December 12, 2005
With "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" debuting at movie theaters this past weekend, a cinematic path to Narnia's imaginative creator, C.S. Lewis, was opened.
For decades, various avenues already were available for people of varying backgrounds and ages to discover this writer, scholar and leading defender of Christianity. Through his varied works, Lewis exemplified the power of imagination in stories, faith and life.
Lewis was not only a professor at Oxford and Cambridge but an accomplished author in areas such as science fiction and fantasy, literary criticism, theology, philosophy and ethics. An atheist interested in Renaissance literature, a reader looking for a page-turner or a Christian seeking illumination could all appreciate the creativity of Lewis.
But it is perhaps Lewis' seven children's books in "The Chronicles of Narnia" where the power of imagination is most fully displayed. These books don't fit neatly onto the children's literature bookshelf.
Lewis dedicated "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to his goddaughter, noting by the time it was published she would be "too old for fairy tales." He added, though: "But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." That observation reflects imaginative wisdom and joy.
Indeed, Narnia has been well worth visiting at various stages in life since "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the first book Lewis wrote in the series, was published in 1950. For the young (and the rest of us), it's a great adventure. But other positives - such as love, sacrifice, courage and good conquering evil - can be seen as a parent and during times of more mature reflection.
The Christian reader is treated to familiar faith themes as well. For example, Aslan is not just a lion, but is a Christ-like figure who lays down his life for a sinner, and conquers death and the evil one. This merely scratches the surface of Christian analogies in Narnia. As quoted in "A Family Guide to Narnia," Lewis explained: "In reality, however, he [Aslan] is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He has actually done in ours?'"
It is through Narnia that Lewis captures key aspects of imagination - not to imagine just fictional worlds but also the realities of an unseen Savior and what that means in the daily lives of Christians. Indeed, faith and its consequences require imagination.
Therefore, making "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was not like making just any movie. It could be argued that it stood as a more daunting task than the one faced by Mel Gibson with "The Passion of the Christ." Gibson was making an overtly Christian film that mattered mainly to Christians, risked his own money and harbored no great expectations for commercial success. Meanwhile, the film version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" must reach Lewis' monumental achievement of appealing to children and the general public while also pleasing Christians who treasure the religious themes in the book.
Amazingly, this was accomplished in the movie. How? The filmmakers largely stuck to the book. And where they strayed, it was only to enrich to the story cinematically, adding bits of humor and embellishing the battle scene toward the end of the film.
In a crowded theater, I saw the delight of children (although this is not for the very young, like preschoolers) and heard satisfied adults who simply enjoyed a good movie. And I'm sure there were Christians present who were also deeply moved by some powerful Christian imagery.
In the end, the filmmakers deserve praise for trusting the fertile imagination of C.S. Lewis.
Raymond J. Keating is a columnist for Newsday.
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.
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