The Chronicles of Narnia

So, I went to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on Friday. After digesting it carefully and re-reading the book, I’m going to offer up my thoughts. To begin with, I will probably go see the movie again some time in the near future, because I deeply enjoyed it and I’d like to watch it again.

Re-reading the book turned out to be an excellent idea, because several things I thought I remembered from the book actually don’t appear there at all. (I thought I remembered, for example, High King Peter challenging someone to single combat, but that must be in one of the other books, because it sure wasn’t in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

The movie impressed me on many levels. I thought it was visually very lush, and looked a great deal like I imagine Narnia to look. The children were excellent. Even Aslan, despite my earlier misgivings, turned out to look quite good, and Liam Neeson voiced him very well. The mythical creatures were excellent, the talking animals didn’t seem campy, the costuming was superb, and so forth. The movie also managed to remain very true to the book. In the book, the professor is a sort of unknown, mildly frightening character who turns out to be good. In the book, the witch is cold and terrifying.

I thought it was very appropriate that they elaborated on the war in the beginning of the movie. The second world war was sixty years ago–most people watching the movie probably don’t know what it was like, and that brief scene set the stage for the evacuation into the country very well. It also gave us an idea of the kind of life the children were living–something Lewis’ readers in the 1950s would have known about, but which modern viewers and readers might not understand. The movie stayed very true to the events in the book, chronologically and plot wise. The few additions and subtractions that were made served the book very well, and I feel that Lewis would have enjoyed the movie. The movie did a brilliant job of capturing the terror of the book, and the gentleness. I’m not entirely sure it would be appropriate for very young children, especially when one considers the scenes surrounding Aslan’s sacrifice, but perhaps fantasy with emotional depth is a good thing to see. The magic and mystical presence of Narnia were captured along with the unique qualities of the characters. The with was cold and cruel and frightening, and her servant was too. Aslan was perhaps a bit too tame for my taste, but it would been difficult to convey the sense of awe for Aslan from the books onto the screen. As a long-time reader and devotee of Lewis’ work, I was very well pleased by the movie, although I suspect that its charms may fall short for people who haven’t read the books.

A great deal has been made about the Christian nature of the book–and the movie certainly told the same tale that the book did. Certainly, Aslan has many Christ-like characteristics, and that’s fine with me. The Bible has a great number of interesting stories in it, and they should be told, and retold, not least because many of the object lessons of Christianity fit in with my own morality. I agree with Lewis when he warns Polly and Digory in The Magician’s Nephew that mankind is traveling a dangerous path. I agree with Aslan when he says that we have a duty and moral obligation to be kind to other beings. I also agree with Lewis’ clearly stated moral values of honesty and diligence. Betrayal and redemption is a major theme in the books, as it is in the Bible. But these things are also major themes in our own lives. When Aslan claws open Aravis’ back to show her the pain her maid felt when she was unjustly punished (The Horse and His Boy), that was certainly a “Christian” object lesson–but it was also a good moral lesson in general. Something many people forget in their knee-jerk reaction against Christianity is that Christian morality is a big part of our society, especially in America. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us would agree that murder is bad, that kindness is a virtue, that honesty should be rewarded and treachery punished. Most world religions agree with these moral themes as well. C.S. Lewis wrote amazing books about a fascinating world, but I also greatly enjoy the thought that young children reading them are also thinking about values, ethics, and choices. The Chronicles of Narnia demand a great deal more from the reader that, say, Harry Potter. (Although I also have a fondness for Rowling’s work.) There seems to be a growing trend these days away from “stories with morals” which I happen to disagree with. I think that a good book keeps the reader thinking about their values long after he or she walks away. In this, Lewis has certainly succeeded. Not all of the moral lessons in the Bible are agreeable to me, and I don’t espouse every word of the Bible fervently, certainly. Had Lewis been Buddhist, though, I think the books would have been much the same. (Certainly the scene of reincarnation and afterlife in The Last Battle has a very Zen feel to it.) It saddens me that many people, particularly the left, sad to say, seem to feel that Christianity is antiquated, without hope or redemption, and should be abandoned and stamped out. If they would get out of the Lotus position for a moment and actually read the texts which Christianity considers holy, they might find themselves surprised. There are values which cross cultures and religions, and Lewis had them, as anyone who has read his “adult” books knows.

So yes. Narnia=three cats up, over here in the purple house.