Narnia Film Franchise Alive? ‘Magician’s Nephew’ on Deck

For those wondering if The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was the last Chronicles of Narnia book to be made into a film, the word today is that the film franchise is alive — and that the plan is to go with The Magician’s Nephew rather than The Silver Chair. [Read the story ‘New Narnia’ at; H/T to Candice!]

Believe it or not, I rather like the idea of Nephew being chosen over Chair, though the latter is perhaps my favorite Narniad adventure (and a real shame it is that we don’t get to see more of Eustace Scrubb right away). As the fourth film, Nephew will be the center of the seven part series; this is a good thing because in several important ways it is the pivotal story in the collection.

It was the last book written, believe it or not, though Lewis began writing it almost immediately after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published and Nephew was published before Last Battle. In Nephew, I speculate, the author quite vividly reveals several important messages about his artistry and his meaning. Real quickly, the Wood Between the Worlds is a pointer to the “inside bigger than the outside,” the Logos beneath, behind, and within everything created, a theme Aslan’s creative song only reinforces. The magic rings are a transparency for the Ring Composition of each book. And the prize silver apple from the tree in the centre of the garden? The Rev. Michael Ward makes a good case for the astrological meaning of Nephew being venereal, but this light laden fruit is alchemical artistry.

Not to mention the re-write of Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet that is a large part of Jadis’ time in London…

Often put first in the series sequence or next to last, I think Nephew is best understood as the apex of the series and top of an axis that runs through the center of a sphere, with LWW at the center and Last Battle at the antipode (see illustration below). The four remaining books, two travelogues (Voyage and Chair) with a series of adventures and two Royal Restoration stories (Caspian and Boy), define the equator of the sphere with LWW and Aslan as their center.
Looking at this model for understanding the structure of the series — not, I rush to add, anything like an argument for intentio auctoris, just a lens through which to understand the books —  it’s not a bad idea at all to put Nephew at the story center or ‘origin’. Which making it the fourth movie of seven does, in essence.

Three questions for your consideration and comment below:

(1) Do you find the model above helpful?

(2) What do you think of the decision to go with Nephew rather than Chair? and

(3) Which actor and actress should play the parts of the young Digory and Polly?


  1. !. Yes, fascinating.

    2. Totally stoked. Favorite book in the series. It’s magical. Daughter and I were talking the other day about how much more successful the series might have been if the had put Nephew as the first film.

    3. Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. They would both be perfect!!

    Yes, I am kidding.

    Hope you didn’t spit out anything reading that.

    And if not, my apologies to your monitor and/or anyone standing nearby.

  2. 1. Excellent chart, John, though I’d love to see a more detailed explanation of it. And more thoughts on Magician’s Nephew and alchemy would be great. I’ve written about the idea of logos in Lewis before, but I’d never considered the alchemical aspect.

    2. I’m torn. I really wanted to see more of Eustace. And I tend to like to group the books from Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe to Silver Chair as a unit because of their similar characters. But I also think that the Magician’s Nephew is one of the most revealing — and most challenging — of the stories. Let’s hope they do a decent job with this adaptation (no repeats of Prince Caspian)!

    3. No idea. I don’t really watch enough films, or pay enough attention to young talent, I guess. I always love to see new actors, though — they usually bring a freshness and honesty to the part that’s winning.

  3. revgeorge says

    I’ve already expressed some thoughts over at The Hogshead. They were clean but anguished thoughts. If, and this is the big if because they haven’t done it yet, if they could come close to understanding the story & the characters, they might be able to make a decent movie. But in my opinion, they haven’t been able to do that since day one.

  4. John,

    I’m so extremely glad to hear that they will continue on with the series in film! I had my issues with the changes that they made in Dawn Treader, but the final scene where Lucy and Edmund speak with Aslan made up for it in my mind. I was unsure if the movie makers would retain the religious references in that scene, and it was brilliantly handled. On the whole, I’ve been pleased with the films thus far (great costumes, graphics, actors, etc.), and I am happy to see them continue (I particularly hope that they stick with it long enough for Horse and His Boy. It is a fabulous adventure that would translate well to the screen, I think.).

    1. I am always in favor of visual examples! I quite agree with how it is organized, and it is very helpful.

    2. In general, I am a major supporter of keeping the stories (in both film and print) in publish order. This is really only for sentimental reasons. I read them and loved them in that order, so I prefer to keep them in that order. However, I much prefer Nephew to Chair, so I am not too overcome with grief on this reorganization. Although Chair has great themes and a couple of great characters (Puddleglum is a favorite.), it has always been my least favorite story of the series. It just doesn’t cuddle my heart like the rest of the novels.
    Though getting back to Nephew, I agree that this move is a smart change in the process of the story via film–especially for folks who may not have read the series. It will provide understanding of the history and will hopefully prepare viewers for the final chapters of the overall story of the series. It is a great tale unto itself. However, my concern is that, because viewers will not see characters familiar to them from the last few films, they may feel disconnected with this film and the new character it presents. Because of this, I fear that Nephew may not be as successful at the box office–thus putting the remaining unmade films in jeopardy. Am I completely off base with this concern?

    3. I have absolutely no idea on who should be cast. However, I’ve enjoyed the “unknowns” that have been cast in the previous films, so I am happy to have them continue in that way.

  5. 1) Love it. It’s a awesome visual for quite a range in the series.

    2) Totally geeked. My favorite of the series, just nudging LWW. Please Please Please keep talking about the books. There’s so much there to be unearthed, especially for those of us who weren’t Lit Majors but know a fabulous story when we read one.

    3)No idea – but the casting thus far has been pretty well done. This one does have a high risk of being messed with by Hollywood and losing the inner beauty, especially during the creation scenes but I’ll go see it!

  6. Bruce Charlton says

    Hope I am wrong, but I think it is a bad idea to do the Magician’s Nephew now, and it might kill the series.

    My hope was that they might do LWW, PC, VTD, SC and the Last Battle as a sequence – and if interest remained high (the they made enough money) then do the other two as more ‘free standing’ movies.

    I honestly can’t see a good reason to do the MN now, and it will be the hardest of all (except PC, which is impossible) to adapt well.

  7. Fascinating, Bruce. You think they could get away with making ‘Magician’s Nephew‘ a kind of after-thought pre-quel and ‘Horse and His Boy‘ as an ancillary throw-away? I think you may be right, putting on my Hollywood Gamesmaker thinking cap, but I can hear the howling that would have happened if they had gone this route. The Last Battle fifth? What a hoot.

    Re-reading ‘Nephew’ last night, it does seem like a tough period piece film and the Creation scenes and young Narnia are going to be even harder to pull off. Not to mention the absence of any other previous human characters (excepting Jadis the White Witch, who, yes, I know, is not really human). Your thoughts that this might be a series killing move and that Walden is really rolling the dice here in the hope of re-kindling interest (re-start!) seem more than possible.

    Two questions:

    Could Walden be doing this because Nephew in its Creation content is the most blatantly Christian of the remaining four books? Are they saying, in effect, if we’re on our last legs as a film franchise best to go out with a ‘wow’ rather than a fans-only movie as Chair or Boy will be?

    What did you think of the sphere shaped picture of how the series books work together?

  8. Bruce Charlton says

    About the diagram – I have to admit I don’t really know the books deeply yet, although I hope my understanding will continue to grow. But I would not put the Horse and his boy on the same level and on the ring with PC, VDT & SC. To me HB has a quite different flavor (and ‘function’).

    (Actually, purely as a story, I think it may be the best of all (although it is not my personal favorite – which I suppose in LWW, but really I like bits of each rather than any one being a favorite overall. The Last Battle had a pretty big impact on my spiritual development – especially the insensibility of the dwarves in the stable. But I find the early parts of the book too depressing.)

  9. I agree with Bruce about the start of Last Battle being very difficult. I’m sorry, but I hate that damned ape so much it surpasses all reason. Hate. Hate. Can’t stand to even contemplate the fiend. HATE.

    Some random thoughts on this subject in general:

    The Horse and his Boy is a great story that progresses very well (journeys have inherent cause & effect) and could be a wonderful film that would make the audience care for Narnians specifically — but the anti-Islamic sentiment may not make it viable at this time (or it could be super successful; after all, it worked for Iron Man).

    I think LWW certainly started things off in medias res, and Aristotle would approve. And it makes sense from a cinematic point of view in that sense as well; jump into the middle of the story and you can figure things out while the characters do on-screen.

    The problem is that with many story elements integral to Narnia, the LWW film left viewers hanging — for years — for their explanation, e.g., the Wardrobe: how and why does it work?

    “Magic” is fine in a fantasy film but once you lose Aristotle’s cause-and-effect relationship between one event causing the next event, the story begins to seem episodic — with random “magic” thrown in as a surprise now and again. (And I can watch that on Wizards of Waverly Place without the $10 charge, thanks.)

    Knowing how things got the way they are is really important, and when I read the books, I raced on to the next so in a matter of weeks the cause and effect of everything in Narnia was laid out in a fascinating way.

    I think the Narnia filmmakers have lost any sense of suspense at this point within their audience, and that failure to establish sufficient cause and effect placed an emotional distance betweens Joe Viewer and the story on screen. A secret portal to another world appears; that’s great, provided you tell Joe the secret. But they don’t. It’s just… on to a lamp! And a satyr! And a witch! And Father Christmas! It’s the Alice in Wonderland problem; it can just seem episodic.

    Perhaps it would have been better to start off the films with excerpts from Magician’s Nephew, so viewers had a better idea why things were happening the way they were, like the third Lord of the Rings film did at its beginning (about how Smeagol became Gollum)(shudder).

    I don’t see how to do that in a smooth way, though. The Magicians Nephew is too complex, with too many causes that have to be established before you can show the effects… so that’s why I was wondering if it would have been better had they followed the Narnia story chronologically. Or filmed one movie right after the other, like they are with the Twilight films. Oh, well.

    Regardless, I have to say that Disney completely blew it by letting Narnia go. As you may have noticed, Disney creates films to support theme parks: Beauty & the Beast and Hunchback of Notre Dame for Disney Paris, Pocahontas for the failed America park in Virginia, Mulan for the Asian parks, etc.)

    If you look at the original insignia for the Animal Kingdom park, it has a creature from each “land” in the park. One of them is a unicorn. But there is no fantasy area in the park now. But there was going to be… Narnia. Every time I think of the Harry Potter land at Universal (which I suspect was initially planned to counter Disney’s future Narnia), I could just cry for the loss of Narnia.

  10. John, you mention briefly that Silver Chair is perhaps your favorite book of the series. Can you expand on that just a bit? In advance of the latest movie, I just read both it and ‘Voyage’ for the first time. Loved the use of symbolism in the latter, and found I was just sort of “eh, OK” about the former. No doubt I missed something, as I typically do.

  11. Forgive me, Bruce, but I’m delighted there is no ‘Wonderful World of Narnia.’ Scary thought.

    The Silver Chair is a favorite first because it is so neglected and next because it is so challenging. I don’t think any of the books feature such a continuous assault on the way we think, our forgetfulness of the world as it is, and especially the solar and lunar imagery of the books. The moon symbolism is predominant, of course, but we only know the moon insomuch as it reflects the sun we cannot see and neglect. It is a book about the Light of the World told underground in the Shadowlands, a tale largely a transparency of life on earth.

    A subject for a chapter in a book rather than this comment thread, but thank you for asking!

  12. nice choice. That’s gonna be fantastic.

  13. Sarah Orinion says

    1) nice chart, interesting.
    2) I think doing MN is a good idea, although I was looking forward to Puddleglum. Even though the children are not the Pevensies, the continuity with the White Witch, Professor, Aslan and lampost are all there. Plus the added magic of watching Aslan sing the world into creation, which If done correctly, could be incredible (fingers crossed). I do hope they hold the last battle to the very end though, as the epic finale, and do Boy then Chair then Battle. 
    Boy is my absolute favorite, Shasta and Bree are great characters, and the adventure reads like a movie already. The “I was the lion” moment in the book is such an incredible glimpse of the deeply personal interest God takes in us. For me Boy is the “heart” of this series. Of all the books (apart from the stone table sacrifice) Boy really deals with the human condition: our own disconnectedness and longing for something deeper, and Gods very active role in bringing us back to our rightful place. The analogy of a stolen prince raised as a slave is beautiful. I do hope this book doesn’t get sidelined as a  peripheral story, because I would put this one right in the center of the chart because it gives the heart and the why to everything else. 
    3) I don’t care who play the children, thus far I’ve enjoyed all but Susan. I was disappointed in how they chose to portray Peter in VD. They made him act very childishly, as if he did not have the perspective of being a high king for many many years and of living in two worlds. That portrayal was so off base with the character. Lucy and Edmund have been more then perfect but with Peters character butchered and Susan’s portrayal a little hollow for me, I am personally looking forward to fresh faces.  

  14. Sarah Orinion says

    The more I think about your chart, the more I like it. 

    I think you were right to have creation and battle as stories that indicate a beginning and end.  With the rest of the saga pivoting around LWW as it’s center. 

    All the the “middle” stories deal with some form of slavery and the characters journey towards freedom.
    In Boy, Shasta is a captured slave being led and driven by Aslan, home. 
    In Treader, the story of Eustace enslaved by greed, becoming a dragon and the pain of the arm band- then Aslans ripping away the layers of dragon, in a very painful but liberating fashion is very much like grappling with the darkness within that enslaves us to our lusts. 
    In chair, the prince has been taken underground and enslaved to a beautiful queen. His screaming in his moment of clarity every night echos of Shasta’s looking toward the North with longing- a lost knowledge of something better. Also, with supernatural aid and instead of Aslan leading the charge (like in Boy and Treader) a very lovable Puddleglum acts as a mentor and guide (who for me is a cross between yoda and a hobbit). 
    Finally, Caspian deals with the attempted enslavement of the land of Narnia, the animals have forgotten how to speak, A rightful king robbed of his thrown- to me this speaks for the loss and corruption of faith and the battle that is being waged for it. 

    In each book there is slavery, freedom and some form of supernatural aid. All of which pivots around Wardrobe because it is the story that tells how and why freedom is possible ie the stone table sacrifice and breaking of the witches power to enslave.

    Yes. Great chart, I have enjoyed looking at it and thinking about it.

  15. Sarah Orinion, you have made my day. Thank you for the thoughtful exegesis of the diagram, which kind of thinking I hoped it might inspire (rather than the usual disputes about “whether the author could have meant to write it this way”). Intentio operis is far more edifying and than exploring intentio auctoris, usually a dead end and demeaning dead end at that.

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