Narnia, old books, new film


Poster for the Chronicles of Narnia-Prince Caspian_1.jpg

By Andy Newman in England:

ENGLAND AND THE DEATH OF NARNIA

Last weekend I took my oldest son and his friends to see the new Narnia film; “Prince Caspian”. They were entranced: this is a near-perfect movie for eight year old boys. And the story remains faithful to the spirit of the book, and even improves upon it.

As a child I loved the Narnia books. Though their deficiencies are obvious: there is a general distrust of women, a certain middle class priggishness and occasional racism. But the values of C. S. Lewis were typical for a man of his class and background at the time he wrote them; and the same attitudes were equally found in other children’s books of the period, like Frank Richards’ Bunter books or the Biggles books by W. E. Johns.

The difference is that the Narnia stories are so good that the books are still read, while childrens’ books by C.S Lewis’s contemporaries are not. This is of course something that Lewis shares with another great writer with outdated social attitudes, Rudyard Kipling.

Gore Vidal once wrote that L. Frank Baum, who wrote the Wizard of Oz, was one of the most important influences upon him, because if children learn to dream of alternative and different worlds, then they learn to dream that our own world could be changed for the better. Narnia is a beautiful imaginary for children, where animals talk and magic is real.

The religious content of Narnia is very clear, reflecting Lewis’s devout Protestantism, but only in the weakest of the books, The Last Battle, does the religion become so pompous as to drown the story. Generally, the didactic content of the Narnia books is a discussion of ethics, questions of right and wrong, free will, temptation and redemption that are useful ideas for children, and go beyond Christianity. …

The Second World War that contextualised Narnia also saw the shift of popular national understanding of what England and Britain represents. The old Britain of Empire loyalism and Anglicanism was reimagined as a new Britain that defined itself by the war against fascism, and the promotion of egalitarianism, of Beveridge and comprehensive schools. Narnia was dead.

Also on the film: here. And here.

Polly Toynbee’s criticism of the first Narnia film: here.

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