May 19, 2008

In This Version, Aslan Drives A Cool Talking Car

The eldest Llama-ette is off today with her class from St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method to go see Prince Caspian. I had to remind her again this morning to refrain from shouting out (and criticizing) everything that the movie does differently from the book. (Funny, I know exactly what kind of movie date she's going to be when she gets older. And I can already see the boy rolling his eyes.)

Anyhoo, it seems apropos that regular reader Mike should shoot along this NRO article by Frederica Mathewes-Green. Her subject? Heresy!

Every once in awhile, a movie improves on the book on which it is based. In my bold opinion, Prince Caspian, the second Disney film drawn from C. S. Lewisís beloved Chronicles of Narnia, is such a movie. Criticism of C. S. Lewis is rightly taboo, but facts are facts: Prince Caspian, the book, is a dud.

It was the second to be written in the series, and itís rushed and thin. Youíll remember from the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that the four Pevensie siblings find their way into the land of Narnia through a mysterious wardrobe. In Prince Caspian they are called back to Narnia again, where they must help young Prince Caspian claim his rightful throne. Unfortunately, they land nowhere near Caspian, so most of the book is occupied with the Pevensiesí struggle to cross mountains and rivers to get to him. (The action also pauses for four chapters so that a dwarf can fill us in on Prince Caspianís life so far.) When they finally meet Caspian there is a brief battle and a happy ending, and before you know it youíre running into the opening pages of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (a much better book).

Prince Caspian, the movie, fixes all this. It knits a whole lot more story around that spare frame, and the plot gains traction while the characters gain complexity. The movie is just plain better than the book.

Now I, myself, have written here before that I thought Prince Caspian to be the weakest book in the Narnia cycle, and for many of the reasons cited here. But still - the book is the book. Don't mess it about. If you think you can "improve" on the story, then go out and write your own, dammit. We hates this kind of cannibalization.

Go read the rest of the article in which Ms. M-G discusses other examples of movies-better-than-the-book. Not expecting the Spanish Inquisition? Just see what she has to say about The Lord of the Rings:

Director Peter Jackson had a better idea [than Tolkien his own self!]. He saw the essential beauty of the story, and brought it to the screen unimpeded.

Fetch the comfy chair!

Look, the trooth of the matter is that this is a very silly argument to begin with. Books-to-movies is an apples and oranges comparison and it's downright goofy to say that one is "better" than the other. But the argument's also corrosive, IMHO. We already live in an age that demands instant, passive gratification. Books require active thought, imagination and a lot of time. Movies require much less time and that we sit back and let someone else do the dreaming and thinking for us. What possible good do people like Ms. M-G suppose they're doing by encouraging such behavior? (And yes, saying "the movie is better than the book" will encourage most people simply to forget about the book.)

Posted by Robert at May 19, 2008 09:32 AM | TrackBack

I think it is rare thing that the movie is ever better than the book. If it is, it is because the book needed editing, not because it needed creative elucidation. A good movie version of a book is usually one that is faithful to the book.

It's been so long since I read the Narnia books that I can't honestly judge how well they compare, but the first Narnia movie felt rushed. I really don't remember the second book, but I think C.S. Lewis was a pretty good self-editor, so I suspect that if the movie is good, it will be because the book was better. There are few, if any, people today as literate as the Oxford don Lewis was, and none of them are working in Hollywood. His books are the product of a more civilized age.

As for the notion that The Lord of the Rings was a better movie than a book, well, Frederica Mathewes-Green really needs to put down the crack pipe.

Seriously, Frederica. Just because you've got a hyphenated name doesn't mean that you're immune to having that monkey climb on your back.

Posted by: The Abbot at May 19, 2008 12:55 PM

Sometimes I find that the movie version is better than the book and sometimes I wonder if the script writer even read the book! It is rare that I like both the book and the movie version and the only one that comes to mind right now is Gone With The Wind.

Posted by: LeeAnn at May 19, 2008 04:46 PM

Figured I'd stop by and check in on the Llamas, see how things are going. Cranky appraisal of literature adapted to film? Check!

That's the stuff.

Posted by: Bill from INDC at May 20, 2008 10:01 AM

Yeah, we figured while you were off being a BSD among the Milibloggers, we'd keep the home fires of inane pettiness burning.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at May 20, 2008 12:02 PM