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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

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» In Through The Wardrobe from Ed Driscoll.com
Clive Davis, one of the many great journalists and bloggers I met at the Pajamas Launch in New York last month, has a first look at Hollywood's take on The Chronicles of Narnia.... [Read More]

» Giant Ape Vs. Mystical Lion from Ace of Spades HQ
More important than the unending war of Man vs. Woman, of course, is the question of who will win the box office battle -- mighty Kong or wise Aslan? The debate started here, about 20 or so comments into the... [Read More]

» Christian Imagery in Narnia from Fantasy Fiction for Christians
Stories like Narnia and Harry Potter are so popular because they “echo the Great Story we are wired to receive and respond to,” says John Granger, Orthodox Christian and author of Finding God in Harry Potter. [Read More]

» Narnia: The Dark Night of Christian Fascism Descends from Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0
Sigh... I was hoping it wouldn't have to be like this, but apparently the elites are in full KILL! mode over any hint of Christian themes in the Narnia movie. It's The Passion all over again. Expect a deluge of... [Read More]

» The Blogger, the Guardian and the Christian philosopher/author from Shameless Self-Promotion
As we near the premiere of the cinematic version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the controversy and criticisms that followed the books returns again. One of the people leading the charge against it is author Phillip Pullman,... [Read More]

» The Blogger, the Guardian and the Christian philosopher/author from Shameless Self-Promotion
As we near the premiere of the cinematic version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the controversy and criticisms that followed the books returns again. One of the people leading the charge against it is author Phillip Pullman,... [Read More]

» Narnia: The Dark Night of Christian Fascism Descends from Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0
Sigh... I was hoping it wouldn't have to be like this, but apparently the elites are in full KILL! mode over any hint of Christian themes in the Narnia movie. It's The Passion all over again. Expect a deluge of... [Read More]

Comments

Scott S.

It is an interesting thing that leftists such as Polly Toynbee are always calling people they don't like (e.g. Americans, Christians) fascists, and yet the people who do the bulk of the fighting against actual, real-life fascists are often so-called right-wingers (see Churchill), not to mention often Americans, and sometimes Christians. People need to lighten up about the Narnia books, for crying out loud. Children love them, and I have never heard a child say they loved Polly Toynbee.

Kevin

I've never understood the christian relationship with this series of novels. I mean, the writer is a big christian, but... that's as far as I got. It's a fun book for an introduction to the fantasy genre.

Nothing against Christians. Heck I claim to be one when asked (but I'm a lazy one at best). This just isn't Christian. It's just fun.

Frank Sarsfield

C.S. Lewis was a joyful person and a lot of fun. He wrote these stories to entertain children. Because he also happened to be a Christian and a moralist, the stories lend themselves to those subjects too. Nonetheless, Lewis resisted all attempts to caricature his fiction.

Flannery O'Connor was likewise a committed Christian, as was Tolkien, but they considered themselves to be writers, not merely Christian writers, or writers for Christians, or fiction evangelists.

Mal Carne

I wish I could agree with the asessments of Lewis.. but y'all haven't read "The Last Battle", have you? It brings the religion front and center, and hews a little too closely to Revelations for this neo-pagan's taste. Never a favorite of mine... but I love the others.

NOLA

Of course Narnia is a Christian series: Its principal character is Christ himself, as re-imagined for another world.

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan even declares himself to be Christ, telling Lucy why he brought her and the other children to Narnia: "This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there (on Earth)."

And so also for Narnia's child readership: Lewis intended allow his young readers to visit Christ in a setting more compelling, and far less stale, their their accustomed trips to church and Sunday school.

Perelandra, another of Lewis' work, and this one intended for adults rather than children, also features Christian "science fiction." In this case, by a recreation of the story of the temptation of Eve.

celebrim

C.S. Lewis's stories are fairly philosophical - occassionally even deep and intellectual - Christian allegories. That is pretty much without question. When characters in the story become pedantic, then you can be fairly certain that you are hearing Lewis in the background either defending tradiational Christian philosophy or attacking its modern critics.

But you don't have to read them that way if you don't want to, and I wouldn't want to force anyone to. You can read them just as Children's fantasy adventure stories. They work perfectly fine at that level. Heck, when I was eight, that's how I read them to. The whole debate between Platonic philosophy and the existentialists went right over my head, and I'm perfectly happy if it goes right over most everyone's elses heads too. Enjoy the story.

However, I do get a little tired of hearing how deeply un-Christian the stories are, as if Lewis's Christianity or the books Christian themes are embarassing stains on the carpet which must be apologized for to the guests. The real secret to Narnia's success is that Lewis is a better thinker than he is a writer. Lewis prose or even Lewis's ideas don't put him the first rank of writers, nor would they win for him the devotion of so many fans. You cannot pretend that what makes the Narnia stories such classics is Lewis's skillful story telling or cunning turn of a phrase. Lewis's work endures precisely because so much thought was put into it and precisely because he wants to tackle what turn out to be some pretty heady issues once you get past the witches, lamp posts, one footed dwarves, and talking donkeys. People can pretend that the reason that Lewis's (or even more so Tolkein's) work endures as a classic of fantasy because he's such a great writer all they want, but its never been Lewis's writing or adoption of pre-Christian European mythic elements that have made thier works enduring. Fantasy is foremost about the meaning of good and evil, and they endure because, whether you notice them or not, they are grounded in a very deep consideration of the nature of good and evil, which is also why so much other otherwise well written fantasy doesn't seem to work.

It never ceases to amaze me how overtly hostile to those facts people can be. The Chronicles may not be solely evangelical works, but its not like Lewis was hostile to evangelism. Deal with it.

Pink Pig

I haven't seen the movie yet, though I read the book (for the first time) last weekend. I fully expect I will enjoy it, as I am also certain that I will enjoy King Kong, and no doubt many movies yet to be made.

But come on, everybody. This is very clearly a children's book, in a way that Lord of the Rings is not. The Narnia characters have almost no depth whatsoever -- Frodo has more personality in his little finger than the entire Narnia world, not to mention Gandalf, Aragorn, Elrond, Gollum, ...

After careful scientific analysis, I have determined that the book does indeed have a message: Don't take candy from strangers. If you are 8 years old, this is indeed an important lesson, and not entirely obvious at that; but adults, who I assume are the main commenters here, don't need to be taught that any more.

As to whether it is a Christian allegory, consider that if the main thrust of the plot involves a mysterious godlike character (Aslan) giving up his life to save a sinner (Edmund), then is miraculously resurrected and presides at the rout of the forces of evil, well, you may be forgiven if you think this may be related to Christian theology. I rather suspect that that's what Lewis had in mind. [Sorry about the spoiler, but I am guessing that everyone reading this already knows what happens.]

David N. Scott

I don't understand how His Dark Materials is secular. It's about a God figure being overthrown by a Lucifer figure.

In what sense is that 'secular'?

Remo Williams, The Master of Sinanju

This reminds me of part of of Stephen King's novel, IT.

One of his characters, Bill Denborough, goes to college with dreams of becoming a writer and he enrolls in a creative writing class during one of the most radical parts of the late sixties/early seventies (I forget the actual date within the novel).

Everyone in the class, including the teacher, is heavily political or purpose-driven in some way. Pro-feminist, anti-war, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-Whatever, and it shows in their writing.

Bill finally stands up and says (in a somewhat disjointed speech): well, yeah, all of this stuff is important and is crucial as part of the culture and structure and all. But, isn't the writing the most important part?

He finishes with the plea, "Can't you guys let a story just be a story?"

Everyone just looks at him with a sort of silent disgust.

But, Bill gets the last laugh, since he becomes a famous novelist.

Chronicles of Narnia are good stories. That's it.

Finally, on a personal note, I write in my spare time. Frankly, I'd rather be Terry Pratchett than Ernest Hemingway.

celebrim

"Finally, on a personal note, I write in my spare time. Frankly, I'd rather be Terry Pratchett than Ernest Hemingway."

Heh. I would too. I know which of the two sales more books. Even more importantly, I know which one writes stories I want to read more than once, and its not the one that gets the glowing praise and respect from the literary establishment.

'Stuttering' Bill and JRR Tolkein share literary philosophies (and with Stephen King, since Bill is clearly Stephen's voice.) That's why JRRT's works are not allegorical in a normal sense, and anyone who interprets them in an allegorical fashion is off base and has a rather shallow understanding of Tolkien's methods. JRR Tolkien hated metaphors. He believed that unless a thing had a one to one and onto relationship with the thing that it represented, that it simply clouded understanding rather than clarifying it.

But his friend CS Lewis did not share this belief. It was one of the many things that the disagreed over. They were in some fashions opposites. You can certainly let either Tolkien's or Lewis's works just be a story, but if you did you would be missing part of Lewis's intention.

And I think you'd be missing a good part of Terry Pratchett's intention if just thought of it only as a good story.

James Stephenson

I am reading the Chronicles now.

I can see the hints of Christianity, Son of Adam, Daugther of Eve. But it is not overpowering.

Maybe people like these stories because they have a good and evil side. Remember Vader, first scene you see him, he in all black walks onto the starship which is snow white. And kills a guy. OK this guy is evil. Sure, he gets redemption in the end, but that first movie was good vs evil. Even the 2nd movie had that.

LOTR the orcs, Sauron, Sauraman, Urikei. Guess what, those guys are evil. Frodo, the embodiment of good.

Harry Potter, no Question that Voldemont is Evil. Harry good.

If form holds true, this movie will make a mint.

Good vs Evil, people are wired to love these stories.

speedwell

Look, I'm an atheist (ex-Christian) and I loved the Narnia books when i first read them as a child, and I love them even more now.

What everyone is taking for a Christian message in the books is really very little (if any) more than the standard, basic, sun-hero- story allegory that's common to nearly all "mystery religions," mythology, fable, and even the Tarot.

C.S. Lewis was well known for his studies of comparative religion and mythology. He held the view that all pre-Christian religions and mythology were "foreshadowings" of Christianity in that he believed God had revealed some of the "truth" to people before the advent of Christ.

Any "Christianity" that seems to present itself to you in the Narnia milieu is really just that, the things Christianity has in common with pre-Christian beliefs. You would be more likely than not to think of it as "Christian" for a few reasons. First, C.S. Lewis is a famous Christian apologist. Second, Christianity is really the only religion you're familiar with that contains all these elements. Third, there exist story elements in Narnia that are not Christian, that come from the other traditions, but you would be less likely to be familiar with those and to be able to see them for what they are.

celebrim

"Any "Christianity" that seems to present itself to you in the Narnia milieu is really just that, the things Christianity has in common with pre-Christian beliefs. You would be more likely than not to think of it as "Christian" for a few reasons. First, C.S. Lewis is a famous Christian apologist. Second, Christianity is really the only religion you're familiar with that contains all these elements. Third, there exist story elements in Narnia that are not Christian, that come from the other traditions, but you would be less likely to be familiar with those and to be able to see them for what they are."

This is extremely insulting. I'll start at the bottom and work back.

In addition to being a born again Christian, I'm also a student of European myth, a fantasy Role Playing gamer, have read more than 300 fantasy novels, and have studied comparative religion. How the heck do you know that I - or anyone else - aren't familiar with other religious traditions. For all you know, I'm a converted neo-pagan Wotan worshiper.

Secondly, again, how do you know I'm not familiar with Zoarstrianism, Mithranism, Egyptian mystery religions, Buddism, Mithran blood cults, Islam, Celtic, Greek, and Norse myths and the like? I think it is really telling that you immediately leap to the explanation of ignorance to explain why people hold a different view than yourself. How do you know that I'm not familiar not only with those texts, but with with the archaelogy of those texts - perhaps at least as familiar with you.

Firstly, yes, CS Lewis is in fact a famous Christian apologist. How do you know that there are not subtle Christian apologist arguments embedded in the text which one would not detect unless one was every bit of a student of Christian apologetics as you are of comparative religion? Aren't you aware that your attribution that Christian mythic elements are common amongst world religions goes straight against the argument of the writer himself, who by his own account converted after studying the world's religions and myths and coming to the conclusion that Christianity alone held singular and remarkable claims. This is a repeated element of his openly apologetic works. Given that, wouldn't you find it rather strange that this student of myth and comparative religion would embed in his stories only that which is common to all religious traditions? Perhaps you may not believe that I know abit about other religions and myths, but by your own admission CS Lewis was something of an expert.

The view that "pre-Christian religions and mythology were "foreshadowings" of Christianity in that he believed God had revealed some of the "truth" to people before the advent of Christ." is not a view which is in any way remarkable or unique amongst Christians. CS Lewis was on firm theological ground. The idea of the 'virtuous pagan' is probably as old as Christianity itself, and has long been an official doctrine of the Catholic church. It has its roots in the tales of Christ's respect for non-Christians, like the wise Centurian, and Paul's declaration that God had 'written his laws' on the hearts of those who had not heard his word with thier ears. (In fact, in the seventh book we explicitly encounter one of these virtous pagans.) The idea that certain pre-Christian writers, like say Plato, had recieved a degree of divine inspiration was at the heart of Medieval European culture. It's not like dealing with non-Christian writers and myths is a new thing for the Church.

"What everyone is taking for a Christian message in the books is really very little (if any) more than the standard, basic, sun-hero- story allegory that's common to nearly all "mystery religions," mythology, fable, and even the Tarot."

Whatever that declaration declares about your expertise in mystery religions, mythology, fable, and the Tarot, I believe it declares a certain lack of familiarity with CS Lewis and Christian apologetics. I'm glad you enjoy the stories. I'm glad that you find its borrowing of European mythic elements edifying. But these mythic elements are just the obvious clothes of the story, the sort of inescable features that cause some in the Church to denounce CS Lewis as a pagan. The bones of the story, the stuff which lies below the surface, reflect the theology of the author.

Jett Loe

Have just moved to here to Belfast, (birthplace of C.S. Lewis), so I thought I'd read the books to help understand this strange, strange place. Will not speculate what it is like to read the books as a child but the general 'vibe' of the books does seem to be evangelical - which is the problem people have with them no? It's one thing to be a small c christian and have one's faith infuse your creative work - another to create a piece that is designed if not to convert than at the very least instruct one in the main tenents of the faith...

Assistant Village Idiot

celebrim consistently nails it. Of course, his self description sounds a lot like mine, so I'm perhaps not impartial. But I will say I loved the first comment here before I knew any identifying info. I haven't put any recent Lewis material up on my own site, but I'll make an effort between now and Christmas. Your evaluation of Lewis's appeal is spot on. He doesn't write as well as Tolkien, not by a long shot. But his thinking is among the most powerful in the century, and it permeates all his work. With the Kurzweil book coming out and all the fuss about GRIN technologies, his Abolition of Man is especially prescient. And reading an interview with Kurzweil is eerily reminiscent of Weston's bombast at the end of Out of The Silent Planet.

Lewis's models, Chesterton and MacDonald, have the same weakness of thinking better than they write.

Speedwell, I love your tag, and your comments have some merit, but the foundation is just wrong. We have the words of the author on this, not just speculation. His Letters to Children spell it out even more.

I didn't see LOTR and I won't likely see Narnia.

NOLA

Someone wondered why Pullman's "His Dark Materials" was considered secular---it's principally because he founded his fantastic elements on sci-fi premises. That, and his rather genuine hatred of the Christian concept of God.

The God figure in Pullman's work, "The Authority" resembles the gnostic vision of the Demiurge, than anything else. He is a deceiver and jailkeeper of the cosmos.

Pullman has a tendency to stay foolish things in public, whether about CS Lewis or George Bush. Very clever, but he's not a terribly disciplined mind. It shows in the rather disorderly, lurching progress of his otherwise brilliant "His Dark Materials."

constablesavage

I found the Narnia books deeply creepy as a child and was repelled by them. Lewis' other works are considerably better, but also marred by his fascination with sadistic themes, as in Screwtape letters.

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader a child finds an object, I think it is a bell, with an inscription on it saying if he does not ring it he will go mad wondering what would have happened if he did. He rings it, in defiance of an earlier order, and this is portrayed as a moral fall. Lewis' idea of a good child is meant to obey authority, even at the risk of actual insanity. He gets too much enjoyment from contemplating this sort of thing.

Narnia fans tend to shy away from the conclusion of the Last Battle, but this is a childrens' book which ends with the killing of all the child characters who are told their death means that "school" is over and the "holiday" has begun. Bypassing that nasty messy business of adulthood. It's not even a particularly christian message, more a nihilistic assertion that life is meaningless, and that a kind God would haul us of to heaven straightaway. But that's the kind of Christian Lewis was.

And even as a child I thought there was something disturbing about the way in which in Narnia the children can live for years, growing into adults, and yet return to childhood when they get back to this world. Children do realise at quite a young age that there is such a thing as sexual maturity, so what does this make his magically rejuvenated heroes?

And it annoys me that the children with glasses are the morally weak ones who tend to fail Lewis' moral hurdles. He's a sour piece of work.

celebrim

"I found the Narnia books deeply creepy as a child and was repelled by them."

Ok, so now I'm curious. What books do you like?

"In Voyage of the Dawn Treader a child finds an object, I think it is a bell, with an inscription on it saying if he does not ring it he will go mad wondering what would have happened if he did. He rings it, in defiance of an earlier order, and this is portrayed as a moral fall."

We encounter "Pandora's" bells like this all the time. There are three things you can do when you encounter one. Two are easy. One is hard.

"Lewis' idea of a good child is meant to obey authority, even at the risk of actual insanity."

Err... no. Lewis's 'good child' sees a bell he's not supposed to ring, and puts it out of his head. But that's actually a simplification. Lewis believes that there is more than one sort of good child. It's not the angelic child that he's most interested in or which he makes most central to the story.

"He gets too much enjoyment from contemplating this sort of thing."

No, I suppose he gets no enjoyment out of it at all. For one thing, I'd imagine that he considers himself one of the ones that rings the bell, eats the turkish delight, and so forth.

"Narnia fans tend to shy away from the conclusion of the Last Battle, but this is a childrens' book which ends with the killing of all the child characters who are told their death means that "school" is over and the "holiday" has begun."

Well, there never is a one to one correspondence between the metaphor and the thing it stands for, but I feel I must here let you in on a secret. All stories carried on long enough eventually have to deal with the deaths of the protagonists. Thier story. My story. Your story. Sooner or later, our stories are going to have our deaths in them. I really can't imagine any real Narnia fans shying away from the conclusion at all, seeing as they are rather remarkable in that the story DOESN'T end with the death of the characters. The real question is not whether its honest for a story to end with the death of the characters, but whether its honest for them to not end that way.

"It's not even a particularly christian message, more a nihilistic assertion that life is meaningless, and that a kind God would haul us of to heaven straightaway."

I hate to appeal to authority here, but wouldn't it stand to reason that Lewis knows abit more about Christian theology than you do?

"And even as a child I thought there was something disturbing about the way in which in Narnia the children can live for years, growing into adults, and yet return to childhood when they get back to this world. Children do realise at quite a young age that there is such a thing as sexual maturity, so what does this make his magically rejuvenated heroes?"

Knowing the kind of man that Lewis was, my guess is virgins.

"And it annoys me that the children with glasses are the morally weak ones who tend to fail Lewis' moral hurdles."

Yeah, and also his most heroic figures. His kids with glasses tend to be the frail, weak sorts, but they also tend to get thier act together and triumph in the end. If you really wanted to complain about sterotyping, I would have thought you'd complain about the fact that the only true moral failures in the books tend to be beautiful women.

"He's a sour piece of work."

Err... Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle?

CMinor

I have to say that it's sad to see some people so terrified of Christianity that they'd panic over a movie that is aimed at kids and extols virtues like loyalty, sacrifice, courage and love. Christian or not, I would think most parents would desire those traits to be passed on to their children. Unfortunately so many people are so focused on being 'anti-christian' that they make the leap to think that these Christian characteristics/morals/ethics should also be avoided, and that all Christians everywhere are all part of some evil plot to ...do something evil, I guess.

I've seen the film, and I am a born-again Christian, and yes, the Christian imagery is there. In fact, there's quite a lot of it. But before we all reach for our pitchforks, let me point out that most of the imagery is not easy to spot unless you have at least a passing familiarity with the Bible. Of course you'd probably have to be asleep to not realise the meaning of Aslan's "death itself will have to turn back" speech after his resurrection, but most viewers wouldn't get the significance of Aslan's "It is finished" unless they were familiar with John 19:30. Aslan breathing on the stone captives will probably not be interpreted by many as the 'breath of life' from Revelation 3. And so on and so forth - there are many more examples.

Suffice to say, as with most forms of art, symbolism can, does, and will exist but will only be found, ironically, when you 'ask, seek, and knock'. Frankly, if you're not a Christian then you're going to miss a lot of the symbolism, and if you don't even realise it's there I can't understand how it could possibly influence you (or your children for that matter). That being said I again point out that the Christian moral code is not something that should be made shameful just because it's Christian. Born-again believer or not, I think that 'love your neighbour', 'don't steal', 'be loyal to those you love' etc. are ideals that can and should be embraced by all.

But bottom line: there are some critics who are acting as if people are being forced to go to this movie that will somehow make them Christian against their will (though of course the Bible clearly states that accepting Jesus must be a conscious decision, so there's no such thing as accidental Christianity).

If you're that worried at the thought of a movie with christian content: don't go. It's pretty much agreed upon that kids won't pick up on the symbolism so you don't need to worry about them. Just ... don't go. There are movies I choose not to go to all the time because they conflict with what I believe I should watch as a Christian. I don't panic, I don't write articles about them, I don't condemn the filmmakers as people attempting to corrupt me. I just don't go. It's really pretty easy.

CMinor

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