Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Would C.S. Lewis really have said no to Disney?

Since the weekend I've been seeing the "big story" about C.S. Lewis all over the internet. I wasn't planning to mention it here because I didn't think it was a story, but sometimes a nonstory becomes a story when enough people are eager to make it a story, and--

You're not following me, are you? All right, I'll start over.

I read this just now in The Book Standard:

In a recently-released letter written by C.S. Lewis, the author and scholar writes that he was “absolutely opposed” to a live-action film or television version of his books in The Chronicles of Narnia series.

“Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare,” he said in a letter dated Dec. 19, 1959 to BBC producer Lance Sieveking, shortly after the BBC produced a radio version of Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew.

Here, from the literary e-zine nthposition, is the full text of the letter:

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
18 Dec. 1959
Dear Sieveking

(Why do you ‘Dr’ me? Had we not dropped the honorifics?) As things worked out, I wasn’t free to hear a single instalment of our serial [The Magician’s Nephew] except the first. What I did hear, I approved. I shd. be glad for the series to be given abroad. But I am absolutely opposed – adamant isn’t in it! – to a TV version. Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare. At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wld. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wld. be to me blasphemy.

All the best,
C. S. Lewis

Friends, this letter was written written 46 years ago. Before George Lucas became a household name, if you get my drift. So The Book Standard's headline, "New Letter Shows C.S. Lewis 'Absolutely Opposed' Film Version of 'Narnia'," and all the other blogosphere hype about how dear old C.S. Lewis must be spinning in his grave right now is beyond ridiculous.

Those of us with vivid imaginations know that a two-hour movie can never match the experience of reading a ripping good story. But some movies have come amazingly close. Yes, I'm thinking about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Gollum looked pretty real to me. I bet C.S. Lewis, who was a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien and a fan of his books, would have loved those movies just as the rest of us did.

He might even like what the Disney people have done with Aslan.

My monthly column is up at Romancing the Blog. This one offers instructions for the proper care and feeding of a romance writer.


Mirtika said...

C.S. would have been fine with a quality film with today's effects. I think his comments show he was opposed to the silly looking stuff they had in their day, or a Disney version that was "buffoonery." The previews I saw on the ads show some very wonderful visuals. Doesn't look buffonish at all.

I agree with you about LOTR. I was skeptical when I first heard about them making it into a film. The end result awed me with it's grandeur and beauty and that incredible (and pitiable) Gollum.


Robyn said...

Absolutely, Brenda. I have seen screen versions of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that were pathetic and laughable, esp. the beavers. But those were done twenty years ago, by the BBC on a shoestring budget.

Even so, the story still pulled me in and I still enjoyed the ride. Even when I could see the zipper in Mr. Tumnus' er, fur.

SORMAG said...

Hi Brenda,

I'm looking forward to the movie. I've never read the books. I bought Naria at my kids book fair. Its on our list to read for December.


Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think C.S. would have been eas excited about the movie as I am!

That was a good post over on RTB!

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks, Bonnie.

LaShaunda, you'll love the Narnia books.

Camy Tang said...

I am totally looking forward to seeing this movie. And I definitely think that if C.S. Lewis had lived in this present culture to see what technology's done to anthropomorphic animals, he'd have at least asked to see a visionary sketch.

Neal said...

I totally agree with you Brenda. It's not fair to presume that his 46 year old comments would still apply today. He says himself what he would anticipate in a film version - a pantomime Aslan. Now, I know pantomime is a very British thing, so for the benefit of any international readers who may be unfamiliar with it, let me spell it out. He meant a man (or two men) in a suit. And not a very good suit. In Britain, we often describe something as being pantomime meaning that it's deliberately fake looking for comedy effect.

On a different issue, I delight in reading this sort of thing, since it shows just how much a thing of the past proper letter writing is. His full letter is a delight to read. "Why do you 'Dr' me?". "Adamant isn't in it!! And the abbreviations -- wld and shd. Even today, when practices such as blogging and email have, if anything, increased the use of the written word (compared to 15 years ago, say), we are all amateurs when it comes to composing informal messages. In days gone by, when you had the choice between handwriting and clackety finger-hurting typewriters, you chose your words -- and your abbreviations! -- carefully.

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks for clarifying the (British) meaning of "pantomime," Neal. You're a handy guy to have around. ;-)

I've read several of Lewis' letters, and they're wonderful.

Jack Moulder said...

I wonder, now that we have all seen the (abomonations that are the) films, would Lewis have opposed the films?

I think he would be spinning in his grave if he were alive today, with what Disney have done to his good stories.