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What should Aslan look like in Netflix's adaptation?

The Rose-Tree Dryad
(@rose)
Secret Garden Agent Moderator

I ran across this video a while back and I think it would be really cool to have Netflix's Aslan based on the Barbary lion, which is extinct in the wild:

For reference, here's Aslan in the Walden Trilogy:

I think Walden's Aslan was modeled on lions in South Africa (compare), but there are other types of lions, too: the Katanga lion of East Africa, which tends to have a narrower face, and the Asiatic lion of India, which has rounder and (dare I say) "softer" features.

I like the (allegedly) Barbary lions best, though. For one thing, these are likely the types of lions that C.S. Lewis and Pauline Baynes would have seen in zoos in Britain. And while all lions are intimidating, I find the closer-set eyes of the Barbary lion to be especially intense. Time and time again in the books, we're told how people can hardly meet Aslan's eyes, and the gaze of those lions is really arresting. They definitely look like they know stuff about you. Giggle

Also, the image of that lion sitting on that mossy hill — it looks like the scene with Jill come to life!

Twitter: Rose_the_Dryad

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Topic starter Posted : January 13, 2023 10:56 am
Cobalt Jade
(@cobalt-jade)
NarniaWeb Nut

Interesting! I've known about different subspecies of lions for a while, and wondered myself which type would make the best Aslan. (There's also extinct European and American lions, but who knows what they really looked like.)

The Barbery lion to the left in the pic has an almost human-like face compared to the one on the right and the longer, "snoutier" face of the Aslan in the picture below. I like it, it reminds me of the humanlike lions seen in many 17th and 18th century old Master oil paintings. I'd give him a darker mane for contrast.

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Posted : January 13, 2023 5:29 pm
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Hospitality Committee

Those Barbary lions (or descendants of Barbary lions) are just beyond magnificent! I would also love it if Aslan could be based on one of those — as the video points out, this is the kind of lion that has most got into the imagination of people in Europe since at least Roman times, and it seems to epitomise "regalness", with the sheer size and huge mane, just that bit more than any other variety of lion. And yes, as @rose says, those eyes in particular are so powerful.

As for Netflix, or whoever else may end up doing the next adaptation of Narnia, I really do hope they'll get Aslan "right" — as far as that's possible, anyway — as there really is no character more vital to the whole series. Walden made a noble effort with the CGI, but I've always found that Aslan's face to be somehow strange and unlikeable and unconvincing — just not lion-like enough — and they didn't do anything with Liam Neeson's voice to make it sound more deep and resonant and majestic and less, well... bore obviously human. Tongue   (I remember we had another discussion somewhere here where someone pointed out that the recent adaptation of His Dark Materials had the polar bear's voice modified so that it actually sounded like the kind of voice you would expect to come from a huge, wild, definitely non-human animal.)

I'm just hoping that whoever creates the next screen version of Aslan deeply understands that this is a character who has to convey pure AWESOMENESS — I'm sure that's a feeling almost anyone can understand, whether or not they happen to believe in Christianity specifically or in anything religious in general. I know I somehow picked that up even as a 4 1/2-year-old first-time reader of LWW — well, Mum was doing the reading at that stage — when we were told Aslan "isn't safe, but he's good", and that he's somehow "good and terrible at the same time", and I hadn't the foggiest idea about "religion" at that age; I don't think I'd ever even heard about Jesus coming back from the dead, as I know I didn't consciously make that connection when Aslan came to life again. But I knew that this Lion was somehow THE most amazing character I had ever met in a story, and that feeling of awe and excitement stayed with me vividly from then on whenever I thought of him.

Actually, the best description of Aslan I've ever read outside of Lewis's own writings comes from Walter Hooper in Past Watchful Dragons, one of the earliest commentaries on the Chronicles — I reckon anyone wanting to create an adaptation ought to read this and think about it:

There is never any doubt in anyone's mind that Aslan is the Lord of that world. Even his enemies believe this ("the devils also believe, and tremble", James 2:19). If I had not read the Narnian Chronicles, I could not have believed an author could concentrate so much goodness into one being — none of the soulful, over-nice qualities we sometimes find in people we feel we ought to like, but cannot. Here, in this magnificent Lion, is absolute, thrilling goodness beyond anything we could imagine. Qualities we sometimes think of as opposites meet in him and blend. (pp. 99-100)

Oh yeah, and one more thing (though this is not quite on the topic of what Aslan should look like) — this is something I'm pretty sure every adaptation so far has got wrong, and indeed so do probably most Narnia fans (myself included, until I found out)... Aslan's name is pronounced Ass-lan (not Az-lan). Lewis said so!!! Grin  

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : January 14, 2023 4:05 am
icarus
(@icarus)
NarniaWeb Junkie

Although I would say that making Aslan feel like a "real" Lion is important, in terms of getting the correct musculature and fur texture etc, I'd also be up for some degree of artistic license when it comes to conveying the fact that he isn't just a "normal" Lion.

Regular Lions can tend to look a little sad and mopey looking at times, particular with the narrower eyes and snouty face. They always just look depressed to me.

I'm not saying they should go full-on hyper stylised, with a Lion the size of a Bus, and with a mane made of flames... But maybe just like 1% of that sort of energy.

Just some tiny details to convey a slight sense of majesty and otherworldly-ness. Still a real Lion, just not a regular boring Lion.

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Posted : January 14, 2023 9:53 am
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Hospitality Committee
Posted by: @icarus

I'm not saying they should go full-on hyper stylised, with a Lion the size of a Bus, and with a mane made of flames... But maybe just like 1% of that sort of energy.

Giggle  Could be worse. The most bizarre version of Aslan I ever saw was in a stage play in London in 2019, where he was portrayed by a giant flying puppet — not with a full body, mostly just a lion's head with glowing pupil-less eyes — which hovered over the actor who was otherwise playing Aslan as a man in a furry suit. Oh yes, and at one stage the puppet sprouted butterfly wings. Shocked   Interesting choices from a theatrical point of view, but they somehow failed to convey what Lewis would have called the experience of the Numinous...

Just some tiny details to convey a slight sense of majesty and otherworldly-ness. Still a real Lion, just not a regular boring Lion.

And definitely not a tame Lion... Grin  

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : January 14, 2023 5:02 pm
Silverlily
(@silverlily)
NarniaWeb Nut

...I think if they are going realistic rather than animated sticking to mostly-realistic looks is probably best, so as not to be too jarring. But I wouldn't mind him being larger than your average Lion, and maybe a slight golden glow...

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Posted : January 14, 2023 5:15 pm
The Rose-Tree Dryad
(@rose)
Secret Garden Agent Moderator
Posted by: @cobalt-jade

I like it, it reminds me of the humanlike lions seen in many 17th and 18th century old Master oil paintings.

I've always been struck by how lions from old paintings always looked a bit "off" to me, so it was really interesting to learn that they were based on a type of lion that doesn't exist anymore (outside of zoos in Europe and North Africa where some individuals still have that genetic lineage).

Posted by: @courtenay

I'm just hoping that whoever creates the next screen version of Aslan deeply understands that this is a character who has to convey pure AWESOMENESS — I'm sure that's a feeling almost anyone can understand, whether or not they happen to believe in Christianity specifically or in anything religious in general. I know I somehow picked that up even as a 4 1/2-year-old first-time reader of LWW — well, Mum was doing the reading at that stage — when we were told Aslan "isn't safe, but he's good", and that he's somehow "good and terrible at the same time"

Yes to this! Applause

Posted by: @icarus

I'm not saying they should go full-on hyper stylised, with a Lion the size of a Bus, and with a mane made of flames... But maybe just like 1% of that sort of energy.

I remember seeing a picture of one of the lion statues in Trafalgar Square that showcased just how huge they are, and while I wouldn't want Aslan to be THAT massive, I think he should be bigger than the lions of our world and the Walden version. Maybe have his shoulder at the same height as the average man's.

I've seen some artistic depictions of Aslan where he has an eye color that's not seen in lions, like this one:

https://twitter.com/NarniaWeb/status/1432695920353705985

It's a great artistic rendition, but personally, I feel like adding otherworldly eyes to a lion that's already golden—and described as being strikingly golden—seems a bit like gilding the lily. (For the record, his eyes are described as being golden in LWW.)

Twitter: Rose_the_Dryad

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Topic starter Posted : January 16, 2023 10:59 am
Courtenay liked
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Hospitality Committee
Posted by: @rose

I've always been struck by how lions from old paintings always looked a bit "off" to me, so it was really interesting to learn that they were based on a type of lion that doesn't exist anymore (outside of zoos in Europe and North Africa where some individuals still have that genetic lineage).

Yes, and it was fascinating to compare those with the photos of other sub-species of lion that you linked to earlier, Rose — I hadn't realised there was so much variation between lions from different parts of Africa and Asia! I hope whoever designs the next screen rendition of Aslan will take time to look at different kinds of lions — and maybe at some of the previous versions of Aslan himself from other adaptations and artwork — and have a really good think about what kinds of qualities and what kind of atmosphere he needs to convey, rather than just making him into a fairly generic "talking lion". He's the one character who appears in all seven of the Chronicles (all of which Netflix implicitly intends to adapt) and his presence ties them all together. And it needs to be clear (as it is in the books) that he is the God of the Narnian world, without that needing to be stated explicitly in words.

(Of course it's well known publicly that he is a representation of Christ as he might appear in a different kind of world from ours. But if screenwriters can respect that point but keep the focus on the awesomeness and thrillingness of this character, hopefully they'll portray him in a way that could potentially make any viewers, even non-believers, feel that sense of utter awe and wonder and even wish deep down that a divine figure like this could actually exist in real life. Which, you know, is kind of the effect Lewis himself was aiming for...) 

Posted by: @rose

I remember seeing a picture of one of the lion statues in Trafalgar Square that showcased just how huge they are, and while I wouldn't want Aslan to be THAT massive, I think he should be bigger than the lions of our world and the Walden version. Maybe have his shoulder at the same height as the average man's.

I used to live near London and I know those lions well, though I never had the guts (or the stamina!) to climb on them! Grin   Lewis does compare Aslan specifically to them when Jill sees him by the stream in The Silver Chair, although it's only a description of the position he's in, not of his size: "[The lion] lay with its head raised and its two fore-paws out in front of it, like the lions in Trafalgar Square."

One interesting point is that it's clear from the books that Aslan's size actually varies, and it may have something to do with who's seeing him, or with what he himself is doing or conveying. Lucy in Prince Caspian finds him "bigger" than when she last saw him, to which he replies "That is because you are older, little one... every year you grow, you will find me bigger." Later, when Aslan heals the old woman who turns out to be Caspian's nurse, the door of her cottage is too small for him to get through — "So, when he had got his head through, he pushed with his shoulders... and lifted the whole house up and it all fell backwards and apart." Clearly he's quite significantly bigger than any earthly lion!

In Dawn Treader, when he appears on Deathwater Island — without speaking or even looking at the voyagers, but his presence instantly dispels the dangerous argument they were having — we're told he's

the hugest lion that human eyes have ever seen. In describing the scene Lucy said afterwards, "He was the size of an elephant,' though at another time she only said, "The size of a cart-horse."

Later, when Caspian has an encounter with Aslan that changes his mind about going on to the very end of the world, he mentions "No — I don't mean he was actually here. He wouldn't fit into the cabin, for one thing." And when Edmund, Lucy and Eustace meet him at the end (when he at first appears as a Lamb), he's described as "towering above them and scattering light from his mane."

In Jill's dream in The Silver Chair, Aslan is large enough to pick her up in his jaws and carry her to the window. In The Horse and His Boy, at the end of Shasta's encounter with the "Unwelcome Fellow Traveller" as the mists and darkness clear, he sees the Lion "pacing beside him, taller than the horse" that Shasta is riding — and we're told that a "golden light", which Shasta at first thinks is the sun, is coming from the Lion: "No one ever saw anything more terrible or more beautiful."

I can't find any descriptions of Aslan's exact size in The Magician's Nephew or The Last Battle (Lewis tends to fall back on "huge" as the standard adjective), even though the scenes in those books — the creation of the world and the reunion in Aslan's country — are the ones where we see the most of Aslan's true power and glory. But at least CGI (or even more traditional animation) can easily deal with variations in his size, and even little details like those times when he does have light coming from him, if the film-makers are astute enough to pick up on these things.

Posted by: @rose

It's a great artistic rendition, but personally, I feel like adding otherworldly eyes to a lion that's already golden—and described as being strikingly golden—seems a bit like gilding the lily. (For the record, his eyes are described as being golden in LWW.)

Definitely agreed. It's otherwise a nice portrayal, but those bright green eyes (far more human-like than lion-like, although human eyes are never quite that colour either!) just spoil it.

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : January 16, 2023 1:15 pm
The Rose-Tree Dryad
(@rose)
Secret Garden Agent Moderator
Posted by: @courtenay

And when Edmund, Lucy and Eustace meet him at the end (when he at first appears as a Lamb), he's described as "towering above them and scattering light from his mane."

I was trying to remember which book had the line about light scattering from his mane! That is one description that definitely suggests an otherworldly beauty far beyond the lions of our world. (At least, I've never seen a lion scatter light from its golden mane.)

Thank you for posting all of those details about Aslan's size throughout the books! Applause (Can we mail those to the filmmakers? Giggle )

It seems to me that, at minimum, he should always appear larger than the lions of our world, and perhaps sometimes appear jaw-droppingly large. I think that would really catch viewers by surprise and keep them from getting the idea that Aslan is in any way just a talking animal. Honestly, when Aslan says he's swallowed up cities and realms in The Silver Chair, I think people should at least wonder if he's possibly being literal!

Twitter: Rose_the_Dryad

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Topic starter Posted : January 29, 2023 10:54 am
Courtenay liked
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Hospitality Committee
Posted by: @rose

I was trying to remember which book had the line about light scattering from his mane! That is one description that definitely suggests an otherworldly beauty far beyond the lions of our world. (At least, I've never seen a lion scatter light from its golden mane.)

No, neither have I. Giggle   The only other passage I can think of that specifically describes Aslan as having light coming from him, or around him, is when he un-dragons Eustace in Dawn Treader, by Eustace's own description: "And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was.... And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went." (Interesting that Aslan in this case is apparently shining with a silvery kind of light, not golden as we might expect.)

As for "otherworldly beauty", as you aptly put it, that reminds me of the description of him at the end of The Last Battle, "leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty" — again, although that's something we might visualise a lion doing in this world, it's pretty well implied that Aslan's "power and beauty" are beyond that of any earthly creature. And here's another passage that I keep thinking of, from the final chapter of The Magician's Nephew, which doesn't specifically mention either light or beauty, but it shows something about Aslan that I just hope some film-maker might be able to convey somehow, some day...

Both the children were looking up into the Lion's face as he spoke these words. And all at once (they never knew exactly how it happened) the face seemed to be a sea of tossing gold in which they were floating, and such a sweetness and power rolled about them and over them and entered into them that they felt they had never really been happy or wise or good, or even alive and awake, before. And the memory of that moment stayed with them always, so that as long as they both lived, if ever they were sad or afraid or angry, the thought of all that golden goodness, and the feeling that it was still there, quite close, just round some corner or just behind some door, would come back and make them sure, deep down inside, that all was well.

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : January 29, 2023 11:22 am
coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

@courtenay

Oh yeah, and one more thing (though this is not quite on the topic of what Aslan should look like) — this is something I'm pretty sure every adaptation so far has got wrong, and indeed so do probably most Narnia fans (myself included, until I found out)... Aslan's name is pronounced Ass-lan (not Az-lan). Lewis said so!!! Grin  

 

The pronunciation would have to be done carefully each time, to avoid offending or amusing a lot of Americans, for whom A + ss is not a polite word. 

My guess is that's the reason for saying Az-lan.

There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

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Posted : January 29, 2023 11:48 am
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