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Christian Themes Suffused in C.S. Lewis' Beloved Narnia Tale

  • Rebecca Grace AgapePress
  • 2005 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Christian Themes Suffused in C.S. Lewis' Beloved Narnia Tale

After nearly 13 years in the making, one of the most beloved pieces of children's literature comes to life using technology unimaginable by its author when first published in 1950. Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media bring C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to the big screen on Friday, December 9.

Authentic costumes, computer-generated animation, cutting-edge software and astounding special effects transport viewers into the breathtaking land of Narnia. There audiences become one with the classic tale, in which good triumphs over evil.

As described by Walden Media, "the story follows the exploits of the four Pevensie siblings – Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter – who enter the world of Narnia through the back of a magical wardrobe while playing a game of 'hide and seek' in the rural country home of an elderly professor."

The children discover a fantasyland with mythical creatures, talking animals and an evil witch who has cursed the once peaceful land with eternal winter. It only lasts until the children come under the guidance of a noble lion who leads his followers into a battle freeing Narnia from its icy spell forever.

Behind the Wardrobe

Behind the literary masterpiece is the late C.S. "Jack" Lewis, born as Clive Staples Lewis, who is considered one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" resulted from a conversation between Lewis and author J.R.R. Tolkien ("The Lord of the Rings") about the bewailing state of children's literature in the 1940s. They agreed that no one was writing literature that taught children lessons about life, so they decided to do it themselves.

"The result is we have some of the finest and most refined English literature ever produced …" said Lewis' stepson Douglas Gresham in an interview with AFA Journal.

For the Christmas moviegoing season, director Andrew Adamson and filmmaker Mark Johnson ( both Oscar winners) have turned this acclaimed literary work into a major motion picture. "It's a visually-stunning, beautiful movie, and it's very exciting and moving, and it's amusing," Gresham said.

Beyond the Wardrobe

Yet, at the story's core, there is more.

"It does encapsulate and exemplify all those great values commonly needed ... throughout the centuries – chivalry, honor, commitment, courage, courtesy -- all of the things that the 20th century has tried to do away with as being outmoded and out of date," Gresham explained.

And even beyond the moral message, there is a symbolic story of biblical proportions that illustrates Lewis' personal relationship with Christ.

"His faith permeates everything he wrote ..." explained Dr. Michael Travers, English professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, published author, literary scholar, and Lewis expert.

"[But] Jack didn't sit down to write a Christian book to begin with," Gresham said. "[Rather] what he did was he asked himself a question.

"The question was:  Suppose there was a land or world where the animals could talk with the people and they lived in friendly harmony with mythological creatures like fauns and centaurs. ... And suppose somehow evil managed to get into that world, and God had to save that world like He had to save this one," Gresham explained on behalf of the late Lewis. "How might this come about? What might it have been like? How would it have happened?

"His answer to that ... supposal was 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.'"

Being Faithful to the Wardrobe

And so the story unfolds as industry insiders claim the film to be a faithful adaptation of the book.

Michael Flaherty, president of Walden Media, the company that produced the film, was immediately aware of the responsibility that accompanied taking the tale from print to film. So his company adopted "faithful adaptation" as its mantra and named Gresham as co-producer.

"Any time we had any kind of question ... Douglas could actually reference conversations he had with C.S. Lewis," Flaherty added. "So that's when we knew we were doing everything we could to be faithful."

"[However] you're not going to see on the screen exactly the movements described in every frame of the book. You're not going to hear exactly the words," Gresham explained.

"But the main story .. is a faithful representation in the film medium of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,'" he added.

"If we successfully brought the book to film, then everything would be there," Flaherty said.  "Whatever people bring to the book, they'll bring to the film," he added.

Beneath the Wardrobe

So what's really beneath the story that seems to fascinate Christians?  Travers offers a detailed examination of the biblical parallels and Christian symbolism that permeate "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

According to Travers, when it comes to the Christian elements in the story, "Lewis responded by saying that ... he suffuses Christianity throughout the book."

For example, Travers compared Lewis' approach to writing fairy stories to a multi-colored tapestry. Just as rich blends of color and images are woven into a tapestry, so is Christianity woven into the story of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

"[Therefore] Christianity is apprehended through the imagination and emotions before the intellect in [all seven books of] 'The Chronicles of Narnia' [series]," Travers said. "[So] by embedding the theology in the whole of the book, some people won't realize they're getting theology. Others, of course, will realize it and appreciate it."

Bewitchment of the Wardrobe

Since the Christianity in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is embedded, many parents may immediately question its appropriateness because it includes evil, magic, violence and a witch.

"The question for parents is not whether they should allow their children to see the movie or read the book on that ground alone," Travers explained. "The question is, rather, how is the evil presented? Is it shown to be evil, or is it presented as attractive?

"Evil in Narnia is clearly very evil," he said. "It would be difficult to conceive of a child preferring the White Witch [who is selfish, cruel and nasty] to Aslan [the messianic lion]. ... On the other hand, good is presented as attractive in Narnia. Aslan is gracious, strong and loving. Peter, Susan, Lucy, and eventually even Edmund, rise to their highest powers under the influence of Narnia good."

In other words, good is victorious over evil as a result of the redemption brought to Narnia through the death and resurrection of Aslan. Furthermore, the magic is not to be understood as an occultic power but rather as a type of enchantment that brings to light the issue of law and grace.

"The other point to remember is that, unlike the 'Harry Potter' series, evil magic in Narnia is never praised and never victorious," Travers said. "Edmund's evil is pure arrogance and selfishness; it needs no magic to augment it.

"Further, the lines between Narnia and our world are clear. In this novel, it is a big wardrobe that provides entrance to the magical world of Narnia, and everyone knows when the human children have crossed from one world into another and back again. This, too, distinguishes 'Narnia' from 'Harry Potter.'"

"Sometimes truth and light need darkness to be amplified, and I think that's clearly the case with this," Flaherty added.

Such a thought justifies Lewis' inclusion of a battle in the story. While the book merely mentions the battle, the movie plays it up to be "the apocalyptic battle, in reverse, of the entire world," Gresham said.

The movie battle is between 20,000 combatants: Aslan's noble warriors and the White Witch's evil creatures – many of which may be too scary for young children.

However, Gresham claimed it never loses sight of the personal involvement of the protagonists, which viewers can only hope stays true to Lewis' intentions of a "cushioned" violence, as referred to by Travers.

"The child should not see so much violence that it creates trauma," said Travers, paraphrasing Lewis. "But he should see enough violence to recognize that it's part of the world around us ... [And in a way] that it's controlled, and if I can say it theologically, by God's sovereignty."

Beliefs from the Wardrobe

Therefore, Travers views this story as a spiritual lesson about good and evil. As a guideline for viewing the movie, Flaherty tells parents that if their child can read or listen to the book without any qualms, then the child can see the film. Gresham noted that the PG-rated movie may be inappropriate for anyone under six years old due to the realistic imagery. However, if there is any question, parents are encouraged to view the movie first to determine if it is suitable for the maturity of their children.

"[This] magic, along with ... evil, should present opportunities for parents to talk with their children about moral and spiritual issues and help guide their thinking as they read the book or watch the movie," Travers encouraged.

Biblical parallels and symbolism taken from Travers' teachings, include:

  • Aslan:  a model of Christ
  • Battle:  struggle between good and evil
  • Pevensie siblings:  Christ's ambassadors
  • Statues brought to life by Aslan: salvation; Pentecost
  • Deep Magic:  Old Testament Law
  • Deeper Magic:  God's grace
  • Edmund's waywardness:  sin
  • White Witch:  evil

The symbolism can easily be identified in the context of the story and can be expanded upon as parents and children read the story and/or view the movie together.

"Reading the book with the child, answering questions and encouraging their right understanding before they see the movie will be helpful," Travers said.  "I advise [parents] to enter Narnia with their children," he added. "This is a parent's opportunity, not a stumbling block."


© 2005 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.