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December 8, 2010

And Another Silly Quote from Narnia Land

Neeson not alone in denying Christ as obvious source of story; now a producer joins in

In a story in today's Hollywood Reporter, Mark Johnson, producer of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which opens tomorrow), says, "Whether these [Narnia] books are Christian, I don't know."


Presumably in the name of political correctness -- and trying to avoid having the film pigeonholed as a "Christian movie" -- one of the chief producers says he doesn't know if C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia are "Christian"? Yowzers. That's astonishing.

Johnson's full quote includes a reference to Aslan's clearly Christ-like death-and-resurrection scene in the first book and movie, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: "Resurrection exists in so many different religions in one form or another, so it's hardly exclusively Christian. We don't want to favor one group over another ... whether these books are Christian, I don't know."

Even more astonishing is that Johnson's words come just a couple of days after Liam Neeson, the actor who voices Aslan, denied that his character solely represents Christ. Neeson said that Aslan "also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries."

Narnia fans around the world have been voicing their dismay at the comment ever since. Many of them are weighing in on Johnson's and Neeson's comments at Big Hollywood. "They are absolutely killing this movie for me," wrote one commenter. "C'mon, can't they even read the Cliff Notes . . . before talking about the movie?" Another: "How exactly do people in charge of making a movie not actually know what the movie is about?" And yet others are undeterred by the remarks: "I'm still going to see it. Nothing will deter me from this movie. NOTHING!"

Meanwhile, the film is clearly being marketed to Christian churches and leaders at NarniaFaith.com, a joint effort between Fox, Walden Media, and Grace Hill Media. In the section on sermon illustrations, evangelist Luis Palau calls Dawn Treader "a powerful story" about "discovering the risks, surprises, and revelations of life with Jesus Christ." Palau goes on to refer to Aslan as "Lewis' depiction of Jesus Christ."

Another pastor, Ken Foreman, refers to the story and film as "a wonderful analogy about our spiritual growth as Christians" and that Aslan's name "in our world is Jesus."

Palau and Foreman are absolutely right, of course. Even C. S. Lewis said as much: "The whole Narnian story is about Christ," he wrote. Lewis pictured Jesus as a lion partly because he's called "The Lion of Judah" in Scripture.

So, on the one hand, those behind the film are clearly unashamed to associate their product with Jesus and Christianity, as evidenced at NarniaFaith.com. But on the other, with the recent comments from Neeson and Johnson, it's quite a different story.

I'm not saying that Neeson and Johnson are obliged to shout from the housetops that Narnia is a Christian allegory. But to say things that essentially deny that fact seems like a foolish strategy at the other extreme. It miffs the core audience -- Christians who've loved these books for decades -- and confuses everyone else.


Is it really necessary to make a fuss over what the cast and producer thinks about the allegories in the movie? The director of this one is a Christian, the same person who directed Amazing Grace. The Narnia production crew is under his vision, and it makes little sense to complain about their objective views on the book when it has little impact on the final movie.

Director Michael Apted is not a Christian, he has been quite explicit in interviews that he is an atheist. And he made several strange comments during the promotion of Amazing Grace about choosing to focus on Wilberforce's politics rather than his religious beliefs. Doesn't mean Apted's not a good director or hasn't done well with Dawn Treader, but he most definitely does not share Lewis' worldview.

Actually, you are both wrong. Apted is an agnostic, who considers himself neither hostile to Christianity nor to atheism. He's said before that he believes there is a spiritual realm but does not believe specifically in Christ. There are some actual Christians who have been working on these films at any rate. The director's just not one of them.

From what I hear, a lot of the Christian elements were actually left in this film intact. However, I've also heard that Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis's step-son and one of the producers of these films, had to fight hard to get most of these themes included. Because of this, it would still make a great film for Christians to get out and see (we should just ignore the ridiculous comment from the producer).

"Some people seem to 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." (Of Other Worlds, 36)

That's a good quote from Lewis, the most significant part being that the Christian element 'pushed itself in'. Which is a way of saying that, as a Christian, he couldn't help but put substance to his 'images' with the only thing he deemed worth writing about: the eternal truths of God. Johnson's and Neeson's comments are ironic, and might be rooted in marketing considerations or PC, but I suspect the movie will overshadow their impact. And if mlbasham is right, Gresham is the hero in all of this.

Denying that Aslan represents Christ is akin to denying Christ Himself. The only thing worse than willful ignorance is ignorant pretense.

Some Christians deny that the Narnia stories are Christian. They point to the magic, the use of pagan elements, and so on. Perhaps Johnson and Neeson legitimately wonder about the purely Christian character of the Narnia series.

Jeffery Hodges
Seoul, South Korea

Christians should note at least two points about the resurrection accounts in other faith myths:

a) While such accounts expose a universal wish to live again, these do not, therfore, disprove the possibility of living again.

b) All other accounts take place spiritually, annually or in pagents, whereas the resurrection of Jesus remains an historical event, not repeated, and attested by witnesses.

It just goes to show that if it was not for Gresham, it would just be another fantasy movie. And probably much more violent at that.

I have taken ad hoc acting classes at the University level.

If I have learned anything, it is that if you do not either control rights in movie making or are producing it yourself, you get the viewpoint of the person (s) who finally produce and directs it.

I have said for years that two of the biggest mistakes of the Church in the last two hundred years have been one: abandoning public university education, leaving a secular vacuum, and two: Catholics and Protestants collectively abandoning moviemaking. If Protestants combined finantial resources, for example, they theoretically, could produce awesome stuff!

Given C. S. Lewis' unquestionably strong Christianity and the religious symbolism of his Space Trilogy, it's silly to argue that it doesn't exist in the Narnia books and that Aslan doesn't represent a Christ-like figure.

I don't, however, think that director is necessarily being "PC." Lewis included Greek and Roman mythology elements, as well as Christian, and while the Christian aspects are obvious to the Christian reader, they also exist in other faith traditions. If the producer isn't familiar with how pervasive Lewis' Christianity was, he could easily be unaware of it.

Ultimately, even knowing that Lewis drew inspiration from Christianity, one of the beauties of these books is that all children (and adults that are young at heart) can enjoy the books.