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Review: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

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The Narnia movie was splendid.

I went into it with very high hopes and a lot of trepidation. The hopes were confirmed, and the trepidation was unfounded.

(I'm going to try to mostly avoid spoilers here, but I'll probably say a few things that some people might construe as small spoilers. I was going to say that didn't matter 'cause presumably everyone's read the books, but then Lola told me she hasn't read the books yet, so I suppose there may be others in a similar situation.)

There was certainly plenty in this movie to nitpick, were one so inclined. And my Critical Brain was certainly whirring away to itself in the back of my head throughout the movie, thinking about mythology and special effects and political issues, and raising an eyebrow at the reaction of the rest of my brain.

Because the rest of my brain was enthralled, in unalloyed wonder and delight.

I cried a lot during the movie--sometimes at beauty, sometimes at sadness, sometimes just from the pleasure of recognition. This wasn't quite the Narnia of my mind's eye, but it was very close.

I found the movie extremely true to the book, one of my favorite adaptations ever. I do appreciate it when a movie based on a book tries to duplicate the book as closely as possible, but sometimes (I've especially felt this way about the first couple Harry Potter movies) the result can feel a little lifeless, a little like the movie isn't bringing much of value to the experience. (But then, I wasn't thrilled with the Harry Potter books, either.)

But this Narnia movie managed to update and interpret and shift here and there, mostly in ways that made it work better as a movie (and/or work better for modern audiences), while remaining very true to the spirit and sense of the book. (As with The Princess Bride, I'm inclined to say this is just about the best movie that could have been made from the book.) For example, the climactic battle (glossed over in about four pages of the book) takes up quite a bit of screen time, but they do a fine job with it. Another example: there's a scene in the book in which two of the children are talking with the Professor; that scene is three pages of dialogue in the book, but condensed to maybe half a dozen lines in the movie. And there are a couple of interesting bits in that scene that the movie left out--and yet, the movie scene conveys everything it needs to, and it gives very much the same feel as the scene in the book, as well as quoting a couple of lines verbatim, without feeling the need to copy the entire scene in the book exactly.

And I felt that way about most of the movie. It doesn't always adhere to the letter of the book, but it very much (imo) adheres to the spirit of it--except for a little bit of de-emphasis of the Christianity, and a little bit of modernizing here and there.

There were many opportunities for things to go horribly wrong, but the movie took none of them. Part of my reaction was simple relief, letting go of the tension over whether the movie was going to be bad in any of a number of different ways. (For example, I was sure from the previews that the talking animals were going to be horribly unbelievable, but in the movie itself I found most of them totally believable. And some of the hybrids, especially the centaurs, were so natural that I just about forgot there was anything strange about them.) But that relief wasn't all of my reaction by any means.

There are three things I think you should bear in mind when attending this movie (or, for that matter, reading the book):

  • Lewis didn't mean the story to be a Christian allegory per se; he meant it to be something like what the Christ story might've been like in a world of talking animals and mythological creatures. I find that both more palatable than exact-parallel allegory and more interesting; knowing that was what he had in mind let me not focus so much on the Christian elements as I might have otherwise. The Christian elements are certainly there (and even central to the story), but it never feels like a bait-and-switch; they're not pretending to tell us a pure fantasy story while secretly sneaking in a Christian sermon. I think that fear of bait-and-switch was part of why I felt so betrayed as a kid when I finally recognized the Christianity in the book (while watching a climactic scene from an animated movie version, after reading the series twice and not noticing the Christianity); I didn't realize that that wasn't what Lewis was doing, and it took me a couple years to get over my distress and recognize that the books are good regardless.
  • Narnia is a hodgepodge of elements and beings from a wide assortment of traditions and mythologies. Don't worry about it. Let it be what it is; don't try to analyze it, don't try to make it into a coherent unified system like Tolkien's. It's kind of a dream world in some ways, though a very solid-feeling one.
  • More generally, try to turn off or bypass your critical brain. This is not a movie--or, indeed, a book--that rewards adult cynicism. Relax into it and let it bring out your childhood sense of wonder.

I got a fair bit of that from an interesting National Geographic article about Narnia and the movie (which does contain some smallish spoilers for the book and movie); it's partly about Lewis's hodgepodge of sources (and the disagreement between him and Tolkien about whether that was a valid approach), and partly about WETA trying to get the look of the movie right. Two particularly interesting quotes from Richard Taylor, creature design supervisor for the movie:

[The Minotaurs] actually have the most beautiful armor of any culture in the whole of Narnia.

(That armor was apparently created by WETA using an Italian Renaissance technique called repuso.)

And, regarding the difference between fauns and satyrs:

[Tumnus] can't be seen as the naked-chested male leading the little girl down the forest path to his home[....] His character must transform any form of overtone toward male predatory feel and become so childlike that you accept him[....]

Kam suggested a possible way of thinking about the distinction between Lord of the Rings and Narnia: she suggested that the Tolkien books evoke sense of awe--a sort of intellectual appreciation, mixed with adult emotional engagement--while the Narnia books evoke sense of wonder--a more childlike appreciation, with emotional engagement at perhaps a more fundamental level. I could quibble with the terms, but I think the distinction is an interesting one, albeit not quite that clear-cut. (I would say that there's a mix--that there's also some intellectual appreciation of Narnia to be had, and some childlike wonder at Middle Earth.) And although I liked the LotR movies, I mostly didn't love them.

I didn't realize, until I saw this movie, how much the book of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe meant to me. I've got all sorts of political complaints about it--but it really connected with my sense of wonder as a kid, and the movie brought that solidly back. Partly that's a nostalgia thing, but it would have been trivially easy for them to make a bad movie that made me nostalgic for my childhood sense of wonder without actually making me feel that wonder. The movie they actually made got it right.

I hate to lavish all this praise on it, because I know I'm setting y'all's expectations too high, and you'll probably be disappointed. So I'll note that although this was probably my favorite movie of at least the past several months, it doesn't come close to my all-time top ten or even top twenty list. I thought it was lovely and compelling, but not the apotheosis of modern filmmaking or anything.

And you may disagree with me about how good an adaptation it is, especially if you're such a big fan of the book that you've memorized all the dialogue or something.

But I do think it's an awfully good movie, and I liked it quite a lot.

I don't know what they're going to do with the rest of the books. I always found Magician's Nephew a little weak (though the Wood Between the Worlds is perhaps the strongest image for me of all the series), and it will be very difficult for them to do The Horse and His Boy without coming across as racist, or The Last Battle without bringing a whole lot more Christianity into it. But after this movie, the creators have built up a whole lot of author points for me; I'm willing to trust them to get the rest of the series (or however many more they decide to do) right.

Btw, there's a fascinating (and spoiler-full) article, unrelated to the movie, about what order to read the books in. I agree with the article's conclusion that both of the standard orderings have value, but I'm still strongly inclined to recommend (to any who haven't yet read the books) starting with Lion/Witch/Wardrobe rather than with The Magician's Nephew, simply because I think Lion is a better book and a better introduction to Narnia. I think if I'd read Nephew first I might not have bothered with the rest of the series; it has some good stuff in it, but it doesn't have nearly as much sense-of-wonder (for me) as Lion does.

22 Comments

Thanks for posting such an extensive and thoughtful review. I love the book and have been both anticipating and fearing this adaptation, for most of the reasons you mention, but given what you say here I am now much less worried.

Personally, I think the re-ordering of the books is a travesty. There was an article in the National Review (of all places) that passionately defended the original ordering a month or so back. Its basic argument, with which I agree, is that The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe creates a sense of wonder and anticipates the stories yet to come in a way that The Magician's Nephew does not. I wonder if people who read the books in the new order even understand what's going on in Nephew?


Here's the first mention of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe:

Here the Beaver's voice sank into silence and it gave one or two very mysterious nods. Then signalling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, it added in a low whisper -

"They say Aslan is on the move - perhaps has already landed."

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning - either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

To me, this is a crucial moment that only works if you read The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe first.


I appreciate your positive review of the Lion/Witch/Wardrobe. I didn't enjoy the Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings very much, but I didn't expect to like them; the trailers gave me a pretty good idea that Peter Jackson's interpretation would not appeal to me. But the trailer for Narnia was a little scary; it was the first time I felt like the artistic director on a movie had rooted around in my head- so many of the images were so very close to how I imagined things to look. That was one of the reasons I could not enjoy Peter Jackson's LotRs, his imagination and mine seemed to be completely at odds (It took me all of the first movie to realize I had reversed Merry and Pippin-- I would have cast them exactly opposite).
I certainly won't hold it against you if I am dissapointed; it was just reassuring to know you liked it. I haven't been this excited and jittery about going to a movie since Return of the Jedi (Will they rescue Han? Is Darth Vader really Luke's father? It was, probably, also my first movie disappointment since I just couldn't seem to apprecieate the ewoks).
As for the chronology of the books...I read the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe between the ages of five and six. I didn't know there were more. Some evil, sadistic person had published a set of books that contained the first volume of several series (Mary Poppins, Little House in the Big Woods, A Wrinkle in Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe-- I think this would be a very obvious place to blame some of my quirks). It took me a little while to read LWW because there was a very frightening picture of the White Witch and her minions at the Stone Table (nothing especially graphic, but the monsters looked scary). When I finally did, I lugged it and The Hobbit with me where ever I went. When I discovered there were MORE of them I devoured them (that's how I know exactly when I read them because I got my Aunt and Uncle's copy when they moved to Washington). I really, really liked being established in Narnia by the first book, and then finding out more of Narnia's history latter. I even liked where The Horse and His Boy fell in the series because it was a nice visit back to the first story.
If C.S. Lewis gave his approval for them to be published in chronological order, then I'm cool with it (because that is all that really matters to me). But, personally, I prefer it the other way because I like surprises. Finding out that the Professor had a connection to the wardrobe was delightful, and I don't think it would have been as much fun if I had read The Magician's Nephew first (also, as an adult, I don't think it is as good a book).


I don't think we actually know each other (I'm Swat '05), but I've seen your journal around. I was procrastinating today at work by poking at friends-of-friends journals; I came across this review, and I just have to say that I agree *profoundly*. My reaction to the movie is here --

http://www.livejournal.com/users/flammifera/132496.html

-- but this review of yours is what I *meant*, expressed in more length and with more formality.

And my Critical Brain was certainly whirring away to itself in the back of my head throughout the movie, thinking about mythology and special effects and political issues, and raising an eyebrow at the reaction of the rest of my brain.

Because the rest of my brain was enthralled, in unalloyed wonder and delight.

That's why I half-apologized at the end of my post, adding the caveat that I don't know Good Movies, because the critical part of my brain felt abashed at how wonder-full I felt. It really did bring back the wonder and magic, and remind me how much I loved the books as a child!

I also almost-cried a lot (which I try to avoid doing at movies), surprisingly even at the beginning when the children were sent away, because it was so touching.

I also appreciated your exploration in the different types of fantasy that are in the Narnia books and the LOTR, and that difference is exactly why I loved the LWW movie and felt the LOTR movies should not have been made (they do not awake that awe in me).

And finally, I agree with your recommendation for the order in which to read the books (and the consensus in comments) -- I personally think there's no way The Magician's Nephew could awake that wonder, not like opening the wardrobe or first hearing Aslan's name or hearing the Stone Table crack.


I'm looking forward to seeing it.

The Magician's Nephew was my favorite of the original series when I read it as a child, I think; I also remember liking A Horse and His Boy, and regardless of what the book might say, my twenty-six-year-old memory of it isn't racist, so if they just made a movie of my memory of it, that would work.

I experienced The Last Battle as a terrible betrayal, and have never really been able to forgive Lewis for what happened to Susan. All his other very interesting and humane philosophical and theological positions are colored for me by my solidarity with her.


Thanks for the comments, all!

A few belated responses:

For anyone interested in the order-of-reading issue, the article I linked to is definitely worth reading. It notes, among other things, that "Lewis expressed a mild preference for [the] chronological order" (starting with Magician's Nephew), but that Lewis added (in a letter to a reader): "So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I'm not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published."

And in fact it turns out that the publication order was not the same as the writing order. So it's a tricky question.

Nonetheless, having read them in a particular order, I will defend unto death the belief that that order is the One True Correct one. :) ...Well, okay, really all I care about is that Lion should come first; the order of the others doesn't matter nearly so much to me.

Ben, re memory: I read somewhere that the director and/or screenwriter for the movie started work on the movie before they re-read the books, to get the effect of basing the movie on their memories. (And then presumably re-read the books later in the process.) I might normally be annoyed by such an approach, but I think in this case they did a great job of capturing the version of the book in my memory, so I hope they can do as well with the other books.

(And btw, on re-read I find that Prince Caspian is a perfect example of a terrible way to structure a modern American movie. I have no idea how they'll pull it off, but I trust them.)

Re what happened to Susan: have you read Neil Gaiman's excellent story "The Problem of Susan"? First published in the anthology Flights in June 2004; reprinted in the 2005 Hartwell/Cramer Year's Best Fantasy, where it was my second-favorite story in the book.


No! I must find it!


This fellow also discusses Susan's plight:

http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com/2005/11/lipstick-on-my-scholar.html

But it won't wash, really. The problem is not that Lewis's condemning Susan to be orphaned is sexist. It never occurred to me that it was sexist (though I suppose an argument could be made).

The problem is that it's cruel and barbarous. And what's cruel and barbarous about it is not so much the theology, as the breach of contract between author and character. There are many reasons why you may dish out a great deal of pain to a beloved character, but to make an austere theological point is not one of them. It's the readerly sense that Lewis has forgotten that Susan is real; a sin oddly parallel to the one he accuses her of.


See, I don't see it as cruel or barbarous. Susan has her whole life ahead of her. She might yet rejoin the others (I rather think she will-- once a queen in Narnia, etc.), and if so it'll probably be after lots of life experience the other siblings won't have had. She hasn't been cast out or anything; she just doesn't currently believe in the stuff from her childhood, and is being given the time she needs to work things out for herself. Seems merciful to me.


It's not merely the facts of the matter, but the presentation.

I understand that Susan may yet get to Aslan's kingdom if she comes around.

What I don't understand is the appalling and uncharacteristic lack of sympathy in the story for her pain:

1) Why are the parents killed in the crash? Artistically why, theologically why, in terms of Alsan's motivations as a character why?

Aren't you left a little bit with the feeling that the parents are killed so that Edmund, Peter and Lucy won't have to go without them? As a treat for them, for believing in Narnia and all?

We have, after all, no sense of the parents as people, as characters, as religious seekers. It is simply a matter of great convenience that they get to come along for the ride. And, don't you think, of stacking the deck -- of rewarding the right-thinking children not merely with Heaven, but also with being spared any separation, pain, or grief which might trouble them?

2. Susan is represented as frivolous, but never as mean. Nowhere is it suggested that she has grown any less attached to her family. She is still the loving person who stroked Aslan's mane when he was tortured; she is merely distracted too much by the things of this world.

So it is presumably obvious that having all of her beloved siblings AND her parents killed in a single train crash is going to be not a very nice thing for her.

Yet the narrative spends no time on this. It does not give us Susan's grief. It does not show her learn, or fail to learn, anything from it. Susan is the one who has most at stake, who suffers most, who is at the most crucial turning point, in the matter of the train crash. She has lost everything.

She is entirely offstage, and dealt with in the text only grudgingly, being given in absentia a lecture on her priorities. No one has any time for her pain.

She is cast out of the narrative permanently, whether or not she is cast out of Heaven.

And the message is inescapable (though, I hasten to say, totally incompatible with Lewis's expressed theoretical philosophy) that she matters -- to her family, to the author, to Aslan who she comforted in the Narnian Pieta' -- only insofar as she, at some point in the future, repents.

Lewis's philosophy would be, I think, that God grieves immeasurably for lost sheep. Where is the grief for Susan in this story?

3. Most egregiously, why are Edmund, Peter, and Lucy not distraught at her abandonment? Why do they not cry out in alarm and dismay when it becomes clear their sister is now friendless and alone -- especially when she is at such spiritual risk in her current addiction to stockings and lipstick? Why do they not beg of Aslan to get word to her, to console her, to hasten her way?

Why do they have to be reminded of her by an unrelated Narnian character?

Why do they seem so smug about their own good fortune, so docile in their acceptance that all will surely be for the best?

I tell you this: I read that book when I was eight or so, as someone who had been artistically and spiritually captivated by the whole saga, and I put it down and said to myself: that is not *my* heaven.



If I'm understanding you correctly, your problem with the ending of The Last Battle basically boils down to the Problem of Pain, or Why Does God Let Bad Things To Happen To Good People?

To digress for a moment, lest you think that I'm missing the point, let's suppose that there's an answer to that problem (as I am sure there is; in fact, this question doesn't really disturb me). Granting that, there'd be no reason for Aslan, Susan's siblings, or anybody else to feel concern or grief for her. They're beyond that; they have complete, utter assurance that what's happening to Susan is for a good purpose, and is in her own best interest.

("Isn't it wonderful?" said Lucy. "Have you noticed one can't feel afraid, even if one wants to?" [Chap. 16] I would submit that this applies here too; they're now beyond all fears and concerns.)

Still, you ask, the problem exists. Why should Susan suffer? To be honest, I find it curious that you think her siblings should want her to die with them; however nice Heaven is, there's more potential in life. That said, yes; Susan's just lost her family in one fell crash. Of course she's going to suffer. Life is pain. So... what's Lewis's answer to the problem of pain?

I would submit that this was beyond the scope of these books. Narnia doesn't pretend to answer every theological question, nor should it. Susan's story might be interesting to explore along those lines, but that's simply not the book Lewis wrote, and I just can't see that as being his problem.

That said, I suppose it might have helped if he'd spent a few sentences making that clearer. But I tell you this: it didn't bother me when I read the book in elementary school, and it doesn't bother me now.

(One final aside: if your question is presupposing that Aslan had some control over the train crash at issue, I don't agree. While Aslan clearly represents Narnia's manifestation of the Divine, I'm not aware of anything to support the belief that Aslan == Earth's God. I think it's reasonable to suppose that Aslan's influence extends only to his own world. Still, that just punts the problem from Aslan to God, so it's six of one or half-dozen of the other.)


To clarify one more point: one reason why Susan's story is not this story is that The Last Battle is first and foremost the tale of the end of Narnia. The Pevensies' involvement is almost irrelevant; nothing but a grace note. This is not their story. What's going on back on Earth would be totally off-topic.


I love Narnia, and felt about the religious elements much the way this reviewer does: I didn't feel they got in the way of the story (and indeed, despite Christian upbringing, was unable to spot much allegory in anything but the Stone Table when I first read the books, aged seven and upwards). Despite the problems with the Calormenes, I still like Aravis the best of all the female characters - she's the most sparky, and I liked it that a Calormene got to be Queen of Archenland. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favourite.

But The Last Battle disturbed me greatly. I remember crying, and having a firm conviction that I wasn't going to re-read this book (which usually means I hate it). It may be that every society does eventually fall into decadence, but when you're nine and have a problem with things coming to an end, that isn't what you want to read in a story. I wanted the old Narnia to go on forever. The new Narnia, which wouldn't ever change or develop, didn't sound as much fun. And when you're nine, you think being a grown-up will be great. Not getting to grow up? That's not a happy ending, although I do believe Lewis thought it was. The whole thing left a nasty taste in my mouth. I have since re-read it, but not with great enjoyment.

I agree that Susan doesn't deserve to be shut out. On the other hand, when you hear of her pretending that Narnia was all a game, you feel the younger ones' betrayal - or at least I did. Other children often rubbished what I believe in. That hurt, and it makes me more reluctant to say what my beliefs are, unless I'm sure I won't meet with scorn (I don't mind if you disagree with me, so long as you don't treat me like a fool). But it still doesn't make sense to me. Edmund was a traitor, but he was given a chance to repent; can't Susan? Is it because she has had a chance to embrace Narnia, but has changed her mind, whereas Edmund and Eustace start out as self-centred and unpleasant, are "converted" to Narnian thinking, and don't backslide thereafter? Why is being a silly teenager a worse crime than being callous and cruel(Edmund), priggish and greedy (Eustace) or wanting to shirk your responsibilities (Caspian)?

If you read Lewis's short story, The Shoddy Land, you come to realise how strongly he felt about vanity and self-centredness as human flaws. The narrator is given an insight into the mental world of a young woman, Peggy, and finds it a eerie place, formless apart from the things she cares about (consumer products mostly) and centred about an enormous version of herself. The story comes across as more than a little misogynistic, but ends with the narrator wondering what his own internal world looks like, and whether he would care to have someone else see it (the implication is he wouldn't).

I have not yet read The Problem of Susan, although I very much want to.


The moral test of any solution to the Problem of Pain, is the degree to which it fosters empathy for those who are suffering.

It's not that I don't think that there is a plausibly consistent theology behind the events of The Last Battle; it's that I find the theology repulsive.

> "Isn't it wonderful?" said Lucy. "Have you noticed one can't feel afraid, even if one wants to?"

You don't find that vision of Heaven disturbing?


Going back to what you said earlier: the breach of contract between author and character? Do you mean between the author and the reader?

There are many reasons why you may dish out a great deal of pain to a beloved character, but to make an austere theological point is not one of them.

It isn't? Why not?

It's not that I don't think that there is a plausibly consistent theology behind the events of The Last Battle; it's that I find the theology repulsive.

Speaking as an unrepentant materialist here, the true ruling order of cosmology is highly unlikely to be more humane than C.S. Lewis' treatment.

Though Lewis' books -- and in particular his treatment of the Calormene followers of Tash -- certainly do highlight the practical humanist limitations of any theology in which salvation hinges on absolute belief.


You don't find that vision of Heaven disturbing?

Not in the least.


...they have complete, utter assurance that what's happening to Susan is for a good purpose, and is in her own best interest....

Forgive my butting in. It's been a long time since I read The Last Battle, but I don't seem to recall any passage where Susan's siblings discuss her ultimate fate at all, beyond a dismissive "good riddance" few words. If there HAD been such a discussion - I think that a major flaw would've been corrected. I don't think that the flaw is that Susan was barred from heaven due to shallowness and unbelief. If them's the rules, that's what they are. I think the flaw is the dismissiveness of her family. Just a few words of concern to Aslan on their part - a few words of reassurance on the part of Aslan that Susan will have a long life ahead in which she may yet choose to follow them - and on with the Armageddon show, without a total denial of what Susan has been to everyone, including the readers.
I understand that for C.S. Lewis, the concept of heaven as perfection means that for the souls in it, it is not marred by any regret or pain for those left behind. However, in practice, it looks like the Pevensies, with their "whatever, good riddance" attitude toward their sister, lose all their compassion on their ascension to heaven...making them people I really don't want to spend eternity with, hence making Heaven much less attractive than C.S. Lewis meant it to be, I think, despite all the swimming up waterfalls.


...they have complete, utter assurance that what's happening to Susan is for a good purpose, and is in her own best interest....

Forgive my butting in. It's been a long time since I read The Last Battle, but I don't seem to recall any passage where Susan's siblings discuss her ultimate fate at all, beyond a dismissive "good riddance" few words. If there HAD been such a discussion - I think that a major flaw would've been corrected. I don't think that the flaw is that Susan was barred from heaven due to shallowness and unbelief. If them's the rules, that's what they are. I think the flaw is the dismissiveness of her family. All it would've taken was a few words of concern to Aslan on their part - a few words of reassurance on the part of Aslan that Susan will have a long life ahead in which she may yet choose to follow them - and on with the Armageddon show, without a total denial of what Susan has been to everyone, including the readers.
I understand that for C.S. Lewis, the concept of heaven as perfection means that for the souls in it, it is not marred by any regret or pain for those left behind. However, in practice, it looks like the Pevensies, with their "whatever, good riddance" attitude toward their sister, lose all their compassion on their ascension to heaven...making them people I really don't want to spend eternity with, hence making Heaven much less attractive than C.S. Lewis meant it to be, I think, despite all the swimming up waterfalls.


Ditto Miriam. That's what I was trying to say.

I guess if you read that conversation ("But what will happen to Susan??" "Fear not, my child...") as implied, you could read The Last Battle as reasonably humane.

I don't find a vision of heaven in which All Is Revealed To Be For The Good, and so you don't have any fear any more, although you still have compassion for the sufferings of those not yet in the know, disturbing or repulsive. But the Pevensies don't seem to be in the know. They don't know that Susan will turn out all right. They don't root for her or grieve in advance for her inevitable loss. They don't see in a flash that it is even somehow for the best that her soul be lost to darkness (and you'd have to sell me on that one pretty hard). They just seem content not to question it -- if Aslan says so, it must be all right. They act not like people who have so much insight into what is going on that they are able to discern goodness and purpose where those less informed would see woe; rather, they seem like people on happy pills. Only their doubts are gone, not their reason for doubting. They see their sister abandoned and move on to other topics without a twitch, singing "la la la".

That's what I find disturbing.


>> There are many reasons
>> why you may dish out a
>> great deal of pain to a
>> beloved character, but to
>> make an austere
>> theological point is not
>> one of them.
>
> It isn't? Why not?

Well, okay, you got me. Like all writing rules, that is a juicy one just waiting to be broken.

Sure, you can: if it works.

But I expect if it does work it will work either because a) you set the reader's expectations properly in tone and style that austere theological considerations, or b) you do it with ameliorating humanity and grace.

If you do it well, more power to you; but like all writing rules, this one was declaimed in a fit of passion brought on by seeing too many horrific errors of a certain type -- characters and stories sacrificed to the grinding axe of a writer's dogmatic theories.

The only thing riskier than "and then they were all run over by a truck!" is "and then they were all run over by the truck... OF CAPITALISM!!!" (or Immorality, or Liberals, or Fantasy Trilogies, or whatever).

> Speaking as an unrepentant > materialist here, the true > ruling order of cosmology > is highly unlikely to be
> more humane than C.S.
> Lewis' treatment

That doesn't seem germane, since I'm not repulsed by Harold Pinter's theology, or Jean Paul Sartre's, or H. P. Lovecraft's. I don't mind bleak. They all seem honestly trying to grapple with the way the world is.

Nor am I repulsed by Lewis's theology as he presents it didactically in his nonfiction or, say, Screwtape. Alienated, maybe, but not repulsed.

"We are all in Hell and there is no way out" is not repulsive.

"Foolish, well-meaning people may go to Hell simply by inattention to their relationship with God" is not repulsive.

Only "foolish, well-meaning people may go to Hell simply by inattention to their relationship with God, but so what? We're okay" is repulsive.


I meant

a) you set the reader's expectations properly in tone and style that austere theological considerations may trump narrative ones at any time


if Aslan says so, it must be all right. They act not like people who have so much insight into what is going on that they are able to discern goodness and purpose where those less informed would see woe; rather, they seem like people on happy pills. Only their doubts are gone, not their reason for doubting. They see their sister abandoned and move on to other topics without a twitch, singing "la la la".

This is also more or less the problem, from a technical point of view, with the way most of the books are plotted.

I think I'm going to start appending the words “...OF CAPITALISM!” to all sorts of things, just to see what happens.


1. I think it's important artistically and religiously that Susan is left out. You can't have the sweet without the bitter. Don't be such middle American saps that you want everything sacharine like television. Susan has some good in her and some bad as well, as many of us do. It is not a given that she will come around or that all of us will either.

2. I thought the wonderful thing about the story was the children. They were cute without being pretty and really seemed like "real kids" and a real family. Lucy was cute in a more really honest way, than what I found of her idealized in the book. And the resentful younger brother, Edmund was brilliantly done. These little touches were some small ways that the movite was better than the book. I did not care so much for the grand finale battle, but could live with it, given how good everything was.


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