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Adapting Narnia for Young Children  

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Reepicheep775
(@reepicheep775)
NarniaWeb Junkie

As many of you probably know, a new boardbook adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has been released. I was curious, so I bought an ebook copy of it and read it. I found it fascinating... and I don't know how I feel about it.

It was pretty close to what I imagined - the basic story minus all of the scary parts or parts that small children might not understand or be emotionally ready for. Some of the changes I found interesting were:

  • There is no mention of WWII. In fact, it doesn't seem to be a "period book" at all.
  • Tumnus isn't in the pay of the White Witch and doesn't try to kidnap Lucy. When he cries, it's because the Witch has made it always winter and never Christmas.
  • Edmund doesn't tease Lucy when she tells the others about Narnia and Peter and Susan don't think she's crazy.
  • The four kids become kings and queens, but there is no ancient prophecy.
  • Aslan's "death" is vague. He takes Edmund's place, disappears with the White Witch, and "everyone thinks the Lion is gone forever". The next morning the girls find him "alive and strong".
  • Aslan "defeats" the Witch and there is a picture of him chasing her, but there is no indication that he kills her.

For most of these, there's a part of me that cringes, but I think the changes make sense for small children. I don't know much about raising children or child psychology, but it makes sense to me that the omitted parts are things young children might not be ready for.

There is one part that made me cringe more than others though. When the kids meet Aslan, he is described as "a Lion greater than all Lions, big and bright like the sun. And he makes you feel safe." (emphasis mine)

Again, I understand the thinking behind this change and I don't disagree with it. A character who is unsafe and good might be too much for small children, perhaps especially if they make the connection between Aslan and Christ. It just raised the question for me about adaptation and about what we say or don't say to children. From a purely adaptation standpoint, of course, this is abysmal. The Pevensies felt the exact opposite when they met Aslan! I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say. I agree with the thinking behind "taming" the stories for this audience if you're going to adapt it for them, but the Narnia fan in me is foaming at the mouth. ? 

I dunno. What are your thoughts on adapting the Chronicles for an even younger audience? Should it be done? What should or shouldn't be changed in the process? Is it worth doing if you have to make such fundamental changes? How would you feel if the Netflix adaptations were directed at a young(er) audience?

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Posted : February 2, 2021 12:44 pm
Glumpuddle
(@gp)
News Poster, Podcast Producer

Thanks Reep! Linking this in the news post. 🙂


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Posted : February 2, 2021 2:10 pm
The Rose-Tree Dryad
(@rose)
Secret Garden Agent Moderator

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

I understand why they went the direction they did, but I don't exactly respect it either. Tongue Giggle

Something I think about quite often when I think about Jesus or Aslan is a phrase from C.S. Lewis's preface in his anthology of George MacDonald's works:

I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continuously close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.

Tenderness and severity, terror and comfort, not safe but good... I think people would be wrong if they suppose that children wouldn't understand these concepts. To be honest, I think they understand them a great deal better than most people do; there aren't many human relationships nearer to God and mankind than that of a parent and small child. (There's a reason the Judeo-Christian God is principally known as our Father!)

If a young child misbehaves and they have any experience with loving discipline, they probably have reason to worry about the "not safe" consequences of having one's dessert privileges revoked for a day or so. Giggle The parent is "not safe" in the sense that the child can't get away with whatever they want, but they're good, because they are taking care of them and trying to raise them well.

That said, I can understand how this concept might be difficult to convey in such simple text. And I can understand not wanting to present a character who is described as "not safe" in a positive light, since you would never want to encourage young children towards anything that was described as not safe. At the moment, I can't think of a way that I would convey that to a child younger than four that wouldn't involve a larger metaphor that would be too long for a book of this type. Lewis did it brilliantly in LWW, but that was for older children.

Twitter: Rose_the_Dryad

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Posted : February 2, 2021 3:20 pm
Reepicheep775
(@reepicheep775)
NarniaWeb Junkie
Posted by: @rose

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

I understand why they went the direction they did, but I don't exactly respect it either. Tongue Giggle

Something I think about quite often when I think about Jesus or Aslan is a phrase from C.S. Lewis's preface in his anthology of George MacDonald's works:

I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continuously close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.

Tenderness and severity, terror and comfort, not safe but good... I think people would be wrong if they suppose that children wouldn't understand these concepts. To be honest, I think they understand them a great deal better than most people do; there aren't many human relationships nearer to God and mankind than that of a parent and small child. (There's a reason the Judeo-Christian God is principally known as our Father!)

If a young child misbehaves and they have any experience with loving discipline, they probably have reason to worry about the "not safe" consequences of having one's dessert privileges revoked for a day or so. Giggle The parent is "not safe" in the sense that the child can't get away with whatever they want, but they're good, because they are taking care of them and trying to raise them well.

That said, I can understand how this concept might be difficult to convey in such simple text. And I can understand not wanting to present a character who is described as "not safe" in a positive light, since you would never want to encourage young children towards anything that was described as not safe. At the moment, I can't think of a way that I would convey that to a child younger than four that wouldn't involve a larger metaphor that would be too long for a book of this type. Lewis did it brilliantly in LWW, but that was for older children.

I really like the comparison of parent and child to God and man regarding children being able to understand Aslan as unsafe, but good. That said, most modern children probably think of their parents as more "safe" than they did in Lewis's day. I don't know. I'm very mixed on this. I just don't know enough about small children and their psychology, stages of development etc. to have much of an opinion. I agree that children can understand "not safe, but good", but small children? No idea  

This book is described as a "board book" and the websites I'm looking at say that board books are for 0-3-year-olds. That sounds about right. The text is very basic.

I don't know how I would have approached the unsafe quality of Aslan, but I think describing him as the exact opposite is the wrong choice. I might just emphasize his size and power - his sharp teeth and claws, the sound of his roar - and maybe just leave the rest to their imagination.

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Posted : February 2, 2021 4:29 pm
Glumpuddle
(@gp)
News Poster, Podcast Producer

Bear in mind that this is mainly for 0-3 year olds. If it wasn't a board book, it might be a choking hazard for the target audience.

So, the intention is to have pretty visuals to stimulate little kids. The text is an after-thought, basically there so parents have something to do besides point at things. Trying to keep that perspective in mind even though, yeah, a few things make me cringe.

Just bought the book at Barnes & Noble. Recording a video review this week. 🙂

This post was modified 6 months ago 5 times by Glumpuddle


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Posted : February 2, 2021 4:47 pm
The Scribbler
(@scrib)
NarniaWeb Regular

I am personally thrilled that they are making a board book of LWW! One thing that is very important with any classic literature is that it keeps being revived for the current era. Regardless of the perfection of any of the adaptions or various editions of Narnia that are produced, it brings them to the modern readers attention and that is always an accomplishment for classic lit! 

I haven’t even peeked inside this book yet, so I don’t know all it entails, but little readers will get a taste of Narnia and if it resounds with them, I’m sure they will pick up the books when they are a little older! My first version of Narnia was the Christian Birmingham picturebook edition of LWW. It was a wonderful introduction to Narnia. This book is aimed at a younger audience, but I think that is just fine. Having a group of little children who are interested in Narnia and know the basic story warms my heart! 

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Posted : February 2, 2021 5:24 pm
Glumpuddle
(@gp)
News Poster, Podcast Producer

Another change: "One day, playing hide-and-seek, Lucy finds a wardrobe and goes in."


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Posted : February 2, 2021 5:33 pm
Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut
Posted by: @reepicheep775

There is no mention of WWII. In fact, it doesn't seem to be a "period book" at all.

I feel that makes sense. WWII is a complicated thing to explain to kids unfamiliar with it and it's not necessary to understand the overall story.

The other changes you describe I feel would make the story kind of incomprehensible. Like why is the White Witch trying to kill the kids if there's no prophecy? I guess since she's a wicked witch in a fantasy it works to just have her hate humans. But the prophecy thing makes so much more dramatic sense. It sounds like the story just comes across as very random.

Which makes sense. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe doesn't lend itself to a board book format very well. But I bet the author was a big fan of the story and wanted to adapt it to their medium whether it made sense or not. As a wouldbe author myself, I understand that. It sounds more like a tribute to the book than an adaptation. 

I don't really see the need to introduce the story of LWW to really young children. Why can't they just read it when they're older? Is it in case they die an early death? By that logic, every great book should have a board book adaptation. Giggle Is it because they'll be more independent and less likely to read what their parents recommend when they're older? I understand that. 

I was actually introduced to LWW through a picture book adaptation. Actually, four picture book adaptations by Deborah Maze. They didn't capture all the nuances of the novel but I feel like they were a better introduction the story than this board book would be because they were allowed to mention death. Giggle The board book sounds like it'd be really confusing to a Narnia newcomer. But I shouldn't judge until I read it myself, I suppose.

Posted by: @gp

Another change: "One day, playing hide-and-seek, Lucy finds a wardrobe and goes in."

I don't "get" this change. I'm pretty sure toddlers could understand the concept of exploring a big house. Did they just do it because the movie adaptation made that change? Because the cover art doesn't look likes it's trying to evoke the movie. I'd have expected them to be more faithful to the book.

Anyway, thanks for the review, Reepicheep775.

This post was modified 6 months ago by Col Klink

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Posted : February 2, 2021 8:13 pm
Glumpuddle
(@gp)
News Poster, Podcast Producer

Re: Aslan "makes you feel safe" ...

Very unfortunate word choice from a Narnia nerd perspective since Mr. Beaver's line about Aslan not being safe is so iconic. But, I think this is less egregious in context. I think they wanted to establish that Aslan is the good guy in one page, and they figured kids could relate to the idea of a grown-up that makes them feel safe. And even in the real story, Aslan makes them feel safe in the sense that they trust him and believe in him.

And honestly, the text in this book seems like an afterthought. So, this doesn't bother me as much as you might think.

I'm pretty sure toddlers could understand the concept of exploring a big house. Did they just do it because the movie adaptation made that change?

Two reasons, I suspect:

1. The story is so tight, they didn't want to take the time to establish the children were in an unfamiliar house. As far as a Narnia newcomer is concerned, the wardrobe is in their own house.

2. Maybe they thought kids would relate more to the idea of a hide-and-seek game.

Again, the text here is little more than captions for the artwork. No attempt at dramatic tension.

This post was modified 6 months ago 4 times by Glumpuddle


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Posted : February 2, 2021 9:40 pm
The Rose-Tree Dryad
(@rose)
Secret Garden Agent Moderator

I thought it was really neat to see as well, @Scrib. Love the bright colors and cute designs. Smile

Thinking about it, though, I'm doubtful that I would introduce children to Narnia in such an abridged way. I like that this board book exists and it's fun to see the art, but it seems like it would be better just for the child to wait so that they can enjoy the story in its fullness rather than first experience Narnia with a picture book that only touches on the basics and leaves a lot out.
 
Years from now, I'll be interested to see if some Narnia fans credit this book as their first introduction to Narnia!
Posted by: @reepicheep775

I might just emphasize his size and power - his sharp teeth and claws, the sound of his roar - and maybe just leave the rest to their imagination.

This is probably the best take. And parents get to mimic a lion's roar. Giggle

Posted by: @gp

I think they wanted to establish that Aslan is the good guy in one page, and they figured kids could relate to the idea of a grown-up that makes them feel safe. And even in the real story, Aslan makes them feel safe in the sense that they trust him and believe in him.

One other thought I've had is that since this book is for very young children (HarperCollins website lists it as being for ages up to 4) then perhaps there's an argument that children that young don't experience Aslan as "not safe" in the way that older children and adults do. At first Aslan is rather tough on nine year old Jill after she "jolly nearly murdered" Eustace Tongue but it's hard to imagine Aslan interacting with a three year old in that way. Could he really be anything but safe AND good with such a tiny child?

Also thought of this Lewis quote: "It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to." (There's that word safe again. Giggle )

Twitter: Rose_the_Dryad

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Posted : February 2, 2021 10:17 pm
Courtenay liked
coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

When the first two films came out, there were lots of books issued, several aimed at young readers. These were good to read to young children too, but this new board book doesn't appeal to me personally.  (who decided Lucy wears pink!?)

The illustrations I've seen are confusing. Won't they ask,"Why is Peter a grown-up?", and "Why is Elsa from Frozen in this book?" 

 

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 : February 2, 2021 10:40 pm
JQnHQ and Courtenay liked
Glumpuddle
(@gp)
News Poster, Podcast Producer

By no means is this the definitive visual interpretation of Narnia, but I still like the artwork. 🙂


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Posted : February 3, 2021 12:46 pm
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Friend of NarniaWeb

I've got one good thing to say about this new version, for a start: Yay! Lucy has the correct hair colour!!! Grin Apart from that, though...

Like others have said, I can understand the need to remove the too-scary or too-"mature" — or, indeed, "unsafe" — content from an adaptation for really young children. But where does it cross the line into being so far removed from the spirit of the original story that it's pointless? I think the illustrations are sweet, and it's a nice idea to introduce something of Narnia to very young children, but from what I can see and what's been said, it sounds like this board book does cross that line.

What bugs me the most is that it clearly removes almost all the depth of the original story. Yes, again, it's for young children, but within a few years they'll be old enough to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for themselves, or have it read to them — and if they've already had the board book version, they'll have been given a load of dratted spoilers that will probably make the real story less deeply effective and magical for them, because they already know basically what's going to happen.

I'm writing from the standpoint of having been introduced to Narnia as a 4 1/2-year-old, when Mum, over two or three nights at my grandparents' house, read LWW to me. It's one of the earliest full-length books (as in novels, rather than picture books!) of which I have really vivid memories. I know I recognised the title because the animated film version had been on TV not that long before, but not having a great attention span for television (I've always preferred books), I didn't remember very much about it at all. So I had only the vaguest idea of who "the Lion" and "the Witch" of the title were going to be, or of what was going to happen after Lucy stepped into that wardrobe and found herself in a snowy wood with a lamppost. The whole wonderful atmosphere of the story caught me up and drew me in and had me longing to find out what happened next at every turn. It wouldn't have had nearly the same impact on me if I already knew the basic story from the short-and-cute-and-colourful version (which of course didn't exist back then).

One thing I know moved me hugely was Aslan's death and resurrection. The two girls lying awake with the feeling that "some dreadful thing" is going to happen to Aslan, and how they find him slipping away into the woods and then he turns and notices them, and the terrible strange sadness that he's feeling and how he asks them to walk beside him with their hands on his mane "so that I can feel you are there" — then the horrible scene of the Witch's evil army tying him down and shaving him and tormenting him, and "the actual moment of the killing" that Lewis mercifully spares us because the girls hide their eyes (I would have done exactly the same thing in their place!)... Then the two girls crying all night (coming from an author who, I think I sensed even then, knew exactly what it was to feel like this), and the curious scene of the little mice eating away the cords from the dead body of Aslan — followed by THE most wonderful turning-around of things that I could have imagined... that really, really stayed with me. Again, I honestly don't think it would have touched me anywhere near as deeply if I'd already been told this incredibly badly abridged (or gutted) version:

Posted by: @reepicheep775

Aslan's "death" is vague. He takes Edmund's place, disappears with the White Witch, and "everyone thinks the Lion is gone forever". The next morning the girls find him "alive and strong".

To sum it up, if I had children (or if I were looking after someone else's children regularly), I honestly wouldn't bother to give them this well-meaning but completely watered-down rehash of one of the most wonderful and meaningful stories I know — which would certainly introduce them to some of the most special characters ever created, but it'd also ruin most of the memorable plot twists and surprises for them. Like @rose suggests, I'd just wait a few more years until they were old enough to appreciate the original book and read it to (or with) them then. 

I also have some thoughts on the issue of Aslan making people feel "safe" (or not), but this post is long enough and I'm enjoying reading what others have to say, so I'll leave off for now.

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

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Posted : February 3, 2021 1:59 pm
JQnHQ
(@jqnhq)
NarniaWeb Newbie

Bible Picture Books for Children mention Jesus's death and resurrection.  They clearly didn't need to make Aslan's death vague.  Children can handle it.  They can quickly mention it without going into the sad atmosphere that's in the book.  And no Edmund teasing?  Man, this seems like a bad adaptation.

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Posted : February 3, 2021 11:38 pm
Cleander
(@the-mad-poet)
NarniaWeb Junkie

Sounds like this book is a less-than-ideal adaptation. 

 Like Rose, I wonder if it isn't better just to wait until a kid is old enough to enjoy and understand the actual book? I recall being discouraged from reading it at age 6 because my parents thought it would go over my head... they were probably right. I didn't read it until I was about 10, and I think it meant more to me as a result.

 Better to have them wait a few years than ruin the story for them with a neutered butchery of the original.

 And I also agree they didn't have to be that vague with Aslan's demise. It's possible to write stories for kids without being insipid. (I actually preferred the illustrated books distributed by Chickfila.)

 I'm just glad I read this thread before buying this book for any of my nieces/nephews! 

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Posted : February 4, 2021 8:35 am
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