Thursday, December 08, 2005

Narnia and Kids

Here is my contribution, courtesy of Zenit, to the slew of commentaries being made on the Narnia film. Interestingly, the assertion that children will not notice the film's Christian themes does not hold true in the case of my family. I asked my son Winslow, who couldn't have been more than eight or nine at the time, if he thought Aslan was like someone else. "Duh, Daddy. Jesus. Anybody can see that." I look forward to the film.

The Subtle Magic of C.S. Lewis' Narnia
Michael Coren's Perspective as New Movie Looms

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" may provide an opportunity for adults to talk about the faith, but don't expect children to notice the film's Christian themes.

So says Michael Coren, author, columnist and broadcaster who recently wrote "C.S. Lewis: The Man Who Created Narnia" (Ignatius), a biography of Lewis written for teens.

Coren told ZENIT how mostly adults will understand Lewis' subtle Christian allegory, and how "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" has the power to plant seeds of faith in kids just the same.

Q: What do Catholics need to know about C.S. Lewis?

Coren: They should know he wasn't a Catholic, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have become one eventually. G.K. Chesterton became a Catholic in 1922 but had really been one for 20 years.

Lewis was born in Belfast, in sectarian Northern Ireland, so he was raised anti-Catholic like most Protestant children there. He was a man of his background but his views were very Catholic: He believed in purgatory, believed in the sacraments, went to confession.

Otherwise, he was the finest Christian apologist in modern times and could communicate the Gospel message in a thoughtful, accessible way.

Q: How blatantly does C.S. Lewis use Aslan as the figure of Christ in the Narnia series?

Coren: He does and he doesn't. Unlike many modern Christian writers, Lewis was subtle and implicit. When I read the book as a little boy I was overwhelmed by the greatness of it, but I didn't realize the Christian message until I was an adult.

It's explicit when you're older, but I don't think we should necessarily be pointing it out to children; we can let them find it themselves. They don't need a running commentary. Let them read it and be overwhelmed by it and not realize what they're really getting at the moment.

Q: What are some of the most notable parallels between Jesus and Aslan the Lion in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"?

Coren: There are many in this book and the other six in the series, but some obvious ones are: the breaking of the stone table and the old law being shattered; how it is winter but never Christmas, and it doesn't become Christmas until Aslan arrives; how Aslan dies for a sinner, a little boy who represents everyone, and takes away his sins; and how Aslan comes to life again and re-creates the world.

In the scene before Aslan's sacrifice for the little boy, Edmund, the White Witch says, "Because he has sinned, he is mine," and she intends to kill Edmund. And Aslan says, "But I can give myself in his place." She agrees to this and kills him, but then he is resurrected.

Q: What can we learn from Lewis about the integration of popular fiction and Christian values? Do you hope modern writers might follow suit?

Coren: J.K. Rowling has said that Lewis had a huge influence on her, yet many people have problems with Harry Potter. I've heard many writers say they've been influenced by Lewis and they try to copy him. It is often too similar; all these books are pale imitations.

He was of his age and wrote at a specific time in history. Some of his characters would not translate into modern times. If someone wrote a book today with those characters, kids wouldn't be able to relate to them. He was a man of 1963.

Q: What is the significance of another Christian film coming out of Hollywood, on the coattails of "The Passion of the Christ"?

Coren: I don't think "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a "Christian" film; we have to be careful with calling it that. I don't believe "The Passion" produced this movie -- I think "The Lord of the Rings" did.

What is more significant is why there have been no biblical movies after "The Passion." They could make a really bad movie and it would do well financially because there is such a hunger for Christian movies out there.

But Hollywood would rather do anything than make a movie with Christian values. It is a wonder that nothing has come after "The Passion."

Q: What are your hopes -- and fears -- for "The Lion"? Do you expect it to bear fruit as a witness to Christ and the Gospel message?

Coren: I haven't been able to see any special early screenings of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" up here in Canada; the Christian world is not as organized or influential like in the States. I will be going to the midnight screening on Dec. 8 with everyone else.

I have no fears about the movie. There will always be some Christians who define their faith by what they are offended by, and nothing is ever pure enough for them. There will be people who say this or that is wrong, and some who think the movie should not have been made.

I think the movie will be a helpful way to talk about Christianity. People will read Lewis, talk about faith and the movie and other good things.

I read the book when I was 6 or 7. I wasn't raised in a Christian family and had no exposure to Christianity. Twenty years later I came into my faith and I am convinced the seeds were planted by that book. I believe my faith began then.

But we can't expect someone to see the movie, have an evangelical experience, and come out of the theater on their knees and say "Save me!" We shouldn't think it will change everything -- what did "The Passion" change? They are only movies. The Holy Spirit can use a movie but it doesn't need to.

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