I'm much more of a Screwtape Letters man myself, but I'm still hoping to drag my sons away from The Lord of the Rings for long enough to go and see The Chronicles of Narnia some time soon. The crowds are out in London for the world premiere tonight.
Is the film a symbol of a Christian revival, à la Mel Gibson? Not necessarily, says Douglas Gresham, Lewis's step-son and producer of the movie:
It's not a Christian film and the Narnia books aren't Christian novels....Jack didn't intend the Narnia books to be an evangelistic fantasy... The myths of Narnia are partly those of the great man-made religions - Norse mythology, Hindu mythology, as well as the true myth of Christ. Exposure to man's myths will make young viewers ask questions about themselves - and only later will the seed of faith take root.
You wouldn't expect ultra-secular Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee to welcome any hint of a faith-based message. Sure enough, she opens her preview in gently sceptical vein:
There are too few practising Christians in the empty pews of this most secular nation to pack cinemas. So there has been a queasy ambivalence about how to sell the Narnia film here.
A fair point. As ever, though, it's not long before Toynbee detects the steady march of a million Republican jackboots:
Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials - has called Narnia "one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read". Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peel in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis's view, too.
Calm down, Polly, replies one equally secular Guardian letter-writer:
Atheists get so fixated on the propaganda elements they fail to see that, like all enduring fiction, Narnia holds multiple messages. I'm happy for my daughter to be reminded that siblings should support each other, and that accepting Turkish Delight from strangers may have serious consequences.
I do think that comparisons to The Passion (which are coming up a lot in Narnia coverage these days) are basically misplaced. In generic terms, The Passion was an edgy, risky indie feature released by a distributor that doesn’t even exist anymore. Narnia is a studio-released franchise picture for kids. Narnia will be judged against Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, The Passion was closer to Taxi Driver. The universe of "Christian" or "conservative" films is certainly large enough to contain both of these sorts of films, but their success depends on a completely different set of factors.
Never mind the cosmic questions, is Lewis guilty of sexism, racism and the rest? In a fine piece linked to by Apuzzo, Michael Nelson comes up with a forthright defence.
Teachers who want to introduce their pupils to the magical kingdom can use the educational aids assembled by the C.S. Lewis Foundation. For more on Lewis and his Oxford soul-mates, the so-called "Inklings", follow the Culture Beat link. Meanwhile his legacy is being celebrated across the Irish Sea in Belfast, the city where he was born.
UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor has more on the debate between liberal and conservative theologians.
UPDATE 2: Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch, sees her character as a political symbol, Reinhard Heydrich in drag:
Calling the White Witch "the ultimate white supremacist", the actress decided the character should look Aryan. "Apart from being a fantasy film, it’s also a historical film," she said. "These are (World War II) children, and their father is away fighting fascism in Europe, so if anything, she should look Nazi. And I actually do throw a Nazi salute."
[Well said - although you do wonder if Swinton, a defiantly unapologetic ex-member of the British Communist Party, would ever be as willing to denounce Leninism. More on that in another post, later.]
People with a bias against Christians, or Christians with a bias against fantasy literature, are quick to point out that C.S. Lewis didn’t intend to write the book just for a Christian audience...The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe clearly has Christian overtones...But if you’re an unbeliever who hasn’t read the Bible and doesn’t know the Gospel message or anything any such things as "salvation" and "redemption", you can still relate to "Christian" traits like self-sacrifice, honour, loyalty, and love.
UPDATE 3: Cathy Seipp weighs the PC evidence against Lewis, as well of the question of how he stacks up against J.K. Rowling. (Via The Anchoress)