C.S. Lewis is one of the best known writers of children literature in history. His vibrant story lines and plot twists have the power to intrigue not only children, but their parents as well. The first published book in The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, is undoubtably the most famous book in C.S. Lewis’ collection of literary successes. This beloved children’s book has been reproduced into several different medias including a handful of television adaptations, a few theatrical radio broadcasts and in 2005, a feature film. Though the book (1950) and the film (2005) have many similarities, they both have distinctive qualities that place them in their own time periods and cultures, such as the differences of survival instincts, heroes, their views of woman and the impression of Christian theology.
In 1945, one of the most significant events in history came to an end, World War II. The book was written shortly after the war ended. The book uses World War II air-raids as the catalyst for getting the four main characters (Peter, Suzan, Edmund and Lucy) to the professor’s house to start the book’s adventure. The war is important to mention and keep in mind because at that time, the war consumed the world. Soldiers were required to use their basic instincts of survival and the book highlights those instincts with its characters.
For example, the oldest sibling, Peter, is given a sword by Father Christmas, and from that moment on he is carrying the sword with him. In the last half of the book, Aslan (The Lion) gives Peter advice and tips on how to effectively wield his sword in battle. In a moment of enemy attack, Peter is forced to use the sword to kill his enemy, to protect his own life and the lives of others. This is a parallel of the responsibility that soldiers had in the recent World War, they were required to use their weapons to protect themselves and others. The survival instincts that were present in the book’s time period have been diminished in our current society.
In the film, the first few images the audience is shown are airplanes dropping bombs during an air-raid. The audience is then introduced to four children who are the main characters. The audience watches them hide from the chaos of the war and then observes a scuffle between the two brothers, Peter and Edmund. In the film, the story starts with an action/drama movie-style score and dark, shaky camera shots which play into the intensity of the action. In the current culture of consumers, everything is about instant gratification and large amounts of stimulants to remain interested. The excitement of this moment fuels the audience to believe that the characters are survivors, thus creating the expectation of a film with lots of close calls, in which it delivers. Throughout the beginning of the film Peter is constantly shying away from any action and trying to stay safe. He is also influenced by his sister Suzanne who constantly wants to go back home. It seems that the film is continually promoting the safety of home and that translates into the current cultures desire of being at home, comfortable and safe.
The book was written in the late 1940s and was published in 1950.
The influence of culture at that time can be seen through the author’s writing. It was a time that viewed women as household appliances, something a man could own or control. The author, C.S. Lewis was raised in an environment which believed that women are second to men. In the novel, There are several instances where Edmund (a ten-year-old boy and one of the four main characters) degrades women verbally by calling his youngest sister, Lucy, “just a girl.” This simple line illustrates the overall theme of the male chauvinistic personalities throughout the story. Another example of this is when the reader is introduced to the characters Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.
The gender roles played in their household reflect the time period in which C.S. Lewis was writing. Mrs. Beaver is responsible for the cooking, the cleaning and being supportive of Mr. Beaver. She is also portrayed as a very kind character whose main concerns are having enough food for their long journey and the proper necessities a woman should have, such as a sewing machine. In a dramatic moment when the beavers and the children are escaping the dam, Mrs. Beaver says “Well, I’m nearly ready now. I suppose the sewing machine’s too heavy to bring?” Not only does this create some comedic relief in the midst of a tense moment, it also demonstrates the authors expectations of a woman’s role in the household. Her character is a reflection of being the perfect wife because she fulfills her responsibilities and blindly trusts her male counterpart.
Over 50 years divide the book and the film, women are depicted very differently in the current time period. In the film, once the characters are in Narnia we are introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Unlike the book, Mrs. Beaver holds more control over Mr. Beaver, she talks to him firmly and lightly humiliates him in front of their guests. In the midst of the characters leaving, Mrs. Beaver says “…Beaver gets pretty cranky when he’s hungry.” Mr. Beaver responds with an agitated response of “I’m cranky now!” In other instances, Mr. Beaver shrugs off any off-putting comments Mrs. Beaver sends his way and the audiences falls in love with their relationship. The film made Mrs. Beaver less of a housewife figure and more of a strong, confident woman. Culture’s view of women has changed due to women becoming more independent, confident and successful. There are a lot of concerns with showing women in films, books or television as vulnerable, dimwitted characters and Mrs. Beavers revamped character development in the film as opposed to the book is the proof of a cultural shift about women and their roles.
The concept of a hero in any medium is very important. The hero is used to lift spirits, inspire the audience and ultimately, save the day. There are several different archetypes of heroes in the book, but most notably Aslan. Aslan is a warrior, he is noble, relentless and fights for the underdog. There is a moment near the climax of the book where Aslan has a meeting with the White Witch, Aslan agrees that he will sacrifice his own life for the well-being of Edmund. Later that evening, Aslan is killed upon a stone table by the White Witch while a crowd watches and celebrates his death. At the first sunlight, the stone table is broken and he is resurrected. C.S. Lewis is famously known for his Christian beliefs and its influence in his writings. The book continually refers to the children as the two sons of Adam and the two daughters of Eve, which a direct correlation of the worlds first two human beings according to biblical text. This is a substantial Christian influence from Lewis and also isn’t reflected so heavily in the film. In the novel, when the death and resurrection of Aslan happens, it symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Aslan in this respect is viewed as the hero of the tale, he has sacrificed himself for Edmund, who in this case represents humanity. C.S. Lewis was able to influence millions of people with his beliefs by using his characters symbolic gestures.
In the film, the main symbolism and hero still lies in the character of Aslan, however Peter, Suzanne, Lucy and even Edmund are painted as hero types to create a more appealing and adventurous story for the film.
The battle scene at the end of the film has Peter in several heroic stances and movements.
Suzanne is seen from low angles with her bow and arrow, which are considered hero shots.
Lucy is elevated heavily at the end with her healing potion as she rides around on Aslan healing the wounded.
Finally, Edmund is given a glorious moment of redemption when he bravely strikes the White Witch’s staff to symbolically end her reign as ruler of Narnia as the prophecy hath foretold. At the end of the film.
The four main characters are seen receiving crowns and becoming kings and queens of Narnia. This is relevant because it can be viewed as the same progression of the four writers of the gospels. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, they were responsible for conveying the story of his life and miracles in a way people could relate to and understand.
The four newly crowned royalty would now represent the view that Narnians would have of their King, Aslan. The symbolism of Jesus in the character of Aslan still remains in the film, however it’s interesting to look at how the current culture responds to this aspect of the film. The film was co-produced by Walden Media and Disney. Walden Media is owned by Philip Anschutz who is a conservative Christian and has been quoted saying “We expects our movies to be entertaining, but also to be life affirming and to carry a moral message.” This is further evidence that the movie’s Christian themes are intentional and the marketing of the film was deliberately towards a faith-based audience. However, because of the quality of the books and the genre of fantasy, many people from around the world enjoyed the film (regardless of their faith) and it was a box office hit earning over $700,000,000 in world wide box office sales.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe has impacted millions of people over the last 55 years. The story is full of great characters who have heart, courage and faith and it provides easy access to the imagination. The story will continue to live on as future filmmakers attempt to bring the words of C.S. Lewis to life for a brand new audience to enjoy, but for now, each of these medias can serve as a reflection to it’s corresponding time period.
The Chronicles of Narnia The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe. Dir. Andrew Adamson. Perf. Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Poppewell, Tilda Swinton, Dawn French, Ray Winstone, Liam Neeson. Walden Media, Walt Disney, 2005. Bluray.
Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. London: Geoffrey Bless, 1950. Print.
“Walden Media.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 May 2013. Web. 07 Dec. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walden_Media>.