“The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” 1979

742 words | 3 page(s)

A common criticism that is heard about film interpretations of novels is that the film is never as good as the movie. One of the reasons why this is the case is the nature of the medium: the novel is less constrained in terms of time, able to develop characters and themes in a way that film cannot. At the same time, more is left to the imagination in novels, as mental images are now replaced with the director’s image of the novel. When one is watching a film, one is essentially looking at a particular reader’s interpretation of the film. It is this same rule of thumb that applies to the film version of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This is apparent in one crucial aspect: it is known that Lewis wrote the novel as a Christian parable. This symbolic depth of the original work is lost in the film, arguably providing the exact opposite intent: an ode to scientific world-views at the expense of spiritual world-views.

For example, one of the key motifs of Lewis’ work is magic. Yet magic has a specific sense in Lewis’ work: “In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis uses magic as a synonym for laws that God has written into the universe.” (Baehr & Baehr, 2005, p. 3) What is at stake in the novel, as Lewis himself intended, is not merely a fantasy narrative. Rather, what he wanted to develop is a paradigm in which scientific and materialist explanations of reality could be called into question. Here, Lewis’ explicit Christianity is not what is the point: rather, it is the point where fantasy itself can become a genre — through references to various religious traditions – which can critique an established world-view, in this case narratives of scientific progress and the reduction of all existence to a materialist world-view. Fantasy in Lewis’ novel, when we understand its deeper meaning, becomes a powerful form of social criticism.

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In the film, such a crucial dimension of Lewis’ work is missing. As Peter Bradshaw (2005) writes in his review of the film for the British newspaper The Guardian: “There will be many adults like me, who after loving the book as children went through a long post-adolescent phrase of hysterically repudiating it after the Christian-humanist parable was explained. For me, it is a phase that this movie has definitively brought to an end. Adamson brings out the story’s romantic gallantry and its wonderfully generous approach to childhood.” The film misses out on Lewis’ deeper message arguably by the sense in which fantasy is itself something that is produced by technology. The film’s look does not have us in wonder at fantasy, but rather held in wonder at what modern technology can accomplish. This is the exact opposite of Lewis’ intent of writing these stories.

If the first installment of the Narnia story, viewed from this perspective, according to its state of the art and lavish production, becomes an ode to technology and the scientific world-view, certainly the following question could be asked: does this mean that the film would have had to use lesser quality production values to achieve the deeper message of the film? This is not the case, rather, instead an emphasis on the human relationships in the book and a use of magic to show the wonder of life as opposed to the wonder of technology could have been employed.

Certainly, the film, as an interpretation of a particular artist, means that the artist wishes to highlight what he or she finds to be of important meaning in the original source text. However, at the same time, what occurs as a result of this is that the author’s original vision is twisted. In this case, it is difficult to say that Lewis would be pleased with the final result of this film. It is therefore not an accurate representation of Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, but rather the director Adamson’s vision of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. And in this case the difference is radical: the original image of the Narnia saga is lost. Fantasy is not used to make us critically re-think our relationship to our strictly scientific relationship to the world, but rather to endorse it.

  • T. Baehr. (2005). Narnia Beckons. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.
  • P. Bradshaw (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The Guardian. February 2.

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