“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” (2008)

Movies based on books almost never do their source material justice. There are those notable few that manage to capture the essence of a narrative and project it onto the screen, transcending two very different mediums. Some books just adapt well to film and others do not.  Myths often undergo several retellings, each new iteration highlighting themes and motifs that build on the source.  The recent adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia have produced similar results, and yet cause terrible consternation among those who cherish the original works.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the latest effort by director Andrew Adamson and Walden Media to bring C.S. Lewis’s masterpieces to the big screen, falls among these efforts.  And while the resultant adaptation may cause split reactions among fans, it remains a conscious, devoted effort to maintain myth and grand storytelling to a young audience in desperate need of good stories.   

A year since their fateful stay at Professor Kirke’s estate, the four Pevensie children deal with their longing to return to Narnia in different ways.  How long, a frustrated Peter asks.  How long until we can go back?

Meanwhile, 1300 years have passed in Narnia, and many things have changed.  An evil usurper with an eye on the throne has just learned that his wife has given birth to a son.  This man Miraz immediately orders the death of the young Prince Caspian to secure his kingship.  Caspian flees, aided by a tutor, who sends him away with a familiar old horn.  Use it when all hope is lost, he tells the prince. 

Caspian heads to the woods, pursued by Miraz’s sinister men.  There, Caspian encounters strange creatures; creatures he thought lived only in myth. Desperate and surrounded, Caspian blows the horn – summoning the four kings and queens back to Narnia. 

Adamson and company shuffle various story elements of the book in order to avoid some of the challenges a beat-for-beat adaptation would present.  Much of Caspian the book is told in flashback, and doesn’t lend itself as well to adaptation as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW).  The shuffle helps maintain a more cinematic narrative, keeping the action set pieces closer together, thus keeping a younger audience engaged. 

In the midst of this shuffle, however, the film steps around one of the two key themes of the book: “restoration of the true religion after corruption.”  In the world of Caspian the book, storytelling is outlawed, and “Old Narnia,” the world of Aslan and talking beasts is nothing more than a fairytale, and just as easily dismissed.  But while the filmmakers have received criticism for leaving this out, it hardly creates a vacuum.  Caspian remains, like its source, a myth for kids.  And like all great myths, various themes rise out of the narrative that enrich and nourish. 

Peter and Susan (William Moseley and Anna Popplewell), largely static in the book, receive a rounder development in the film. Susan remains the most pragmatic of the four, eager to embrace adulthood and leave childishness behind.  In the opening moments of the film when she finds Peter fighting with some boys at the rail station, she scowls just like a mother hen.  Peter’s aggression, we quickly realize, stems from a growing impatience, both for a return to Narnia, and to reclaim the warrior adulthood he found in that magical place. 

Two themes unique to the film’s narrative rise from these developments.  Susan, even in the context of the books, has always wanted to grow up quickly, a trait that comes into play in the final volume of Lewis’s chronicles.  Her attraction to Caspian later in the film, then, touches that same yearning, while still providing a slant for doe-eyed teenage girls in the audience. 

Peter’s endures a suffering faith journey throughout the film, constantly trying to discern the will of Aslan while faced with what he feels in an interminable silence from the great lion.   His conflict with Caspian, and his temptation by the return of the White Witch, both offer a profound examination of a believer’s struggle to find the right path, while remaining extra-canonical story elements developed for the sake of the film. 

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost makes a great point when he writes that most fans are walking away disappointed because they can’t make the leap from reader to movie-goer.  The diverging needs of both mediums require different elements in order to successfully tell a story.  The added siege on Miraz’s castle, while a big deviation from the book, makes for a terrific cinematic sequence. Caspian, then, becomes a much better film than LWW.  The returning cast falls into their roles with greater confidence and poise, and newcomers, such as Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin, breathe real life into characters once bound to a page.

Adamson and his crew have created a stirring war movie, one that gives kids who teeter on the edge of discerning their purpose shining examples of courage, belief, strength and valor (especially in the character of Reepicheep, making the jump from page to screen in bold fashion), played out against immense struggle and powerful doubt. 

For an audience that never ceases to express their disappointment in a Hollywood that consistently disrespects their religion, there seems to be little tolerance even for a Hollywood that gets it right, even if it doesn’t hit all the beats one might wish.  Is Caspian the movie exactly like Caspian the book?  No.  Go see it anyway.

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