The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

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The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby PhelanVelvel » Aug 12, 2014 8:36 pm

Before I get to my main point, let me explain how I arrived at it. I put this thread in movie discussion because it addresses concerns I have for maintaining the spirit of the book in the upcoming film.

I think the Focus on the Family audio drama is awesome in general, but the parts with Rilian and the LotGK in Underland were marvelously done, in my opinion. I was seriously SO INTO IT while listening. Like edge of my seat into it. I don't think I could have asked for a better Rilian and LotGK. Their voices definitely matched the characters and are probably better than what I could have imagined. I was also struck by how theatrical and impressive both the Prince's and the Witch's dialogue sounded. Looking back at the book to confirm, the dialogue in these critical scenes did not depart much, and in some parts not at all, from the source text.

Both Rilian and the LotGK have tongues as silver as the titular chair because Lewis intended them to. I believe that Lewis deliberately wrote their dialogue in a way that would highlight the motif of persuasion and enchantment. Ironically, I don't know whether I can persuade you of this opinion, but there is something about their grammar and vocabulary that is markedly different from the plain English of Jill, Eustace, and even Puddleglum. Rilian's dialogue is eloquent, even Shakespearean--hardly a coincidence when you consider that he compares the Prince's appearance to that of Hamlet's. Rilian uses archaic English: "Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky." The Lady's dialogue is soft and poetic; she uses words like "thither" and "tarry". She uses archaic English in "thy fancies" and "that art a man full grown, fie upon you!"

Of course Lewis uses similar language in other books, too--Narnia is set in a "high fantasy" realm, after all--but I think we can see quite plainly in these two characters a deliberate selection of archaic and romantic language in both the hero and the villain. They are foils to one another, but are very similar in their manner of speech. The triumph of Rilian over his captor would be diminished, I feel, if his own skill and style with words were not at least equal with hers.

Why does Rilian's curse feel so tragic? Why do his pleas sound so desperate? Why do we feel such pity and anguish about a character whom we barely know? It may be in part because he is Caspian's son, but I do not think our readiness to support him would be as strong if it were not for his powerful dialogue. His "enchantments, enchantments" monologue is one of the most evocative passages in the entire series. Subjective, I know, but there are stylistic choices at work that I think support my claim.

Rilian's metaphor for his curse is that of a "heavy, tangled, cold, clammy web". He is an insect trapped in the web of a cunning spider. He describes his time in Underland as "years in the pit" and calls the gnomes "Maggotmen". We are getting very clear imagery here of things that remind us of death; Rilian even states that he has been "buried alive". Before even looking up at the trio, he begs, though to no one in particular, "let me go back". He then juxtaposes these ideas of negativity and darkness with "feel the wind and see the sky" and follows up with an oddly specific description of trees reflected in a pool of water. This one paragraph alone, in my opinion, is enough to establish this man as a character whom we love and support, though we know practically nothing else about him.

Rilian is meant to conjure images of Hamlet, a prince in dark clothes, because Rilian is a prince living in a dark and dismal place, acting out a farce he has been enslaved within. The Shakespearean touches allow us to see that the Underland the Witch has constructed is all just an act, and she and Rilian are players in it. These touches also serve to create an eerie feeling, as though the Underland is almost real, but not quite, and draws us deeper into the Witch's spell. The scenes where we see Rilian and the LotGK are short when compared to the overall length of the book, but the stylistic choices Lewis made with their dialogue packs a wealth of emotion into them, tricking us into thinking we've spent a great deal of time with these characters.

It will honestly break my heart if we do not get certain crucial pieces of dialogue in the film as-is, most specifically the "enchantments, enchantments" passage, but also Puddleglum's monologue. I understand making changes for the film version, but dialogue is something that works in book, audio, or cinematic format. I conjecture that Lewis poured a great deal of heart and soul into the dramatic elements of dialogue in The Silver Chair, and it plays a bigger part in this book compared to some of the other Chronicles, where narration is the main player. To draw one more parallel with Hamlet, no matter what version of the play you decide to do, no matter what changes you make, you simply cannot do without the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy.
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Re: The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby Reepicheep775 » Aug 13, 2014 9:32 am

I totally agree. I would like to see more of the archaic language that is used occasionally in the books more in the movies. To me that's one of the details that makes Narnia unique. The obvious problem is that using really fancy sounding dialogue often takes away from an actors performance. It sounds like they are reading a script rather than speaking from the heart. I haven't heard the radio drama, though, so I can't comment on the performances in that. Personally, though, I think sacrificing some believability in the actors' performances might be worth it to hear some of Lewis's dialogue, or dialogue in a similar style, on screen.

What I'm worried about is the fight between the Lady of the Green Kirtle and Rilian, Eustace, and Puddleglum being inflated into the climax of the story. The climax of the story is the characters' choice to stick by Aslan and his signs regardless of the consequences by freeing Rilian from the chair and the breaking of the LotGK's spell. The fight with the LotGK-serpent is pretty much just a formality after that. This story does not have an action climax.
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Re: The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby daughter of the King » Aug 13, 2014 10:05 am

Reepicheep775 wrote:The obvious problem is that using really fancy sounding dialogue often takes away from an actors performance. It sounds like they are reading a script rather than speaking from the heart.

I have been thinking for awhile that whoever plays Rilian absolutely must have a Shakespearean background, and what you wrote is pretty much the reason why. A really good actor can turn any dialogue, no matter how awkward or unusual the phrasing, into something that sounds perfectly natural. This is especially true of actors who have a lot of good experience performing Shakespeare's dialogue, because English speakers tend to naturally speak in iambic pentameter. An actor who is well-versed in archaic and/or fancy dialogue and is experienced enough should have no problem with Rilian's dialogue from the book. And a good actor would be able to make it dramatic and interesting no matter how little action happened while he was tied to the chair.

I also really want whoever plays the LotGK to have a Shakespearean background too, but I'll settle for just the Narnian Hamlet.
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Re: The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby PhelanVelvel » Aug 13, 2014 11:01 am

Reepicheep775 wrote:I totally agree. I would like to see more of the archaic language that is used occasionally in the books more in the movies. To me that's one of the details that makes Narnia unique. The obvious problem is that using really fancy sounding dialogue often takes away from an actors performance. It sounds like they are reading a script rather than speaking from the heart. I haven't heard the radio drama, though, so I can't comment on the performances in that. Personally, though, I think sacrificing some believability in the actors' performances might be worth it to hear some of Lewis's dialogue, or dialogue in a similar style, on screen.

What I'm worried about is the fight between the Lady of the Green Kirtle and Rilian, Eustace, and Puddleglum being inflated into the climax of the story. The climax of the story is the characters' choice to stick by Aslan and his signs regardless of the consequences by freeing Rilian from the chair and the breaking of the LotGK's spell. The fight with the LotGK-serpent is pretty much just a formality after that. This story does not have an action climax.


You can't help but feel the buildup of tension while Rilian is bound to the chair. It's not hard to see how much more climactic that part is than the actual fight with the serpent. The heroes' entire quest has lead up to the moment where they have to choose whether to follow the final sign, having failed to do so with the first three. I'm not sure how a film-maker could overlook the amount of suspense we get while Rilian is begging and pleading, and how it all comes to a head at the moment he invokes Aslan's name.

I can't remember who said it, whether it was on the forum or the NarniaWeb podcast, but someone remarked that the actor who plays Rilian might have a background in theatre/Shakespeare. Maybe it was Rilian (the podcaster) himself who said it, I can't remember. But I am very much in agreement with that. Someone who does Shakespeare knows how to make even the most archaic of language translate to a modern audience through his intonation, facial expression, and actions. The language in The Silver Chair isn't very hard to understand, but I can see modern film-makers thinking that it would be for the audience. I feel that would be a mistake.

Edit: Lol, Daughter of the King got to it first, but I couldn't agree more!!! Rilian needs to have a background in Shakespeare, we need that Hamlet vibe!
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Re: The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby Anfinwen » Aug 13, 2014 12:18 pm

What a fascinating discussion PhelanVelvel! And I couldn't agree more with your points.
Reepicheep775 wrote:The obvious problem is that using really fancy sounding dialogue often takes away from an actors performance. It sounds like they are reading a script rather than speaking from the heart. I haven't heard the radio drama, though, so I can't comment on the performances in that.

I would highly recommend it as the performances are outstanding.
I think that what makes the dialogue sound natural is that LotGK and Rillian speak this way throughout the story. If a writer edits certain lines or adds new ones, the new lines must be in the same style as the original lines. Another reason the dialogue seems so natural is that there is this almost subconscious idea in the minds of the readers that LotGK being an witch, and having been alone underground with only gnomes for company for who knows how long, would naturally talk different. And in the same applies to Rillian since he is stuck underground with the witch for ten years.
Addressing the problem of actors being able to speak these lines convincingly, I was wondering if perhaps they should look at voice actors, or at least people with more experience at conveying the all emotion through their voices. I remember an interview with Andy Circus about recording the part of Screwtape, where he said it was the most draining work he had ever done ( I can't remember the quote exactly). Coming from the the guy who played Gollum that speaks pretty clearly about the difficulty of speaking what C. S. Lewis wrote. Of course SC isn't Screwtape, but Lewis's dialogues could still be extremely difficult for someone with less vocal experience than Circus.
EDIT: If anyone is interested in hearing the part in question, it can currently be heard by going to the linked site and scrolling down until you see the listen now button, click that, and when the media player loads click "The Silver Chair, Part 7 of 9"
http://www.focusonthefamily.com/radio-theatre
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Re: The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby PhelanVelvel » Aug 13, 2014 1:37 pm

Anfinwen wrote:I would highly recommend it as the performances are outstanding.

I think that what makes the dialogue sound natural is that LotGK and Rillian speak this way throughout the story. If a writer edits certain lines or adds new ones, the new lines must be in the same style as the original lines. Another reason the dialogue seems so natural is that there is this almost subconscious idea in the minds of the readers that LotGK being an witch, and having been alone underground with only gnomes for company for who knows how long, would naturally talk different. And in the same applies to Rillian since he is stuck underground with the witch for ten years.

Addressing the problem of actors being able to speak these lines convincingly, I was wondering if perhaps they should look at voice actors, or at least people with more experience at conveying the all emotion through their voices. I remember an interview with Andy Circus about recording the part of Screwtape, where he said it was the most draining work he had ever done ( I can't remember the quote exactly). Coming from the the guy who played Gollum that speaks pretty clearly about the difficulty of speaking what C. S. Lewis wrote. Of course SC isn't Screwtape, but Lewis's dialogues could still be extremely difficult for someone with less vocal experience than Circus.


I now feel that the audio drama has spoilt me. If we look at Jamie Glover's (voice actor who played Rilian) Wikipedia page, we see that: "Glover made his first stage appearance at the age of eight, playing young Marcius in a production of Coriolanus... His theatre work includes Edward III, Henry V...and All's Well That Ends Well, alongside Judi Dench. He also appeared in Hamlet at the Norwich Playhouse, alongside his parents, with Julian Glover also directing the production." It also says on the Wikipedia page that he enjoys doing radio drama. So he does have plenty of experience as a voice actor, which I agree helps to bring dialogue to life. Good voice actors know where to put emphasis on certain words, when to pause, etc.

He was an amazing Rilian and will be difficult to top, in my opinion. I do believe that his theatre experience, specifically his Shakespeare experience, allowed him to fully embody the emotion of Lewis' dialogue.

Film-makers...are you reading this? :(( It just won't be SC for me if they don't 1.) keep the style of Rilian's/LotGK's speech and 2.) don't keep the important monologues which practically define the story.
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Re: The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Aug 14, 2014 4:36 pm

Great thread, PhelanVelvel! :ymapplause: And thanks for sharing the link to that scene, Anfinwen! :D

I really hope that they're able to find actors with Shakespearean backgrounds for Rilian and the LotGK. (I think it was Rilian who predicted on the podcast that Rilian would be played by someone who had appeared in Shakespeare plays in the West End, if my memory serves me correctly.) I really want it to be someone who is very, very comfortable with this type of language; I want it to sound like this is just their normal way of speaking.

I also really want the scriptwriters to use as much dialogue straight from the book as possible. If they muff Rilian's ravings and Puddleglum's monologue and the LotGK's lyrical deception... I will not be happy. :P They can expand on these scenes if they like, but keep it with the theme and please don't mess with the words that are already there. They're too brilliant not to use.

This is different from the discussion about Rilian and the LotGK's "voices", but something else I would like is for Jill and Eustace to speak much like they do in the book. Being an American woman in her 20s living in the twenty-first century, one of the reasons why I'm transported to another place and time when I read CoN is the fact that the kids don't talk the same way as I did growing up or the children I know today. It really helps the reader connect with the idea that this is a different time and culture.

PhelanVevel wrote:He then juxtaposes these ideas of negativity and darkness with "feel the wind and see the sky" and follows up with an oddly specific description of trees reflected in a pool of water.


(Off-topic, but I wonder if the reason why he references this specific memory is because it's the last thing he saw before he was enchanted and taken down to Underland? The pool of water would be the fountain where Rilian presumably stopped to rest when searching for the serpent and subsequently met the LotGK.)
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Re: The thematic importance of dialogue in The Silver Chair.

Postby PhelanVelvel » Aug 14, 2014 6:29 pm

The Rose-Tree Dryad wrote:Great thread, PhelanVelvel! :ymapplause: And thanks for sharing the link to that scene, Anfinwen! :D

I really hope that they're able to find actors with Shakespearean backgrounds for Rilian and the LotGK. (I think it was Rilian who predicted on the podcast that Rilian would be played by someone who had appeared in Shakespeare plays in the West End, if my memory serves me correctly.) I really want it to be someone who is very, very comfortable with this type of language; I want it to sound like this is just their normal way of speaking.

I also really want the scriptwriters to use as much dialogue straight from the book as possible. If they muff Rilian's ravings and Puddleglum's monologue and the LotGK's lyrical deception... I will not be happy. :P They can expand on these scenes if they like, but keep it with the theme and please don't mess with the words that are already there. They're too brilliant not to use.

This is different from the discussion about Rilian and the LotGK's "voices", but something else I would like is for Jill and Eustace to speak much like they do in the book. Being an American woman in her 20s living in the twenty-first century, one of the reasons why I'm transported to another place and time when I read CoN is the fact that the kids don't talk the same way as I did growing up or the children I know today. It really helps the reader connect with the idea that this is a different time and culture.


I had typed a way more Phelan-length post, but accidentally turned off my computer before I submitted it, lol. So I'll just say that I agree with you. XD I didn't like how modern the Pevensies sounded in the LWW film (at least that's how I recall them sounding) and I want them to keep things like "rather a little beast" (LWW) and "Yes, we jolly well do" (SC). I really want them to keep all of Puddleglum's mannerisms, too, but what with trying to appeal to a modern audience, and trying to keep it so that kids will be able to relate/understand, and trying to turn a profit, they'll take them all out, I shouldn't wonder! :U

It's not supposed to be 2014, they don't need to change the language to make it sound like it is. It's not as though the language is unintelligible, it's just different. And I think it should be, when you consider that it's taking place in another time period. I grew up on C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, and Lewis Carroll, so my mind is very comfortable with "older" language. You may have noticed how I type using BE spelling, and have since I was a child...they didn't teach me that in school. ;P

The Rose-Tree Dryad wrote:(Off-topic, but I wonder if the reason why he references this specific memory is because it's the last thing he saw before he was enchanted and taken down to Underland? The pool of water would be the fountain where Rilian presumably stopped to rest when searching for the serpent and subsequently met the LotGK.)


I hadn't thought of that before, but maybe that was his last memory before being enchanted. Interesting.
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