A Chinese View on Narnia

25 Jan 2006

I’ve been looking forward to seeing the new movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I read (or was read) all those books when I was in third and fourth grade, and enjoyed them immensely. I don’t remember them very well, so I was looking forward to rediscovering some of that feeling when I saw the movies.

I watched the movie with my girlfriend, who is Chinese. She was not familiar with the stories, and was not raised in the Christian tradition, so she had quite a different take. I liked the movie well enough. She didn’t like it.

Here are some of her comments:

– [About the four kids:] I don’t like these kids. They’re all so pasty and pathetic looking.

– [When the White Witch is killing Aslan on the stone and Lucy and Susan are watching:] Why don’t they do something? I can’t stand weak characters like that!

– [As the battle begins:] Aslan sacrificed himself for that lame kid? None of these kids can even fight!

– [During the coronation of the four:] Those are the four most useless kings that ever lived.

– [When Aslan leaves:] If those four are the kings, then what’s Aslan?

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. I haven’t watched the film, but I’m familiar with the books. Apparently your girlfriend didn’t appreciate that they are just four ordinary children, not action-film heroes. For those of us who read the books when we were young, I’m sure this was one of the elements that made the series so appealing.

    However, I do not think your girlfriend necessarily represents the “Chinese View”. Seems like more a case of personal difference, than of cultural difference.

  2. I agree with her, I thought that Narnia was crap, and that the acting was 3rd rate.

  3. I had the same thoughts as her.

  4. It’s hilarious because it’s true!

    I just saw the movie and it makes me wonder if I mis-remember the Narnia thing. I read the books a bunch of times as a kid, and I remembered the kids as being noble and somehow useful to the Narnia universe. Instead I have to agree they were totally useless and annoying and I felt the movie would have been better if the main characters hadn’t been involved. I’d like to say it’s because the books were Hollywood-ified, but really the changes were pretty minor.

  5. Funny stuff 🙂 , but I dunno if it’s really a uniquely chinese view or anything though.

    I remember reading all the narnia books in like grade 4 (so that’s like over 10 yrs ago), at the time (or maybe just b/c it was in book form) and now today really, I never really got how it’s supposedly a christian book. I liked it a lot though back then, but if I saw the movie today (dont plan to though), I probably say the same things as her about the sissy kids.

  6. They’re pasty because they’re British.

  7. Todd,

    Not the Chinese view, but a Chinese view. She’s Chinese, so you can’t say it’s not a Chinese view.

  8. pketh,

    It’s not Christian through and through, but there are a number of themes. If you’re interested, read this page.

  9. John:

    If you check, Todd said “the “Chinese view”‘”; in other words, neither “a” nor “the” — he deliberately excluded quoting your determiner in order to misunderstand you (naturally not meaning to, just that he has a different opinion).

    This use of quotation marks has a vareity of functions, but the one that appears to be relevant here is its use to indicate a special, and perhaps entirely private, sense of the term.

    Somehow it is connected to the distinction between “personal” and “cultural” that he then develops. But something appears conflated here: Todd appears to believe that there is a sense in which the personal is NOT the cultural — it’s just the personal. Is this possible? Do we ever stop being cultural and just express our personal views? Or is this something only OTHER PEOPLE do?

    Meaning: Would Todd ever think that “those of us who read the books when we were young” do this?

    If not, then we have an ego-oriented vs. other-oriented antinomy. Quite common when thinking about the habits of foreigners.

    And it’s then my opinion that this antinomy is facilitated by Todd’s private use of “Chinese view”.

  10. Matt beat me to it. They are pasty because they are British. A very accurate observation. They are pathetic because they fled the Luftwaffe bombs like cowards when they could have been used as ammo reloaders for AA guns around London. Another accurate comment. And finally, fantasy movies blow.

  11. Here’s to pasty!

    I’m going to start a “let’s keep Britain sunshine free” campaign so that everyone who goes to the fair isle of Albion can join me in wimpy looking, slightly translucent paleness.

  12. John,

    Have you read any of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series? The New Yorker has a great article online comparing those books to Narnia. I haven’t read any Pullman yet, but I plan to. Personally, I think there was something very good about the first two or three Narnia books, but after that I always had trouble staying interested. I don’t have a strong urge to see the movie…

  13. Phil is funny.

  14. My mom is British, so I guess I have to kick Carl’s ass.

    Did you see the BBC version of Narnia? The kids in the modern version look like members of Menudo compared to the old version.

    Also, John, if your girlfriend were really of representitive view of Chinese about pastiness she would have said. “Look, those kids are so white and pasty. How beautiful.”

    Most of my Chinese friends in Hainan were disappointed any time we watched a movie, and the Heroes in it didn’t fly. Because that’s real. When you get really good at Kung Fu…you can fly.

  15. did you or she see the wookie in the film? my post about the film is first in the us for google searches including the phrases “narnia wookie.” aparently, i’m not the only one who saw it. i’m an uber-dork.

    anyway, i agree that the kids are a bit lame, useless and weak. but, isn’t that the point of the story? why in the world would the great king aslan befriend and entrust the kingdom to these four kids? probably the same question lewis wrestled with from his own background in christian tradition… why would jesus christ entrust his entire mission to a band of plain fishermen, greedy tax collectors, prejudiced religious zealots and the like. the story is a good one because it doesn’t make sense. neither does the message of love, peace and freedom that christ taught, which, ironically, ultimately got him killed.

  16. What a let down. I was interested in at least seeing another fantasy genre movie, or reading the books, but I guess I’ll save my money for something better.

    I’ve had similar experiences with watching movies with my wife. We live in the US, but she grew up in China. We watch movies together and when we talk about them later it feels like we watched two different movies. Things I find funny are completely lost to her. She’ll laugh at some things that leave me asking “what was funny about that?”

    She also expects more out of a movie. Chinese movies that she watches are many hours long (30 hours) while American movies tend to be 2-3 hours. And the worse thing you can do is watch a movie made for Americans that is based on a Chinese story. She can’t stand watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She can tolerate Hero though.

  17. Someone mentioned Menudo, the very last topic I’d have thought would ever be mentioned on a China blog.

    P.S. Menudo Totally ROCKS! I still have a Menudo Lunchbox I used in gradeschool! Oh those were the days.

  18. what wookie? what are you talking about?

  19. Thankyou Tony for your simultaneous defense and criticism of me. Far from attempting to discredit John’s girlfriend’s opinion by labeling it “personal” in order to differentiate it from my own “culturally representative” view, the authority of which is presumably grounded on my self-perceived membership of an in-/fan-group consisting of those who read the novels in our youth, I was instead asserting that in the absence of supporting analysis to suggest that all or part of John’s girlfriend’s view has been influenced by Chinese cultural norms, it is at best of limited intellectual worth and at worst misleading to describe it as the only, or even one among many, Chinese views.

    That thing about the wookie is interesting, though.

  20. Todd,

    I think that’s taking it way too seriously.

  21. [When the White Witch is killing Aslan on the stone and Lucy and Susan are watching:] Why don’t they do something? I can’t stand weak characters like that!

    Oh puh-lease … in five years I am yet to see a Chinese woman (or man) run to the aid of a victim of crime or an injured person. They all just stand around and watch. And I daresay they would never go to the aid of a kitten being tortured to death, much less a big cat.

    The Narnia kids are on personal journeys – or arcs – so it is pointless to accuse them of being hopeless or cowardly in part one of a seven chapter story.

    As for pasty children, you try spending a winter in England during the blitz. I think it also has something to with the purity and innocence of the children in the story. See early episodes of Harry Potter. At least the colour is natural and not purchased out of a bottle.

  22. hdp,

    Wow, someone is getting pretty defensive about a work of fiction. I think it’s fair to expect more out of movie characters (who are meant to entertain us) than everyday people.

  23. Phil (a different Phil to the other one) Says: January 26, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    wow, someone mentioned the Blitz. cool. There’s nothing like bringing up the subject of German bombers over London in the 1940s to lighten the mood.
    Pullman’s Dark Materials books are very good, even for adult readers.
    The Narnia movie looked rubbish so I haven’t been to see it. The BBC TV series was very good though. However, if the movie has a wookie in it then it can’t be all bad….

  24. hdp:

    OK, but are those victims of crime/injured people strangers to those people staring? Is Aslan a stranger to Lucy and Susan?

  25. That’s true, John, but there’s no reason why we can’t be entertained by characters that are less than the heroic ideal.

    I think in some cases there might be a clash of expectations over what a Western Film is supposed to be like – I once had a group of students completely disgusted with Butch Cassidy and Sundance because they ran from the lawmen instead of fighting like heroic American cowboys ought to do.

    That said, I didn’t care much for Narnia the movie myself – it was fun to watch, but it pales in comparison to the original. It’s one thing to be able to explain in a book that characters fall in love with Aslan the moment they see him, but in the movie, he appears on stage, and then dies – there’s no reason that we really should care. That, and the fact that the battle scene had to be compressed out of cinematic narrative concerns, eliminating the moments of heroism that the children were given in the book.

  26. Actually, hdp made some perfectly good points.

    Disclaimer: This movie isn’t particularly my type of movie. I prefer Munich, or The New World. However, I was pleasently surprised by Narnia, overall.

    This story is the first part of a many part franchise the studio is going to produce. Ignoring the books for a second and focusing on the films, it would be really lame storytelling to have the kids kicking a$$ immediately after going through a magic portal where they are being attacked by monsters.

    In fact, I liked two aspects of the kids–#1, the movie spent a few minutes allowing the kids to be understandably skeptical of Narnia, and #2, they have room to grow as characters, particularly as heroes.

    So your version (matt, JR, John, John’s girlfriend, Jeff) would have the kids fighting kung fu in bullett-time, ala the Matrix? Yeah, I agree! They totally needed to KICK A$$, DUDE! No offense, but I guess that’s why you aren’t a screenwriter. 🙂

    I also agree with hdp’s comment on the typical Chinese’s tendency to stand by and stare while someone bleeds to death on the street from a car wreck. He was just pointing out a cultural tendency.

    BTW, this is in response to most of the people’s reactions to the movie on this thread. Don’t you feel like audiences are a little spoiled?

    “I agree with her, I thought that Narnia was crap, and that the acting was 3rd rate.”–Matt

    Matt, based on your tone, you must be some kind of film thespian. Do you think your judgement could be a bit too harsh, maybe? These kinds of acidic, “Oh Narnia was crap” comments remind me of the kids from http://www.aintitcool.com talkback. I’m sure you know the type.

    I mean no personal offense, but it frustrates me how people who haven’t made shyt tend to be the most vocal critics. If you want to point out cinematic crap, then why don’t we talk about Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, or Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2?

    G

  27. G,

    You’re misrepresenting my view. I said I liked the movie, but I felt I should defend my girlfriend’s view when someone makes a comment which amounts to, “your girlfriend is a hypocrite” from someone who doesn’t know her at all. As some other commenters here noted from the same incident, she’s not the typical Chinese.

    During the scene where Aslan was being sacrificied, I told her that there was nothing the two girls could do, as the hilltop was swarming with monsters, but she didn’t like that.

    I agree with your point that it would have been unrealistic to have the kids kicking ass right off the bat. I think they did a good job having Peter progress from only pointing the sword to killing the wolf when it leapt at him (and sort of fell on his sword) to fighting in the battle. But I still think there should have been a few more heroic battle scenes involving the kids, even if they were executed clumsily.

  28. Hey John, I know you said you liked the movie. I wasn’t referring to you.

    Regarding your gf not understanding certain cultural aspects of the movie–of course this will be so some of the time. It would be like me watching a Japanese anime like FLCL and fully understanding all the pop references. When I first saw My Neighbor Totoro, I thought Miyazaki was on crack. Then after someone educated me on the references, it became one of my favorite cartoons.

    “During the scene where Aslan was being sacrificied, I told her that there was nothing the two girls could do, as the hilltop was swarming with monsters, but she didn’t like that.”–John

    Not only that, but Aslan TOLD them to leave him. He expressly ordered them not to help him because that was his sacrifice he had to make. If I didn’t know the Christ story, or had not been brought up in western-judeo-christian culture, I’d probably feel the same frustrations as your gf.

    “But I still think there should have been a few more heroic battle scenes involving the kids, even if they were executed clumsily.”

    Fair enough. I’m sure they’re saving some bigger action stuff for us in later movies.

    BTW, have you explained to your gf where your name came from? 🙂

    G

  29. G: You go to movies to see weak characters, who don’t really influence their situation in a meaningful way for the length of the movie? That works for a character study but for an adventure movie it’s violating basic rules of drama. Perhaps it could help build up the following movies (although the book stood by itself) but who would want to watch the movie sequels after the first one was such a pile of shit.

    People would watch their beloved friend and leader get killed in China? There’s a difference between not interveaning in a stranger’s argument and the kids watching Aslan get killed by a large army of beasts. I didn’t even understand the initial comparison except as being the kind of anti-Chinese slur you see on foreigner blogs. And of course there’s situations of violence in the US, where nobody could even bother to dial 911.

    Your posts come off as rationalizations for liking a movie, rather than reasons.

  30. John, I don’t know whether you are referring to my response to Tony, or my comments about the wookie. Actually, both were tongue-in-cheek, and partly revenge for having to look “antinomy” up in the dictionary 🙂

  31. Have to agree with some people on here that it’s not really a ‘chinese view’, though it might have come from a Chinese person…I should know…I’m Chinese (or partly, anyway, with other Asian bits mixed in), and a pretty traditional one compared to most.

    However, to be fair, your gf was commenting on the film which I didn’t feel represented the actual story very well (though still better than any of the celluloid incarnations of Harry Potter). Then again, it depends on how one defines ‘courage’…I think even children in China would have been absolutely terrified when face-to-face with a lion, and probably wouldn’t hang around long enough to find out if it is benevolent (let alone be in a position to ‘save’ it).

    Anyhow, I came upon this blog only because I was doing a search for a Chinese translation of the Narnia book…My mum liked the film, though she didn’t understand much of it, and didn’t get the Christian point either (have to admit, although I can see parallels, I thought Narnia was far more pagan and perhaps closer to the origins of Christianity than the form that we now recognise as orthodox), so I thought she might enjoy reading the book…Oh well, can’t be all that difficult to find…Zhu wo hao yun ba!!! :-p

  32. Da Xiangchang Says: May 24, 2006 at 1:28 am

    Finally saw Narnia a couple of weeks ago. I have to say, it’s probably the most UNINTENTIONALLY hilarious movie I’ve seen in a long time. The plot could be endlessly goofed on, whether in the lion that won’t die to the potentially pedophilic satyr luring innocent girls to his abode. And the kids are indeed goofy-looking. Narnia’s like retro Harry Potter where all the kids look like Ron Weasley! Only the blond boy looks alright, and even then, he’s funny-looking, esp. when he’s fighting. He handles his sword like a retard handling trigonometry; I’m sure he can’t stand up to an opponent who can turn people into stone. The funniest part, however, as to be the end when all 4 of these goofy-looking kids grow up to be supermodel-looking adults! What the %@$!@?! I haven’t seen such an improbably transformation since an Indian kid turned into Antonio Banderas in House of Spirits. Haha. (Incidentally, people might want to check out Shadowlands about C.S. Lewis’s relationship with a Jewish feminist late in his life. Great gut-wrenching stuff!)

  33. Basically I admire C S Lewis on a number of accounts. His Screwtape Letters are fantastic, and I remember reading the Narnia stories as a child, and so I looked forward to the film. But the film was unadulterated cr*p. The death and, ahem, resurrection of Aslan struck me as absurd – a particularly transparent and failing attempt to copy the life of Christ into fiction. It was not clear from the film why Aslan had to die for them, unlike the real Jesus story, and I thought, if anything, the whole concept of using the resurrection of Christ as the basis for a fictional story about animals was, if anything, blasphemous and likely to rubbish Christianity as a philosophy. The film was very very bad, and the concept behind the Narnia books reprehensible.

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