Although, not ranking with The Horse and His Boy, or The Last Battle as my favorite Narnian tales, Prince Caspian still holds a special place in my heart as part of C.S. Lewis’ repetoire of allegorical fairy tales. Perhaps it’s because the Narnia of that story has a different, wilder flavor than some of the other stories, or because it was pointed out to me once that it has some interesting parallels with the Mormon story of the Restoration– which, of course, Lewis did not intend. But it’s interesting– a boy tutored by a near mythical Moroni-like character who tells him of an ancient culture; a 1,300 year apostasy, after which a Restoration of old magic happens; a passing down of keys from ancient figures (one of them, incidentally, named Peter); and a young child seeing Aslan (God) in the woods, and no one will believe her at first. Perhaps this is an example of Karl Jung’s archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces. Either way, the book has a certain power in its mythic narrative.
But with all of this baggage brought into the movie, it’s hard not to have a certain expectation from the film version, even when you’re trying to lower your expectations. What I received from the film version of Prince Caspian was really a mixed bag. On so many levels it exceeded my expectations. On a couple of levels it certainly didn’t.
First, I’ll focus on where I felt it fell short. One of the great things about the the first film of The Chronicles of Narnia was that the director Andrew Adamson was at least able to capture some of the “magic” of the Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It may be because the actual tale lacks some of the stunning images from some of the other books– no scarffed fawn under a lamp post, or magic wardrobe, or dragon peeling away its scales, or a boy wandering in the fog with Aslan following behind him, or a girl being blown off a cliff, or a freestanding doorway leading to a world even greater than Narnia. Looking back on it, Prince Caspian as a tale lacks a good deal of that vivid imagey that is present in the other books. And it is within that imagery where much of that magic is contained. So whether it is because the film makers did not dig up this imagery from somewhere, or because Lewis did not supply it in the first place, I can’t seem to put my finger on it. Yet, for a magical world, it seemed much more entrenched in realism than Narnia ought to be.
However, where Prince Caspian lacked in magic, it made up in storytelling and drama. Now there were points where the film veered away from its original source material. Added battles, added layers to character, even a little unsubstantiatred romance for good measure, etc. However, these were done in an effort to make the story more complex– which, to my surprise, worked. There is a night time battle, which is as intense as it is revelatory about the characters, especially Peter and Caspian. And within those two characters tragic flaws and hubris abounded, making some elements of the characters almost Shakespearean in their scope. It is Edmund, the reformed traitor from the first story, who provides one of the most powerful moments in the film after pointing out to the once pure Peter and the heir apparent Caspian the emptiness of temptation. Edmund’s moral compass in this film was stunning to me, firmly placing him as my favorite character in the film (even though Lucy is my favorite in the book). I don’t remember these dynamics being quite so clear in the book, which pointed out to me that adaptations can add even more meaning than the original intended.
The technical aspects and many of the creative aspects of the film were a vast improvement from its predecessor. The special effects, the battle scenes, the cinematography were all stunning. It seemed to me that Adamson grew a lot as a director. And much of the acting was quite good, as well as the script. Not to mention that the creatures and other magical inhabitants of Narnia were impressivelessly created, nearly seamless in their technical and creative execution.
But in seeing all of these Hollywood-ized improvements. It was good to see that Narnia had not lost its soul. Although Aslan is absent for most of the movie (an intentional meaning is given in that), the underlining meaning He gives the story in the end was not lost on me. I won’t spell out that meaning, so those who see the movie may discover it for themselves. Yet it is within Lewis’ allegories and meaningful phrases where the real magic of Narnia exists. And I for one was very glad to see these modern parables have not lost their lion’s teeth in the translation to film.