Saturday, September 26, 2009

Narnia Nostalgia Part 1 - The CTW Animated Version

On Sunday April 1, 1979 and the following day, CBS aired an animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in two parts. The show was produced by the Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Street, The Electric Company), Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation, and others. An animated version of The Hobbit by Rankin/Bass (Frosty the Snowman) had aired just a year and a half earlier on NBC.

Both adaptations followed the books rather faithfully, except that the animation in The Hobbit was rather goofy at times, to say the least. (See Getting Tolkien Wrong.) The animation for the Narnia book was much better–the creatures are drawn pretty much as you would expect them to look. The CTW version is also the only video version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to get the girls’ hair color right,* although the Pevencies are given a much more modern look. (The World War 2 setting is not used.)

The dialog in the show also follows that of the book, usually verbatim. The differences are usually due to changing some Briticisms, updating expressions, and abridging for time. The scriptwriter generally makes wise choices on what to cut, and what to leave in.

While it can be assumed that the filmmakers’ faithfulness to the book shows their respect for the abilities of C S Lewis, the parts that are removed reveal more about the film than what is preserved.

The first obvious omission is the setting of the story. It is never explained why the children are in the Professor’s house. The story begins with Lucy coming out of the Wardrobe for the first time and announcing “I’m back.” While beginning the story this way is not ineffective, the details of how the children come to be in the home are never explored. Perhaps the writers felt the target audience of young children would not be able to relate.

Another change is the impression the Professor leaves with the two older children when they come to him about Lucy’s “delusions.” The explanation of why Lucy’s story is believable is left intact, but he does not end with the statement that “everyone should mind his own business.” Instead, he responds that he does not know what they should do, and the next scene shows them immediately going into the wardrobe. The writers apparently do this to speed up the story, but this is incongruous with what the Professor will tell the children at the end of the story about not “trying” to go to Narnia. Narnia does not come when you are looking for it.

The next noticeable absence (to devoted fans, anyway) is the Robin. The Robin is important in the book because it is Lewis’s first hint of the return of spring. This is perhaps not an essential element to the story, but it is missed, and no air time is actually saved by leaving it out, since Mr. Beaver is merely introduced sooner.

The same goes for the children (minus Edmund, of course) meeting Father Christmas. They do hear the sleigh bells, but by the time they get out of the Beavers’ hiding place, he is gone. (The Christmas gifts are given to the children later by Aslan himself.) Unlike the book, the children meet the Fox’s party near the hiding place, and are told Father Christmas had been there. When the White Witch comes upon the scene later, one of the young ones lets it slip they have seen the children and the beavers. After turning the festive group into stone, the Witch redoubles her efforts to catch the children.

Obviously it was decided that the story needed some excitement at this point, which apparently is why the changes were made. The chase scene is intensified as the Witch actually sees the children just before the sledge begins to get stuck in the melting snow.

Excitement is also created by showing the battle with the Witch before Aslan arrives. All of the video versions of the story do this. They all include a scene (mentioned after the fact in the book) of Edmund destroying the Witch’s wand and Edmund being injured. While later versions make the Witch the instrument of Edmund’s wound, in the CTW version he is wounded by someone else. The book does not make it clear how he was hurt.

All three films also show Peter going after the Witch after Edmund is wounded, which is not specified in the book. But, of course, it is Aslan who saves the day. (How the Witch dies in the BBC version is a bit peculiar, but we will save that for another day.)

All in all, the Children’s Television Workshop animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a commendable rendition of the book, especially considering the time period in which it was made and the target audience of young children. Not at all a bad way to introduce your child to the series.
* In the last chapter of the book, it is mentioned that when they grow up in Narnia, Susan has “black hair that fell almost to her feet,” and Lucy was “golden-haired.” In the BBC live action version, the characters’ hair color is reversed. Susan is known for her better looks, so perhaps the BBC filmmakers, consciously or unconsciously, were influenced by modern stereotypes in choosing the actors for the roles. Of course, in the Walden version both girls have black hair, perhaps avoiding the stereotypes. Could the description in the book reveal Lewis’s own preferences?

The Children’s Workshop animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was released on VHS in 1991 and DVD in 2005. The video is available in secondary markets such as eBay and Amazon Marketplace.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11: Remembering the Two Towers

Eight years ago today, America was attacked by terrorists. It was a day not only characterized by barbarism, but also by heroism. Radical Jihadists were motivated to sacrifice themselves because of their belief that Islam will someday rule the world, and to kill others because of their hatred of the infidel. Passengers were willing to give their lives because of their belief in freedom and save others because of their love of country.

In the days after 9-11, “United We Stand” signs began appearing everywhere as Americans of different backgrounds and political beliefs came together. There were a few fringe elements that preferred to believe in conspiracy theories instead of a real threat to our country, but most joined with our President to do whatever they could to fight terrorism.

People were so sensitive at that time that there was even a petition drawn up on to change the name of the second Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers. Peter Jackson was even accused of trying to exploit the fall of The Twin Towers in New York City. Never mind that the second book of The Lord of the Rings was published as The Two Towers in 1954. (The petition was removed in May of 2004 due to inactivity.)

Reviewers (for example, The Return of the King: "Fellowship" by Martin L. Cowen III) had already made a connection between the first movie and 9/11 in Gandalf’s words to Frodo in Moria. Frodo wishes out loud that the Ring had not come to him and that “none of this had ever happened.” Gandalf replies:

So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

The Fellowship also illustrates the ability of free peoples who have a past of mistrusting each other to come together when there is a need. The three free peoples of Middle-earth, Men, Elves, and Dwarves, have a history of squabbles. The past must be put aside in order for the Quest to be accomplished.

We see the repercussions of this history in The Hobbit in the way the Dwarves are mistreated by the Wood Elves and how the Dwarves refuse the requests of the Men of Dale after Smaug is slain. The old prejudices are exacerbated by greed and pride. What a lesson for today where greed has contributed to the devastation of our economy and pride is keeping many politicians from honest debate of the important issues of the day.

Our pride also causes us to forget that Providence is still at work. The Gandalf quote above presents our personal responsibility. But Gandalf does not stop there.

There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

September 11, 2001 did not take God by surprise. As Frodo could count on the fact that his burden came to him not without purpose, so we can be confident that God has a purpose in the challenges we face as a nation, and as individuals. The question is what we will do “with the time that is given to us.”