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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Countdown to Caspian

May 7th, 2008 | Skip to comments

Most Lewis readers are aware that the next in the Narnian movie series arrives within nearly a week: Friday, May 16th. (Watch for my review here on that date. And click here to see my former review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Meanwhile, the coming of Prince Caspian simultaneously raises expectations as well as some dread.

Expectations?—well, of course, because we expect Caspian to generate a stirring screenplay with cinematic panache, introducing as it does new Lewisian characters and situations that further express his chivalric worldview and taste for ancient storytelling virtues. Combined with a distinguished cast (which includes talented Peter Drinklage and formidable Warwick Davis as the, respectively, indomitable Trumpkin and the notorious Nikabrik)—what’s not to like about an adventure that combines elements of Hamlet (avenging fratricide), the Three Musketeers (swashbuckling Reepicheep’s debut—“all for one,” though Lewis did not care for Dumas), and the ever-present coming-of-age theme of the apprentice prince (Caspian) learning at the feet of the wise mentor (Doctor Cornelius)?

In some ways, Prince Caspian has much less to live up to than the more theologically-powerpacked plot of Lion, Witch & Wardrobe. The weightier themes of rebellion, repentance, redemption, and resurrection, are the backdrop, not the center stage of Caspian. It’s a time in Narnia when Aslan has once again been forgotten, reduced to “mere myth,” and wherein his witnesses seem to have vanished or gone underground.

Caspian is about sustaining goodness, reigning with mercy and realigning justice, while recovering from the loss of perspective and moving onto reforming the very culture of Narnia. As such, it has as much in common with the Biblical Book of Kings and young King Josiah, as it does the Gospels. If you recall, 2 Kings 22 relates the story of how the good priest Hilkiah proclaims to the people, “I have found the book!” (2 Kings 22:8) and young Josiah leads his people into national repentance, turning them back to their true Source. If these aspects of the tale are effectively translated to the screen, all will be gratifying.

But dread exists too. There were disappointments in the first movie both in what was left out (“the deeper magic from beyond time”) and what was reordered (“he is not a tame lion” in the film final fleeting glimpses), and how certain Christian themes seem to be deliberately muted. To his credit, Andrew Adamson stood by his artistic vision, namely, that he wanted to make the movie that his 9 year old imagination coveted. His ongoing response to those who ask is, simply, if you want to find the imagery and plot sequence “religious,” nobody’s stopping you.

And, we must agree, Lewis intended no explicit allegory: yes, many a series of gospel-induced supposals that remarkably remind and reintegrate the work of Christ among his disciples but under the aegis of a mixed mashup of his favorite genres and medievalist tableaux components, e.g., his favorite fairy tales, fantasies, and preferred mythical elements (and, yes, planetary influences ala Planet Narnia).

But the dread comes not in the presence or absence of this or that element or favorite feature, but in the knowledge that Narnia is more than sum of its parts: there is a Narnian sensibility that permeates the whole, and not just the list of characters, scenes, dialogue, plot; there is an ethos and an atmosphere that exudes and invites a sense of wonder, a willing engagement of, not suspension of, belief during one’s habitation there; it’s one’s incarnation in another world altogether, the submersion in sehnsucht!* As Lewis once put it, what he loved about his childhood vacations in Donegal, Northern Ireland, was its Donegality. The ineffable sense of transport into another realm, arresting, magical, bordering on the beatific–the very air you breathe, and the sights, sounds, and tastes of Neverland.

So the dread is/can be the sense that we are not emerging into this Land Like No Other, but the same old, same old factory-built fantasy world of the recent rest of the line (The Last Mimzy? Bridge to Terabithia? The Seeker? In the Name of the King? Anyone? Anyone?). It’s the Donegality of Narnia we crave, and what we dread is that we will not experience in through extended battle scenes and reordered chronology.

This is a daunting task, and it’s not all on Walden Media’s shoulders. It’s also in us and how we are prepared to see and hear, look and listen. It’s what Narnia means to us, and what we are prepared to fight for. It’s 140 minutes worth of realized expectation or mournful dread.

What shall the proportion be? Check back on the 16th and we can share our hearts!

* Sehnsucht is the term Lewis employed to capture the sense of unrequited longing we experience in this world, in which faith, hope, and love are stand-ins and markers for their ultimate counterparts and fruition in the World to Come.

1 Comment

  1. Bridge to Terabithia? The Seeker? Narnia’s own Walden Media as Narnia vampire? Pretty damning, that.

    Comment by thomas — 28 August 2008 @ 4:52 PM

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