Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Four children find a magical passage in a wardrobe to a strange land of talking animals, fauns, centaurs, and an evil witch, who may or may not be Satan, depending on how much you want to stretch the analogy.  A prophecy proclaims that the coming of four youths will mean the end of the witch’s reign, which makes her a bit peevish.  Luckily, a furry Jesus is there to reenact a passion play before saving everyone, making it pointless for the kids to have shown up in the first place.

It is always a bit creepy to realize that the seven-book Chronicles of Narnia series is propaganda for children.  Through allegory, metaphors, and, as Lewis considered it, speculations on what it would be like if Jesus popped up in a different world, the stores sneak into a child’s mind, getting him to believe rather than think.  This is the most dangerous kind of propaganda, creating black-clad Christian Templar-Ninjas, who sneak out at night to destroy unbelievers in the name of Aslan, as there is but one Aslan, and Lewis is his prophet…

Except it doesn’t work that way.  There’s no kid’s army.  No Children’s inquisition, no matter how you might view the boy scouts.  Sure the books are Christian propaganda, but the thing about hiding your religion in symbols is that your readers might miss it.  Certainly no adult will.  For anyone over the age of eighteen, the message is so obvious it has the same effect as someone screaming in your face—with his spittle hitting your nose—that God is great.  Even a believer is going to get annoyed.  But these are kid’s books, and while Children can be quite clever, they tend not to be at their best when forced to interpret the theological experience via pagan representations.  At least not until they are at least eight.  It’s still kind of creepy, just not all that important.

Literary scholar and pop Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis was a troubled man.  Abused in a series of boarding schools (and his time in the trenches of WWI probably didn’t help), he was a sexually unfulfilled submissive, who meekly took orders from his thirty-years older married lover at home, and a domineering, spiteful, luddite in the classroom.  He was also highly intelligent with reasonable writing skills and a keen interest in mythology.  An atheist who longed for a world that fit the great folk legends, he was converted to Christianity by J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, that’s the Lord of the Rings guy for anyone who reads this but not books), who pointed out how much the story of Jesus matched the pagan myths.  Tolkien was pleased with his success, but less pleased when Lewis joined the Anglican church instead of becoming Catholic, even less pleased when he wrote Narnia (which Tolkien hated, finding the religious framework too confining), and still less pleased, to the point of giving up on his friend when Lewis took up with the less-than-proper Joy Gresham.  The final bit was actually Lewis’s salvation, though a bit late in life.  In the arms, and more importantly the bed, of a passionate woman, Lewis apparently recovered from his sexual problems, discovered ecstasy in something other than the abstract, and tempered his religious fanaticism.  The Chronicles of Narnia were written after his conversion but before his salvation.

The books are full of the mixed messages of an overly devout and troubled man who could not rise above the prejudices of his time.  While females are given the most important roles, they are often denigrated, particularly if they don’t accept their traditional social position or show signs of sexuality.  The most famous example is that Susan is kept from Heaven because she becomes a sexually mature female.  The novels also show a strong bias for English imperialism (but then so do most of the Swashbucklers, so these flaws should be kept in perspective), and the villains are referred to as “darkies.”  It’s not exactly what I find desirable in children’s literature.  I’m more of a Winnie The Pooh kind of guy.

For the film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Disney and company stuck pretty close to the book (as best that I can recall; I didn’t find it necessary to re-read it for this review).  The Christian symbolism is everywhere, but it is much harder to notice and easy to ignore.  Outside of Aslan’s crucifixion, the religious elements are vague.  However, the film, like the books, has an uninteresting plot due to the Christian belief that you cannot save yourself.  Good stories pit humans against some kind of adversary and have them work out a way of winning the struggle (or they fail).  But in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, none of the actions of the four leads makes any difference.  It’s the lion that matters.  What he does will determine the outcome (he is God, after all)  After spending two hours with these people, I would have liked to have seen them do something.  But the point is that Jesus saves.  All people have to do is wait and have faith.

So, the story goes nowhere, and the characters don’t matter.  But what The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has is pretty special effects.  You think effects can’t make a movie?  Wrong.  This is pretty, pretty stuff: talking animal that walk on two legs, flying griffons, centaurs that actually look like centaurs.  Damn, these people knew how to run a computer.  Yes, people have suggested that a movie should have a good plot and interesting characters, with clever dialog and deep themes.  Well, sometimes.  And sometimes they have cool CGI work.