Adaptation Analysis: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

For Adamson’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he chose to expand on scenes that would particularly fit the cinematic medium. For many moments in the film, he shows scenes that were merely mentioned in the novel and dramatizes them. I find the dramatization of the opening scene adds stakes to the film compared to the opening line in the book, “This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the war because of the air-raids.” (3). As the children are in the professor’s home, it is evident that the reason for the characters going into the closet and reaching Narnia is quite different from the novel. Both versions focus on Lucy’s dilemma of not being believed by her siblings and Edmund lying that he did not visit Narnia. However, in the novel, the children go into the wardrobe while attempting to escape the housekeeper Mrs. Macready and her house tours. In the film, they shatter a window while playing ball, which causes them to seek refuge in the wardrobe. Much of Adamson’s transformation of the story goes after expanding upon what would be more visually appealing for the film. In Lucy’s encounter with Tumnus, as a crucial scene for Narnia, it had the feeling of the chapter through its visualization. The look of Tumnus is spot-on:

 “He had a strange pleasant face, with a short pointed beard and curly hair, and out of the hair there stuck two horns, one on each side of his forehead. One of his hands, as I have said, held the umbrella.” (10).

The character is spot-on; however, there are differences in his speech and the dialogue. Through this scene, and the rest of the film, Adamson’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, seems to be fairly close but on the whole intermediate. Adamson employs some techniques John M. Desmond highlights in his Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature. In the chapter on the novel, some of the techniques in the scene when Tumnus meets Lucy are adding dialogue, cutting, and finding correlatives. 

For Adamson’s transposition of a single element, it is possible that what he found so difficult in the initial Tumnus scene with Lucy made him more careful in its transposition, which could be a strength for film. In his interview, Adamson mentions that the emotion was a difficult part in transferring the Tumnus chapter to film. Adamson’s awareness of this difficulty and how careful he was in taking this element from the novel makes me believe it was successful. We recognize the novel through this scene, but we also get to see the clear dynamic and friendship between Lucy and Tumnus through Adamson’s technique. The lamp-post is there as it was in the book, a calling-card for anyone familiar with Narnia. We even see Lucy at a high-angle shot looking down from the lamp-post standing in the shot, which could connote her world beginning to open or how little she knows in the situation. We get a close-up of her inquisitive face with snowflakes falling, which quickly turns into a POV looking at the lamp-post. In the first chapter, it states, “As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next…” (9). Although we can’t know if this is what Lucy is thinking in the film version, the close-up surely connotes a sense of wonder or intrigue on the child’s face. The director takes it a step further and has Lucy walk up to the lamp-post and place her hand upon it, which seems to connote the question of its belonging. The story says that she hears a “pitter-patter of feet coming toward her,” and by using cinematic techniques, Adamson isolates this sound. We hear it with her in longshot with a suspenseful underscore of ambient music, which creates a tension and unknowing that was less explicit in the novel. The unknown is there, but we are not given Lucy’s head swaying back and forth, looking for the cause of the sound like in the film. 

In chapter two, it opens, “But the Faun was so busy picking up the parcels that at first it did not reply. When it finished it made her a little bow (11)”. A small detail in the film that creates emotion, Adamson’s main consideration, to life is the eyeline match between Lucy and Tumnus. Their bright expressions, and the moment where Lucy picks up the parcel for Tumnus and hands it to him. This moment establishes Lucy’s helpful nature. She is outwardly kind to him, which certainly contributes to Tumnus’ decision to withhold the information of a “daughter of eve” from the White Witch. Adamson chooses to emphasize Tumnus’ stammering speech in their initial meeting, which makes the encounter emotionally robust. The novel has Tumnus speaking normally as though he is more composed. In the film, Lucy asks him what he is first. Adamson seems to have taken the liberty of adding dialogue to this sequence. In the scene, Tumnus asks if Lucy is a beardless dwarf, and she responds that she is the tallest in her class. This playful back and forth is not as present in the novel. There’s also a sense, illustrated through close-up, that Tumnus is thinking about the White Witch during the encounter. However, we can see a smile on his face when he gives Lucy a handshake.  The close-ups of his face show him with a worried expression. By visualizing this scene, it brings something intimate compared to what was simply told in the novel: “and then it stopped as if it had been going to say something it had not intended but had remembered in time.” (12). In the novel, when he talks about how he should have studied harder in geography when he was a little Faun, it says Tumnus speaks “in a rather melancholy voice,” indicating that he is pensive in this situation. Another piece of new dialogue in the film reveals the societal differences between humans and the inhabitants of Narnia. Lucy goes to shake Tumnus’ hand, and he asks, “uh… why?” as though it is the strangest custom he has encountered. Interestingly, the director has Lucy, as a young child, try to explain the custom, but she concludes that she does not know. Although not in the film, this added dialogue relating to childhood curiosity is in the same vein as C.S. Lewis’ writing. Both Lewis and Adamson retain Lucy’s ability to accept Tumnus. Her sense of imagination and play allow her to have the friendly encounter with little fear. Adamson’s new dialogue adds an implicit question of our reality about why we do the things we do by questioning something so ingrained in our society, such as a simple handshake.

In addition to having this bit of added dialogue, I believe that the screenwriter pruned and rearranged this scene’s initial dialogue and some of the way it occurs. Another fundamental of novel adaptation, other than changing dialogue, is cutting. Desmond says, “Not every sentence can be filmed; there is no such thing as a one-to-one correspondence between a novel and a film; and, therefore, dropping some narrative elements is essential.” (86). The second chapter is a good example of cutting. With the initial interaction of Lucy and Tumnus, there is dialogue missing and some that is kept but reduced down to a few words. For example, in the novel, Tumnus’ invitation is worded differently: “Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?” (13). In the film, he states, “Well, then, Lucy Pevensie from the shining city of War Drobe in the wondrous land of Spare Oom, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?” This slight difference is similar to how most of the dialogue is in this scene. The filmmaker cuts some phrasing in the book in favor of this catchy line. There are many examples of these cuts and alterations throughout the chapter and novel. The film’s added music when they travel arm in arm to Tumnus’ home is enchanting; the landscape Lewis describes in the novel is cut in favor of a visualization of the snow-covered home. The terrain in the story is described as: “the ground became rough and there were rocks all about and little hills up and little hills down.” This rugged terrain is not shown. There is a much wider door than I expected with the Faun’s home. As Adamson states in his interview, Lewis left a lot of what he describes up to interpretation, so he chose to use his own imagination. The description given seems to be different than the vast door in the film: “Tumnus turned suddenly aside as if he were going to walk straight into an unusually large rock, but at the last moment Lucy found he was leading her into the entrance of a cave.” (14). The addition of Lucy noticing the portrait of Tumnus’ father is also in the film; however, it is the first thing she notices, and there is dialogue added which has her talk about her father fighting in the war. All the books listed by Lewis: “The Life and Letters of Silenus or Nymph and Their Ways or Men, Monks, and Gamekeepers; a Study in Popular Legend or Is Man a Myth?” (15) are shown by Adamson visually. Some of the topics they discuss are rearranged, such as the topic of Christmas not coming to Narnia that comes later in the chapter. 

In the scene, Adamson chooses to find correlatives between film techniques and the written POV of the speaker, who tells us the story of the children discovering Narnia. Adamson’s technique of relying on close-ups shows what the characters are thinking and feeling compared to Lewis’s way of just telling these thoughts and feelings. As previously mentioned, the camera’s POV merged with Lucy’s when she looked at the lamp-post when entering Narnia. There seems to be little intrusion with a voice-over in the film, Adamson choosing to convey much of the feelings through close-ups. Although ambiguous, the scene when Lucy walks to the lamp-post and grips it indicates that she is thinking about it in some way. Desmond ends his section on finding correlatives by asking: “How is the camera able to convey the precise judgements of the novel’s authorial voice.” (94). The voice that breaks the fourth wall in the novel is lost in Adamson’s adaption of the novel. Although this authorial voice is important, the loss does not take away from the themes. To me, this author, who is talking to us and reminding us that we are reading something fictional, would have been intrusive with voiceover. I think Adamson’s transposition of having the camera be that faceless voice and one that would merge into the character’s POVs made the story more suspenseful. A moment when Adamson takes the liberty of imagining the cinematic way of portraying the written text is when Tumnus is playing his flute: “And the tune he played made Lucy want to cry and laugh and dance and go to sleep all at the same time.”(16). This single statement of Lucy’s inner feelings is fairly complex to show on film. Adamson’s approach is unlike the novel. Lucy stares into a fire that has forms of warriors as flames. The music is shown to be diegetic but sounds non-diegetic as it comes to a close. We again have the camera merge into Lucy’s POV as she stares into the fire and her eyes as she struggles to keep awake. The image of Aslan is shown in flames, and his roar extinguishes the flames. The director gives us a visual representation of what is to come next, which is not in Lewis’ novel. The film takes the image of the fire and turns it into something visually interesting and to connote a complexity of feeling in Lucy that is merely stated in the novel. The cuts between the fire and Lucy’s face and the entrancing music make everything more dramatic. The subsequent darkness matches the melancholic mood of the Faun and reveals that he is her kidnapper.

With these examples of techniques Adamson incorporates as he transferred the novel to screen, it can be said that there is a theme of courage in childhood. Lucy Pevensie is a courageous child; the imaginative and free nature of children makes them more accepting of differences. Lucy accepts Tumnus in both versions, and Adamson certainly retains this theme just from this sequence. This sequence is one of the most memorable scenes from the novel because it is our introduction to Narnia. If Adamson was unable to do this scene justice the entire novel it would have been dead on arrival. However, Adamson’s approach alters some of the focus of the novel. He takes descriptions in the book and turns it into reality. We are not left to imagine what is said. The flames Lucy stares into, the dramatic music all elaborate on the source text. It is an immersive experience that I believe added to the novel. Moving the plot forward seems crucial in the film in this scene; there is less ruminating about Tumnus’ story about the different creatures of Narnia. On the whole, Adamson’s decisions bring the story to life. He animates the world and expands battle scenes, and creates a vibrant atmosphere and world. An example of this is through Mr. Beaver’s friendship with Badger and the tunnel they built, which elaborates on the connection between Narnia’s creatures. The Beaver’s using this tunnel to escape the wolves is more dramatic than the original. As an adaptation, the film is intermediate. There are details added that go into more detail with elements that were just mentioned in the novel, such as Lucy talking about her father fighting in the war. The particular scene with Lucy and Tumnus is close in its style but intermediate in its execution. 


“The Novel.” Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature, by John M. Desmond and Peter Hawkes, McGraw-Hill Education Create, 2006, pp. 83–126. 

Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (CON #2): a Story for Children. HarperTrophy, 2000. 

— Christian Mietus, Blog Editor.

Christian’s Bio:


Christian is a Senior at Lewis University who is an English major and a minor in Film Studies and Russian Language and Culture. In 2019, he received the “Dr. Stephany Schlachter Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarship Award” for his collaborative piece “Assimilation through Sound.”  Additionally, his poem “The Japanese Photography is Covered in Dust” is forthcoming from City Brink Magazine. In his free time, he appreciates and dissects cinema as well as consistently rating and reviewing it. Some of his favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavetes, Ingmar Bergman, and Kenji Mizoguchi. He also appreciates different art forms, such as music and literature. Christian hopes to continue expanding his skills as a writer and to encourage others to do so as well. He writes about film for the JFR blog, so check out Christian’s Cinematic Syntax.

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