Whatever happened to Narnia?
It’s not that there aren’t any more films coming. After years of rumors that The Magician’s Nephew was going to come next, instead we are getting The Silver Chair. The film is being developed by the Mark Gordon company. The screenplay is completed but in the process of rewrites, and it was written by David Magee. Magee wrote for the film adaptation of Life of Pi , which as far as book-to-film adaptations are concerned was fairly decent so I have some hope.
But why did the Narnia we were expecting in 2005 never come to fruition? Maybe it’s the audience. Or maybe it’s Hollywood. I’ve read in different places that movie audiences are seen as disillusioned and more inclined to gritty, realistic action films than fantasy. Narnia isn’t supposed to be gritty and dark, it’s supposed to be an idealized world, an escape from the rough, urbanized society of today. The books worked because they were about ordinary children doing extraordinary things, and the battles between good and evil were very clean-cut. Narnia is a codeword for escape: it is the quintessential fantasy.
The Chronicles of Narnia is probably the one book series I am okay with not having a 100% faithful film adaptation. The first reason is that the books themselves are pretty stale. We get long sequences of people traveling from one place to another or waiting for something to happen without anything intervening. There aren’t really a lot of scary or frightening situations. I suppose that kind of adventure is more realistic, but it doesn’t entertain very much. What I liked about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (hereafter LWW) and Prince Caspian is that they skipped the travel scenes and threw in a few action sequences and some humor to make it interesting. They weren’t completely different from the books but there was a balanced elaboration on what the books had suggested or merely described.
Douglas Gresham has stated that the travel scenes in The Silver Chair will be changed quite a bit, but as long as they stay within reasonable limits for these changes then I will be perfectly satisfied. I don’t want to watch six hours of Jill and Eustace sailing on a raft through the Underworld. And their trip through the mountains is miserable, especially after meeting the Lady of the Green Kirtle. There is no need to focus on that any more than necessary.
Out of the films we’ve had so far, LWW and Prince Caspian are proof that a little creative licence Narnia more interesting and entertaining. The battle scene in LWW is something was skimmed over in the book and we heard about the events afterward, but in the film we get to see the different creatures fighting and Peter and Edmund leading the Narnians. I also liked the political intrigue among the Telmarines in Prince Caspian. In the book we saw a little of it at the very end, but in the film it gets shown up to build up to Miraz’s final betrayal. I have a hard time watching the attack on the castle and the subsequent angst between Peter and Caspian: that may have been toeing the line just a little. But there is no arguing that Harry Gregson-Williams’ music score and Isis Mussenden’s costumes for both films were amazing.
I think that’s where Dawn Treader failed—too many parts of the book were completely changed or placed out of order. You have to give Walden Media credit for even trying to adapt Dawn Treader. It’s my least favorite of the books and the most boring—it’s basically a travelogue. You can’t expect book-to-film adaptations to be a hundred percent faithful because there are things that make perfect sense in print that don’t always work on the screen. But the film adaptation for Dawn Treader? It was overkill.
The problem is, if you’re going to adapt Narnia as a series, you have to include Dawn Treader because that’s where you get introduced to Eustace Scrubb, who is instrumental in the events of The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. So if you screw up Dawn Treader, then what?
I haven’t lost faith completely in getting a good film adaptation for Narnia. But if it’s not too far-fetched, maybe it’s time to start over completely. Start with The Magician’s Nephew, and when you get to The Last Battle, stop. If necessary, go for the small screen and make it a miniseries or a television show, but make sure you tell the story decently.
The films flesh out a world that gets hinted at in the books, and there is definitely more that could be shown. Talking animals and mythological beings are cool but tell me about the people. Most of the other kingdoms in the world of Narnia are inhabited by people. Before the White Witch there were people in Narnia, and after the Pevensies took over there were humans who flocked to their court from other kingdoms. And the Telmarine Court during and after Caspian X, after the “restoration” of Old Narnia, would be amazing to see. In The Silver Chair Jill and Eustace spend the night in Cair Paravel but we get a poor summary of what they experienced. If I complain about anything in the book, it’s that they didn’t stay longer. All of these people interact with fauns and dryads and talking beasts and so forth. And in The Horse and His Boy we get to see the societies in Calormen and (briefly) Archenland, and one thing I desperately missed in the film for Dawn Treader was the Governor’s court in the Lone Islands. In The Magician’s Nephew we get to see the ruins of Charn. I want to SEE all of this stuff. I only ask that all of the adaptations stay PG except for The Last Battle. The Last Battle is the end of the world and it is dark even for the other books in the series, so I would have no complaints about a PG-13/TV-14 rating for that.
The Silver Chair is my favorite book in The Chronicles of Narnia, hands down. We get a brief glimpse of Narnia under Caspain and his successors, as well as a breathtaking adventure across a barren landscape, an evil Queen who would have made Jadis just sick with envy, and a lost prince with an epic redemption story (and I am a sucker for redemption stories). I expect high standards of most book-to-movie adaptations, but this is especially true for The Silver Chair, like maybe a matter of life and death true. The film adaptation needs to be awesome and make me love the story even more the way LWW and Prince Caspian did. Or I will be pretty ticked off.