The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is based on a children’s book by C. S. Lewis and follows the book faithfully — perhaps a little too faithfully. Though beautifully told with top-notch actors and effects, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe never rises to the sophistication of a Dramatica grand argument story. Had the filmmakers been free to expand the story beyond the confines of the children’s book, they might have created a fantasy film classic both honest to the intent of the original and meaningful to a wider audience. Unfortunately it appears they were not given that freedom or chose not to exercise it if they had it. The result is a spectacular fairy tale that might work well for nine-year-olds but rings hollow and disappointing for more sophisticated audiences.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells the story of the four Pevensie children: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They are evacuated from London during WWII and find themselves in a large mansion in the country owned by the secretive Professor Kirke. Bored, the children play hide-and-seek. Lucy finds a large wardrobe in a deserted room and hides in it. Moving to the back of the wardrobe she discovers the world of Narnia (Story Driver of Action) stuck in a perpetual winter (Overall Story Domain of Situation). Fantastical creatures including the evil White Witch and the messianic lion, Aslan, populate Narnia. There also exists a prophecy that says four human children will bring about the end of Winter and the White Witch’s rule. The four Pevensies eventually enter Narnia together thus instigating the inevitable clash between the forces for Good and Evil. As expected, Good prevails and the children eventually return to the “real” world through the wardrobe (Story Outcome of Success).
Though Lucy appears to be a possible Main Character, the way the film is constructed suggests that Edmund is the one with the personal issues with which he must wrestle. He misses his father and resents having to obey his older brother, Peter. The White Witch plays to Edmunds feelings of inferiority and uses him to try to ensnare his siblings. Edmund betrays his brother and sisters by informing on them to the White Witch but is thrown into the dungeon for his efforts. He eventually feels bad enough about his betrayal that he miraculously “changes” and becomes a big supporter of Peter. Herein lies the structural problem of the story. Why did Edmund change? Why now? What alternatives did he have? Unfortunately the film doesn’t present any real answers to these questions because there is neither an Influence Character to present the alternatives nor a Relationship Story Throughline to explore their relationship and reveal the emotional “heart” of the story.
My guess is that Peter is supposed to be the Influence Character though Peter never proposes an alternative way of solving Edmund’s personal issues. Peter does little more than tell Edmund not to do things and criticize his actions. This is where embellishing the original text would have made a better story and movie.
(NOTE: From here on is a creative “what if?” scenario.)
What if The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had a storyform?
Imagine Edmund even more manipulative than he is now (MC Domain of Manipulation). He hides his fears (MC Issue of Desire) that his father is dead by pretending to be different things to different people (MC Concern of Playing a Role, MC Approach of Be-er), always testing how far he can get (MC Problem of Test) though never trusting anyone (MC Solution of Trust). He fights any expectation of him with fierce determination (MC Response of Determination), seeing all expectations as negative (MC Symptom of Expectation) — even the seemingly benign ones.
Imagine Peter as the family member in charge of everything they do (IC Domain of Activity and IC Concern of Doing). This is consistent with the current film and book versions. Questions about Peter ’s experience and skill in dealing with problems seriously affect Edmund (IC Issue of Experience v. Skill). The more effective Peter is, the more it undermines Edmund’s reliance on pretense. Peter desperately tries to keep things going (IC Response of Unending) seeing the breaking up of the Pevensie family (starting with the father and then Edmund) as the greatest threat to his world (IC Symptom of Ending). Suppose Edmund held key information essential to beating the White Witch (MC Unique Ability of Knowledge). Peter’s ability to properly interpret Edmund’s bad behavior undermines Edmund’s role in the children’s defeat of the White Witch’s (IC Unique Ability of Wisdom) because it drives Edmund away from his siblings.
Now imagine Peter and Edmund’s relationship as a clash of wills (RS Domain of Fixed Attitudes). We see this in the first scene of the film where Edmund runs back into the house to get his father’s photo as bombs drop nearby. Peter drags Edmund back to the fallout shelter and chastises him for putting their lives at risk over a photo (RS Issue of Worth vs. Value). The film doesn’t continue this in any meaningful degree though there are hints and touches on it here and there.
With the depth a storyform gives a story, this version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is stronger and more meaningful. But it also points out a serious impediment to changing the book into a grand argument story. The way the film is constructed, Edmund “changes” (MC Resolve of Change) about three-quarters of the way through the story. This leaves a lot of time to wrap up the other throughlines. The story stalls until Edmund probes his change of heart and the outcome of the war between Good and Evil concludes. It resumes long enough to tie up the loose ends and show that Edmund and the other Pevensies are happy kings and queens of Narnia (Story Outcome of Success, Story Judgment of Good).
While there is nothing wrong with the structure of a “tale,” it doesn’t hold up to repeated viewings as well as a grand argument story. A tale has little more to offer than a “Do this,” or, “Don’t do that,” message once the storytelling stales. Stories with full storyforms, however, provide the Why, When, and How to the What of the stories message and easily bare repeated viewing long after the novelty of the storytelling wears off.
From a story structure standpoint, sticking to the book introduces some storyforming stumbling blocks. On the other hand, faithfully translating The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ensures a certain level of positive audience reception that might not be there otherwise. Given the constraints, I’d say the filmmakers did an excellent job creating a feature-length fairy tale.