A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Monday, December 12, 2005

[This is a guest post by Chris T. from Even the Devils Believe. There are Chronicles of Narnia spoilers below, so don't read on if you don't know the story.]

Several of us from the campus ministry Dwight and I work with went to see The Chronicles of Narnia at the movie theatre yesterday. Many Christian bloggers have reacted positively, but most of us in our little group were unimpressed. There are a few major issues that made the film difficult to enjoy.

First, I found it way too violent considering the rating (PG). It's odd that nudity even in a non-sexual context automatically earns a movie the PG-13 rating, yet something as filled with violent sequences as Narnia (think Gladiator minus blood and gore) only rates a PG. There were two young children sitting next to us during the movie who seemed rather traumatized—I wondered at all the parents who brought kids under five to see it.

Another issue that was brought up during our Bible study last night was the problem of Aslan as proxy for Jesus Christ. We read the Lucan birth narrative last night, and one of the key themes we touched on was the incongruity of Jesus' circumstances with the expectations held for the Messiah. People expected a great, Aslan-like king, holding secular power and changing the world by sheer will. Instead, we got a poor carpenter who underwent great suffering and died a victim of the Roman state. There's a lot lost when an allegory about Christ ignores that crucial element of the Gospel stories.

Likewise, in the Gospels we have Peter the fisherman being handed the keys to the church and later falling victim to the secular authorities of his day. Yet in Narnia, we get King Peter, a secular power who rises to the throne through violence. One of the peer ministers pointed out that it seems like Christian wish fulfilment—we aren't happy with the powerlessness of our faith's central figures, so we trump them up in allegory.

My wife was also bothered by Aslan's death, which seems to trivialize Jesus' sacrifice. Jesus goes to Gethsemane genuinely troubled by the prospect of suffering and dying on the cross. He asks several times for the cup to be taken away from him, because it is a difficult thing he's being asked to undergo. Aslan goes to the Stone Table proudly (Aslan's comment about needing company is thin beer indeed compared to Gethsemane) and then makes clear through his later explanation to Susan and Lucy that it was no big deal—he knew he would come back to life anyway. No suffering, no trepidation, just stoic atonement with mathematical precision. The Good News of Christ this is not.

Finally, the allegory in Lewis's tale is just too thin. It's hard to understand Aslan as such an inspiring and positive figure unless you know he's a stand-in for Jesus Christ—the plot itself just doesn't support the character. The entire struggle for Narnia, especially Peter's sudden decision to remain and help win against the White Witch, doesn't stand up on its own. This is part of the reason JRR Tolkien disliked the books—allegory, and not imaginative storytelling, is the primary impulse.

This doesn't mean folks who derive enjoyment from Lewis' tales about Narnia have bad taste—I don't mean to imply that. Heavens knows the Harry Potter books don't stand up to intense scrutiny either—they're just entertaining! But I'm bothered by the connection that's been drawn between Narnia and Christianity. The books sell a Christianity that is anemic at best, and their violence and embrace of secular authority send troubling messages about how Christians should work to change the world around them. I'd be much happier if the allegory were not the main point, as it seems to be in contemporary support for the books and movie.

- Chris T.


At 11:08 AM , Blogger Christopher said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have read the books. Your point about the trivialization of the cross is well made, except that I think the Jesus we find in the Gospel of John reacts to the cross in a very Aslan-esque fashion. He hops up on the cross, waits a couple of hours, shrugs and says, "Yup, now it's done. Peace out."

At 5:22 PM , Anonymous Shannon said...

I've been through the Narnia books three times: Once, when it was read to me as a little boy; again when I read it myself (along with all the rest of the series) a couple of years later; and I just finished the third time, reading it to my daughter. It read a lot thinner to me this time through than I remember it from childhood -- but I can't help but remember how big and textured it felt then.

I don't think it ought to be overlooked that Aslan is very much a Jesus figure as seen through a child's eyes; yes, it's a little less nuanced in its human drama than the Jesus story, but you don't really see that nuance when you're six or eight anyway.

At 9:18 AM , Anonymous Jeff said...

I wonder how Lewis' work as a medievalist affected his presentation of Christ as Aslan. For instance, in the medieval poem "The Dream of the Rood", Christ is presented as bright one who ascends the cross to conquer.

I'm not saying that you have to agree with the image...just that it goes back a lot farther than America, or fundamentalism.

At 12:02 PM , Blogger Guido said...

I agree with shannon that the story was a good story as a child. I am an adult now and I need a little more meat to help me grow. My faith has grown to a more nuanced and Jesus has become more complex. In fact, I am reminded that the tradition had to have four gospels and you can add Paul's and Revelation to bring a full image of Christ. It is violent, but the stories were written close to WWII and in the midst of the Cold War. (correct?) So they are reflections of their period, as well as the violent struggle in the movie...reflections of the US right now.
In the end, it is a movie to make money not to tell the epic story. Disney, the distributor, needs to win friends back in the Evangelical community.


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