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The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 02, 2017 8:38 am
by fantasia_kitty
More than anything else in his Q&A video, Joe Johnston talked over and over about capturing the Essence of Narnia in The Silver Chair. So, I thought I'd start a thread to talk about what the essence of Narnia is to you?

Most kids I know that read Narnia go digging through their closets looking for Narnia, but the movie Narnia was not a place I wanted to go visit. Why? It wasn't really any more dark or dangerous than the books, but then I realized that what the movies majorly missed out on to counter the dark and danger, was joy. Even LWW which was the closest in terms of adaptation cut almost everything wonderful that was in the book, with the exception of when Lucy first walks in through the Wardrobe. Frustrating as they even filmed several scenes like Susan making snow angels and the coronation dance. No playing with Aslan after his resurrection, and my FAVORITE scene in the book where Aslan brings all of the statues to life was turned into a sob fest in the movie.
Moving onto Prince Caspian, the wonder Caspian feels when meeting the Pevensies, gone. The official romp, non-orgy with the Greek Gods, gone. Aslan freeing the Telmarine villagers, gone.
I only saw VDT once in theaters, so I barely even remember that one, though I do remember feeling some wonder of being at sea, it was overshadowed by the green mist. Ramandu's island was pretty stupid, I remember that, and that was a pretty wondrous moment in the book.

Anyways, moving onto my point. I feel like the wonder and joy of Narnia is its essence. Admittedly, SC doesn't have a lot of it, maybe that's why people consider it one of the darkest books. But there is a scene at the end, the Snowball Dance that is so inherently Narnian and I am BEGGING and PLEADING with the filmmakers to keep this scene, or at the very least, replace it with something similar. I've always wanted to see the snowball dance on screen, and I think it could be soooo cool (no pun intended).

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 02, 2017 6:00 pm
by narnia fan 7
I think you hit the nail on the head about the joy being missing in the films. The simple hearted wonder and joy in the books have is a big part of what makes Narnia special. I actually think LWW did a fairly good job of including this. Mostly with Lucy entering Narnia and her scenes with Mr. Tumnus. Though it was lacking in PC and almost everything was lacking in VDT.

I think when Johnston said he wanted to "Capture the essence" of the Silver Chair he meant being faithful to the story and characters which is important. But hopefully he can bring that joy as well.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 02, 2017 7:33 pm
by Glumpuddle
Awesome post, FK. Excellent summary of how the Walden films basically cut out all the scenes that would feel out of place in a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movie. Which, in effect, removed what makes the series unique.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 03, 2017 6:53 am
by Anfinwen
Great thread idea! In the prologues to the FotF radio dramas Douglas Gresham mentions a few specific themes for specific books, but goes on to say that they perhaps appear in all the books. I'm just going off my memory here, but I think he mentions the sense of un-belonging for HHB, return to what is true for PC, "and ultimately joy, a festive joy when what was wrong has been made right again." The last one ties in with what you said, fantasia_kitty. Narnia is about longing for a better place where things will once again be as the should and good will finally triumph. Even Narnia isn't perfect; and it's only in LB, after all the death and sorrow, where we finally get a glimpse of where we truly belong. It's that something within us that Lewis would call "inside information" that points us to a better world to come.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 03, 2017 8:51 am
by Anhun
To me the essence of Narnia is imagination: the power of imagination to strengthen us, teach us and help us grow, and delight us.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 05, 2017 12:26 am
by AJAiken
I think the snowball dance is so important as this contrast between what Jill and the others have gone through and what they discover at the end. They go from a very dark place emotionally and literally to a joyful, bright, peaceful Narnia.

My mum - who had only read LWW once or twice as a child - was so disappointed that the film didn't have a scene with Aslan playing with Susan and Lucy after his resurrection. It was her favourite scene in the book.

My parents and I rewatched LWW and PC recently. I think LWW does capture a lot of that joy - as mentioned, at Lucy discovering Narnia, but also at the very end. There's a thrill and joy to the coronation and the adult Pevensies and the very last mid-credits scene. There's an element of sadness, too, but I've always found those parts very joyful. And full of hope.

PC, however ... I'd forgotten how snarky some of it is. I still like a lot of it but it doesn't have the sense of wonder and joy. I love the moment in the book when they discover that where they are is Cair Paravel, and unearthing the treasure chamber is this incredibly important moment. The film rushed over a lot of that, sadly.

We haven't watched VDT again yet. It's funny, every time I have watched it I think "Never again" midway through and then I see the ending once more and it somehow makes me forget everything else. Though I think there's a lot wrong with it in terms of as a film and as an adaptation the ending, the very very end of the movie, does, in my opinion, capture Narnia.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 06, 2017 12:33 am
by Skilletdude
Hopefully a fan will follow-up with another question for Johnston asking what HE thinks the essence actually is.

For me, I think the main point of the series has to do with learning how to live rightly and nobly in a world that is often not. Similarly to what Anfinwen said, Narnia is a place that should give us excitement for restoration in our own world. When Mr. Beaver first tells the Pevensies about Aslan, that "He'll put all to rights", I'd want to believe him, especially if I was thinking about the terrible war going on back home. But they can't stay put, they have to flee to Aslan, the restorer. And like Jill and Eustace, they must learn to be disciplined on a mysterious journey, and begin to listen to sound wisdom from a "froggy friend".

So, if I boiled the series down to the essence, I'd like to include the word "discipline" in there somewhere, discipline that leads to joy in the end.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 10, 2017 3:42 pm
by The Rose-Tree Dryad
So many good thoughts in this thread! :ymapplause: My apologies for the following essay. It's taken me a while to distill my thoughts on this question. It's tempting to just quote Jewel from The Last Battle...

C.S. Lewis wrote:I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.


... but I don't feel that's quite enough. Yes, CoN does baptize the imagination and evoke longing for one's true home, but so do many stories of many kinds, as Lewis knew well. They may all have a place on the same treasured shelf, but what makes Narnia uniquely Narnia? What do I mean when I say that something feels or looks Narnian to me?

In thinking about this, I was trying to remember Tolkien's primary objections to CoN and I ran across this article. I don't know how fair the assessment is, but I find this quote is useful for the purposes of this discussion:

Tolkien was bothered by the tales’ inconsistent use of mythological figures. Characters from classical myth are scattered through the stories, alongside figures from modern folklore and kiddie lit. He couldn’t see how a story could feature both fauns and Father Christmas, dryads and dragons, Baachus and Beatrix Potter-type talking animals. It was all too derivative, too contrived, too much of a poorly conceived, partially thought-out mishmash.

Furthermore, Tolkien didn’t share Lewis’s love of children’s literature as such. While Tolkien appreciated fairy tales and myth, he didn’t think they should be relegated to literature for children. He disliked dream tricks (as Lewis used in The Great Divorce) to transport people into alternate worlds, and he mistrusted magical literary devices in which children popped into other worlds through mirrors, wardrobes, or rabbit holes.


Despite the negative way in which these aspects of CoN are described, I think that Tolkien's alleged issues with the series largely strike at the heart of what I think makes something quintessentially Narnian. The mythopoetic mishmash, the anachronistic whimsy and curiosity, is one of the main things that comes to my mind when I think of Narnia.

A little girl stumbling through a wardrobe and having tea with a faun carrying an umbrella. A boy eating Turkish Delight with an icy queen. A talking beaver and her beloved sewing machine. The revelry of a Lion, two English girls, a gaggle of Greek characters and a forest that has been awakened after centuries of sleep. A dragon weeping a child's tears. A mouse with the heart of a knight. A star fallen from the heavens and from grace sitting down and having lunch with a girl as though they were old friends. Two schoolchildren teaming up with a half-frog, half-man to save a prince in another world. Dwarfs from folklore and fauns and dryads from Classical myth dancing and playing together with snowballs. A talking horse rescuing a boy from slavery, and another rescuing a girl from death by her own hand. A shape-shifting Lion that guides them throughout all their travels. That same Lion singing a whole world into being, with soil so fertile that a piece of a lamp-post grows up like a tree. A scheming ape and a donkey wearing a lion-skin ushering in the apocalypse. A humble stable door that is the portal to the greatest country of all.

It reminds me of something Mark Hamill said in an interview about why A New Hope worked (and which I very much hope that Joe Johnston is keeping in mind as he reflects on his work on those films and his upcoming work with The Silver Chair):

It's impossible to really tell the plot because the plot's not that important. It's the experience you feel when you watch it. I read a synopsis that came from 20th Century Fox and I—just as a "testing out" of different people's opinions—I would give them the synopsis and have them read it, and they'd get halfway down and just say, "Well, it's complete nonsense... what do you mean, there's like a nine foot dog-man who wears headphones and is able to make the correct mathematical computations to make hyperspace? What's that? And still he can only only talk in grunts and growls?" It's sort of a combination comic book, fairy tale, Wizard of Oz... there's so many elements in the movie.

The thing that's really winning about Star Wars is it's not like we're winking at the camera like "Isn't this cute?" kind of camp stuff. It's very sincere. It's like we'd all gotten into a time machine and were transported back to the 30s where it wasn't corny anymore.


The truth is, The Chronicles of Narnia are peculiar stories, but it doesn't feel like that, does it? It kind of makes me think of how a dream never feels like a dream when you're asleep. At face value it's tempting to compare them to Alice in Wonderland, another story where a child blunders into another world, but you never lose sight of how strange Wonderland is in Lewis Carroll's work. With CoN, however... it inspires wonder and longing, but it also feels inexplicably like home. The world and the stories feel so natural and real and yet at the same time leave you awestruck. Lewis blends the feeling of homecoming and simple life with fantasy and ancient myth to create something that is very rare indeed. And this feeling is ultimately anchored by the goodness and holiness of Aslan, a kind of North Star throughout the seven chronicles that guides us to his Country.

That's why I'll always go to bat for the necessity of the Snow Dance because it's something that I consider quintessentially Narnian, and one of the few joyful scenes like that in The Silver Chair. If a filmmaker wants to make a run of the mill fantasy movie, there are hundreds to choose from, but if they want to make a Narnia film... they have to embrace what makes Narnia special and not shy away from it. If they can't do that... maybe they're not yet old enough to start reading fairy tales again, as Lewis might say.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jun 10, 2017 6:54 pm
by waggawerewolf27
Meanwhile, back in the Silver Chair Reading Group, we have been saying what we would like to see in how each chapter should be depicted in the movie. Currently, we are up to The House of Harfang, where the issue was raised about the possibility of armed conflict as Puddleglum, Jill and Eustace break out of Harfang. And I couldn't think of anything worse, and unNarnian. Because although the menace is there, the hospitable intentions are there, also. And up until the next chapter, we haven't yet put a finger on exactly what the menace is, and why the giants bade the children so welcome, or what this autumn feast is about.

Rose-tree Dryad wrote:The truth is, The Chronicles of Narnia are peculiar stories, but it doesn't feel like that, does it? It kind of makes me think of how a dream never feels like a dream when you're asleep. At face value it's tempting to compare them to Alice in Wonderland, another story where a child blunders into another world, but you never lose sight of how strange Wonderland is in Lewis Carroll's work. With CoN, however... it inspires wonder and longing, but it also feels inexplicably like home.


You summed up so nicely what the essence of Narnia is. ^:)^ Hospitality for a weary traveller is reaching one's destination and finding hot baths, towels galore, all nicely laundered, nice food to eat, and a cosy bed to rest one's aching feet. And in Narnia, one of the joys of the place is that even giants would provide such hospitality, whatever the catch is. So far, it doesn't do to accuse the giants of deliberately imprisoning our travellers until we can prove they have a stronger reason for doing so, beyond getting those children to do the washing up or their not paying the bill. O:-) Innocent until proven guilty, you see. A swordfight at that point would be pointless and downright rude, whatever one thinks of the giants.

Alice's tea party with a March Hare and a Mad Hatter, not to mention the Dormouse is the bit in Lewis Carroll's classic I remember the most. And it is this sort of thing that does stick in one's mind. There was a famous artist who lived up the road from where I am, who wrote a quintessentially Australian book called The magic pudding. This pudding turned into whatever flavour its owners fancied for dinner, though it got cranky and played up on them.

His illustrations for that original book, like Pauline Baynes' illustrations for the Narnia books, were really wonderful, and it would be so marvellous if these sorts of book illustrations, capturing what the book is about, could also translate themselves into how the Silver Chair is depicted in a movie. When asked why a magic pudding, Norman Lindsay replied that food is what interests children most, and C.S.Lewis would have agreed. Except that food when it is most wanted and appreciated is also a basic need for adults as well.

Think of the marvellous meals. The simple hospitable repast Tumnus gives Lucy, "Always winter and never Christmas", a pair of beavers able to supply a gorgeously fresh meal, and victuals even whilst on the run, camping in sumptuous tents, coronation dinners. I could go on, book by book. That wonderful romp through Narnia, a breakfast of apples and grilled fish, the sharing of food on the Dawn Treader, or on the Magician's Island. And why it was his messy dragon's diet which brought home to Eustace the fellowship with his fellow crew members which he missed. Aslan's table, a meal in Tashbaan that Shasta never expected. And the contrast when Narnians and visiters alike have to make do with what they can find, when on a journey, which makes people appreciate a good meal all the more when they get one. Or the company one keeps which can ruin a good meal, and make a horrible meal more of a nightmare. :ymsick:

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jul 15, 2017 8:20 pm
by Glumpuddle
Check out fantasia_kitty's opinion piece based on this thread: http://www.narniaweb.com/2017/07/opinio ... something/

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jul 16, 2017 5:56 am
by Reepi
They always say they want to capture the "essence" - this is to say that they are going to keep what they consider "essential" and potentially cut out the rest if they don't deem it "essential".

It is the same sentiment they have had with prior movies - it's their way of saying things are going to be changed from the book - and we better deal with it.

More red flags.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jul 19, 2017 2:07 pm
by Reepicheep775
I've been thinking about what the essence of Narnia is to me for a couple days and I think I've managed to boil it down to three things.

Firstly, is the bittersweet longing for we "know not what"; the sensation that Lewis called simply "joy". I'm sure you all know what I am referring to, so I won't try to explain it (which is a relief because it is hard to explain :p ). The Narnia books are full of this idea and you could say that they are, at least partially, about "joy". As far as I'm aware the centrality of this theme is unparalleled in literature up to the point that the Narnia books were written (correct me if I'm wrong). That alone, in my opinion, makes the Narnia books worthy of the title "classic". Sure many other books will feature this idea of longing - I finished re-reading 1984 by George Orwell recently and Winston's longing for the "golden country" is an example - but I can't think of any other author who has dealt with this idea as head-on as Lewis did. Apart from this being a major theme in the books, Lewis also filled his stories with things that seem to evoke those feelings in many people e.g. the woods, the sea, mythology, abandoned places etc.

Secondly, is the sense of justice, of setting right what has gone wrong. Scenes such as the restoration of Narnia at the end of PC, the removal of Gumpas and the abolition of slavery in VDT, and the gnomes shedding their forlorn faces and dancing with joy after the LotGK has been killed and they can finally go home fill me with such a deep sense of joy that it is almost a physical reaction. Villains are defeated at the end of many children's stories, but it somehow feels more triumphant in Narnia. The first and second points can be combined into the more general idea of longing for a better place.

And thirdly, Narnia feels old. Obviously, they were written in the 1950's and they include many ancient and medieval things in them, but I think it goes deeper than that. Lewis called himself a "dinosaur" and he thought that that may give him some value as a professor of medieval literature. In his inaugural lecture at Cambridge University, De Descriptione Temporum, Lewis claimed to belong to the Old Western world (i.e. the pre-Enlightenment West) more than to the world his students were living in and that, if he should fail as a literary critic, he will at least "be useful as a specimen". There are certain pre-modern ideas in the Narnia books that are very foreign to our culture and are, to me, very refreshing. Some of these ideas took 12-year-old me's breath away.

For example notions of honour and chivalry as things that are taken with dead seriousness. Just compare Eustace's attitude to Reepicheep's when it comes to insulting a knight's honour! The whole reason the crew of the Dawn Treader set out was to "seek honour and adventure". When does that ever happen in modern story-telling?

Narnia is also a world filled with meaning and poetry. The placement of the stars have significance (e.g. Tarva and Alambil crossing in PC and the coming of disaster evidenced in the skies in LB), stars themselves aren't merely huge balls of flaming gas, Narnia was sung into existence, the trees and rivers have spirits in them etc. All of this is in contrast to post-Enlightenment views of the universe in terms of cold and lifeless empiricism. In all seriousness, I don't think I ever truly appreciated the changing of seasons until I had read LWW. There's also a sense of reverence and solemnity that I find very refreshing in the Narnia stories.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jul 19, 2017 3:38 pm
by Anhun
Reepicheep775 wrote:Narnia is also a world filled with meaning and poetry. The placement of the stars have significance (e.g. Tarva and Alambil crossing in PC and the coming of disaster evidenced in the skies in LB), stars themselves aren't merely huge balls of flaming gas, Narnia was sung into existence, the trees and rivers have spirits in them etc. All of this is in contrast to post-Enlightenment views of the universe in terms of cold and lifeless empiricism. In all seriousness, I don't think I ever truly appreciated the changing of seasons until I had read LWW.


I'm going to brave the wrath of mod and write a non-substantive post. Not only do I wholeheartedly agree with this, but I think it's one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jul 20, 2017 7:29 am
by Glumpuddle
If you love Narnia but have not read Reepicheep775's post, please do. You will not regret it.

Reepicheep775, your post almost made me tear up. Ever considered starting a blog? Maybe a Narnia YouTube channel?

I agree with Anhun. One of the most beautiful posts I have ever read. I too will risk the wrath of the mods just this once and simply agree. I've never done that before and don't intend to make a habit of it... The post is so complete, I can't think of anything to add to it, but I needed to post something.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jul 20, 2017 9:08 am
by narnia fan 7
Echoing what Glumpuddle and Anhun have said. Fantastic post Reepicheep775! I think you summed up the essence of Narnia perfectly. Bravo sir! :ymapplause:
Reepicheep775 wrote:Secondly, is the sense of justice, of setting right what has gone wrong. Scenes such as the restoration of Narnia at the end of PC, the removal of Gumpas and the abolition of slavery in VDT, and the gnomes shedding their forlorn faces and dancing with joy after the LotGK has been killed and they can finally go home fill me with such a deep sense of joy that it is almost a physical reaction. Villains are defeated at the end of many children's stories, but it somehow feels more triumphant in Narnia. The first and second points can be combined into the more general idea of longing for a better place.

That's an excellent point. Good vs evil and right and wrong as well as along with the honor and nobility are vary important in Narnia. That is an element of the chronicles that I feel people kind of look down on now of days, in my personal experience anyway. Moral ambiguity were the line between good and evil is blurred and least to some extent has been popular for a while. And people seem to see good vs evil story as too simple, cliché or cheesey. I'm not trying to say moral ambiguity in storys is a bad thing. On the contrary I've enjoy a lot of storys like that, but the sincerity of how right and wrong are shown in Narnia of the major reasons they are so special to me. And I feel like that is something people don't really appreciate about them, again in my own personal experience.

Re: The Essence of Narnia

PostPosted: Jul 20, 2017 9:11 pm
by The Rose-Tree Dryad
What non-substantive posts? ymwhisle ;) That was a truly excellent and thorough summary, Reepicheep! :ymapplause:

Reepicheep775 wrote:Firstly, is the bittersweet longing for we "know not what"; the sensation that Lewis called simply "joy". I'm sure you all know what I am referring to, so I won't try to explain it (which is a relief because it is hard to explain :p ). The Narnia books are full of this idea and you could say that they are, at least partially, about "joy". As far as I'm aware the centrality of this theme is unparalleled in literature up to the point that the Narnia books were written (correct me if I'm wrong). That alone, in my opinion, makes the Narnia books worthy of the title "classic". Sure many other books will feature this idea of longing - I finished re-reading 1984 by George Orwell recently and Winston's longing for the "golden country" is an example - but I can't think of any other author who has dealt with this idea as head-on as Lewis did.


That's a really good observation. I've experienced or noticed what Lewis called "joy" when reading other books, but as I think about it, the theme almost always seems to be something you encounter along the way as if by happenstance. It's not the focal point... there isn't anything like the last chapters of VDT, much less the last chapters of LB where that ineffable longing is finally satisfied.

I know some people hear about the conclusion of CoN and think that it's weird that "everybody died and went to heaven"... but I don't know what other conclusion would have been possible or fitting for a series that has been building up longing for one's true home all throughout the seven stories. What else could have sufficed? I get on the filmmakers' cases for not emphasizing Narnia and Aslan enough, but even more than that, ignoring this prevailing theme would be ignoring what the series is ultimately about.