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NARNIA Should Reboot with THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, Not THE SILVER CHAIR

NARNIA Should Reboot with THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, Not THE SILVER CHAIR

It’s been seven years since the last The Chronicles of Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and it looks like the next installment is finally coming. Variety broke the news that Captain America: The First Avenger and The Rocketeer director Joe Johnston is attached, which is, in many ways, good news for Narnia fans. The Silver Chair, which mirrors the myth of Orpheus’ journey to the underworld, is one of the best and most potentially cinematic in the series. The problem is that it’s restarting the series in the middle, which means that its young lead Eustace will have to be recast, considering the fact that Will Poulter, who so excellently portrayed him in the last movie, is an adult now.

Eustace enters the world of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the annoying, bullying cousin of the Pevensie siblings, but over the course of Dawn Treader, he gets first embarrassed by seasickness and then humbled by a transformation into a dragon. By the time we meet him again in The Silver Chair, he’s ready to be the hero. He saves a classmate named Jill from bullies, and together they wind up in Narnia on a quest to rescue King Caspian’s son. In a vacuum, Eustace could read as a typical children’s story hero, but when you know he’s a bad kid turned good, it makes his arc that much more interesting–not to mention more in line with author C.S. Lewis’ Christian beliefs about redemption.

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While most of the characters in the book are new, owing to Narnia’s much-accelerated time rate compared to our own, there are a couple of other possible returns that would benefit greatly from existing continuity. One is Aslan, the God/Christ figure in lion form, whose death and resurrection occurred in the first film. It’s possible this will need explanation all over again, since kids today are as likely to know Aslan from a jokey reference in South Park (in which he was a zoo lion with a lousy sense of humor) as from Narnia. It’s also possible Liam Neeson won’t be as easy to get for the part this time around, but let’s hope he’s on board–he was perfectly cast.

The other possible return is of Tilda Swinton‘s Jadis/White Witch, as there is an unnamed supernatural female villain who may or may not be a reincarnation of the character (it’s a topic of frequent debate among fans, muddied by the same actress playing both in the 1990 BBC miniseries). Considering how the movies thus far have bent over backwards to insert Swinton into every movie, even when her character doesn’t appear in a given book, this would be the easiest opportunity to give her a proper finale. Can they get her back? Who knows. But if they recast, the payoff simply won’t be the same.

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But what if there were a way around the reboot problem? A way to start the series anew without rehashing the existing movies or starting in the middle? There is, and readers know where I’m going with this: The Magician’s Nephew. Published and written after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but set chronologically prior, it plays like a prequel in that it has nods to things you know are coming later, but also fills in a lot of gaps. If Wardrobe is Narnia’s New Testament (and it is), Magician’s Nephew is its book of Genesis. Yes, it too has the White Witch and Aslan, but it’s their origin story, at least to the extent that any eternal deity can have an origin. So if you have to recast, you might as well do it from the very beginning, rather than drastically shifting gears at a midpoint.

The book also, incidentally, contains a narrative device that allows for parallel dimensions. The Wood Between the Worlds, a forest full of pools that access other planets when combined with special rings, could easily be the origin point for multiple Narnias. Who’s to say that Aslan can’t visit all of them? And while it’s unlikely that the C.S. Lewis estate will be interested in non-canonical spinoffs, the Wood is the place from which any could originate.

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There’s probably no need to do The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again, but the previous movie versions of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader departed quite a bit from the books. More faithful revamps of them could follow, with a new Eustace who’d then be ready for Silver Chair duty. There’d still be the same obstacle the franchise already faced: will the sequels make enough money to justify doing the entire series? Which is why I would also suggest the Netflix/A Series of Unfortunate Events model–that series is going to do all 13 books with the same child actors, which is quite the feat.

I’ll be eager to see The Silver Chair no matter how it’s done: Narnia’s Underland (yes, Tim Burton kinda stole the name for his Alice movies) is vivid, and morose Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum is a necessary voice of cynicism in Lewis’ generally sunny worldview. But by the time we get to The Last Battle, which is Narnia’s equivalent to Revelation and reunites all the principles from prior books, it needs to mean something. And it’ll mean less if their faces are all new.

How do you feel about Narnia relaunching this way? Should the band Silverchair get back together to do the soundtrack? “Lion” up in comments below with your thoughts.

Images: BBC/Walden Media

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