The movie winds ever on and on,
Down from the book where it began,
Now far off track the script has gone,
And the fan must follow, if he can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until its over-hyped release day,
Where many marketing moguls meet,
Oh what would Lewis and Tolkien say?
I suppose it is a very good thing that I have Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, to offer my own contribution to this Turkey Shoot. Frankly, I’m quite happy to do the shooting, but very far from thankful about either of the atrocities I am about to discuss. Recounting the character assassination of two such fine literary figures as Peter and Faramir is not something to be undertaken on anything but an empty stomach, and one might do well to keep a bottle of blood pressure medicines handy.
Peter. What are we to say of poor Peter Pevensie? Peter began his time in Narnia as the leader of his family, though a bit unsure of himself. By the time Aslan has finished with him, he has become a “deep, barrel chested man” called “King Peter the Magnificent.” He is the greatest king of Narnia and ruled over its Golden Age. Even after he returns to England, Peter is permanently changed. Though he is still at school in our world, he is a king at heart. He isn’t perfect (he fails to believe Lucy in Prince Caspian), but he is far more than a mere child. He and Edmund demonstrate for everyone what Aslan meant when he said, “Once a king in Narnia, always a king in Narnia.”
Peter in the first Narnia movie was tolerable; Andrew Adamson mutilated his character so badly in Prince Caspian that I’ve almost declared an unofficial boycott of any reruns I am unfortunate enough to encounter. The original Peter is motivated by a desire to do good and help where needed, even if he didn’t always know how. This new Peter’s central characteristics can be summed up as, “WAAAAAAAAAH! I was a king of Narnia! WAAAAAAAAH! I was a king of Narnia!” When not afflicted with a serious case of throne envy, he’s trying to look intimidating and failing miserably. His best glares–which look attributable to a corn cob that has been inserted into an unfortunate location–are more likely to inspire laughter than fear. He whines, snivels, snarks, and postures his way through a movie in which I frankly think he ends up devolving as a character by the end. If this Peter is what it means to be a king of Narnia, then God save the queen!
Easily on par with this nonsense is the working over that Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyen gave to Faramir, one of the best supporting characters in the Lord of the Rings. In the books we first meet Faramir in the Two Towers, having already been introduced to his brother, Boromir, in The Fellowship of the Ring. We knew Boromir as a powerful but tragically flawed man, a trait he inherited from his father, Denethor. The appearance of Faramir worries us, because we fear what he might do, but instead we learn that in him we can see the true greatness of his line–he is the man his father and brother only aspired to be. This greatness leads to a tragic relationship between father and son, but Faramir is strong enough to shoulder that burden with honor and it does not prevent him from doing what is right. As he said to Frodo, when he had the chance to take the Ring,
I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling into ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.
The Faramir of the Jackson movies is a very far cry from this ideal. Things began to go wrong when the writers felt that they needed a bad guy for that part of the movie. So, logically, they chose to transform one of the best characters into one of the worst (Nooooo, I’m not being sarcastic. Why do you ask?). The resulting Faramir is a shortsighted villain driven to choose evil by his daddy problems. The whine is only a bit less than Peter’s as he scrabbles for any hope that he might get a pat or two from his slimy, greasy-haired father back in the city. Rather than a repudiation of his father’s sins, he is the culmination of them. His line “Tell [my father] Faramir sends a mighty gift,” says it all. He probably runs a few ponzi schemes on the side too.
There are at least two mistakes that the writers and directors made in both cases:
- They presume that characters and stories cannot communicate across time. Therefore, they must be “translated” for modern audiences too dumb to appreciate them. They must be “made more real.” Peter must therefore be going through puberty while we get to watch Faramir try his best to be a daddy’s boy.
- They assume that no one will understand or identify with a character who consistently chooses the right course. That would be making them “too perfect.” The idea that we might identify with them because they inspire us doesn’t seem to be a consideration.
Mistakes like these mean that I don’t believe Jackson or Adamson have really “defined” anything–someone will come along later and do it better. Hopefully they will do it right.