On Robin and Benjamin

All of the changes made in the Moonacre movie are bad, for a great variety of reasons, most of them of a philosophical or theological, and literary kind.

But here’s another bad thing: changing the Moon Princesses’ love interests from a) complimenting them in nature/vibe and b) seriously unusual for male love interests in fiction to a) too similar to them and b) too generic for (sort of) romantic fiction.

Because Robin and Benjamin are so different. They both have such specific vibes to them that are all too rarely seen in romantic fiction. (Yes, of course, The Little White Horse is not in any way a romance novel, but the romantic sub-plots are there, and they are what I am referring to.)

I don’t mean that in the sense that male love interests should be more like them, and less of the more typical romantic (and often rather serious, sad, brooding, with a darker aesthetic) heroes. The types they were turned into are fine alright—for a good many stories, for other stories. But (and I have this problem with several book adaptations and the characterisation of some of my favourite characters!) changing a rather unusual character type, that works perfectly in that specific context, into a more normal type, that doesn’t belong in that particular story, is so boring. So overdone.

And yes, it would be fun to see more Robins and Benjamins in literature. What matters in the story is that both are great matches for their women with their equally hot tempers. Maria and Robin, Loveday and Benjamin—they are all so very hot-headed. And it’s fun to see so much passion and energy, in its good and its bad sides.

But that aside, it’s interesting that the “dark and gloomy” aesthetic is reserved for the women, whereas the men are sunny, warm, and golden. The distinction of sun and moon Merryweathers is an important part of the story, and it doesn’t do to make them all moon types.

But what is even more interesting, is that they are not all sweet and gentle. Sunnier, warmer, (and physically larger) male characters, love interests in particular, are usually the sweet, harmless darling parts. But Robin and Benjamin are both in their way intimidating, sharp, almost dangerous, in a way that would be found in a different sort of darker, sleeker, slimmer, quieter romantic hero or love interest.

And once again, I don’t mean this in a way of better or worse, but that, in as far as diversity of personality types in their specific role in their story and their relationships to their partners goes, it is so interesting to see something so entirely different, and I think they should not be smoothed out to something overdone and generic.

Robin is on one hand mythical and distant, dream-like, but in an energetic and wild, not at all ethereal, rather Puck-like manner. But he is also very physical, very earthly and hearty, and intense and vigorous. Benjamin is a fat and jolly country gentleman, with a love of horse and hound, and food and drink. He is kind, but also in his way ruthless, with a disposition for long grudges and hidden sadness. Both are hot-headed and energetic, outwardly cheerful; if sad or gloomy—then in secret, or in sudden fits of rage. They are also, well, sensual, openly and deliberately so.

They are very so very unusual types, and characters like them are such a rarity to begin with, and when they appear and usually not in these positions in the story, but maybe as background characters, chaotic spirits, or comic relief. As villains, maybe. But not as leading men.

And it’s a pity to change that.

A rare find

Many people know the 2008 movie The Secret of Moonacre, which is very loosely based on The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and, though a popular film, a less than adequate adaptation. But there has been another one: the series Moonacre from 1994, starring Camilla Power as Maria Merryweather, who is known to Friends of Narnia as Jill Pole in the BBC adaptation of The Silver Chair.

I have been looking for episodes of this series, but, until yesterday, never found one. Now I have found the first episode, uploaded on YouTube just a few weeks ago, and while it is far from perfect, it does have its own charm.

There is no Wiggins, which is a pity, and Maria has a cute but somehow misplaced little brother. Sir Benjamin is too gloomy and serious, and the parson shows up much too soon. Wrolf is a lovely wolfhound, though in all fairness it would have been quite a challenge for a television production from the 90s to include a lion, no matter if real or animated. We all know the wonderful animatronic Aslan from the BBC version of Narnia, but that worked so well because it is made quite clear that he is a lion—it would be odd indeed to call a visibly false lion a dog.

All those flaws aside, this first episode has really captured the mood of the story, the gothic novel turned fairy tale, through a curious orphan girl called Maria who grows as she helps others grow, just like Mary in The Secret Garden. The brightness and warmth, and the blue and the night, of the Sun Merryweathers and the Moon Merryweathers, is captured surprisingly well, and Maria’s room is gorgeous. But most of all, I am delighted by the inclusion of the parson and the village and its people, and by the way all characters, at least those seen so far, are treated with respect.

As it is, my suspicions that there is no truly adequate adaptation of The Little White Horse have now been confirmed, but I am glad to have learned that one is close enough in its beauty and charm.

Of course, you can watch it for yourself. 🌙

On a random note

I used to think it a pity that while The Little White Horse got two adaptations, Elizabeth Goudge’s other novels (safe for Green Dolphin Country) got none, and technically I still think so, but now I also think we really need another adaptation of The Little White Horse.

One that doesn’t suddenly disappear, and one that actually gets the book right.

I want a Christian (or in this respect very tolerant and sensible) director and screenwriter. No, seriously, I want it to be a piece of Christian media in the same way that The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are. In a good way. And I mean in a really good and sensible way, not a sort of low budget production from a vaguely cult-ish American production firm nobody ever heard about and that also includes “Christian” things that were never intended by the author (that is, sadly, the downside of a certain kind of Christian media).

I want all the things included that don’t fit the mainstream Hollywood taste—the “middle aged love” as a Guardian article once called it, the blend of history and faith, the creative approach to magic, the way the backstory really works. I want all the characters to really look the way they were described in the book, I want a fat and jolly Benjamin, and a Puck- or Peter Pan-like Robin, I want the parson and the villagers, and Miss Heliotrope as a serious character, and Marmaduke Scarlet as a mysterious character, and all the little animals. I want the writers to understand that the characters are not separated into the categories “dark and mysterious” and “comic relief”. And I want Maria to be flawed and grow as a character.

I want all the odd and strange and silly aspects played straight. Wrolf is not a black dog who magically turns into a lion, he is a big golden lion that is somehow accepted by everyone to be a dog. The pink geraniums are a very, very important plot point. Maria’s spiritual connection to the very real boy Robin is an important part of their relationship.

I want the movie, from an aesthetic point of view, to be the ultimate dream fantasy of your average little girl. Pretty dresses, pony riding, lots of glorious food, flowers, enchanted rooms, the whole of it all. But I want the spiritual and emotional themes to be addressed in a very mature, serious manner, and with all the depth of the book. No toning down. None of that terrible business of children’s book adaptations making the tone darker and more mature, and the themes and values sillier and easier.

We need that. I think, in some ways this really might work better nowadays than just a few years ago: the cottagecore trend could help with the style, and older romantic couples are slowly and steadily becoming more acceptable again. A mini series might work better than a movie-they usually do—but I think a movie could capture it neatly, too.

That Thing about Narnia

I find very often that readers of The Chronicles of Narnia, even fans, who complain about the religious aspects of it, have a very, very limited, and more than that, prejudiced understanding of them.

It seems especially that those who read or re-read them at an older age, with full awareness of the existence of these themes, have already made up a very clear idea of them and of how they influence the stories, and it shows.

I mean—there are obvious ones, like the Deeper Magic in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which everyone will get, and about which people usually don’t complain, but otherwise it seems that the ideas readers have of the influences and themes are extremely off.

I need to say here, that I don’t claim to have a superior understanding—most things go over my head, I’m often surprised about what I still find, and whenever I read books or articles about Narnia, I am amazed how much there still is to find and to learn about.

But I do understand the basic way in which Christianity and Religion work in Narnia. And it’s not what most non-religious (and even some Christian) readers think it is.

The first thing is: the Narnia books are not missionary work. They are not books that try to convert things to Christianity—only kids who are raised in Christianity or have in some other way studies its basics (in school, for instance) will even figure out some of the parallels, and even that isn’t a given. The books will not in any way make a child after reading think “Oh, boy, I sure need to become a Christian now.” Religion, in that sense, is not even a subject, and only sparsely referenced as a normal everyday thing, just like in most pieces of western media.

The next thing is: these books don’t teach the world view of modern day American alt-right Protestants. A lot of people, especially on the internet, seem to think so, which is rather odd, considering the books were written in the 50s, by an English (Northern Irish, actually) atheist turned Anglican, whose own unusual religious development, and whose (academical) interest in Paganism and other non-Christian religions certainly kept him open-minded in these respects.

And then there’s all that talk about the Problem of Susan, of course, and about how the Scrubbs were actually woke people, and how everything was sexist and all that “because of those evil Xtians who try to convert the children”.

I see so many posts about how people just ignore the religious themes, and how people who like the books despite them, and that’s all fine and well, but they often have no idea what they are. They are not a case of “hurr hurr white old man wrote bad old-fashioned worldview”, they are on an entirely different level, in certain references and images and quotes that they may actually like a lot, and more general in the Fight for Good and everlasting Hope.

And if you get rid of the religious aspects, you get rid of all that you like about Narnia, and be left with only a shallow little bit won’t appeal to you at all, and probably a good deal of what you think is that annoying Christian influence.