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.

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