How Dark would be too dark in the Netflix Series?
Because of COVID-19, I have a lot more time at home than I usually do. I'm also thinking about Narnia more than I usually do. This is a bit of a novel, and might open up a bit of a philosophical discussion about the content of the novels, compared to how it might be adapted in the future. Especially when it comes to the tone.
I've been thinking about this, since the announcement of the Netflix acquisition. I know that The Chronicles of Narnia have a childlike innocence about them - which definitely shouldn't be touched. But the books do get surprisingly dark in places - starting in the Magician's Nephew, where Jadis is the last queen of Charn, a world which Aslan states is at a level of messed up that most other worlds will never see.
Jadis enters Narnia, and brings some of that darkness into Narnia from day one. Most of the books have one or two obviously dark moments, before the Last Battle retains a dark tone throughout (before the end, that is). In between, I feel like a lot of what CS Lewis implies, but does not spell out, adds not only deeper meaning, but makes me think "Wow, this would be intense if it was real life".
While I don't want the Netflix series to fabricate too much drama that wasn't already in the source materials, I also don't want it to shy away from the moments, whether implied or outright stated, that make the stories impactful. I also believe it shouldn't shy away from the lighthearted moments either (i.e. the Romp, comic relief, etc.). In my opinion, it requires both darkness and light to fully encapsulate the bigger picture CS Lewis was going for. Both make Narnia what it is. That said, I believe that instead of fabricating drama, a lot could be done to flesh the depth and subtleties that Lewis weaves through the stories - while this would make it more impactful, it might also make it darker in places than some people would be comfortable with.
So, I guess my question is, how much is too much? On one hand, I get that it was written for children, but CS Lewis even went on record stating that it's a disservice to children everywhere to shield them from the knowledge of the world being dark and scary sometimes. Is it selfish to hope that child-friendliness isn't always the priority of the series (the key word being 'always')? I mean, I obviously don't want it to be a Game of Thrones 2.0 either. What's the right balance?
What are your thoughts? Also, what are your hopes and fears about how specific scenes might be adapted?
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I have always been of the opinion that any Narnia adaptation should be accessible to children. I don't think an adaptation that alienates its target audience is a good adaptation.
In terms of violence, adaptations shouldn't shy away from death and violence because Lewis never did. However, movie violence can shock more than book violence ever can. If this was 2005, I'd say Narnia shouldn't have a higher rating than PG, but nowadays I think I would extend that to PG-13 because the MPAA seems to have become stricter. I don't think there's any way a movie like The Force Awakens would have been PG-13 had it been released a decade earlier.
So I think that the harsher realities of life should be included, but obscured as appropriate. A good example is when Peter beheaded the Telmarine lord in PC and we saw one shot of him swinging his sword followed by a shot of a helmet on the ground.
I think the darkness in Walden's PC was pretty spot on. Unfortunately, it did not have as many aspects of levity that it could have. If they had had the Romp and maybe focus more on Caspian as a child learning about Narnia, I think that balance would be perfect for Netflix.
Hello Glenwit! You’ve brought up a very good question.
I agree with Reepicheep775 in that I think the Narnia adaptations should still be accessible to children. I think that perhaps playing off of some of the darker explicit or implied themes in the Chronicles (to an extent while still staying true to the vision and purpose of Lewis) would serve to highlight that these stories are not mere “children’s fairytales” as most people would think of fairytales today. They are stories with real emotional, and, as many would argue (including myself), spiritual weight behind them. I agree that it would actually be doing a disservice to Lewis not to hit on the darker themes woven throughout the Chronicles—just as much as it would be to gloss over the undeniable scenes of joy (the romp, the snow dance, etc.).
I believe that there is a marked difference between darkness and violence. Darkness and violence often go hand-in-hand, but I think that darkness has more to do with overall thematic weight whereas violence is more physical. Something can be dark without necessarily being violent. For example, I personally think that the actions behind Lady of the Green Kirtle in Silver Chair are darker than the battle that marks her death. Although her death is described as a “nasty mess,” I believe that concepts of Rilian’s enchantment, the enslavement of the gnomes, and the denial of Narnia carry far more darkness than her actual death (even though that may not be as explicitly violent).
Some of the darkest scenes in the Chronicles, in my opinion, include the capture and death of Aslan, the concept of the Dark Island, much of Underland itself, Aravis’s attempted suicide, the implications of Calormene society (especially for women), Charn, and much of The Last Battle. There are also battle scenes that are violent (much of it is implied violence and not excessively detailed), especially when translated to screen (Peter’s First Battle, Battle of Beruna, War of Deliverance, Battle at Anvard, Battle with the LOTGK etc.), but I personally don’t see them as thematically darker than the others mentioned above. For example, one could show Aslan’s death with limited violence and in an accessible way for children, but the sheer emotional weight and tonal darkness of Aslan’s death would still make the moment dark.
I think there is also a third component that has a bit of overlap with the darkness element: scariness/creepiness. There are several scenes that don’t necessarily qualify as violent but, in my opinion, should be presented as quite eerie (the courtyard of statues in the White Witch’s Castle, lack of old Narnia under Telmarine rule, Goldwater and Ramandu’s Island, the Island of the Voices/Magician’s Book scene, all of Underland, Shasta among the tombs, Charn, etc.). However, I don’t know how much would be too much. As Glumpuddle has talked about several times on the podcast, atmosphere is essential.
I think that ultimately whenever Narnia (or any book, for that matter) is adapted to screen, the writers/producers should strike a balance between the jubilation and underlying darkness, humor and mystery. All of these are very fine lines in an extremely delicate balance. I think that the series needs to be accessible to children but also give food for thought to older members of the audience. If the writers do not underestimate the intelligence of the audience, I think there is wonderful potential. Although Lewis could be considered didactic, he writes with subtlety and does not, in my opinion, beat the reader over the head with the point he wants to get across. Above all, I think that families should be able to view it together, just as parents are able to share the experience of reading the books to their children. Ideally, I think that the movies/series should become even deeper and even more captivating on repeated viewings, similar to how the books take on a new richness as readers grow up. That may be asking too much, but that is what I would want out of a Narnia adaptation.
"I am,” said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
How dark would be 'too dark' for a new Narnia series?
Interesting question to answer: Personally, I strongly believe that the Narnia films we have gotten so far are too intense and violent for Narnia adaptations - at least, for those particular Narnia stories. (The tone of those movies are so different from their book counterparts.) Wardrobe ought to be more gentle, as it is the opening story. Of course it gets very dark & violent (Maurgrim's demise, Aslan's sacrifice), but it never leaves its target audience of kids. Adults can manage.
As a simple gage for myself, 'too dark', would be partly determined by the age of the main characters.
For examples: Lucy is around 8 years old in Wardrobe, so a Wardrobe adaptation ought to be gentle enough for 8-year-olds - so in the PG / TV-PG area.
Lucy in 'Prince Caspian', and Eustace in 'Dawn Treader' and Jill in 'Silver Chair' are all around 9-years old, respectively. I think 9-year-olds and up would be appropriate for those stories. PC & SC could easily push the PG-rating with violent moments, but it's not impossible to be faithful to those books while taking out beheddings of Telmarines and serpent-witches.
'Horse & His Boy' could be more YA than young kids. Shasta & Aravis are both 13-and-up in HHB , so I think older kids (13-and-up) would be appropriate for HHB: PG-13 / TV-14. Of course, many people would oppose this, so making HHB PG / TV-PG could work if you softened certain intense scenes from the book (and did away with the controversial elements of the book).
In theory, The Magician's Nephew could be G-rated (if you kept the gentle tone of the book, and did away with the occasional violent moments). Almost everyone, except parents of small kids, would oppose this. PG it is.
Then, there is The Last Battle, which features teen & adult main characters, and violent, disturbing moments throughout, so a PG-13 / TV-14 rating makes more sense. Of course, it is possible to adapt LB as appropriate for PG audiences (the movie 'Life of Pi' is an intense, PG-rated drama film, based on a YA novel with R-rated creature violence). But I would oppose this, because, frankly, LB really messed me up at age 11. If I had read the book at age 14, I would have been able to handle the destruction of Narnia, better. LB is an upsetting experience for readers/audiences of any age, but I would want to protect young children (if I had some).
Well, I'm not sure what level of violence Lewis was imagining, given we have the almost non-existent battle in LWW and then actual beheading in PC.
That being said, I'm not sure I want to see blood flying everywhere in any Narnia adaptation, regardless of the book tone.
Yet I wonder if maybe a little more blood could be shown in certain scenes like Aslan's death. I recently had an image in my mind of Jadis maybe doing something ritualistic or perverse with Aslan's blood, like painting her face with it. (Sorry if that's creepy. ) In this scene in particular it could maybe better establish the ritual importance of the blood sacrifice if we actually see the blood. It would also, for the moment, make Jadis scarier....
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That's a very good question!
It's very hard, because some of the books, even though they still have their lighthearted moments, can get dark and violent at times. Also, it's one thing to read it in a book, and it's another thing to see it happen on the screen.
LB is dark for the most part, unlike the other six books. I was thirteen when I read it, and even then I was bothered with some things. With some of the books, you could easily get away with cutting some of the violence out. But LB needs to keep the dark atmosphere in order to keep the meaning of the book. It makes the end that much better. That being said, you almost have to make a PG-13 LB if you want a good adaptation. The others could probably be PG.
The thing I'm worried about with a PG-13 Narnia, is that many children will not be allowed by their parents to watch it. Over time, Narnia might come to be known to children as something only for "older kids".
Since I had trouble watching Stranger Things and that is a show 10 and 11 year olds are seeing I am not sure what level of violence I would be okay with watching in Narnia, but it seems to me most children with their family will still end up watching it even if it is TV-14 or PG-13.
Personally, I could see the ratings for SC, LB, and HHB being way different than LWW, PC, and VDT. MN's rating I see inbetween the younger kids audience ratings (LWW, PC, VDT) and the older more mature ratings (SC, LB,HHB).
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Good topic idea! Since this is something that's been argued in the past with previous adaptations.
I think it should be dark and gloomy in the places where the books are naturally dark and gloomy (The Stone Table, a vast majority of the Silver Chair, the end of Narnia) and naturally lighthearted in the places where the books are naturally lighthearted (Lucy meets Tumnus, The Coronation in LWW, Everyone reunited in the Last Battle).
Basically, I think it should make an effort to be real... how would an older child react if they were in this situation? How would they perceive what's going on? Then base the tone on that. Based on the way today's movies are rated I could see some being PG and others being PG-13... I don't think they should be as dark as Stranger Things or Watership Down ('78) or as light as Winnie the Pooh or Blue's Clues. It should avoid excessive and unnecessary gore (for example the aftermath of killing the serpent might be best if depicted mostly off screen - it works better in book form for kids), but also avoid dumbing down the seriousness of the situation (Aslan's Death, various Battle Scenes, the sea serpent attack, the giants in SC). Kid's can handle a lot more than people give them credit for. Scary monsters, dangerous areas, and heavy themes like war, failure, and death that are already in the book should not be avoided, but you don't need to introduce arguments between main characters that don't exist, or romances that don't exist, or other things that age up the characters older than they are.
Things I don't care whether or not they cut: references to characters smoking or drinking.
Things I don't want them to cut, necessarily, but think they need to be very tactical in addressing: Aslan being killed (I think the 2005 LWW movie hit the tone perfectly... atmosphere was very dark and the focus switched at the last minute to his eyes and Lucy's reaction so the gore didn't have to be shown, but everyone understood what happened). As metioned above the aftermath of the LotGK's death - specifically the snake moving post-mortem. While realistic for snakes, I feel it should be handled with care given the target audience... maybe a sound or shadow or simply just focusing on the other character's reactions should be enough. Aslan pulling off Eustace's Skin should be shown without being gory. Either do what the last Dawn Treader movie did, which I think was thematically sufficient, or show the shadow of it happening on the ground. Final example for now- Aravis's backstory, I don't think they should totally avoid the fact that she was about to commit suicide before Hwin stopped her (as it's very important for kids to realize why Hwin stopped her), but I think they need to be extra careful in how they approach it so as not to trigger a troubled audience member.
Thing's I'd like to see: Dark tones and atmospheres where appropriate (PC, SC, and LB especially, but this applies to parts of all the books). Not skipping celebratory moments for time/theme as these counter balance the darkness. Full scale battles for both the First and Second Battles of Beruna and the Battle of Anvard, not just mere skirmishes. (But also don't shorten the scenes with Aslan and the girls that's happening concurrently with the first) You don't need to show more than what's in the book per say, (though I wouldn't mind it if it doesn't detract from the story) but what I mean is they need to be full scale armies at play, not just 10-20 men on each side. I'd like to see the actual flash back in SC of the story told about the death of Rilian's mother and his disappearance, visually, not just hearsay as a story (as it is in the book).... likewise the flashback in PC (although I can see the plot being restructured as it was in the 2008 movie, I just wish they'd show more of Caspian's growing up, his nurse talking about old Narnia, suddenly vanishing, etc. The Fall of Charn, the destruction of the Underworld, and the destruction of Narnia should not be cut at all. And the sea-serpent... for me, as a fan of mythical creatures and cryptids, that's a personal preference of personal importance 😛
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I think you could make an interesting comparison between the upcoming Narnia series, and a whole slew of recent television series which could all be considered "Re-adaptations of books that were also movies in the Mid-00s"
- His Dark Materials (2019 TV Series) vs Golden Compass (2007 movie)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017 TV Series) vs A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004 movie)
- Alex Rider (2020 TV Series) vs Stormbreaker (2006 movie)
- Treadstone (2019 TV Series) vs Jason Bourne trilogy (2002 - 2007 movies)
- Jack Ryan (2018 TV Series) vs several loosely connected movies in the Jack Ryan series
- Watchmen (2019 TV Series) vs Watchmen (2009 movie)
There's a whole host of things you can say about them, including whether they chose to stay chose to repeat similar story elements from the movie versions, whether they decided to be more focused on their original book source material, or whether they just decided to do their own thing entirely, but I would say that the one thing that all of them chose to do... is to go darker.
Now, i don't necessarily mean "darker" in a horror movie sense, but more in terms that the natural cinematic language of Television seems to warrant a more "realistic" and "grounded" visual aesthetic. In some of the series I was at first tempted to chalk that down to the TV series having a lower budget (dark lighting is a great way to hide poor cgi), but when you actually look at the CGI in say the 2019 Dark Materials vs the 2007 Golden Compass, the TV Series is light years ahead in every regard - even TV budget CGI these days is better than state-of-the art CGI from 15 years ago!
So i think its something more like this.... If you consider the language of cinema as being a balancing act between two schools of thought - "Realism" and "Formalism" - then all of these TV series skew much more heavily towards the "Realism" end of the spectrum, even in series such as Bourne that were already pretty far down that road. There is just something about the notion of being a "TV Programme" that warrants a certain visual look.
I'm not sure if anyone here watched The Mandalorian TV Series (part of the Star Wars Universe) on Disney Plus, but its a TV series with a TV budget, but its shot with the lighting, lensing and cinematography of a movie production, which paradoxically makes the whole thing look really cheap. I don't know enough about colour grading or cinematic post-production to fully understand it, but I found it to be kind of jarring.
A similar case in point, the recent Netflix comedy "Space Force" - rather than being filmed in the style of a modern single camera comedy (say "The Office") or a conventional TV drama, its filmed in a super wider-screen format, with an incredibly "cinematic" visual texture - again it just has the reverse effect of making everything look cheap, and you are sat there thinking - "what is this show? who is supposed to be aimed at?" Everything just seems to be lit too brightly, as if for a movie production, which just exposes that the quality of the sets, costumes and overall level of detail aren't there.
All of which is perhaps a very long way to say that even with all the modern advances in CGI, and even with the insane budgets being thrown at TV Series these days, I do not feel we have reached a point where a TV series and a Movie are visually indistinguishable from one another. There still exists a fundamental visual aesthetic which defines what it means to be a TV show (whether on streaming services or broadcast television) and that visual aesthetic is towards a more realistic, grounded and "darker" tone.
There's a lot that can be said on this question, but for me, one thing that comes to mind is this: it's too dark when they're having to minimize the light moments to keep the darkness dark.
For example, if they're cutting the cozy dinner with the Beavers short — or dressing and shooting that scene like it's taking place in a famine-wrought dystopia — because it ruins their epic-sweeping-gritty-hyperrealistic mood... that would be a terrible adaptation of Narnia. I think the darkness should be relative to the light in that particular Chronicle, and whatever amount of darkness allows them to embrace all of the moments of joy and wonder... that is the right balance, imo. In SC, Jill and Eustace and Puddleglum shouldn't be so shell-shocked from their adventures that they can't enjoy the Snow Dance.
I think you definitely see this tension with Walden's Prince Caspian movie, where they clearly didn't know what to do with the Romp. The last half of the movie is so serious and militaristic, and then Bacchus and Silenus want to have a dance party with the dryads while Aslan remodels Telmarine Narnia? It's not surprising that the filmmakers didn't even try. It didn't fit with the overwhelmingly dark and gritty world they had been building up. There were so few moments of genuine wonder and whimsy in the movie (so much of that is in Caspian's backstory!) and the adaptation was weighted so heavily towards battle scenes and conflict... the film didn't have the emotional range for the joyful, wondrous, beautifully chaotic ending that we see in the book.
They should be as dark as they need to be. Obviously there are some darker moments in those books and filmmakers shy away from them or dumb them down, but at the same time I wouldn't want them to go dark for the same of being dark.
I've seem a number of people on other sites say that they want future adaptations to be more 'dark and gritty' which is sentiment I don't agree with. Sure, any adaptation should have a sense of reality to it and make the world feel like a real, lived in pllace. But at the end of the day, the Narnia books are definitely less gritty fantasy (i.e The Witcher or Game of Thrones) and more fairy tale. I wouldn't want them to lose the more whimsical and magical aspects of the books.
I am one of those in the opposite camp - I think it needs those darker moments; as long as there is that balance, I'm not opposed to it being darker than Walden's. I agree that it should be "accessible to children", but kids today already watch some pretty rough stuff. In my mom's Sunday School class is a six-year-old who watches Marvel movies! Six! I love a good Marvel flick, but if I had a six-year-old I would not let him/her watch it! But on the other hand, when I was a kid, my brothers saw Jurassic Park and other not-age-appropriate stuff.
And I know I've said this before, but the White Witch absolutely terrified me as a kid! In MN, she killed everyone in her universe! That's literally twice as bad as Thanos! And at least Thanos, in his own insanely warped way, was trying to help - but not her. And all her threats to Uncle Andrew, her physical strength, and her being 7 feet tall, just made her that much scarier. And in LWW, everyone is afraid of her; no one knows that Aslan can undo her magic. Being turned to stone was permanent - it was death. Add in the things Tumnus was worries about, all the other things she would do to him... definitely not "kid stuff"! And then, as the Pevensies learn their only hope is Aslan - she kills him! She didn't turn him to stone either - she had him tied down, then used a knife! The Witch was the only character from a book that ever scared me, and I've never seen a movie version that truly captured that. Maybe no movie ever could. And the same goes for the other villains - just look at the "gentle" giants! Yeah that's kid-friendly - NOT! 😀
But it's not all dark either; I think Glenwit nailed it in one word: "balance". Both intense darkness, and intense light, are important in making Narnia what it is. I love when Tumnus talks about the long summers, when Father Christmas appears, when Aslan restores the statues, Reepicheep diving overboard into the sweet water, the toffee tree, the scene with Bacchus and Silenus, Bree rolling with the other Narnian horses, the Romp others have talked about, and so many others. I've heard Glumpuddle say that joy is a big part of what he loves about Narnia, and I agree!
So how dark is too dark? When it loses the balance. Let darkness be darkness, as bad as it gets. Let light be light, as wonderful as it gets. Don't water it down, over-emphasizing one over the other. I've seen good stories butchered in the name of kid-friendliness, to the point where kids don't really want to watch them at all. One geek's (admittedly long-winded) opinion. 😀
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I just wanted to thank you all for your thoughts on this. You've all made great points, and even though we don't agree on everything (and NarniaWeb would be a pretty boring place if we all did!), I am definitely seeing common patterns among the answers which I think will go a long way into making the Netflix adaptation a good one regardless of tone.
3. "Finding" the Narnian mood or tone (fabricating a tone, and deciding which scenes fit and don't based on that - whether leaning overly dark or overly lighthearted, will cease to be a good adaptation)
Despite C.S. Lewis never writing anything for children before the Chronicles, or afterwards for that matter, he had his finger firmly on the pulse of what made a good children's story...right down to the tone, and the light/dark balance.
As a result, this series changed my life. When I was a kid, the stories at alternating points challenged me, met me where I was at, and made me want to stop reading because I was scared to turn the page but keep reading because I was too spellbound to put it down; at no point did it ever insult my intelligence or make me feel talked down to. Re-reading the series as an adult has lead to me getting things out of it that I I didn't as a kid, but some things about it give me the same experience that it did the first time I read it. It is 150% just as accessible to me now, at 20-something, as it was when I was Lucy's age.
If the series can adapt the Chronicles in such a way that both adults and children can take something away from the experience (even if they are different things), then I think we'll be ok!
This is the journey
This is the trial
For the hero inside us all
I can hear adventure call
Hey, thank you, Glenwit!
This was a very interesting discussion, and one I hope Netflix will pay attention to. I'm not saying they are, but if I were making a movie adaptation of a book, part of my research would be to go where fans of the books talk about stuff like this. But even if they don't have that level of common sense (which I'm sure they do), it's still a lot of fun!
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