Why C.S. Lewis “Absolutely Opposed” a Narnia TV Series

55 years after the death of Narnia’s creator, Netflix is planning “series and movies” based on the beloved books. Previously, The Chronicles of Narnia have been adapted for radio, the stage, television, and cinema.

On at least two occasions, author C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) expressed his feelings about adapting Narnia for a visual medium:

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!) wd. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wd. be to me blasphemy.

C.S. Lewis, letter to Lance Sieveking (1959)

Aslan is a divine figure, and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simple blasphemy.

C.S. Lewis, letter to Jane Douglass, (1954)

Of course, these letters were written long before the advent of computer-generated imagery. It is possible that modern technology would have softened his skepticism.

How do you think C.S. Lewis might have reacted to Narnia visual adaptations? Discuss this in The Narnia Facebook Group.

Time will tell if Netflix is able to bring Narnia to life in a satisfying way. Here is everything we know.

11 Responses

  1. telmarine says:

    Lewis was concerned about the visual integrity of Aslan. It is for that reason that he opposes any movie or series adaptation. But it’s safe to say they CGI preserves that majesty. I think CS Lewis would not only be open to it, but embrace it. He doesn’t come off to me as old fashioned for his time, so he would evolve with the times.

  2. Cleander says:

    I agree with Telmarine. I think the BBC and ITV Narnia productions kind of justified Lewis’ skepticism, whereas I think he would have at least tolerated the cartoon, as well as the majority of the Walden movies. Times have changed, and I think we have the potential today to project the life-like images which Lewis had in mind when writing the Narnia books.
    That doesn’t mean CGI can’t be done poorly, but imo it comes way closer to what Lewis would have wanted.

    • Skilletdude says:

      I think Lewis would have been underwhelmed by some of the visuals in the BBC productions, but I don’t think Aslan would have been one of them. Though stiff in movement, the animatronic lion still is a respectable attempt and, in my opinion, preserved the majesty of the character.

      • Cleander says:

        I’ll grant you that the visual aspects of the BBC Aslan were impressive. I guess my problem with him would have more to do with Ronald Pickup’s voice acting, which seemed a little over the top and made him sound sort of awkward. I don’t pretend to know what Lewis would have thought about his voice though.

  3. AJAiken says:

    I think that Lewis was as concerned about how the story was told as much as how the characters were visually shown. It’s clear he appreciated the visuals of Disney, so I think it’s fair to assume he’d be amazed by the visuals of today. But would he like the stories of today? I’m not sure.

  4. Larry W. says:

    I am not sure if Lewis would have liked any movies or TV series based on his books, but I think we should have them to introduce people to the stories. People are encouraged to read books by seeing movies and TV shows about stories, which helps to stimulate their interest. 🙂

  5. Courtenay says:

    I also think, given the film-making technology at the time he made those statements, Lewis’s concerns were very understandable. It’s impossible to say for sure what he would have thought of any of the adaptations since his time, but it sounds like he wouldn’t have liked the 1967 ITV version, which featured an upright man in a lion suit for Aslan — “a human, pantomime Aslan” if ever there was one. The 1979 animation was very true to the book but wasn’t up to the artistic standards of Disney at his best, so Lewis might have found that “vulgar” as well. The BBC’s version featured a lot of pantomime-style costumes especially the absolutely ridiculous Beavers, but they put a lot of work into Aslan — he’s quite realistic and expressive, though slow-moving (and unable to lip-sync!), so at least there’s nothing “comic” about him, unlike the earlier two attempts. It’s hard to guess whether Lewis would have been in favour or not.
    I think he would have been impressed with today’s CGI at its best, which does finally allow for realistic fantasy landscapes and creatures in a live-action movie. Again, hard to guess exactly what he would have thought of Walden’s version of LWW — it’s beautifully done as a piece of cinema and sticks closely enough to the original plot, but there’s a lot of extra drama added (the chase with the Witch, the huge battle scene at the climax) and that gives it a quite different atmosphere in places from what Lewis originally wrote. I’m aware the other two films (I haven’t seen them) depart from the books a lot further, particularly VDT, so I’m guessing Lewis wouldn’t have approved of those.
    I agree with Larry W., Lewis might not have liked ANY screen adaptations of his books for all we know, but they’re definitely a good way of introducing people to the books and sparking interest in reading them. I’m hoping Netflix will do the original stories justice at last, which I don’t think any previous screen versions truly have.

  6. Caspian XIII says:

    Out of all of these; I honestly don’t think any of them would have gotten his 100% approval. The ITV Serial is obviously a no because of how Aslan is portrayed; A human, pantomime. The 1979 animation is pretty accurate storyline, however, some of the creatures (such as Mr. Tumnus) look too inaccurate. The BBC version is also pretty accurate storyline, but the beings are too far off because some of them (such as the Beavers) are too tall. The more recent movies look a lot more accurate when displaying the creatures (especially Aslan), however, at some points in they took things too far (such as the battle between Aslan’s and the Witch’s camps).

    • Col Klink says:

      There actually is a battle between the camps in the book. I assume what you meant is that the movie spent too much time and money on it and not enough on the parts of the story which Lewis considered the most important. But I don’t want people who haven’t read the book to assume the movie pulled the battle out of nowhere hence this comment.

      BTW while I’m not an expert on C. S. Lewis (I’m not that into biographies), what I do know about him makes me inclined to agree that he would disapprove of the movie and honestly battle scenes bore me. (I prefer chase scenes.) I’m just nitpicking your phrasing in the interest of being perfectly fair to the movie. No offense intended and I hope there’s none felt.

  7. Geekicheep says:

    Wow, I had no idea that 1960s one even existed! I don’t think Lewis would have liked it, simply based on his statements above. Personally, I agree with him about Aslan: a guy in a lion suit just doesn’t cut it!. His roar actually made me laugh, mostly because it reminded me so much of all the recent jokes about Maugrim’s “long live the Queen! Raaaaah” 😀 Clearly, you don’t do that for Aslan. But honestly, apart from that, the rest of it worked. The Witch was as scary as usual, the animals were okay (and IMO the Beavers were better than the the BBC version), and it definitely followed the book. It also had a kind of darker tone (though that could just be the black and white combined with the kinda creepy music lol), and that kind of works too. I was kind of shocked by a huge break from the book, where instead of Narnia being destroyed “in fire and water”, the Witch said, “in a holocaust”! Like, seriously? WWII was still fresh in people’s minds back then, and she chose THAT??!! It’s definitely something she would say, if she were familiar with our world’s history, but really? Anyway, of the two videos I saw (thanks for the links btw) I think he would have hated it.

    He might not have minded the 70’s cartoon or the BBC versions as much, though he would definitely dislike the visuals. Aslan was good in both, but the rest of it looked like it was done by someone who didn’t read the books. Tumnus with green hair, the Witch with a very Wizard-of-Oz-like hag-face, etc. in the cartoon and the animal costume “buffoonery” (hilarious word lol) in the BBC version would not be something he would be likely to approve of.

    As for the Walden series, I think he would love the visuals, but be “absolutely oposed” to the ways they break from the books. LWW was not bad, Prince Caspian WAS bad, and Dawn Treader was worse. It’s one thing to add a chase scene or make a big battle bigger; it’s a whole different thing when you change the story so much that its main themes and message become unclear. I LOVED the Dawn Treader book, but it was kinda sad to see the best graphics ever wasted on a wishy-washy watered-down “where’d that come from?” version of the story.

    But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater either. I strongly agree with those who have said they introduce people to the stories. My first experience with Narnia (or at least the first I was old enough to understand) was the 70’s animated movie. I was in the second grade, and thought it was the coolest thing ever! I wouldn’t start reading the books until three years later! If I hadn’t watch the movie, I might not be the fan I am today. Do I prefer the books? Absolutely, always, 100%! Even if Netflix does an amazing, job and even Lewis would have loved it, no movie can ever compare to the version you experience in a book. But even when I was a kid (and much more so now) most people – and especially kids – are more likely to watch TV than read a book. That’s just the way it is. So while we can’t definitively know what Lewis’ opinion would be of modern versions, you got my two cents on the subject. 🙂

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