Monday, May 31, 2010

Narnia Nostalgia Part 9: Radio Plays Part 5

The following article reviews both Radio play versions of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. “RT” indicates the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre version, and “BBC” the British Radio 4 version.

Warning: Mild Spoilers

“You don’t suppose I’d have left my kingdom and put out to sea unless all was well.”
- King Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C S Lewis, chapter 2

As this review is being written, details of the Walden Media adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader are a bit sketchy. However, the official press release from back in July of 2009, as well as subsequent reports, seem to indicate that in the upcoming movie version not all is well in Narnia. The description of the film seems to indicate the voyage was embarked upon to save Narnia “from an unfathomable fate.”

As was mentioned earlier in this series, adapting a book as a screenplay or radio drama can be challenging. (See especially Narnia Nostalgia Part 3 and Narnia Nostolgia Part 5.) The biggest difficulty is often maintaining the spirit of the story intended by the author. It remains to be seen how well Walden version will capture C S Lewis’s vision.

The Radio adaptations of Dawn Treader follow the book very closely (both include King Caspian’s words that “all is well”), but do make minor changes. While the the RT version uses much of Lewis’s narrative, the BBC radio play does not use a narrator at all. Even the setting of the story is established with a conversation between Edmund, Lucy, and their cousin Eustace. This works fairly well through most of the play, but there are points where those unfamiliar with the story could probably use a bit of narrative explanation.

The narration in the RT version, however, is rather tedious at times. And, unlike previous episodes in the series, the splendid musical accompaniment occasionally overwhelms the narration and dialogue. While still a quality work, RT’s Dawn Treader falls a little under the creative bar set by their first four Narnia dramas.

The two main characters Lewis uses in the book to convey important themes are Lucy and Eustace, who is introduced to the reader in this book. Eustace is presented as annoying and self-centered, which contrasts to the bravery he demonstrates later in the book. RT does an excellent job creating a picture of the boy, taking the time to fully develop his character. The BBC drama omits too much and tires to take shortcuts. Twice Lucy and Edmund react to their cousin’s droning by saying, “Eustace, shut up!” – a phrase which, although it conveys his tendency to be annoying, does not seem in keeping with a King and Queen of Narnia, children though they be. BBC also omits the water stealing incident and rushes through the account of his “undragoning.”

The chapter in the story which gives us the most insight into Lucy is “The Magician’s Book.” Lucy has already demonstrated her courage by being willing to go to the room with the book and say the spell to make the Dufflepuds visible. But there is a flaw in her character which Aslan wants to work on. This is shown in Lucy’s reaction to the pages containing the beautification spell and the spell “which would let you know what your friends thought of you.” The growling face of Aslan in the book keeps her from saying the first spell, but saying the second spell enables her to hear a conversation between her schoolmates back in England – a conversation which was not very flattering to Lucy.

The RT adaption dramatizes both pages from the Magician’s Book, and includes the part where Lucy sees her sister Susan. Aslan’s rebuke to Lucy for eavesdropping on her friends is also left in. The BBC version omits the second spell, and the fact the image of Susan appears in the book. When Aslan appears, he has no rebuke at all, only joyous greetings. Because of these omissions, the importance of what is happening with Lucy is completely lost.

Lewis is conveying, through Lucy’s reaction to the spells, that she is developing a problem with vanity, a fault her sister Susan will be overcome with by the end of the Chronicles. In Lewis’s nonfiction, he distinguishes between the pride of vanity and a more diabolical pride where the person does not care what people think. (See “The Great Sin,” Chapter 8 of CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOUR - Section 3 of Mere Christianity.)

Although Susan will get caught up in vanity, given what the author wrote in Mere Christianity, it appears he was indicating that she had not slipped into “the real black, diabolical Pride [that] comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you.” Lucy would apparently overcome her tendency to vanity, and there will still be hope for Susan.

The self-centered pride Eustace was beginning to sink into needed to be dealt with more severely, but Aslan still was able to help him “change his skin.” RT captured the importance of these confrontations with Aslan well. Hopefully Walden Media will, too.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Narnia Nostalgia Part 8: Radio Plays Part 4

The following article reviews both Radio play versions of Prince Caspian. “RT” indicates the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre version, and “BBC” the British Radio 4 version.

Warning: Mild Spoilers

The Walden/Disney movie of Prince Caspian begins with an agonizing cry and the birth of a child. Those who had seen the first movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, must have been scratching their heads at that point. It is a full eight minutes into the film before we see any of the characters from the first film.

When Prince Caspian was published in 1951, it was the second book* in the series and was better known by its subtitle, Return to Narnia. As C S Lewis step-son Douglas Gresham reminds us in his introduction to the RT version, the author wasted no time in getting the Pevensies back.

Those who have adapted Prince Caspian for the stage, TV, movies, or radio, have had to decide how to deal with the story within a story. (Chapters four through seven in the book are the telling of the life of Prince Caspian to the point when the Pevensies arrive in Narnia.) Walden chose to begin with Caspian fleeing, while the BBC TV version begins with Caspian in the courtyard of King Miraz. In contrast to the their video counterparts, both Radio Play versions reference Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy immediately.

The BBC version begins with Caspian’s nurse telling him the story of the King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy – a sort of reversal of what happens in the book, where the Pevensies are told Caspian’s story. Scriptwriter Brian Sibley decided to deal with the “story within a story” by alternating between the two story lines.

Since the Pevensies are not called to Narnia until late in Caspian’s story, switching back and forth between story lines causes the story to be unbalanced. The Walden movie solved this by putting the call to Narnia near the beginning of the story. The BBC Radio version adds an additional scene at the professor’s home, but most of the story is about Caspian until the Pevensies show up in Narnia half way through the production.

Paul McCusker, who wrote the script and directed the RT production, decided to buck the trend and used the story line as it is laid out in the book. The children are immediately returned to Narnia, and the details about the prince are added when they meet up with Trumpkin, the Dwarf. This actually works very well, and is much easier to follow. Perhaps Lewis knew what he was doing after all.

The RT running time of three hours and twenty minutes also allows time for some details that are missing in all the other recorded dramatizations of the book. Lewis, perhaps mindful of the criticism that his first book did not explain how foodstuffs were provided in a Narnia where it was always winter, was careful to include how food was obtained for the Pevensies’ trip to Aslan’s How. RT includes the apples and the bear meat.

Lewis’s theme of joy also comes through in the RT version by including the celebrations. As in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, they are not afraid to mention Bacchus and Silenus.

Both Radio versions do a fabulous job of portraying Lucy’s first meeting with Aslan. The importance of following what is right despite what others think is an important theme, and both productions give this scene the weight it deserves.

For comments on the relative production quality of the plays, please refer to the last two articles in this series below.


*For why Prince Caspian is now numbered as book 4, see the article, The order of the Narnia chronicles.