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Saturday, December 3, 2005

THE AUTHOR, THE MOVIE, AND THE CONTEXT OF THE STORY

SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN'T READ "THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE" AND YOU DO NOT WANT TO SPOIL THE PLOT - THEN DO NOT READ THIS POST!

I'm not kidding - stop reading.

Alright, but don't blame me if you spoil the story for yourself.


I must confess that although I haven't followed the production or promotion of the "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" movie, I intend to go see it when it opens on December 9th.

I'm a bit dismayed though, to read that there is some disagreement about whether or not the story is rooted in Christian philosophy and is essentially a retelling of the Gospel as a children's story. Apparently there are those among us who wish to recast it merely as an "adventure story that draws on a variety of religious and folklore sources." I haven't read the book in many years (I'll be doing that this week), but even as a child it was quite clear what is the underlying theme of the story C. S. Lewis told. Lewis was a well respected literary critic and an expert in ancient and medieval-Renaissance literature, and he did indeed use many creatures and notions from those writings in the Chronicles of Narina. That knowledge of literature and the power myth, however, was part of the reason he was so successful in communicating his beliefs. As Duncan Sprague said is his article "The Unfundamental C. S. Lewis:"
Perhaps, never in the history of Christendom has one man bridged so many levels of understanding to the story of Christianity. As Garry Friesen, friend and former professor says, "C. S. Lewis became all things to all readers." For the child at heart he created the land of Narnia and the untamed lion/savior, Aslan. For science fiction readers he traveled to Perelandra with Ransom. For the philosopher and theologian he reasoned about pain and miracles, as well as debating doctrines of Christianity and the philosophy of men. For the lover of myth, he wrote an adaptation of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. For the pain stricken he observed grief and spoke of prayer. For those enchanted with rhythm and rhyme he wrote poetry. For those concerned with the afterlife he wrote about Heaven and Hell and exposed the mind of Satan. For the weak and questioning he wrote letters of personal encouragement and advice.

For Lewis, the myths of old, which he was familiar with from his education, contained hints and shadows of God's truth, but these were only understood partially. They are, as Carol Hamilton writes, "unformed forecasts of God's ultimate plan." It is in the Gospel, as no where else, that the great stories of myth find their ultimate fleshing out in historical fact.
A glance at some of the themes and symbols should make the Christian basis of Narnia obvious to anyone that has even a passing acquaintance with Western culture and the Bible. The following borrows from SparksNotes, a free online study guide from Barnes & Noble.
The White Witch - Allegorically, the White Witch could be a symbol of Satan. In the novel, the Witch plays the role of the "Emperor's hangman" and she has the right to kill any Narnian caught in an act of treachery. The Witch's role is parallel to the role of Satan, to whom the souls of damned sinners are forfeited. The Witch's right to kill sinners is a literal representation of Satan's capacity to impose spiritual death after the death of the body. The novel, however, does not seem to make a one-to-one correspondence between the Witch and Satan. It is more likely that the Witch is simply an evil person in the service of Satan, rather than an allegorical representation of the Prince of Darkness himself.

Edmund and the Turkish Delight - Edmund's descent into the Witch's service begins during his frantic consumption of the magic Turkish Delight. Since this is enchanted Turkish Delight, Edmund cannot be held accountable for his gluttony as if he were overindulging in ordinary candy. The real sin occurs when Edmund allows himself to fixate on the Turkish Delight long after he leaves the Witch. Edmund's consumption of the Turkish Delight may also be a reference to the sin of Adam and Eve, when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve also committed a sin of consumption, and God punishes them as well. Edmund's gluttony for the Turkish Delight alludes to Adam and Eve's desire to eat the apple.

Edmund fixates on the candy to an excessive degree, even for a child. Edmund does not seem to care when he hands over his brother and sisters to a woman whom he knows deep down is a dangerous witch. Edmund is human, however, and no matter how evil he acts while in the service of the Witch, he is never so far gone that he cannot redeem himself. Edmund does atone for his sins and transform his character. The first change happens when the Witch treats Edmund like a slave rather than a prince. Ultimately, it is up to Edmund to redeem himself and complete his transformation. This change takes a tremendous force of will and courage, but in the end, Edmund finds freedom.

Aslan and the Stone Table - In the allegory of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan, of course, represents Christ. Aslan's death to save Edmund's life and his subsequent resurrection are clear references to the life of Christ.

The Stone Table refers to the stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai, according to the Bible. These tablets contained the Ten Commandments and they represent an older, stricter form of religion. When Aslan rises from the dead, the Stone Table is shattered, signifying the end of an old order and the beginning of a new era. Aslan has defeated death.

The Quotes - The White Witch: "Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?" asked the Witch. "Let us say I have forgotten it," answered Aslan gravely. "Tell us of this Deep Magic." "Tell you?" said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. "Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us? Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill? Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea? You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill.... And so that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property... unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water." "It is very true," said Aslan, "I do not deny it."

Aslan: At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise—a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant's plate.... The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan. "Who's done it?" cried Susan. "What does it mean? Is it more magic?" "Yes!" said a great voice from behind their backs. "It is more magic." They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself. "Oh, Aslan!" cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.... "But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer. "It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."
Now, if that ton of allegorical bricks isn't enough to convice you. Why don't you just take the author's word for it. From the Times Online:
AN unpublished letter from the novelist C. S. Lewis has provided conclusive proof of the Christian message in his Narnia children’s books.

In the letter, sent to a child fan in 1961, Lewis writes: “The whole Narnian story is about Christ.” It has been found by Walter Hooper, literary adviser to the Lewis estate.

Brian Sibley, author of Shadowlands, the book which describes Lewis’s marriage to Joy Gresham, said: “This is the most specific explanation of Narnia I have heard.”

Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson, said recently: “Churches in Britain and America are promoting the film as a Christian film, but it’s not . . . and the Narnia books aren’t Christian novels.”

The letter, written from Magdalene College, Cambridge, where Lewis was a don, contradicts this. “Supposing there really was a world like Narnia . . . and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?” he wrote.

“The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of talking beasts, I thought he would become a talking beast there as he became a man here. I pictured him becoming a lion there because a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; b) Christ is called ‘the lion of Judah’ in the Bible.”

The text is contained in a volume of Lewis letters to be published next year.

Lewis may have taken some poetic license by using talking animals and many familiar characters from folklore and mythology such as Fauns, Dryands, Naiads and Dwarfs. However he did this in order to appeal to his audience - children. This however, is no basis for denying the story's central Christian theme. To claim otherwise is just "witchful" thinking.

3 comments:

brainhell 12/04/2005 12:37:00 AM  

> We've finally given liberals a war against fundamentalism

Who's "we?" Coulter iasAl Qaeda? To you my friend I say: GOOD LUCK!

Kevin 12/04/2005 12:43:00 AM  

I think she meant "we" as in conservatives; and by liberal she meant "you" and your fellows on the otherside of the aisle.

John 12/04/2005 12:17:00 PM  

Sheesh I first read the Narnia series in junion high and thought the Christian message was so evident Lewis practically copied the Bible verbatim. An enjoyable series I have fond memories of, I certainly hope the director of this movie doesn't screw it up like the movie "Sum of All Fears" trashed Clancy's masterpiece. Changing the villains from Muslim extremists to neo-Nazis, gimme a break!

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