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Narnia Films Ditch Lewis’s Hierarchical Vision…And This Is Bad?

Yes.

So says Steven D. Boyer in his very insightful piece in Touchstone aptly called “Invading Narnia.” He demonstrates the obvious, that Lewis loved hierarchy (unperverted) and that it is central to the Narnian stories (and really all of his work). This is one of the many problems (tragedies) of the movie versions of the books.

“In order to address questions like these, we have to ask first what Lewis is trying to do. What is his ‘Christian vision of the world’? We could address this question by focusing on the Narnia tales specifically, but it ends up being more productive (and avoiding some of the twists and turns of scholarship on Narnia) to begin with a broader account of Lewis’s basic theological outlook, and so that is what we shall do.

Understanding this basic outlook does bring with it, however, one really substantial obstacle: we have to think carefully about a significant element in Lewis’s vision that does not play very well in our world, even among contemporary Christians. That element is Lewis’s peculiar fondness for hierarchy.

The word ‘hierarchy’ does not have very pleasant connotations in our day, so to speak of someone being ‘fond of hierarchy’ sounds very ‘peculiar’ indeed. It is like admitting that your great-uncle Jack, really a fine old gentleman, never got over his childhood delight in pulling the wings off flies. Of course, this odd and even repulsive idiosyncrasy might be ignored by members of the family, out of their affection for Uncle Jack.

The only problem with treating Lewis this way is that his particular oddity reappears everywhere in his work, usually quite explicitly, and it has an exceptionally strong bearing upon the way he understands orthodox Christianity. If we are going to understand Lewis’s deeply Christian vision of the world, we will need to try hard to understand how this suspicious attraction to hierarchy is a part of it.”

It’s an excellent read. The entire piece by Dr. Boyer is here.

9 Comments

  1. I rented Chronicles of Narnia from the library last week. We’ve read The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but are going to jump in to read the rest over the next few weeks. I’m not much of a book person, but my children begged for the next chapter every night when we were doing the other two, so I’m thinking they’ll keep us on track.

    We are also fond of hierarchy, by the way.

  2. While I’m sympathetic to Boyer’s argument, I recognize the different sort of storytelling necessary to turning a book into a movie.

    The nifty thing is that we’ll always have Lewis’s Narnia. The movies will not replace them, but we can appreciate the movies for what they are, not for what we wish they were.

  3. This is a difficult article from the standpoint that we in America are so short on respect for hierarchy. In that sense, the film-makers knew their audience, but it is a shame that it is so. I need look no further than myself.

  4. Drew, you make a good point. I guess to me there’s re-imagining and there’s fundamentally altering. I think the first movie did ok and was an OK re-imagining, but Caspian was, for me, a lot closer to a fundemental alteration.

    Maybe this one just is so bothersome because of my (and many others’) intense love for the story. I’m often making that same case for such movies (and did for the first one).

    Basically, I’m a hypocrite. 🙂

    I also hear a wise person today say that there’s no reason to believe these movie versions will be the final ones. Let’s hope for better in the future. Lewis will be celebrated for hundreds of years, so there’s hope for better films to come.

  5. I really thought the first movie was one of the better book-to-film adaptations ever attempted. It felt like a movie (whereas the Harry Potter movies — particularly the first — went for so much accuracy that it felt more like news coverage).

    The thing about Lewis’s characters — the Pevensies anyway — is that they’re not really well-developed characters. Lucy more than the other three, but she’s almost too perfect. Edmund, after his “conversion” becomes a bit boring. Eustace is a fantastic character, however. And Jill Pole probably the most fully-realized character of all the Narnia kids.

    But the Narnia tales survive more on story than on character.

    So the films really did need to flesh out the characters a bit.

    I admit to liking the film version of Prince Caspian quite a bit, mostly because it was my least favorite book of the series, so I was impressed that it became an actually watchable film. After all, half the book is Trumpkin sitting there, telling the kids what happened before they showed up.

    All that to say . . . I don’t know. I guess I’m fine if the filmmakers give the kids motivations that aren’t in the book, because they’re ciphers most of the time anyway.

  6. Interesting thoughts. I LOVED Caspian. I thought it was profoundly good. And good in so many ways.

    I think part of what may make the Narnia characters feel flat, or underdeveloped, is how very good they are. They aren’t complicated as deeply flawed characters can be. They aren’t the popular anti-heroes. I think they’re simply good characters, setting the books against what so many other story-books do, which is to present us with kids who always know better than adults and are rebellious and mostly self-oriented.

    I think the Pevensies are delightful characters. Lucy, as you said, most of all. I think their journey toward submission, nobility, service, virtue, obedience, and faith are very compelling.

    I think the Narnia stories are a deep, deep well of beauty, truth, and goodness. I have found little else to compare with the depth of imaginative truth-drenched goodness to be experienced there.

    I give them five thumbs up.

  7. Hmmm. I really thought the book was the weakest of the series. It has good parts, but for me they don’t add up to a satisfying whole.

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