"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" just passed "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" to make it the number two top-grossing film released in 2005. It is fair to say that Narnia has eclipsed just about everyone's expectations and the sequel – "Prince Caspian" – is already green-lit for release in December 2007.
Rising with "Narnia"'s box office receipts is interest in the story's creator, C.S. Lewis. While there are a number of good Lewis biographies, those introduced to his stories via film might prefer that medium to gain insight into his life. Fortune has smiled upon them.
The Hallmark Channel, in association with Gaiam, Lightworks and Faith & Values Media, has created "C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia," a dramatized look at Lewis' life and works. Clocking in at just under an hour, this movie covers more ground than the well-received "Shadowlands" (which focused almost exclusively on Lewis' romance with Joy Davidman). And while the film is not exhaustive in its coverage, it serves as an outstanding introduction that will entice viewers to look more deeply – or, in Lewis' terms, to go "further up and further in."
"Beyond Narnia" mixes a lively Lewis (well-played by Anton Rogers, who provides the theological, philosophical, and sometimes whimsical, context) with dramatic reenactments of scenes from his life. The film is often emotionally moving, but for those who treasure the ideas behind the man, it also illuminates many of the important concepts in a wide array of Lewis' writings. Much of the narration is near-verbatim quotations from Lewis' books. Four of these ideas are especially
prevalent: the relationship between imagination and longing, the persistence of God's love, the alien nature that pervades human life and the journey and destination of faith.
Imagination and Longing
In "Surprised by Joy," Lewis' autobiography, he introduces his readers to the concept of sehnsucht – a kind of desperate longing for something that slips away just as you intend to grasp it. In many of his writings Lewis comments on the power of sehnsucht and the way that it points beyond this world. "Beyond Narnia" introduces this concept, without naming it, by exploring Lewis' first contact, as a child, with it.
As a boy, Lewis and his brother, Warnie, often played together by making up fanciful stories populated by talking animals and characters out of mythology. Lewis comments that "Imagination reflects heavenly truth. It took me a long time to realize that fact. There's no escaping it." One day, Warnie shows Jack a tiny garden that he has constructed on a cookie tin. Lewis is fascinated. He describes the experience as a combination of "bliss, loss and longing all at once, a desire beyond words." He calls it "Joy."
In our modern manufactured world, it might be hard to imagine such a stirring idea growing out of a homemade toy. The idea of longing (with its corresponding requirement to wait) is experienced in the West as a sense of unease – a feeling that things are not as they should be and that there should be something more. Lewis puts a name to that desire, and if viewing the film brought only that idea to light for discussion it would be invaluable.
God's Ever-Approaching Step
"Beyond Narnia" chronicles Lewis' journey from praying child to preaching professor -- but it does not leave out some messy detours along the way. In the film, Lewis, as a child, adores his mother. When she falls ill with lung cancer, he prays fervently for a miracle so that she might recover. Even when she dies, Lewis is undaunted. He prays that God will bring her back – reasoning that God has resurrected someone once before so there is no reason in his child's mind that He cannot do so again. When she is buried, and the boys are sent away to boarding school, Lewis becomes a determined atheist. He is delighted that his new teacher, known as The Great Knock, shares his rejection of God. His experiences of senseless death during World War I only strengthen his position.
But God is not content to leave Lewis in unbelief. The film illuminates the role that other writers, colleagues, and friends have on Lewis. He discovers that the only books he likes are written by Christians. His most engaging friends, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, are committed Christians. Lewis is a scholar; he cannot avoid the evidence. He speaks of being tracked down by God until he hears God's slow, steady steps coming for him. He admits that on the night he receives Christ as his Savior, he is England's most reluctant convert. As long as we are open, God is persistent. Lewis' story is a living parable of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep.
We Are Aliens in the Land
Key to Lewis' longings is the knowledge that they will slip away. The ultimate happiness Lewis experiences while looking at Warnie's garden eventually evaporates. Lewis is constantly telling viewers that his childhood prior to his mother's death was "Perfect" and so, of course, "it couldn't last."
All permanent happiness eludes Lewis. The peace of his studies gives way to war. His love of Joy Davidman, which led to his marriage and the greatest human happiness of his life, ends with her death. Even his faith, lauded throughout the West as Lewis became one of the most prominent Christian apologists of the 20th century, gave way – for a time – to doubt after the death of his wife. "Beyond Narnia" is not merely a jaunty look at an author of children's books, it is a perceptive exploration of Lewis' understanding of his own impermanence.
Human happiness has no fixed place in a fallen world. We are aliens – visitors, stewards of this planet, but citizens of a heavenly kingdom. Even our imperfect creations, Lewis explains, remind us that we are creatures ourselves, indebted to our Creator. Glimpses of joy appear fleetingly here to remind us of what can await. We are in transit, but each of us is on our way to an eternal destination.
Faith Is a Journey With a Clear Destination
"Beyond Narnia" tells the journey of Lewis' life. In the experiential culture of the early 21st century, we are often admonished that "the journey is the thing." But Lewis would counter that a journey without a clear sense of where one is headed is indistinguishable from being lost. Every episode demonstrates that Lewis lived his life on purpose. And, in retrospect, all his major trials presented clear choices designed to move him closer to heaven, or closer to hell.
The destination is the important part of the journey. It colors every choice. Since the Lewis depicted in "Beyond Narnia" is in his last part of his life, he joyously anticipates what is to come. Referring back to the final book of the "Chronicles", "The Last Battle," Lewis reminds the viewers that a day is coming when we will start on a new story, the Greatest Story, in which every chapter is better than the one before, and the story never ends. He says he "can't wait" and, catching his enthusiasm, neither can we.
Lewis once noted that "It is impossible to write one's best if nobody else ever has a look at the results." What is true of writing may also be said to be true of living. "Beyond Narnia" gives us a glimpse at Lewis, and "the results" speak for themselves.
Marc T. Newman, PhD (email@example.com) is the president of MovieMinistry.com, an organization that provides sermon and teaching illustrations from popular film, and helps the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people.
© 2006 AgapePress. All rights reserved. Used with permission.