Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Lion, The Witch and The Dread Pirate Roberts

Before anybody gets their knickers in a twist, allow me to point out that this post is about the Chronicles of Narnia movie and book, not the Bible. The first two are allegories for the last, to be sure, but they are separate entities. Now, with that out of the way, the following are quotes from the book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and the film version, respectively:

"But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."


Susan: "We saw the Witch, the knife."

Aslan: "If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she might have interpreted the Deep Magic a little differently. For she would know that if a willing victim who had committed no treachery died in a traitors stead, the Stone Table would crack and death itself would begin to unwind."

In terms of the film itself, let me start off by saying I enjoyed it. I hadn't read the book, but I had heard good things about it. Mrs. Mosley, who is a big fan of the Narnia series, convinced me to sit down and watch it with her. They were really trying to catch the Fantasy wave that the Lord of the Rings movies started, and they did a good job. It's a solid, entertaining film that certainly merits a sequel (Prince Caspian will be released sometime next year).

There was one part of it that nagged at me after it was over, and it is the scene that the two quotes above are taken from. For those who haven't seen the film, the subplot breaks down like this: The White Witch demands the sacrifice of Edmund, as the law dictates. Aslan offers himself to take his place, which the Witch accepts. Aslan is then tortured and killed on a stone table. Sometime later, he returns from the dead. When Susan asks how this is possible, Aslan explains, which is the text I have provided above.

My question is this: Can Aslan's deed truthfully be called a "sacrifice"? We learn after the fact that Aslan knew all along that his death would not be a final one. He sees his situation thusly: "I will offer myself up to the White Witch and she will believe that my steps up to the altar will be my final ones on this earth. In reality, unknown to her, I will rise again. Thus, Edmund will be saved and I will be able to come back and help our forces win the great battle."

Isn't this method of dealing with her a little ... underhanded? Of course, this certainly isn't unprecedented in popular film:

Dread Pirate Roberts : "You guessed wrong."

Vizzini : "You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha--"

(Vizzini stops suddenly, and falls dead to the right)

Buttercup : "Who are you?"

Dread Pirate Roberts : "I'm no one to be trifled with. That is all you ever need know."

Buttercup : "And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned."

Dread Pirate Roberts : "They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder."

Vizzini, unlike his two partners in crime, is a bully and villain. And when he is dispatched in such a fashion, we don't blink an eye. Why? Because this film is a comedy. Vizzini's menace may be sincere, but honestly, how can you not laugh at Wallace Shawn keeling over in mid-guffaw? The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, on the other hand, is most decidedly not a comedy. It is an earnest morality tale in which the lives of four children and an army of fantasy creatures are at stake. Nobody's going to laugh at the White Witch (Nobody smart, anyway).

Both Aslan and the Dread Pirate Roberts are in sole custody of the information that will save themselves and lead to the death of their adversaries. When we step back and look at this from an objective viewpoint, we see that both of them have played a rigged game. Do kids pick up on this subtlety when they read the story? I'm not sure, but it's not very moral, unless you're some Dirty Harry type that believes the ends justify the means.

Now, to be fair, there are other aspects to Aslan's "sacrifice" to consider. First, there is the beating and humiliation he has to endure, from which no ancient runes can protect him. Also, even though he goes to his death with the knowledge that he will return, he still goes to his death. Deeper Magic or not, the willingness to submit to the sword does indicate some measure of bravery in this not-so-cowardly Lion.

But let me turn from the Lion for a moment and focus on the Witch. The reason I put quotes from both the book and the film is due to some interesting editing the screenwriters performed in their adaptation. In the film, Aslan explains that the Witch didn't know the true meaning of sacrifice and, therefore, did not know what would result from Aslan's deed. In the original C.S. Lewis text, we have an additional line in between that states, "But if she could have looked a little further back".


In the film, it's implied that the Witch has never attempted to mend her ways and look into power of Deeper Magic. She had the chance to turn away from evil, but chose not to. She has ignored all of this, and it has cost her her life. But in the original text, the word "could" implies something else entirely. It implies not a lack of will but a lack of ability. She did not see Deeper Magic because she could not see Deeper Magic.

Perhaps the folks who worked on the script decided that, when all is said and done, it would be a bit fairer if the Witch had the chance. Thus, while Lewis sees the White Witch as Evil incarnate with no chance of redemption, the screenwriters at least imply that she had a chance, but did not take it. It's one thing to not read the fine print. It's quite another when the fine print is, for practicality's sake, invisible.

Which brings me to my final quote, which concerns the trials and travails of Arthur Dent:

"...You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anyone or anything."

"But the plans were on display..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"That’s the display department."

"With a torch."

"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look you found the notice didn’t you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of The Leopard'."
Am I nitpicking? Perhaps. But the works of C.S. Lewis are certainly not the first nor the last canon of classic literature to be analyzed and parsed through so thoroughly.

And the exactness of wording was definitely important enough for Aslan.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

It certainly was important to Aslan, and you make a good point .. The "sacrifice" angle probably didn't hurt in Walden's attempts to market this as Christian allegory, but it was more an act of wisdom than one of sacrifice ... Either ways, I agree with you that the movie managed to capture most of the magic of this great book