C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 5)

This week, I’m sharing some of the comments respondents to my Wade Center survey gave regarding the movie versions of Narnia. For the sake of brevity here, I’m excluding comments on earlier productions, such as a 1979 animated Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe and BBC productions of four of the Narnia books back in 1988-1990. So here is the amended question I asked:

Have You Viewed Any of the Narnia Hollywood Productions? If So, What Is Your Opinion of Them?

The Chronicles of NarniaSome respondents were fulsome in their praise of the recent movies, such as the one who commented simply, “I love them. Excellent films and all seem to follow the book fairly closely.” Added to that was another’s perspective: “I thought these films portrayed Lewis’s books very well. They made Lewis’s characters come to life.” And a third contributed, “I believe they are a creative representation of the Biblical narrative that can penetrate hearts and souls.”

All of these responses concentrated on the substance of the films and a sense of satisfaction that they conveyed the essence of what Lewis sought to communicate. Another thought the quality of the production highlighted Lewis’s themes: “Amazing! I love the graphics, the film quality supported the story line and made it so real to me.”

Others, while supportive of the movies, noted some concerns about alterations of the message and about parts that were omitted and/or the addition of extra material that Lewis himself had not introduced. For instance, one respondent commented, “I have seen all three Narnia theatrical films. I enjoyed all three and thought they were generally well done. I was a little disappointed that they ‘watered down’ the Christian elements a bit, but I still thought they were good films and largely faithful to Lewis’s ideas and vision.”

Prince CaspianAnother seemed to suggest that there are natural limitations whenever one tries to convert a book into a film: “I appreciated how they brought the Narnia books to the big screen and made them understandable and attractive for a wider audience. I don’t believe that the movies could ever have quite the depth of the books but I did appreciate the translation of some elements to visual art.”

Similar in tone was this remark: “I have viewed the first two Narnia films. I enjoyed them, but felt that the content of the Narnia stories is better communicated in book form. Film diminishes the charm of Lewis’s authorial voice.”

Despite those positive and semi-positive reviews, comments decrying the loss of Lewis’s vision and disappointment with some of the decisions on how to communicate the message of the books on screen were more numerous. Here are the most representative samples in this grouping:

Voyage of Dawn Treader 2I have seen all three films based on The Chronicles of Narnia. I think they are well done cinematically, although some scenes hint at a low budget and inexperienced actors.

They maintain the integrity of Lewis’s characters and stories in name and outline, but the deviations therefrom are numerous and sometimes so great as to ruin almost entirely the theological, personal, and practical insights and applications made available in the books.

I watched the Chronicles of Narnia films. I think they were good, but commercialized. I think that C.S. Lewis has saturated the market, which is good, but I believe people begin to miss the depth that he provided. Also, the struggle that C.S. Lewis had with the Christian faith. I believe that the popularity of these movies has brought popularity to C.S.Lewis, but I hope that people explore more of his works and begin to wrestle with the different thoughts and ideas that he presented.

I have been SO upset about the ways in which the movies, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, diverged from the book. The book is my favorite of the series, as it is many others. The movie just took liberties that were “unforgivable.” Wardrobe was good, and Caspian was a “B” also because of things like having the White Witch show up.

I felt very disconnected from the Disney/Walden Media death scene (and movie as a whole) and felt the newer live action films lacked the understanding of the spiritual undertones of the works and Aslan’s character. . . . Disney/Walden’s LWW was the strongest of the recent films. Most people I’ve talked to felt that Prince Caspian was a huge letdown and Voyage could not make up the difference.

How to summarize? Of the three Hollywood films, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes across as the best. There is a strong sense of disappointment in Hollywood’s renditions of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Finally, there is strong criticism of deviations in the Hollywood scripts and depictions.

Next Saturday, I turn to my final question, which allowed the respondents to say anything they wished about the influence of Lewis on their lives. The survey turned up some fascinating comments.