Your Part Of The Story

My children (and even my wife) have become full-fledged Narnia addicts. A few months ago, we decided to started reading C. S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” out loud together every night before bed. We usually just take one chapter each night, but we’re already into the third chapter of “The Silver Chair.” I didn’t even read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”until I was in college, and I instantly fell in love with it. I wound up reading all seven books, and I’m having a blast reading them to my children now.

Unlike when I was reading the books, though, there are now big-budget, Hollywood productions of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” “Prince Caspian,” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Even as an adult, the thought of being able to see Aslan on the big screen was enough to get me into the theater to see the first film. Now imagine telling three little bookworms ages 9 and under that the books they just fell in love with are all available on video (By the way, does anyone else say “on video” anymore? It think it’s “DVD or Blu-Ray” now. Oh, well, old habits die hard…). Yep, we were definitely going to be watching some Narnia movies at the Sheridan household.

Now, when I saw “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (And, yes, I’m going to type that out every time. Somehow “TLTW&TW” just doesn’t have the same resonance.), it had been a long time since I had read the book. While I didn’t think the movie was terrible, I remember being majorly disappointed with it. All I could really put my finger on at the time was that Aslan was too small (Go back and read “The Horse and His Boy,” probably the most underrated of all the Narnia books.) and he sounded too much like Liam Neeson (I know it was Liam Neeson, but, I mean, did he have to sound so much like himself?). I didn’t see “Prince Caspian” or “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” in the theater.

We haven’t been watching the movies until after we’ve read the books, so, logically, we started with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Within the first 10 minutes of the film, I realized what I hadn’t liked about it (even though I didn’t realize it at the time in the theater). “Prince Caspian” further cemented my opinion, and then “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” completely solidified what I had been thinking ever since I saw the Penvensies running into that bomb shelter in the first movie.

They changed too many things from the books!

Sometimes I’m not so much of a stickler on this kind of thing. For example, I still think the movie version of “The Fellowship of the Ring” is vastly superior to the book (Granted, I did see the movie before I read the book. Still, I thought the book version of “The Return of the King” was way better than the movie that won all the Oscars.). There’s a difference to me, though, between trimming the fat of a story and changing its structure altogether. From “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” on, this occurred over and over in the Narnia movies.

I won’t take up too much space listing examples of this, but I will touch on a few just to clarify. For example, in the first film, Peter has two encounters with the wolf in the movie instead of the one described in the book and when he finally does slay the wolf (I hope I’m not ruining this for anybody…) in the movie it’s completely by accident, whereas in the book this is a major moment of passage for him. The “Prince Caspian” film includes a lengthy (and pretty violent) castle raid that appears nowhere in the book. And all I can say about “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is that the film completely rearranges the book’s storyline, usually for no good reason whatsoever.

In fact, as the credits rolled on the third movie (I hear they’re considering making “The Magician’s Nephew” next, which would not only completely screw up the chronology of everything they just did, it would also present an incredibly difficult story to adapt to film.) the question “Why?” just kept repeating itself over and over again in my head. If these stories would good enough and beloved enough to warrant spending millions of dollars on converting them to film, why would someone suddenly decide they needed to be so drastically altered?

I think the answer to my question can probably be summed up in two words: Mass consumption. Or at least the notion of it is what is being practiced in most of the book adaptations that make it to the big screen. “People,” says the Hollywood exec, who is thinking strictly in terms of dollars and cents, “who have read the books will understand what is going on if we leave the story alone, but people who haven’t read the books will be totally confused. They won’t be interested and, therefore, they won’t go see the movie, so we need to add a little spice here, a little more tension here, some angst there, epic battle scenes galore … and then I think we might have a movie the mass public will want to see.”

How can you green-light a project based on its audience and the strength of its story and then want to proceed to change large amounts of it? In actuality, it’s a fairly common practice, and it probably happens more outside of the realm of Hollywood and movie adaptations than in them. I even do it to myself quite often.

Let’s just take applying for a job as an example. I know there are exceptions, but most people I know would not apply for a job they think they are grossly unqualified for. I know I tend to apply for jobs I think I can get. Usually (unless it’s the type of job where one fills out an application), the applying process gets started with a resume. This document is supposed to describe to an employer who you are, what you’re capable of, and, in a sense, why you should be hired.

The resume, however, hardly ever remains in its original form. It’s continually tweaked, revised, redesigned, and, in many cases, embellished. Suddenly, even though you feel perfectly qualified for whatever is being offered, you’ve changed what is being presented about yourself because somebody wasn’t going to get it. In essence, the original story was good enough to get optioned for the movie, but it wasn’t going to be strong enough to make it a hit.

I realize I’ve used a lot of words to get to this point, but it was the only way I knew how to get here. After watching “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and realizing what I did about the way the story was all mashed up, I had to ask myself: Have I been trying to change my story to make it more accessible? Have I been thinking that my core elements are good, but not really good enough to gain mass acceptance? And, if that is the case, is having that kind of acceptance really worth it in the first place?

In the end, I’d have to say no, it isn’t worth it. Now, I don’t want to sound as if I’m saying we should never try and improve ourselves or try and work with others for a greater good. What I am saying, though, is I think we can get so caught up in trying to live up to a standard set by others that we forget who (and what) we were in the first place. And, just as a few rewrites can drain the magic out of a land like Narnia, that’s when we start to lose the special aspects of our own stories.

I know this has been a long and rambling post. To be honest, I’ve been working on it for about four days now, so if anything seems disjointed it’s probably because I slept in between some of the paragraphs. Hopefully, something in here will actually make sense and will prove to have been worth all the effort.


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