Last night I watched the second movie in the Narnia chronicles, Prince Caspian. I have read the books, but it was so long ago that I had completely forgotten the story, so it was just like watching a fresh fantasy movie. Overall it was fun with serious flaws: the children were unlikable at best, the ending is essentially deus ex machina, Aslan is a really dicky lion, the centaurs looked really crappy, and the story has that underlying feeling that a group of dippy white kids can inherit the earth for no reason but that they were born lucky, which seems a common problem in British fantasy. In its favour, the action scenes were fun, that Susan chick was cool, Prince Caspian was very handsome, and the bad guys were really bad. Not only was the bad king genuinely bad, but the manner of his demise was a perfect piece of comeuppance. So that was all good. However, the final final ending scene made my head explode with rage, and I think I have to elevate it to the pantheon alongside Titanic and the Breakfast Club for cynical endings. I’m now going to describe why, but be aware: this is spoiler central. If you have never read the books or seen the movie, you should probably stop here.
[WARNING: Spoilers] So, the kids have won their war against the evil humans (let’s call them the Dicks, because I couldn’t catch their full name). The Dicks are all gathered in a town square, being addressed by the universe’s dweebiest god, Aslan, who tells them that they are welcome to live where they are, in peace with the good folk of Narnia, but they can also go back where they came from, which is apparently some tropical island on earth. He will transport them there with his magic powers that are sufficient to teleport whole populations across time and space but insufficient to bring peace to Narnia. At first they look askance on this offer, somewhat in the way that German soldiers might have looked askance at their Russian captors in 1944 when they were told “This train will take you to somewhere warm.” But at last the general from the army steps forward and says he’ll go, and then the dead evil king’s wife steps forward with her son. Aslan says “because you spoke up first, I will ensure your life is extra good on the other side.”
This really, really pissed me off for two reasons. First of all, it’s that classic christian needy-god rubbish, in which Aslan is so powerful that he can transport you across universes but so insecure that you if you don’t immediately jump at his bidding he will punish you for not trusting him. So the first people to show they trust a lunatic talking lion get special treatment, and all the completely rational and reasonable people who are standing in the crowd, recently traumatized by losing a fucking war, are going to be made second-class citizens in this new world because they didn’t show quite the trusting spirit that a deific lion might want them to. Why would you not trust a lion when it tells you it’s going to be nice to you? Can’t think of a single reason … Anyone who has read the bible knows that needy gods are also genocidal, capricious and wrathful gods. Best not to do what that god wants.
But the next pissy thing about this is the people who got the benefit: the general and the wife of the king. So they go from wielding maximum temporal power in Narnia, to being granted special boons in the next world they go to by the guy who defeated them. This is a classic example of the powerful looking after each other even when they do wrong to each other. Why reward the general for being trusting, after he just tried to exterminate your race? Why not instead offer him the dingiest farm in the hardest place? Because having once been in power, he will always be treated better by others in power, while his footsoldiers – who slogged through the mud for him just days earlier, being beaten by minotaurs and rained with arrows – get second place in the next world too. Oh, how the mechanisms of power reproduce themselves even in adversity …
The ending gets even worse at this point though, because now the crowd reveal they don’t trust Aslan, and demand proof that the gate he has created is safe. Rather than pointing out to them that a god who can open gates will always be able to fool them with tricks to reassure them, the eldest kid decides that the four kids should all go back through the gate to prove it is safe. Aslan agrees, and furthermore points out that two of them won’t ever be able to come back because they’re too old. He also basically tells his favourite, Lucy, to fuck off and not come back.
So basically Aslan is telling these kids that instead of being kings and queens in a world of magic and talking badgers, they are going to be kicked out and forced to go back to living as ordinary kids in London during the blitz. Your reward for helping god? Forced to return to live in a cramped hell-hole of a city that is on fire. And they agree, because of some weird power that Aslan has to convince people that they aren’t able to control his power or the workings of the world, even though he’s standing in front of them negotiating.
I’ve always been confused by the ending of these world-crossing books. It would take me precisely one second to decide that no, I am not going back to being a sales assistant in a bookshop after I just spent months wielding mighty magics in the Land of Phallusia. I think I’ll stay here, thank you, and you can line the vestal virgins up in the hallway outside my penthouse room. Oh, and bring me some of that elixir of youth while you’re at it, I’ll be bedding them until the dawn of the next age. Oh, how cute! A talking lion! There there little lion, why don’t you go and lick your balls over in the corner while I rule this kingdom wisely, and make myself very rich? Because I can tell from the abject state of its denizens, and the fact that a mere bookshop assistant from Croydon can sort all this shit out, that you are neither a wise nor a good god. Now, go and eat your din-dins like a good pet while the adults get on with sorting out the mess you made of your world.
That‘s how Prince Caspian should have ended, not with the plebs being deported to another world to be ruled over by exactly the people who got them into their situation in the first place, and Susan the mighty archer princess having to steal a kiss from a very very handsome Prince whose kingdom she could be ruling before a talking lion whisks her off to study O-level chemistry in a city being bombed by Nazis. That, my friends, is a cynical ending par excellence.
fn1: I wonder why? Actually the Narnia chronicles strike me as potentially very colonialist. At one point a talking animal admits that Narnia has never been happy except when a son of Adam – i.e. a white man – is sitting on its throne. That’s right, Narnia’s swarthy and animalistic hordes will never be content until they are ruled by a member of the British elite.