Monday, May 12, 2008

Prince Caspian: Book into Film

With the Prince Caspian movie coming out at the end of the week, I thought I would read the original book by C.S. Lewis. There's no need to do a formal review, but I did enjoying thinking about it in context of the screen adaptation.

In a nutshell, Prince Caspian tells of Narnia centuries after the initial visit of the Pevensie children as told in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. While waiting for their train to take them back to school, the four children (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy), find themselves unexpectedly pulled back into Narnia. They meet up with a new Narnian companion, Trumpkin, a Red Dwarf, who brings them up to date on the current state of the country by recounting the story of the young Prince Caspian. More properly, he should be known as King Caspian X but his wicked uncle, Miraz, fancies himself as ruler and plots against Caspian. Doctor Cornelius, Caspian's tutor, has secretly revealed all of this to the young prince and sends the young man out into the world to gather his forces together to regain his rightful place on the throne. The above is just the first third of the book and the rest of the volume is taken up with two primary story lines -- Caspian's interactions with the Talking Beasts of Narnia and the journey the Pevensie children must take in order to meet up with Caspian and support his fight against Miraz.

Based on my reading, there are two story elements that I hope will be emphasized in the movie itself. First of all, there is an emphasis on swordplay throughout the book that ought to make for some some splendid bits of swashbuckling if properly done. There is a sort of training duel between Edmund and Trumpkin early on in the book. Later at a climactic point, there is a far more serious sword-fight between the wicked King Miraz and the oldest boy, Peter Pevensie. If I've not been misled by the marketing materials for the movie, they will have changed this, as Ben Barnes has been cast as an older Caspian (more of a romantic hero in his 20's than the book's young teen-prince). It is his heroic image (knight in armor with sword in hand) rather than the image of Peter, that is being sold on the covers of the various activity books and movie paraphernalia. Having seventeen-year-old Peter fight in place of a thirteen-year old boy-prince makes sense in the context of the book; I can't quite see how they can make it work if Caspian is the older and bigger of the two in the movie. (Note: In the book, ages are never offered for the characters, simply inferred.)

The second story element that I would hope is appropriately used is Lucy's interaction with the Trees. Lucy at one point awakens in the middle of the night and wanders off into a clearing of the woods without any oversight from her older brothers and sister. She experiences a moment of wonder, recalling stories of trees that are alive, and *almost* hears the voices of the trees speaking to her but not quite. Later in the film, these trees will come alive and participate in both battle and celebration of the victory over the Telmarines. Of the books in the Narnia series, this one draws most significantly on the mythical figures associated with woods and water as most naturally aligned with the Creator. Some people are even troubled over the inclusion of pagan elements in Prince Caspian. However, they are present and I noted, in one of the trailers, a closing glimpse of one such mythical figure rising from the water just as described in the book. C.S. Lewis cast the Telmarines as the non-believers in this tale -- those who don't believe in Aslan, the status of the Pevensies as High Kings and Queens of Narnia, the Talking Beasts or the sacredness of the natural forms of life. Believers in Aslan recognize the cosmic order and accord others the respect and appreciation properly due.

Depending on how much of Lewis' written moral is permitted to stay in the story, we should see Lucy (the youngest of the four children) assuming something of a leadership role. Roaming in Narnia, Lucy sees Aslan when no one else does, and she tries to be faithful to his instructions. She is tasked with the job of trying to persuade the others into following Aslan's path through a particular valley. Of course, Aslan's path looks impossible to the older siblings and they largely ignore their little sister, but as one might expect, it turns out that following Aslan despite appearances is the most advisable course. The Narnia series is Christian allegory, after all.

Which is why I find it a tad distressing that the trailers indicate a certain amount of darkness and battle fury in the movie. Lewis always does his battles in a brief page or two; he doesn't offer children real violence, only the general sense of conflict. He writes in greater detail about the general sense of well-being and celebrations that follow. My biggest irritation with the previous movie from Disney was that they dragged out the battle scenes, trying to make The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a screen epic of war. I'll be interested in hearing what emerges next weekend about this most recent excursion into Narnia. I did like this very sympathetic interview with the producer

Interested in background on the actor playing Prince Caspian? Read:
For something in the way of literary interpretation, visit this page:
More from that particular expert in Touchstone Magazine:
Resources for Discussing Prince Caspian