I’ve been waiting six years to see C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on television. I first heard about the possibility, an Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation project, in 1973 at the Episcopal Convention. Caroline Rakestraw, executive director of the organization, has been waiting much longer than that.

Rakestraw first learned of the book from Lewis; she was in London to produce some recordings by him. She decided after reading Lion that it would make a wonderful television show. The Lilly Endowment helped the foundation obtain from the Lewis estate the film rights to all seven books. Then, the foundation worked on the project with Children’s Television Workshop, producers of Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

The result was the two-part animation special aired on CBS this month. (Although CBS delayed announcement of the special, hoping to keep the other networks from counterprogramming serious competition, NBC found out anyway, and scheduled a reshowing of Franco Zeferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth film, to run for four nights in April, with the first two parts shown opposite Lion. Some footage not shown the first time—many of the miracle scenes—was aired in the April rerun.) Kraft, the sponsor, spent about $3 million on the show.

Rakestraw and the foundation wanted Lion to reach a wide family audience. Lewis never intended his stories to become part of a children’s ghetto. He read fairy stories as an adult; he wanted adults to read his fairy stories. And certainly, this was a program for the whole family.

Fortunately, that message is not submerged by the adaptation. I read the script (not a final, edited copy, though) and previewed about half an hour of the two-hour program. It was enough to indicate the quality of the animation, the acting, and the music.

I am perhaps too familiar with Narnia to judge objectively. When I think of the books, I think of Pauline Baynes’s drawings. The animated characters are quite unlike her line work. My first thoughts were—but that doesn’t look like Lucy, or Aslan. But the voices are so right, the tones and nuances handled so well, that before five minutes, that animated character was Lucy.

With Aslan I was sure to have difficulty. I had seen a still shot of the character. Too thin, I thought, almost emaciated. But the section showing Aslan on his way to die for Edmund won me over. The slow, ponderous gait of the lion, and his heavy, pain-filled voice make the animation drawing right.

The music, too, fits the tale. There is some delightful orchestration when Mr. Tumnus and Lucy go off to tea at the opening of the story—lots of tripping trills and perky pizzicato. The music changes appropriately and ominously when Mr. Tumnus rushes Lucy off, after confessing to her his wicked deeds.

The White Witch is simply a triumph. (In fact, all the evil characters are well done. It’s easy to see how much fun the animators had with them.) Her voice, her costume (can you say that an animated character has a costume?), her imperious manner, all are exactly in the right spirit. She can produce shivers of fear in children, particularly when she is about to slay Aslan. She shouts that she will rule Narnia forever. That final word reverberates throughout the land—a terrifying sound, even for an adult. I was worried that we would see her strike Aslan and get the full view of the bloodied knife. (It would have looked good on color television.) I’m happy that the producers showed discretion at this point. As the White Witch raises her arm to strike, the lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, telling us the deed has been done.

Lest anyone think I’ve been hired by the network for this puffery, I have a couple of quibbles. Mr. Tumnus hasn’t got a tail. Now that might not matter to most people, but Lewis makes much of that tail, as does Mr. Tumnus later. He says one of his punishments will be that the Witch will cut it off. Too late. An animator beat her to it. I agree with CBS spokeswoman Peggy Rienow that children wouldn’t notice it, or care. But I did. So might other Lewis fans.

Another quibble is with the color of Mr. Tumnus. I am prejudiced. I admit that right away. I don’t like forest green hair or magenta (roughly purply red) faces. Fauns are woodsy creatures, and, I think, might want to blend in with their surroundings. Sorry, Mr. Tumnus. Children probably loved the splashy colors. But I will credit Mr. Tumnus as being one of the best “criers” I’ve seen on television in a long time.

I feel somewhat in the same position as Peter Pan, when he urged his audience to clap for Tinker Bell and save her life. I want everybody to clap for Lion. Write CBS. Write Kraft. With a successful Lion, next year maybe we’ll have Prince Caspian, and then Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and so on, until all seven have been done. And that will be worth sore hands.

Cheryl Forbes is an editor-at-large; she is at present serving as an editor with Genesis Project in New York City.

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