The Good Book

A child with a tragic past is wrenched from the mundane,tea-and-BBC realities of life in England and flung headfirst into a new world of dark magics and wondrous monsters. Our unlikely young hero is called upon to join in a grand battle against the forces of darkness (personified by a regal sorcerer with an army of soldiers and spies) while the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Thus begins a multivolume work of classic children's literature, and next week sees the release of a new movie based on that epic tale.

Now, here's a little quiz: Will Christians A) vilify the new movie, some of them going so far as to call it the work of the devil, or B) will they base Sunday-school lessons around it and show up for screenings quite literally by the busload?

Well, if you're talking about the latest Harry Potter movie, the answer is, sadly, A. But if that movie is the exhaustingly titled The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the answer is a resounding B. So if these two characters—J.K. Rowling's Potter and Lucy, the first of the Pevensie children to step through the titular wardrobe and into the magical land of Narnia—have so much in common, what sets them apart in the eyes of the Christian faithful? Well, two things: first, Narnia author C.S. Lewis was a Christian, and his books have been widely interpreted as Christian allegories. Second, while Disney is trying to sell Narnia to the secular masses as a fantasy adventure, they have also launched a campaign specifically appealing to evangelical Christians. For this purpose they have employed Motive Marketing, the same P.R. outfit that helped make Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic horrorshow The Passion of the Christinto such a monster hit.

So far the scheme has been a heavenly success across the nation, with thousands of tickets pre-sold to church groups. Here in OC, Saddleback Church teaching pastor Tom Holladay has arranged for 20,000 members of his Lake Forest flock to view an advance screening of the film on Dec. 8, a day before the film hits multiplexes. It's a potential masterstroke on Disney's part: if they can stir up the passions of the Passion crowd, they might actually recoup Narnia's whopping $150 million budget, at the same time that they stand a chance of finally healing a long-standing rift with certain bluenosed evangelical Christian groups over Disney's gay-friendly corporate policies.

“When something like this [Narnia] happens, the truth about Jesus' love becomes a topic around the water cooler in the office,” Holladay recently told TheOrange County Register. “It becomes a personal conversation.”

The situation is overstuffed with irony. Lewis, although a devout Christian, would be extremely unwelcome in the homes of today's red state God Warriors. Arthur Greeves, Lewis' dearest lifelong friend, was a homosexual, and Lewis was an S&M enthusiast who sometimes signed his private letters “philomastix”—”whip-lover.” I don't imagine little details like that will get mentioned much in those Sunday-school lessons. And the Narnia books work fine as fantasy stories, but, as Adam Gopnik recently pointed out in a perceptive New Yorkerarticle, as Christian allegory Narnia is a mess: Christ, the lamb of God, born into poverty and obscurity, the least obvious candidate for messiah, who rises to power only to be forsaken by his followers . . . is, in the Narnia books, somehow translated into Aslan the lion, a large and awesome creature, born to rule, king of all the beasts, beloved by all his subjects. Both Aslan and Christ (spoiler warning!) die and are later resurrected, but there the similarity ends.

There is little of Christ in Aslan, but, if you're looking for it, there is something of Christ in poor, picked on Harry Potter. Think about it: as his adventures begin, Harry is just a seemingly hopeless kid, an anonymous, downtrodden, moody boy with scruffy clothes. He's destined for greatness, but along the way he endures endless torments, and his fellow students, even his most trusted friends (disciples?) Ron and Hermione, seem to turn on him at least once per book. Really, isn't Harry a far more appropriate and potentially inspiring subject for a sermon than Aslan?

One can only hope that eventually evangelicals will realize that the witches and wizards of Rowling's imagination are incapable of actually harming anybody in the real world; the dark sorcerers of certain very real P.R. firms, of course, are another story. Disney's Narnia looks like it could be fun, and I don't mean to talk anybody out of seeing it. But please, see it because you want to, not because anybody told you to. Jesus doesn't care if you make Disney's stockholders rich.


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