Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interesting Echo: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Harry Potter”

I've talked about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie before, but I wanted to discuss an interesting moment in the movie. It begins in London during the air raids of WWII, something the book mentions only in passing. The four Penvesie children survive some bombs that fall near their house and are soon sent away from London, like many other children were, to live in the countryside.

While the bombing scene itself is a bit hackneyed and clumsy, it provides an unneeded basis for Edmund's priggish and self-serving behavior, the scenes that follow it are surprisingly powerful. The children are at one of the major railway stations with their mother along with hundreds of other families. The children have labels hanging from their coats, a necessary step to make sure they reach the correct destination but it also dehumanizes them a bit. Parents, mostly mothers (the fathers are at war), are saying farewell to their children as they are shipped out to the countryside. As the Penvensie's mother mostly keeps a brave face on, the children go into a compartment with strange children, each waiting for their stop. Here they will be picked up by unknown adults and cared for, for better or worse. For some of the children it will clearly be for worse.

Like most effective scenes, it's the human element which is the most gripping. The children are frightened but don't want to show it. The parents are upset but don't want their children to see that. When the train pulls out of the station, we then get a powerful image that echoes strongly (I can't imagine the director wasn't aware of this) the Hogwarts Express. Yet while the train in the Harry Potter series seems to be heading off into true adventure, the fate of the children on this train is much less sure. They will be alone, which is frightening, and their parents will be exposed to danger. As the trains chugs through London of the 1940s, we get an image of a grubby city hunkered down against a terrible enemy sending it's children out of harm's way, and it's surprisingly effective. As an adult with children, I was very moved.

Interestingly the book itself ignores these emotions. That may simply be C.S. Lewis focussing on adventure instead of sadness, but one wonders why the author, himself a veteran of the slaughter of WWI, didn't pay closer attention to some of it.

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