Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Narnia's moonshine


Of course I am looking forward to the Narnia Chronicles' big screen debut, and like everyone who appreciates C.S. Lewis's writings we hope the early word out that the movie is 'faithful' to the book is exactly as claimed (okay, okay, there's the polar bears controversy, but I can live with that bit of artistic license I think). PBS' Religion & Ethics website has a good discussion on the book and its author that you simply have to read. Tim Mattingly comments on the core symbolism of Christ's death and resurrection in the book and says, "... you would have to be pretty blind not to see what the symbols mean and to hear what the words mean."

All this is true of course and you can imagine a feeding frenzy as churches consciously buy into the marketing machine to make sure this message is not lost on moviegoers. (I loathe the fact that The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe tracts were advertised to churches for bulk purchase). I understand the impulse although I am not crazy about 'marketing' (I work in an advertising agency, ha!) the movie on that platform because it does a serious disservice to the story which was not written as an evangelistic tract anyway. Isn't it telling that the movie cleverly adopted two marketing approaches - one for churches, and another for, erm, pagans?

There is something wrong when the arts - and movies in particular - are only endorsed on the basis of how evangelistic its message is. This certainly cannot be what we mean when we talk about redeeming culture and the arts. What about getting people to read the book as literature in the first place? Alright, so JRR Tolkien was dismissive of Narnia and thought poorly of Lewis's effort, but as a story, it is a tale well told, magical, enchanting, and most of all, enduring. We need to hear what Lewis says about his own mythic excursus and writing for children:
Some people think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child psychology and decided what age-group I'd write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out "allegories" to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn't write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn't even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.
Significantly, the author's Christianity undergirded his art and served his tale almost incidentally, and not the other way around. Same with Tolkien's LOTR. To read literature written by authors of christian persuasion solely for the allegories they may contain is to miss the woods for the trees.

6 comments:

The Hedonese said...

Amen! I hope the movie would be a great opportunity for Christians to invite friends and by knowing Aslan a bit more in Narnia, they may know his 'other name' on Earth...

Karcy R. said...

I loved your conclusion :).

lycaphim said...

I only have one problem with the movie: From what I've seen (production photos, trailers etc.), it's way too colourful. Doesn't fit at all with what I believe to be the tone of LWW.

But anyway, like you, I can't wait to watch it...

David BC Tan said...

Hi lycaphim,
we're probably too influenced by the grim and gloomy tone of LOTR trilogy - which I think was spot on. At first I also thought the colours were way too bright for LWW. But here's what Colin Duriez has to say:"[T]he rendering of landscape in literature and art can indicate the ideal and its contrary. Goodness is conveyed in landscape by a garden, grove or park; the mountaintop or hill; the fertile plain or valley; pastoral settings or farms; the safe pathway or easily traveled road; and places of natural refuge or defense (such as a rock, hill or hiding place)." Going by this archetype of literature, it ought to translate into a more colourful, vibrant world full of light and life. Narnia then is a lush valley denoting spiritual health, while the northern and southern lands are barren wastelands.

matty said...

Great quote from Lewis, starting by letting his imagination flow instead of trying to mold it into a desired structure...enjoyed the rest of your posts too.

Benjamin Ho said...

Check out Brian Godawa's movie reviews - written from a Biblically sound perspective. In my opinion, there are two things I look out for while gauging the quality of a film.
1. Technical excellence - this is where the "Left Behind series" completely flopped. In fact, many - if not most - of the Christian movies seem to forget this basic trait.

2. Its value - by this I mean whether the movie resonates with a value that is both transcendental and authentic.
This is where the Christian faith comes in... this does not mean we should attempt to spiritualize everything we see in films (even like Narnia) for there is no perfect allegory to God's redemption plan revealed in Christ.

So while I will be cautious about using Narnia as a evangelistic tool (even the Jesus Film - IMHO - cannot replace the faithful preaching of the Word), films like these provide a good entry point for Christians with which to draw out the dynamic message of Christ and the Cross.