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Nothing New Under The Sun
(the ARX acta diurna)
Dark is Rising movie: Christianized, or Tashlanized?
So I was thinking a little more about this whole Dark is Rising mess, and upon further consideration the niggling sense of massive incongruity suddenly snapped into focus. If you haven't read the books, it may be difficult to convey just how great a gulf there is between Ave et Eva, between the book/s (they seem to claim to be taking bits from several in the series, just like Disney did to Prydain) and what we know so far of the film treatment, from the online trailer/s as well as interviews with the director, screenwriter, and actors. But I will do my best.

kiandra_fire has helpfully made a comprehensive table breaking down all these known discrepancies, and providing necessary context. The most prominent point has been the claim of eliminating or "downplaying" (whatever that means) the pagan elements in the originals, by an admittedly-evangelical-Christian company dedicated to producing works of sound Christian entertainment - at least as they define "Christianity."

So what exactly have they downplayed, and what added, that would constitute taking out the heathenry and putting in the Gospels?

Well, judging by the trailer and the descriptions of the script and shooting by those who are making it, they have taken out - in addition to the King Arthur element , which I might remind you was according to Tolkien too Christian a mythos to work as proper epic fantasy - they have taken out all of the moral ambiguity and inner struggle in the originals, and replaced it with sex, greed, and violence.

This is not a joke, not me being silly here. Will in the books is unselfish, concerned for his family's well-being ahead of his own, a serious and recollected kid who looks out for others. In the movie, at least from the trailer footage, he's a thoughtless brat who only sees in his newfound powers a chance to show off cool superpowers and give nothing in return, whining worse than Young!Luke to Ben Kenobi about having to go save the world. And Luke had more responsibilities, and fewer allies and resources, at the time!

Then, there's the question of motivation: to make sense to stodgy unimaginative grown-up Middle Americans, "make it appeal to young people today™", they've made Will older, from middle-school to a hulking high-schooler*. And, of course, he both wants sex in the person of the introduced love-interest for him, and is stereotypically afraid to talk to girls...and the motivations of the Rider are also reduced, as reported, to sexual jealousy, and all the complexities of jealousy and betrayal and devotion-gone-awry, all the themes of Rivalry (in the Taoist sense) and Redemption, and the question of the past failures and mistakes of the Good Guys, are thus eliminated.

But this is small potatoes, or at least not as flashy as the other big changes, tho' they're all part of the same problem. In the books, the Good Guys are limited because they can't wield the same brutal powers as the Bad Guys, part of that whole "being Good Guys" thing you know, and their weapons aren't weapons at all, but mystical forces which, in the end, come down to loyalty and trust and generosity - aka faith, hope, love, and the greatest of these is love.

In the film, so we hear, Merriman "Merry" Lyon's favorite weapon is a mace. The elder lady who in the books is wheelchair-bound, frail with age and ill-health, but still valiant...in the film is fully ambulatory - and reportedly wields a sword-cane. And Will uses The Force to fling his enemies and rivals about like ninepins, in the clips we see in the trailer. We are told that it is a cross between Harry Potter and Indiana Jones, which bodes not well for a story which is originally as much about the interior life as it is about Celtic mythology...

It may well be, that The Dark is Rising is unfilmable, faithfully, and that it were better to have left well enough alone. Myself, I tend to think that (having seen film adaptations of Austen novels and Shakespeare plays that mirabile dictu, worked, not to mention Kurosawa) it is not necessarily impossible to make a moving, dramatic, interesting movie where the magical and miraculous shine like small diamonds in the mundane world, that is to say casting rainbows upon everything, when the light strikes them, rather than loading on the mana-powered explosions like a supernatural Michael Bay.

But it truly is fascinating that, in the interests of Christianizing the paganism of Cooper, they have replaced selflessness with grasping ambition ("Kingdoms of the world? Gimme! Oh wait, what's this sacrifice stuff? Noway!") and weakness of the body with worldly power, in Our Heroes - and the nonviolent (though very much "grey" and disturbing) spiritual power and authority of the Old Ones with mere brute battle and force. ISTR something about "those who live by the sword," but that must have been in one of my pagan philosophers or myths...

* Someone on a thread equated all this to having a film of The Hobbit in which Bilbo is no longer a halfling, and goes on a quest with his dog Spot, and all that Old English literature stuff is taken out, and he kicks the dragon's ass in a fight - which is a pretty good way of describing it. It's important that the heroes be small, and weaker, and improbable, and the brute force and earthly advantage be on the side of the Dark - no matter how uncool it makes the Good Guys look, and how much we'd rather Identify with the hulking musclebound swaggerer...</lj>

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acaciaonnastik From: acaciaonnastik Date: July 14th, 2007 04:44 am (UTC) (Link)
~cringes~ I've never actually read those books. And even I know that's not right.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 14th, 2007 11:22 am (UTC) (Link)

You'd probably like them a lot

quests and mysteries and Brooding Menaces and people whose deadly power is rather Auditor and Glome-like than oi-we-kick-you-inna-head, and lots of doublecrosses and not knowing who to trust, and ghost ships and skeleton horses and the Wild Hunt - I suspect that Cooper is more responsible than any other author for the fact that so many Americans know who Herne is, and that Cornwall exists let alone is associated with Arthur...
From: sajia Date: July 14th, 2007 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Saw the trailer today when I went to see Harry Potter (a good one, by the way). I think you would really like Bridge to Terabithia (have I bugged you about this before?).
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 14th, 2007 11:19 am (UTC) (Link)


and it was brought up a lot in the DiR threads as a counterexample of good changes to a book. The author's son apparently worked on the film, which I'm sure made a difference.
thirstygirl From: thirstygirl Date: July 14th, 2007 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
oh ouch. another adaptation to avoid then. On the other hand you have reminded me of how good the books are so now I'm going to re-read them.
randwolf From: randwolf Date: July 14th, 2007 07:16 am (UTC) (Link)

"It's all in Plato"

I always thought that those Cooper books--it's been years--were fairly Christian in their--there must be a word for it, but I don't know it--overarching ethical order; the pagan content was bent to Christian purposes, much as Lewis bent the pagan content of his earlier books to Christian purposes. (Till We Have Faces is, I think, as much Platonist as Christian.) If the pagan content is removed, the christian content is also lost, and the book is lost as well. How is it that the vision of Walden Media is so limited despite an apparently sincere effort? A simple failure of artistry? Or...?
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 14th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC) (Link)

The thing is that it's, for want of a better word, "Natural Law Ethics" reflective

The idea that Christianity, or the Judeo-Christian tradition, has a patent on ethics - or even the Classical-Judeo-Christian combo - is something that CSL himself put some effort into debunking, with the shockingly multiculturalist book "The Abolition of Man" and all the illustrations from cultures around the world throughout history of what he called "the Universal Tao," borrowing of course from Lao Tzu, which is sometimes translated as "the Greater Way," and which sounds so platonist/Christian to the ears of Westerners that some Hegemony flacks had to come up with a theory as to how Jesuits could have secretly rewritten Chinese texts to insert Christian teachings in and "fool" them into thinking it was part of their own tradition (!)

There are explicit criticisms in Cooper of the narrow and arrogant attitude - parochialism, if you will - of Christianity as The One True Way, in the presentation of the local Vicar in DiR as typically smug and blind in his benevolent certainty that *his* holy symbols etc were the source of all their defense in the battle. --Which was what most everyone was assuming they were going to take out, when it first came out about who was doing the film.

I think it's very, *very* ironic that "Christianizing" something in the US today means - to its *defenders* - taking out the compassion and weak vessel-ness of the Good Guys and replacing it with explosions and ass-kickingness and physical battles. It's almost beyond parody - especially since the producer claims to want to make Hollywood "more peaceful."

How is it that the vision of Walden Media is so limited despite an apparently sincere effort? A simple failure of artistry? Or...?

Well, this is the same guy, oil magnate Anschutz, who brought us "Passion of the Christ" (of which I have said a fair bit in the past), teamed up with the director of "The Path to 911" - the theocrat-funded anti-Clinton fictionalized hit piece which was so blatant that even Brent Bozell blenched at.

I also think it fascinating that the author of this article doesn't find anything twitch-inducing in the idea of someone who's all about the profits (remember they got in a fight with Gibson over the money from Passion), preaching to others' children the virtues of self-sacrifice - just like Bill "Slots" Bennett, there.
miracleofbeing From: miracleofbeing Date: July 14th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)

You have said *everything* I wanted to but couldn't.

I was too wordlessly brain-slapped when I first found out about the travesty Walden Media has created of a work that has been close to my heart since childhood; I simply couldn't come up with the words to describe how offended and disturbed I was. I must admit that I have one thing in common with the actor playing Merriman Lyon: I, too, hope that they don't make any more movies.
furikku From: furikku Date: July 14th, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Argh. Argh argh argh. Which Bible were these people reading, the Gospel according to St. Bastard?! Someone make them get out of my religion, pls.
From: eruvadhril Date: August 2nd, 2007 10:00 am (UTC) (Link)
the Gospel according to St. Bastard?!

Hooray for random Eddie Izzard quotes!
raincitygirl From: raincitygirl Date: July 14th, 2007 08:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I could've sworn I already left this comment, but I guess the internet ate it.

Anyway, Take 2, the part that really irritates the hell out of me is that Cooper already WROTE that character. You know, the rebellious, angry teenager who is ostracised as a freak by his peer group, and who feels unloved at home (abandoned by his mother, and raised by an emotionally distant, devoutly religious adoptive father). He's called Bran Davies. And when Cooper created him, she gave him valid, canonical, PLOT-RELEVANT reasons for feeling this way.

The adaptors have completely butchered Will until he's unrecognisable and his motivations are entirely different (and butchered his family, to boot) for frivolous reasons, they've ensured that if and when they ever get around to making The Grey King, they've badly weakened Bran Davies as a character. Not that I want them anywhere near The Grey King, but you just know it being a book series was likely a selling point when they were pitching the idea to the money people. Because that way, if it's a hit, there are built-in sequels.
lyorn From: lyorn Date: July 14th, 2007 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just realized that we are going to be up to our ears in movie-based fanfic. (shudders)

From: placebetween Date: August 17th, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh my God ... I didn't even think about that. How painful will that be?? And how many teenyboppers are going to be all, "Hey who's this Bran guy? Obv. Will is madly in love with Maggie!!!! Oh the tragedy of the Dark versus the Light!!!!!"
tlachtga From: tlachtga Date: July 14th, 2007 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't have anything intelligent to say, because I'm just shocked and heartbroken. The Dark Is Rising series sits--literally--sits on my shelves next to Prydain and Narnia. All hardbacks I went searching for specifically. These were the books that made me--I've read them so many times I can probably sit and recite them start to finish. I still read The Dark Is Rising (the book itself) every winter solstice, and The Silver on the Tree for summer solstice. This is my young adulthood. These books--Cooper's and Alexander's--are why I got into Celtic myth in the first place--which is what I spend 50%+ of my waking time researching, and hopefully going back to school for. These books mean more to me than I can probably intelligently explain.

So to read this--I didn't know there was a movie, I haven't seen the trailer, and I don't know that I want to now--makes me so angry, so frustrated, that I don't really know what to say. I mean, when they screwed up The Black Cauldron, at least it was mostly incompetence and not right-wing religious malice banking on the fantasy buck as a way to promote their agenda.

I just... damn it.
From: anna_wing Date: July 15th, 2007 10:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Ahem. It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged that if a book or books is a classic work of English children's literature, it is in need of being turned into a BBC TV serial. Which I believe has happened to at least one book in the series. "Greenwitch", I think.
From: placebetween Date: August 17th, 2007 10:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
nothing nearly as clever - just wanted to say HAHAHAHAHAHA.
the_resa From: the_resa Date: July 15th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't read the original series but ...
What I found the most disturbing was the need to make his family abusive. What is up with this?

The Harry Potter movies have it too (haven't read the books), with the additional headache of including the idea that it is somehow noble to tolerate abuse -- to forgive and forget, and not act to stop it. Probably under the sickening belief that What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger. It's the School of Hard Knocks where Anger or Revenge is always bad. Or whatever twisted rationalization makes us think that this kind of crap is somehow so very good for us.

Can you tell that I used to buy into this stuff? Yup. Few people are so rabidly "No-Smoking" than the ones that just quit.

megpie71 From: megpie71 Date: July 15th, 2007 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
For the sake of completeness, in Cooper's original books, it's quite clear that while Will is the youngest of a large family, he isn't neglected, scapegoated, or disregarded in any way. He's unusual, yes, in that he's one of at least seven children (I'm not positive, but I do seem to recall a couple of sisters in there, which combined with his position as seventh son of a seventh son implies a rather large sibling group) which in this day and age is rather unusual, simply because large families tend to be the exception rather than the norm. But his parents love all their children.

The lack of violence in the original stories was a big selling point for me when I read them during high school - given I started reading fantasy stories from about age six (when I started in on Narnia) and was already well and truly familiar with the standard sword-and-sorcery Extruded Fantasy Product just-add-hero quest sequence, one of the things which appealed about the Dark Is Rising sequence was the fact that the good guys won *without* needing to hit people with heavy chunks of metal.

I do hope that if they're going to continue with these, they're willing to tackle Greenwitch in the spirit it was originally written - namely that the quest is completed almost by accident, due to one person's generous wish. Of course, that would mean putting some kind of value on generosity of the spirit, which I have a feeling isn't an appropriately "Christian" virtue.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 16th, 2007 03:51 am (UTC) (Link)

just a little temperance

I'm disappointed to read such vitriolic attacks on Christianity and Christians in the comments. I'm just as disappointed as the rest of you about the changes to the book. I'm also Christian. Blanket smears like "generosity of the spirit is not an appropriately *Christian* virtue" just show that their authors wish to belong to another camp as cartoonish as the "crazy right-wing Christians."

One of the medieval Christian virtues is Temperance. (Look at Spenser, for a start.) There are many Christians around today who still believe in the path of moderation, generosity, and forgiveness. They just don't make good media villains like the others. It is a sign of bigotry to use the terrible artistic taste of one production company as a reflection on the state of an entire religion. Those of you who spout such comments with very limited experience need to go spend some time in poverty-stricken countries and see who is helping the people there, sharing their often abominable living conditions, as well as who is willing to risk their lives for "aliens." Here in America, there are many good people who identify themselves as Christian, doing their best in small ways every day to ease the material and spiritual suffering of others across all social boundaries. I know lots of these people. I hope to be as good as they are to others. I am sorry for those of you who have encountered hateful behavior from Christians, and I have no problem acknowledging that those people are out there. Just don't use their bigotry as an excuse for your own.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: July 16th, 2007 10:35 am (UTC) (Link)

I guess it doesn't occur to you

that some of us could have been RAISED to be hateful Christians, eh? And that's why we're upset about it, because we know it from the inside and have rejected it? --That maybe we actually *do* know a bit about how much good work is being done by missionaries, because some of us actually KNOW people who went off to "save souls" in other countries, and aren't very impressed with the results any more? That maybe you're being bigoted, or at least narrowminded, by assuming that the ONLY possible reason that anyone could have for criticizing your group is that they're ignorant? (Oh yeah, I was raised to believe that too. Then I actually went out into the world, and started doing some reasearch.)

Also, beams, eyes, what-ho? Start cleaning your own house of bigotry before you go insisting that everyone else treat you with respect that you haven't earned. And have the courage to sign your posts, 'kay? It's not very impressive preaching if you can't even bring yourself to use a handle, Anonymous Selfrighteous Christian.

But then, I guess you're as brave as you are intelligent, since you didn't even understand the point of the rant, which is that these self-styled Christian media moguls are *not* living up to (or out) the Gospels, and that the supposedly-pagan values of the original books actually ARE consonant with the Gospels, but these people like Anschutz are very *bad* at actually being Christian, and are instead pure hypocrites.

Which is, alas, far from uncommon and in fact is what most of us encounter, when we deal with [other] self-styled Christians in real life" as well as online.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 16th, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're right

To be fair, it is clear that bellatrys considers herself to be a "real" Christian and to be harshly criticizing others from her own "real Christian" vantagepoint. Lest you accuse me of doing the same thing, I don't consider myself to be a better or smarter Christian than anyone else, and I'm not making my critique on that basis -- I'm just trying to point out that is, like Christ, you want to gently influence the world toward love, the way to do so is not to rage and make personal attacks *on anyone,* but to speak more moderately and with more consideration.

And I am making the mistake of conflating several posters' comments without making distinctions between them.

I should not have used the word "bigotry" in my first post - it's too inflammatory. "Anger" is a better way to put it, since the anger in the posts is clear, while bigotry is a more general condition that I can't ascertain from these posts. So, please accept my apology and consider it a matter of whether raw anger is a good thing to put out in our world, and whether those on the side of the "Light" should do so. Personally, I think that it's easy to excuse one's own anger as righteous, but if your cause is truly good, then anger is dangerous and unnecessary - your measured conviction will be just as effective. Jesus may have been angry when he threw out the moneychangers, but I think he was in a better position to know whether he his anger was righteous than are any of us.

If I didn't think that the posters on this board were likely to have a lot of good in them, I wouldn't have bothered posting. I don't go around arguing for the sake of argument on the internet.
Just your admiration for the Cooper series shows that in some ways, we would all be of like mind. That's why I think it's important to try to unite rather than dividing, as some of the comments about Christians and Christianity on this board are likely to do. If I had been better at phrasing my first post, maybe I would have been more convincing. I do think you can discuss mistakes made by Christians without being offensive or coming off as hateful, and I guess that's how I would prefer to leave it.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 24th, 2007 02:31 am (UTC) (Link)
If anyone is willing, please leave a comment regarding your feelings about this movie at:



(the Walden Media Forum for Dark is Rising)
summersdream From: summersdream Date: July 26th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi, wandered in here through some links and I just had to say... I thought Hollywood had gotten over this whole slaughtering-books-without-thought phase. Sigh. This whole thing looks atrocious. What posessed them to cut out the Arthurian ties? No, really. I mean, that kills off half the sequels and scrambles the plot right to hell. They should at least be looking at the sequel problem since, you know, sequels will make them money. Logic obviously left the building on this one.
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