Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

It has been years since I read the second volume of C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Its title was Prince Caspian, and it was essentially a continuation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I never read the books as a child, but I did read them aloud to my oldest son. I remember being struck with the way in which Lewis was able to appeal to the fanciful imaginations of children, the narrative force of the early books in the series, the effectively camouflaged nature of the allegory, and the power of the lion Aslan as a character, a symbol, and a veritable deus ex machina. I also remember being struck by the failure of imagination in the later volumes, where the allegory became more pronounced, more dogmatic, more obviously flawed. But in Prince Caspian we had not reached that point.

I don't remember much of the novel Prince Caspian. What is clear about the film The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), a sequel to the moderately successful The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is that action and battle largely replace allegory. Aslan reappears, but for the most part he holds back and allows the children and their allies in Narnia to resolve their problems with the evil forces that have taken over the land. It's odd both in the film and the book that when the four children return to Narnia they find themselves in a time centuries later than the time of their first visit. The people and places they remember have disappeared or are in ruins. An evil power has taken over. The film illuminates this aspect of the children's return effectively. But it dispenses with much of the novel and turns into a fantasy battle film. In contrast to Lewis' novels, the girls take an equal roll to that of the boys, which is all for the good.

The film also preserves the perplexing element of the novel that prevents children who have entered adolescence, the onset of sexual maturity, from returning to Narnia or being able to "see" or "believe in" Aslan. I suppose the notion here is that when reason and logic overtake imagination and fancy, all is lost. For Lewis, the age of sexual maturity, especially for young girls, was the age of sin, of the fallen world, and he couldn't have sexually mature creatures running around in Narnia.

Prince Caspian is somewhat entertaining. The special effects are good. The action is fast-paced and unrelenting. The children are all charming, especially the younger girl. But for the most part Prince Caspian has little in common with the novel on which it is based, which is neither here nor there. It doesn't have to closely resemble the novel to be a successful film. But it manages to avoid and dispense with some of the narrative elements that made the novel a successful children's book, in so far as it was.

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