7
Jan 11

NARNIA WEEK: what you see is what you get

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I’ve enjoyed all three of the Narnia films so far, partly because they render the deep philosophical silliness of Lewis’s seven beloved books even more massively obvious — but partly because they not only trust in his strengths, but amplify them, by being better than he is (or even realistically could be) at certain things.

Thus: Aslan is a passive-aggressive kn0b who is worshipful only bcz CAN HAZ GIANT KITAN, no more no less.

Plus: religions mean WAR and wars mean death; which the books are evasive and even whimisical about, at least until the last. There is something twistedly perverse about the idea that children should have a richly emotional and imaginative immersion in the fact of battle, BY BEING IN BATTLE, albeit anachronistical and rather euphemised battle — and the first two films, amping up the scale of said battles to LoTR dimensions, make this really all the more obvious. Taking this side of Lewis’s project seriously is to reveal yrself as a moral nincompoop.

But: the book of Voyage of the Dawn Treader involves no serious battles — there’s a bloodless scuffle in the Lone Islands, one man is lost overseas, and not all the seven lords they seek are still alive. And its structure, is essentially that of a videogame, with each new land discovered a different level or zone of threat or challenge, from the moral-political realism of slavery in the lawless Lone Islands to the terrors-from-within of the Dark Island, where (bad) dreams come true, to, well, the final level. At which point, a bit deflated, you put the game back in the box, and file it under ” for eBay”.

Recall: that the entire saga was seeded, so Lewis said, from an image in his head, of a faun carrying an umbrella in the snow. This — far more than the overall or grounding beliefs he claimed shaped his life and thinking — is his strength: the memorable vividness of tableaux, imaginative life as an intensity of sensual encounter. With Pauline Baynes’s rather important help, you can distil his work down to sequences of extremely potent scenes and it loses, well, nothing, That’s what it is: the moral framework, the “justification”, is at best a distraction; at worst a denial of his own artistic intelligence.

But: of course he was obsessed with onions

Or rather: the onion-form nature of godhood, the universe, and ourselves. The real is what you get to as you approach — further up and further in! — the ideal, or heaven, or Aslan’s land. Or — when it comes to people — what you get when you strip away the scaly and degraded outer skins, to reveal the much nicer person within.

Which is BAD GEOMETRY: to say the least. And here’s where Dawn Treader easily improves on Lewis, insight-wise. Viz EUSTACE, poisonous little beast become unintended dragon become GOOD STAND-UP NARNIAN, Because he’s had the cynical foolish wised-up materialism stripped off him by Aslan blah blah: well done Aslan. Well, here’s the thing: Eustace may have been a poisonous little beast in our world — tho all we see is that he has a collection of beetles and doesn’t really like the narnia-game, possbly because HE IS SHUT OUT OF IT — but what we see of him in this film’s Narnia doesn’t really strike you like that.

WHAT YOU DO SEE: is a quite small boy cast into a world he REALLY HASN’T ASKED FOR OR BEEN EXPECTING fighting against the seemingly insane groupthink of the not-really-adults who are meant to be looking after him. No one sits down and explains Aslan or Narnia to him. The plan everyone but him is following is SAIL TO THE ISLAND OF DREAMS-COME-TRUE AND THEN OFF THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, at the behest of a magician they’ve only just met, who admits he is holding the Dufflepuds (for their own good) in a web of magic they don’t really like… At the key point — classic attention-seeking stuff from the probably very lonely and frightened and neglected and IMO somewhat abused (by Aslan if no one else) child — Eustace picks a fight with mega-annoying free-pass darling Reepicheep. Who is of course a world-class swordsman and duellist, and easily trounces him.

BUT: Reepicheep here in the film spots something Lewis didn’t appear to see; and responds accordingly. He notices that for this lonely little kid to be trolling not just the shipful of quasi-adults he’s surrounded by, but the ENTRE WORLD he’s fallen into, demands a lot of guts. Whatever else he has, Eustace has the courage of his poisonous beastliness. And Reep — who is the only mouse aboard, in a shipful of humans (plus the film’s non-canonic minotaur) — knows courage when he sees it. It’s not deep within, it’s right there on the surface.

SO ER ANYWAY: this is something I liked. Plus also — reflecting a sentence in the book, that’s a bit of passing description no one has ever made note of — that one scene, of the ship passing an unutterably gorgeous pink-purple sunset-dyed cloud in an otherwise cloudless sky…

(More on Aslan’s land in a later post, I hope… )

Comments

  1. 1
    Sabina on 7 Jan 2011 #

    Fiiirst, will be back once I’ve seen this movie (as with most Dawn Treader was my fave…)

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