia fan who’s read the book more times than I can count) the difficulty of knowing what to do when it seems like God isn’t intervening on your behalf. I also thought that the film showed powerfully, through the deaths of many noble Narnians, the consequences of Peter’s failure to turn to Aslan. When Aslan does appear, he takes care of things much more efficiently and with fewer lives lost on either side. (The trees do seem to be rather violent, but after a few exemplary deaths, they seem to be content to scare Telmarines away.)

    The re-integration of the Telmarines into Narnia reminded me of the grace extended to most Christians of being “grafted into the vine” of God’s chosen people. It’s a theme that’s there in the book, but the movie highlighted it for me (maybe because the Telmarines’ difference from the Narnians was emphasized by their accents).

    The Narnia books have been incredibly influential in my spiritual formation, but the movie also speaks to contemporary (and ages-old) Christian struggles.

    Anyway, I go into more detail about all that at

    Comment by Carissa Smith — 19 May 2008 @ 4:50 PM

  7. But Carissa the point, of course, is that there is no way the sentiments you expressed can be part of any noninitiated filmgoer’s experience of the movie. That you “see” these questions being addressed is intimately related to your knowledge of the Narnian universe.

    How could Peter be charged with “failing to turn to Aslan,” when he is never (in this script) given the opportunity to do so. Lucy’s dream is not the same as her actual pursuit of Aslan in the book.

    The film does not have to slavishly follow the book–but it does have to have some exposition to set up the dilemmas that I (respectfully) tell you are not in the movie itself but in your memory of your own habitations in Narnia.

    Comment by Bruce — 19 May 2008 @ 5:07 PM

  8. Ah, if we’re addressing the film’s intelligibility to those who haven’t ever read the Chronicles of Narnia, that’s a different question entirely, and one that neither of us can speak to accurately! I’d be curious to hear the perspective of those who’ve never read Lewis–I would guess that their perceptions might be as divided as those of the fans seem to be.

    I do wish that the dream sequence had not been a dream sequence, though the filmmakers at least had a plausible reason for that change, but I think the film shows that Peter and the others had the opportunity to turn to Aslan and didn’t. They could have believed Lucy when she saw him initially; they could have later followed Lucy’s advice to trust Aslan rather than rushing into one of their two apparent alternatives.

    I thought, prior to seeing the movie, that the changes in Peter’s character would be disastrous. In many ways, I miss the more noble, more faithful Peter of the book, but given the direction the filmmakers decided to go with his character, I was impressed that they used him to bring out the faith themes, rather than to plumb the depths of adolescent angst (the direction I feared they were going).

    I certainly have problems with the film, too–most notably the changing of Aslan’s lines–but I’m thankful that the movie has worked to supplement my experience of the book, instead of seeming like sacrilege (as I had initially feared).

    Comment by Carissa Smith — 19 May 2008 @ 11:12 PM

  9. Carissa,

    Thanks. No need to belabor these points at this stage. In effect, I believe you have come to the same conclusion I have; you just found the experience more satisfying. I don’t agree with you, however, that it is not possible to assess the intelligibility of the film to non-Narnians. It’s all in the totems and touchstones (the movie’s allusions and puns and “quotations”) chosen by the director and scripters: to tell their story they turn us not back to Narnia but to other fantasy films (Harry, Frodo, Princess Bride, etc.). All we were missing was another Giant Spider! They don’t expect us or even want us to “know” Narnia. They inhibit it.

    For me, the purpose of making the books into movies (besides the profit motive, of course) is to provide a commensurate experience in this new medium to being in Narnia. That’s the whole point. (Even Lewis’s stepson said so in countless interviews.) What’s uniquely Narnian in this movie besides the character names and muted plot? Even minimal, non-intrusive exposition at key points would have made this movie slightly more palatable. I’m not talking about slavish word for word transmutation; I am talking about skilled and subtle moviemaking. I wish Joss Whedon had made this film.

    Here is the sad implication: these folks know how to make a reasonably interesting, entertaining action movie, but they do not know nor do they subscribe to tenets that Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, etc. believed made for a transcendent experience within Story itself that enrich our human experience and point us to a realm beyond us whence comes our meaning–our salvation. Should they be held liable for not accomplishing this? In my view, no; should they be held responsible for not attempting this? Yes.

    Prince Caspian is a very pedestrian movie and the fantasy film genre has unfortunately now approached exhaustion. There is a familiarity and a formulaic function to it–and that is why in my lead-up post, Countdown to Caspian, I mentioned the recent box office and aesthetic failures (The Seeker, Bridge to Teribithia, The Last Mimzy, In the Name of the King, etc.). The box office receipts for Caspian are below expectations; fewer church folks will see this movie twice, three times, or four than LWW. The movie will assuredly break even or make a small profit, but nothing like the initial installment.

    I hope there is a Dawn Treader episode. I am encouraged that Michael Apted will be at the helm. I am fearful that the same screenwriters are employed. Selah.

    Comment by Bruce — 20 May 2008 @ 7:47 AM

  10. I have written directly to Bruce and expressed my opinion. However, I felt the need to speak in “public” and state my support for his review. This movie was only similar to Lewis’ book in character names and settings. Otherwise, this was not the same story at all. The gratuitous violence was horrifying to me. The scene at the castle was so disgusting I had to look away and I am a grown woman who has seen plenty. So much of the screenplay wasn’t in the actual book nor was it in the spirit of the story Lewis wrote. I quite frankly do not know how anyone familiar with the book could call that movie acceptable at all. But of course, this is my opinion and everyone is entitled to their own as well. I won’t be owning this travesty on DVD and I will be VERY cautious about any more movies in the series. I truly wish I had never gone nor taken our sons to see this one.

    Comment by Rebecca — 28 May 2008 @ 8:38 AM

  11. Why make LWW pretty much true to the book and then partly destroy the continuing story of Narnia with so many changes in Prince Caspian?? Of course some changes will be made to a movie based on a book – we expect it.. but don’t change it so much that it ruins the story, where is the magic of Narnia? We saw only glimpses of that magic in this movie. We miss out on so much of this beautiful tale and the messages it has… the changes were not minor changes – the sequence was all wrong – anyone who has read the book and remembers it well will know that is quite a different story. It was very well made movie with amazing effects…. but the adaption was very poor. Everyone has their own opinions – but this is clearly not the Prince Caspian C.S Lewis wrote. While i can appreciate what a difficult job it is writing a script and that some things have to be condensed or just don’t work well in translation – but, they really missed the mark on this one. If C.S Lewis wanted more action, he would have written the book Prince Caspian with more action – this was the story he chose to write – this was the Narnia and the characters he wanted to portray. People argue that the movie needed more action to be successful – the fact of the matter is Prince Caspian wasn’t an action book until right at the very end. It’s my second favourite chronicle in the series and I was bitterly disappointed in what Andrew Adamson presented. Box office figures and countless reviews prove many others were too. These books are legendary as is their author.

    Peter the High King: what a letdown – Peter was such an angry character with a massive chip on his shoulder. Never would C.S Lewis (nor did he ever) portray Peter in this way. Some argue Peter has grown into a man in this movie, but growing into a man does not mean becoming arrogant and putting himself on a pedestool. Peter the High King in the books was strong, fair, kind, humble with an overwhelming love for Narnia and its inhabitants (ie his first meeting with Truffehunter) Not so in Prince Caspian. As Peter won’t be a Narnia movie again until The Last Battle, it leaves a very sour impression of him until then.

    Caspian – by not showing us Caspians history growing up with Doctor Cornelius, Nurse, and his love of the old Narnia & the ancient Kings & Queens, we missed out on much of what Caspians real character was…the loyalty shown to him by Trumpkin & their friendship (because of Trumpkins capture by Miraz we did not see this) the unwavering belief Caspian had in Aslan, the friendship which developed between Caspian and the Pevensies – they all stuck together – they were never divided, there was no animosity between he and Peter – why bring this into the story when it never existed. The story Prince Caspian wasn’t about egos – it was about the Pevensies happily helping Caspian gain his throne, and it was about faith. C.S Lewis spent time building up his characters and places, so you felt you knew them really well.

    Pevensies – the journey to Aslans How did not show the true friendship & loyalty which developed between Trumpkin and the Kings & Queens. It also did not show the Pevensies lesson of trusting Aslan – blind faith (except Lucy) or Peter graciously admitting his mistakes in leading them the wrong way. Aslan was almost made a minor character. Where was Aslan in this movie??

    Old Narnians – by leaving out and changing important scenes we didn’t really get to know many of the loyal characters CS Lewis about wrote in the story, and this took even more away from the Magical world of Narnia.. Pattertwig, Giant Wimbleweather, Doctor Cornelious, the Bulgy Bears, even Glenstorm the Centaur.

    The Telmarines? well – they were just given way too much time in this movie.

    I enjoyed some things about this movie, the effects, costumes,the acting, the scenery… The actors themselves did a brilliant job … with the roles they were given. I did like Reepicheep and Trufflehunter I thought they were very well done. I really hope they step up and stay as true to the book as possible in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

    Comment by Scott — 3 July 2008 @ 2:19 AM

  12. […] won’t repeat my intense interrogation of the movie itself here, but let’s focus on what makes for happy, repeat moviegoers of literary classics and how […]

    Pingback by A C.S. Lewis & Inklings Resource Blog » Blog Archive » Not Coming Soon: Always Disney Never Christmas — 28 January 2009 @ 3:07 PM

  13. […] “Battle Fatigue”: Prince Caspian […]

    Pingback by Debuting Next Week: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader | The C. S. Lewis Review — 4 December 2010 @ 10:08 PM

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