Prince Caspian Redux
What's Not to Like?

A couple of years ago, noted Narnia scholar Bruce Edwards paid Jenn and I a high compliment by asking us to contribute a chapter to the C. S. Lewis compendium he was editing for educational publisher Praeger. Our essay “C. S. Lewis and the Media: Cinematic and Stage Treatments of C. S. Lewis’s Life and Works” found its way into the fourth volume of C. S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, published in the summer of 2007.

Bruce was naturally curious, then, about our reaction to the film version of Prince Caspian, given his respect for our area of expertise… and given his own intense dislike for the film. At his blog Further Up and Further In, Bruce wrote that “too much battle left this Narnian admirer and Lewis lover fatigued and bad-tempered.” Andrew Adamson’s Prince Caspian, Bruce added, lacks respect for “the Narnian worldview,” not to mention “spiritual depth” and “moral courage.”

Noted Narnia scholar Bruce L. Edwards

In response to Edwards’ query (and his review of the film), I replied that Jenn and I both found Prince Caspian to be a vast improvement over The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—which, as we described in the essay Bruce commissioned, we found had “sacrificed the tone of Lewis’s chilling, inspiring, high-stakes race for the excitement and titillation of the chase.” Edwards, though, found the reviews of Prince Caspian we had edited and published here and at Hollywood Jesus “too forgiving.”

I wrote the following reply to Bruce:

Well, the big argument will always be about whether the film does justice to the book; but as an author myself I observe, “You don’t have to sell film rights”; and as a film critic I reply, “If it doesn’t work first as a film, then it the rest is pretty pointless discussion.”

As you know, I’ve been through the wringer on adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and LWW… and I ultimately found it all very tiresome. I’m just not interested in following those discussions with Prince Caspian.

I’m pretty in line with [Narnia film production company] Walden Media’s perspective: if the film is good enough to succeed in inspiring people to read the books, then it’s doing its job.

And personally, I think the filmmakers did a good job of responding to the criticisms of the first film in a constructive manner—without pandering to the critics. It’s very rare for the second film in a series to outdo the first… and I find it a very encouraging sign for the franchise. It doesn’t seem to me that they’re simply trying to milk a property for all it’s worth. It feels more like the Harry Potter franchise, which has improved over time.

Bruce responded:

I don’t really disagree with your comments—but wonder whether its ancillary benefits (e.g., sending people to the books) outweigh, to me, the reasons (or lack thereof) for visiting Narnia in the first place.

You may have had a more fulfilling experience than I did at the theater, and that’s fair; but I didn’t go looking for flaws, lapses, bad faith. I went looking for Narnia. Even a smidgen. Did you see it there?

If this movie were called Prince Somebody Else, it would definitely be an okay experience. I bought into the “this is Adamson’s schoolboy vision” for the first one—the auteur at work—but I can’t quite swallow it for this one: dark, brooding, violent… except where most needed, in the traitorous confrontation of Nikabrik.

Bruce courteously allowed me the final word in our exchange:

I don’t know that I did or didn’t “see Narnia” in Prince Caspian. But as a critic, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) go looking for it, either. The first question for the film critic is: does it work? And frankly, I don’t think the question of adapted vs. original screenplay is even relevant at that level.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that worked better than its predecessor.

The level of violence is no more surprising than the fact that the stars are four years older than they were in the first film, or that Prince Caspian is not a mere boy. The franchise will continue to build on its fanbase by maturing with them.

If you remember the paper I delivered at Past Watchful Dragons two-plus years ago, just prior to the release of LWW, the question I posed was: Will the Narnia film franchise continue to position the fantasy genre as the one which best posits that good and evil are real, and matter? LWW was disappointing in that respect, I thought, because it just seemed too interested in the chase, and the evil it portrayed was too abstract. But I feel Prince Caspian helps the answer to that question be: “Yes… so far.”

The question I did not ask, and which I think is culturally less significant, is: Will the Narnia film franchise repeat on film what Lewis already did with the books? That subject really just does not interest me.