Do a Google seek for “Greta Gerwig Narnia” and also you’ll rapidly discover the nook of the web that thinks the Barbie director is the worst factor to occur to C.S. Lewis’s beloved fantasy sequence. “Gerwig directing Narnia is a colossal mistake,” one reviewer says. Scamper over to Reddit, and also you’ll discover that perspective heightened by eleven.
We don’t know precisely what Netflix has deliberate for Narnia. It purchased the rights to make movies and streaming sequence in 2018 and assigned Matthew Aldrich as artistic architect in 2019. A couple of months in the past, The New Yorker buried the lede that Gerwig had been drafted to “write and direct at the very least two movies” in a possible Narnia Cinematic Universe (sure, I’m calling it that already). The persistent criticisms of Gerwig’s function in Netflix’s plan—that she’s a feminist, that she doesn’t (publicly) adhere to Christianity, that she’ll erase what makes Narnia Narnia—overlook that the Narniad is, initially, a fantasy sequence. When Lewis wrote these tales, within the phrases of novelist Lev Grossman, he cut up the atom on the trendy fantasy novel.1 Earlier than the tales are tailored as the rest (from Christian allegory to private enchancment parable), they should be tailored as fantasy. And never simply any kind of fantasy—portal fantasy.
Earlier than Barbie, Gerwig had zero expertise making fantasy tales for the display, and a few would argue that’s nonetheless the case. However Barbie is the angst-inspired auteur’s transitional movie: it has a reality-focused story centered on the feminine expertise that’s Gerwig’s hallmark, nevertheless it additionally has a definite improbable component, evidenced partly within the plastic, candy-toned, physics-defying, technicolor world of Barbieland. Gerwig’s Barbie story is a portal fantasy, and it has been a creative and industrial success.
Admittedly, Barbie is a bizarre place from which to invest on what Gerwig’s adaptation of Narnia may seem like. Nonetheless, the similarities between that movie and the system of the portal fantasy style can’t be ignored. At greatest, Gerwig is getting into her fantasy period, and adapting Narnia is a logical leap for somebody who admits that “having one other large canvas is thrilling and likewise daunting.”2 At the least she understands the important parts of portal fantasy, and that understanding will serve her properly.
Portals “litter the world of the improbable, marking the transition between this world and one other; from our time to a different time; from youth to maturity.”3 In accordance with historian and speculative fiction critic Farah Mendlesohn, the “most acquainted and archetypal” of those portal fantasies is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.4 Lewis’s adored traditional now shares area with Barbie as a part of that subgenre through which the principle character travels from a “body world” into an “different world,” or in Tolkien’s terminology, from “major” to “secondary” world.
In Barbie, as in most portal fantasies, there’s nothing particular about the principle character in her body world. Barbie’s realm consists of different barbies who’re presidents, Supreme Courtroom justices, medical doctors, and Nobel laureates. The principle character (performed by Margot Robbie) is dubbed “stereotypical”: in her world, she’s simply as bizarre as Peter, Edmund, Susan, and all the opposite youngsters from our world who’re transported to Narnia.
Like Narnia’s human youngsters, Barbie is plunged into extraordinary circumstances due to a disaster in her body world. In The Magician’s Nephew, Digory and Polly by accident stumble into the attic laboratory of Digory’s mad scientist uncle. Barbie faces “irrepressible ideas of loss of life,” flat toes, and burnt toast.
Confronted with crises, the characters within the body world want a return to normalcy. Digory and Polly should get the witch Jadis out of their world. Barbie is determined to reverse the event of cellulite. These are trivial comparisons, however the level is that, in a portal fantasy, a way of normalcy is disrupted earlier than the bizarre characters enter the opposite world.
As soon as within the different world, bizarre characters turn into extraordinary. Barbie is now not stereotypical; she is a glamorous, life-size doll amongst human ladies who don’t have the posh of a world that caters to their each want. Digory and Polly (and sadly Uncle Andrew) are the one people in a world of speaking beasts and nature gods. The Pevensies discover themselves the main target of a prophecy to finish the Hundred 12 months’s Winter.
These ordinary-turned-extraordinary characters wrestle with the will to return to the life they’re used to earlier than in the end selecting to embrace the trail opened earlier than them. The Pevensies ascend the thrones at Cair Paravel. Digory and Polly go on a mission to make sure safety for the fledgling Narnia. And Barbie trades in Barbieland for the Actual World.
These are the acquainted, structural beats of a portal fantasy, however that’s not all that makes Narnia sing.
In a portal fantasy, characters discover within the different world some kind of redemption or essential transformation for themselves and their atmosphere. “The magic trick right here, the sleight of hand, is that if you move by the portal, you re-encounter within the fantasy world the issues you thought you left behind in the true world,” Grossman says. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund’s issues are “exacerbated and dropped at a disaster by his experiences in Narnia.”5 His worries got here with him, and Narnia was the place he discovered them resolved.
The same factor occurs to Barbie within the Actual World of Greta Gerwig’s movie. Her eyes are opened to the plight of ladies, and she or he learns that some view her as a part of the issue. She cries and experiences harsh feelings for the primary time, effecting an irreversible change in disposition.
Not solely are characters in portal fantasies remodeled, however so are historical past and society. Modifications in character within the body world are borne out in the true world and vice versa. Beginning out, Barbie sees the Actual World as depending on Barbieland, assuming her existence has positively affected ladies there. Nevertheless, when she and Ken land within the Actual World, they’re confronted with the reality. Their experiences change them in tangible methods, and once they return to their body world, they rework their society. Ultimately, Barbie returns to the Actual World to impact additional transformation in herself.
We don’t see a lot of Narnia’s human youngsters on this aspect of the wardrobe, however we do obtain vignettes of their body world considerations which set them up for transformation of some form originating within the different world. For instance, Lucy worries in regards to the sincerity of her mates. Eustace is fiercely considering social progress. And, in fact, there’s the notorious knife-twist when Susan is revealed to now not be a pal of Narnia after changing into useless and consumed by the issues of her body world.
Narnia followers, together with myself, will balk at any adventurous liberties Gerwig may take with these tales. (I’m already anticipating Susan’s Massive Speech.) However no portal fantasy is full with out exploring how occasions on one aspect of the portal impression the character and the character’s context on the opposite aspect.
There’s a scene in Barbie the place Bizarre Barbie (Kate McKinnon) presents Stereotypical Barbie with a selection between fancy excessive heels (representing a call to disregard her crises in Barbieland) and sensible Birkenstocks (representing a call to undergo the portal and confront her issues). When Stereotypical Barbie chooses the excessive heels, Bizarre Barbie throws them away telling her the one actual choice is the Birkenstocks.
“Ship me by the portal,” Robbie’s character says resignedly.
“Properly…there’s truly no portal,” says Bizarre Barbie. “It’s a determine of speech.”
This alternate reveals a primarily based understanding of portal fantasy. Whereas the portal is a essential component, it isn’t a lot in regards to the portal as it’s about how the journey past the portal reshapes the one who goes by it. The portal is merely a useful demarcation, a earlier than and after, a B.C. and A.D.
This stress of selection between the portal and one’s ignorance is felt viscerally within the Narniad as properly. Lewis casts Narnia as a fascinating different for the youngsters beset by trials of their body world—trials like World Warfare II, moist summers, faculty bullies, and mad uncles. Grossman speaks of Lewis’s want to “discard” the world they know and “set it apart in favor of one thing higher.”
You’ll be able to really feel [Lewis] telling you—I do know it’s terrible, actually horrible, however that’s not all there’s. There’s an alternative choice. Lucy, as she enters the wardrobe, takes the opposite choice.6
Peter and Susan grapple with the concept “that there may very well be different worlds—far and wide, simply not far away—like that.” In The Voyage of the Daybreak Treader, Eustace rails towards the Narnian world because it unfolds earlier than his eyes, clinging to the constructs of his body world till they’re shattered by the fact of the opposite world. Like Barbie’s life when she chooses the Birkenstocks, Eustace’s life and the Pevensies’ lives are modified ceaselessly once they move by the wardrobe (or the portray), and once more once they first encounter Aslan. They can’t be the identical folks once they return to their body worlds.
Of all of the fantasy subgenres, portal fantasy has been referred to as the “literature of want”7 as a result of such tales convey the sense that there’s a sure manner issues ought to be. They capitalize on the common eager for the world to be higher and aside from it’s. Mendlesohn suggests “the notion of a portal” comes from “the New Testomony and later Christian writings”8 which categorical paradise because the world perfected and the journey of the devoted as a want for that perfection.
The persevering with reputation of portal fantasies signifies our tradition’s “predisposition for a set of tropes which fulfil a set of wishes.”9 As a lot as Barbie follows the construction of such tales, it’s lacking the component of want and an environment which tilts towards the achievement of that want. Neither Barbieland nor Barbie’s Actual World are locations I wish to stay. However Narnia is. C.S. Lewis made certain of that.
This shall be Gerwig’s best problem in adapting Narnia for the display. She already shares some vital artistic tendencies with Lewis. For instance, like Narnia, the worlds of Barbie aren’t scrupulously formed. What’s current within the worldbuilding is essential for the story to do its work; all the things else is incidental, virtually thrown in for enjoyable.
Some have additionally famous Gerwig’s propensity to shift focus to the supporting casts in her tales, giving them room to breathe. For instance, regardless of being marketed as “simply Ken,” Ryan Gosling’s character is as important to the plot of Barbie as Barbie herself, and his story is informed with comparable depth. Likewise, in Narnia, sidekicks like Corin, Lasaraleen, and Reepicheep have vital roles to play, and Lewis lets the sunshine linger lengthy on their inside lives.
Barbie isn’t an ideal portal fantasy; it wasn’t supposed to be. But it surely follows the framework pioneered by Lewis. If Greta Gerwig submits to the story and permits its unwieldiness to flourish, it can inform itself. And as unwieldy as The Chronicles of Narnia are, they’re nonetheless portal fantasies and should be tailored as such. Gerwig simply is perhaps the one to do it.
- Joe Fassler, “Confronting Actuality by Studying Fantasy,” The Atlantic (2014). ↩︎
- Inside Complete Movie, “Greta Gerwig, Cillian Murphy, Christopher Nolan + Barbie and Oppenheimer” (2023). ↩︎
- Farah Mendlesohn, Rhetorics of Fantasy (Wesleyan College Press, 2008). ↩︎
- Ibid. ↩︎
- Joe Fassler, “Confronting Actuality by Studying Fantasy.” ↩︎
- Ibid. ↩︎
- Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (Routledge, 1988). ↩︎
- Farah Mendlesohn, Rhetorics of Fantasy. ↩︎
- Daniel Baker, “Throughout the Door: Portal-Quest Fantasy in Gaiman and Miéville,” Journal of the Incredible within the Arts, 2016, Vol. 27, No. 3. ↩︎