BBC’s Old ‘Narnia’ Series Was Better Than the Movies

Not for the first time, and I hope not for the last, I’ve begun to watch the old BBC-TV production of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

So far I’ve seen and reviewed all the new Narnia movies–and this old production from the 1980s runs rings around them. Yes, some of the costumes and special effects are primitive, even a bit silly–no fancy computer graphics, back then. But it doesn’t matter! These old shows captured the spirit of Narnia; and the new movies, for all their expensive and up-to-date production values, do not.

There’s plenty of good acting in the movies, and wonderful camera-work; but the writing is strictly third-rate. The movie-makers made any number of ridiculous decisions. It would be hard to say which was worst. Trying to turn Prince Caspian into a smouldering hunk? Turning Susan and Lucy into warrior princesses? Presenting Reepacheep as a kind of furry Bart Simpson? Or rewriting the whole doggone story, as they did with Voyage of the Dawn Treader? I find the effect of the beautiful cinematography of these films soon wears off, but my distaste for the multitude of follies still lingers.

Watching the old BBC version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I was struck by how Peter (Richard Dempsey) starts out as a high-handed little prig who never loses an opportunity to lord it over his younger brother, Edmund (Jonathan Scott); and by Edmund as a nasty little piece of goods, sly and smarmy and totally self-centered. Their experiences in Narnia–most importantly, their coming to know Aslan, the Great Lion, Lewis’ fantasy avatar for Our Lord Jesus Christ–change them to the core. The real Peter emerges as a merry, brave, and great-hearted boy on his way to manhood, while the real Edmund shows sober, wise, and courageous: he, too, will grow up into a great man.

But what stirred me most, as it always does, was Aslan himself. When Peter is knighted and blessed by Aslan, I could almost imagine what bliss it would be for me, if I could kneel before Christ, and lay my eyes on Him, and receive His blessing in person. It stirs me just to write about it.

And that most of all, I think, is what C.S. Lewis had in mind.

PS–You can get these old Chronicles via

19 comments on “BBC’s Old ‘Narnia’ Series Was Better Than the Movies

  1. I was a fan of Lewis when my children were growing up and we got to know the tales almost by heart. My children “quoted” Lewis dialogue for days (some even years!) after we had read the Chronicles.

    Some of my favotie gifts from my children have been Lewis related: an Aslan made of soap!, a desk-top calendar of Lewis quotes and memoranda from some of the movies. But the movies themselves were a disappointment. You’re right! They don’t have the Lewis spirit. I should really like to get the original versions. I didn’t even know they existed. Thanks for the tip and your reviews.

    1. Dorothy, I hope you didn’t actually wash with the Aslan soap!

      I’m very relieved to hear from you again. I put a plug for your book in my review of Kirk Cameron’s movie, “Monumental,” which is now on the movie’s official website–so I hope that does some good. I also wrote a little review of The Governor’s Story for this blog. Anyhow, I was getting a bit worried about you, so your message today is most welcome.

  2. The Aslan carved from soap is still around. Two of my sons still can’t make up their minds which one it belonged to! But it’s on MY shelf. Thank you for your support.

    A student of mine (American Christian History of the Constitution) is trying to get Glenn Beck interested in my works. But getting to him through the guards is more a job for foot ball players than a writer/teacher!

    God’s timing isn not mine! But his is alwys best. “The Governor’s Story” is getting around. But you know how it is: the heaviest word in the Bible is “wait.”

    I’m just very glad and thankful your books are “getting around.” Everyone should read them. They are the best thing since Lewis!!!! Who knows; some enterprising movie maker may see the light and they’ll be “in the movies.”

  3. I love love love the old Narnia movies. In the movies, Aslan’s voice is not at all what I imagine it should be. In the BBC shows, he has a beautiful, deep, rich voice, and it’s perfect. I also really like Caspian in BBC’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He’s got such a nice, genuine smile, even if he isn’t a ‘smoldering hunk’ like the new Caspian. In so many ways, the BBC versions are far superior to the new movies.

  4. I fear that the title “The Governor’s Story” will get confused with “A Governor’s Story” as I did when I searched on Amazon.

    1. That’s unfortunate, Mike–but it’s too late for Dorothy to change the title of her book. Now I’ll have to go look up “A Governor’s Story,” out of curiosity. I hope it’s not about Jon Corzine.

  5. Praise God for your opinion!!!! I thought I was the only one. There is NO Comparison between the two versions!!! There is so much life and prophetic Ness in the bbc version, God bless that director, he’s a genius. I suppose God inspired him??? I could go on and on how much I love the old series.

  6. I’m just noticing the way everyone is dressed and the smiles on their faces. There’s a goodness to that scene which is rarely seen these days.

    The eighties seem not that long ago to me, but the world has changed dramatically since then, and not for the better.

  7. I’ve never seen any of the movies, but I’m pretty sure the reason the newer ones are inferior is that the newer producers and directors are determined to wipe any Christianity out of the stories — which, of course, destroys the stories. Or maybe I’m being too harsh; maybe the producers and directors have simply forgotten the Christianity, don’t understand it, and therefore are trying to fill in the gaps with flash and dazzle — which is pretty much a gloss on post-Christian culture in general. Almost a gloss, come to think of it, on what’s happened to Narnia in the run-up to “The Last Battle.”

    (Note to Lee: how does one do boldface and italics in this version of WordPress? Angle brackets? Square brackets? “i” and “b,” or “emph” and “strong,” or what?)

    1. I’m not able to do boldface or italics in this part of the blog–only when I’m actually writing a post. if I want *very badly* to emphasize something, I have to use **asterisks**. Makes me feel like Hyman Kaplan.

      I can’t understand what they’ve been trying to do in the new Narnia movies. Supposedly Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Grisham, had creative control. Somehow they got around that–which is, I think, why he fought so hard to get out of the original arrangement.

      Maybe you remember Liam Neeson, the voice of Aslan in the movies, babbling and blithering about how Jesus equals Mohammad equals Buddha equals Cthulhu–obviously not a clue.

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