Monday, December 12, 2005

Narnia from Another Non-Reviewer: Narnia v. LOTR

I caught the late show of Narnia last night. Paid full price. Worth it without question.

The unfortunate thing for Narnia is that it will inevitably be compared to Lord of the Rings. It can't quite stand up to that comparison. The main difference is that the Narnia stories are really intended for children, whereas the LOTR tales are written without an age group in mind. Thus, Narnia doesn't carry the same terrible feeling of impending doom or massive relief at the escape from doom.

One of the primary factors that makes Narnia so much less threatening is that we see so much of the villain, the evil queen. In LOTR, the ultimate villain is always beyond our grasp. So ancient, dark, and terrible, one can only strive in near blindness to prevail on faith. Here, the Queen is bad, but quite manageable by comparison. Like I say, Narnia is a children's story. They can't handle as much. In a way, Narnia is like The Passion of the Christ if you tried to make it endurable for kids. The result is entertaining, beautiful, reverent, and something that adults can enjoy, but is not FOR adults.

My distinction between what is for adults and children would possibly not hold up so well in an age where adults were not as world weary and jaded as we are. I suspect an audience from an earlier time would have all the violence and threat they would need to be pushed to the max by this film. That may be part of why C.S. Lewis wrote for children. They are still impressionable and in a good way.

22 comments:

Matt Huisman said...

Beautiful movie, but I think the story could have spent a little more time developing Edmund's treachery and the rights that it gave to the queen. Had they done so, I think the doom/relief level would have reached a more heightened level.

Tlaloc said...

but how does it compare to King Kong? That's the question I want answered (mostly because my budget is limited).

Hunter Baker said...

I'm waiting for King Kong. The reviews I've heard are so favorable, I'm wondering if it can possibly live up to the hype. After LOTR, I'm inclined to think Jackson can deliver.

Tlaloc said...

you left out "and Jack Black rules."

connie deady said...

I was having a conversation elsewhere about the Christian themes in both these movies. I read Lewis when my daughter was in junior high. I don't really remember the story, well. We'll go to see it when she is home for Christmas break.

LOTR had some interesting Christian themes. Gandalf died to save the rest of the Fellowship and then was resurrected. Ultimately Middle Earth was saved by Bilbo's mercy in sparing Gollum's life.

It would seem to me that a movie like Narnia offers a great opportunity for discussion of moral issues with your child. Talk is beautiful.

Tlaloc said...

Kevin Drum had an interesting post about Narnia as Christian metaphor. His point was not related to whether the books reflect a Christian metaphor (that later) but rather whether they actually are useful in promoting the religion. His argument is that by introducing the Christ resurrection story in the form of an obvious fable it may very well lead to more disbelief in the bible.

In other words the sheer fantastic nature of Narnia undercuts any credence that it might give to the idea that a real man could do the same as some talking lion in a land of centaurs that you get to by using a magic closet. If you see what I mean.

But I've also read many interesting arguments about whether Narnia does really reflect a Christian mythos in the first place. The heavy use of pagan imagery is sited by some but I don't find that particularly compelling seeing as how Christianity has long absorbed other faiths and absconded with their rituals and holidays (Christmas, Christmas trees, Easter, etc.).

I think the more compelling point is that Aslan is a distinctly non-Christ like figure. Christ was deemed the "lamb of God." Aslan is literally a lion; a fierce and violent predator. While Christ very specifically calls for comforting your enemy and pacifism, Aslan is a general who leads military forces in conquest against an enemy. Other than the ressurection idea it's hard to imagine two literary figures that are more opposed.

Anyway, food for thought.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

His argument is that by introducing the Christ resurrection story in the form of an obvious fable it may very well lead to more disbelief in the bible.

I believe there may be some truth to that. We (my wife and I) do not teach our kids the myth of "Santa Claus" or the "Easter Bunny."

Picture the conversation when our children are older: "No son, there is no Santa, no bunny, but there is a Messiah."

[Christianity] has absconded [pagan] rituals and holidays (Christmas, Christmas trees, Easter, etc.).

As a Christian, this bothers me. I don't think that God is glorified when Christians go looking for Easter eggs, or when they put Christmas trees in their houses.

The cultural pressure (within the Christian community) to partake in these holidays/rituals is tremendous.

I could go on ... but because this is off-topic, I'll stop here.

Matt Huisman said...

I think the more compelling point is that Aslan is a distinctly non-Christ like figure. Christ was deemed the "lamb of God." Aslan is literally a lion; a fierce and violent predator.

I think Lewis was very intentional with his selection of the lion. First of all, Jesus is actually called the 'Lion of Judah' (Rev 5:5). But even more so, I don't think Lewis liked the notion that Christianity was some sort of namby-pamby, soft-soap religion. (One of the central points of the Narnia story is the significance of courage in the Christian life.)

In his other writings, Lewis refers to the arrival of Jesus as an invasion of enemy territory. The point being that those who think that the Christian life is all about comfort and peace are in for a rude awakening.

Here's Luke 12:51:

"Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Lewis anticipated the trend to wimp-out the faith into meaninglessness years ago. He's the one who said that you have to believe that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic or the son of God - there is no middle ground postion.

Other than the ressurection idea it's hard to imagine two literary figures that are more opposed.

Maybe you've only been hearing part of the story. It's really not that obscure a concept in the faith...we even have songs about it ('He's the Lion and the Lamb').

Kathy Hutchins said...

Also in re: the lion imagery, there is some evidence from letters and journals that Lewis was very taken by the lion in fellow Inkling Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion. But I agree with your main point, Matt: anyone who thinks Christ is only a Lamb is missing not just half the story, but the essential Chestertonian insight that Christianity taken piecemeal seems on the surface to be nothing but internal contradiction; you must look at it whole to see the resolution of the paradox.

In the spirit of holiday comity, I will acknowlege that Tlaloc and I finally agree on something. Jack Black does indeed rule.

Hunter Baker said...

I hasten to agree that we seem to have found a point of unity. Jack Black doth rule.

Matt Huisman said...

Jack Black would be enough for me on his own - but the fact that he has a sidekick like Tenacious D is priceless.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

School of Rock ... need I say more? :)

Tlaloc said...

"I think Lewis was very intentional with his selection of the lion. First of all, Jesus is actually called the 'Lion of Judah' (Rev 5:5)."

Interesting, I wasn't familiar with that reference. However as it is the book of revelation and hence dealing with the second coming that would seem to be a bit different. Revelation is of course a pretty radical break from the preaching of christ while alive and doesn't come from Christ but from John's vision. It is a vision of retribution and violence and certainly I think you could say that Lewis' vision of Christ is similar to John's but neither seems to bear any relationship to the guy who said:

"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven"

"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven"

"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else"

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody"

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse"

"But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well"

See what I mean?



"But even more so, I don't think Lewis liked the notion that Christianity was some sort of namby-pamby, soft-soap religion."

I suspect you are right, of course one could make the point that rather than change the religion to suit his desires maybe he should have found a religion that met his tastes better.



"In his other writings, Lewis refers to the arrival of Jesus as an invasion of enemy territory. The point being that those who think that the Christian life is all about comfort and peace are in for a rude awakening."

Except that Christ himself explicitly says it IS all about comforting the afflicted. Repeatedly.



"Here's Luke 12:51"

Frankly as I read that passage it sounds like Christ is feeling a bit self deprecating about the conflict that will of course come as his word spreads. It doesn't sound so much like he is advocating fighting as regretting the suffering to come (of both his followers and detractors).


"Lewis anticipated the trend to wimp-out the faith into meaninglessness years ago. He's the one who said that you have to believe that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic or the son of God - there is no middle ground postion."

Actually it sounds more like he was a student of the later militarization of the faith. Notice that christ never led an army, nor commanded any follower to violence. He always advocated peace and comforting of enemies. The only instance in the bible where he might be said to get really P.O.'d is when the moneychangers are in the temple and even then he doesn't hurt anyone but merely tips over their tables and drives them outside. Lewis' brand of christianity it would seem came much later when the faith became a force for temporal power in the world, and when huge armies marched and slaughtered under the sign of the cross.



"Maybe you've only been hearing part of the story."

Quick question: is the part of the story I'm hearing based on what Christ said or on what was said by those who came after? And which is the better source for CHRISTianity?



"It's really not that obscure a concept in the faith...we even have songs about it ('He's the Lion and the Lamb')."

A perfect example. Here is a song written long after christ and even though it directly contravenes his words you accept it as gospel.

Tlaloc said...

"But I agree with your main point, Matt: anyone who thinks Christ is only a Lamb is missing not just half the story, but the essential Chestertonian insight that Christianity taken piecemeal seems on the surface to be nothing but internal contradiction; you must look at it whole to see the resolution of the paradox."

On the contrary reading just the words attributed to Christ and ignoring everyone else leads to a very consistent picture, i.e. a pacifistic religion built upon the idea of rewards and punishments in the afterlife and the denigration of the physical realm. Not my thing but it is entirely consistent. It's only when you try to include everything that others have claimed Christ also meant that the whole thing becomes a huge mass of contradictions.

Look at this very argument. I am taking the position of Christ as Lamb where as you argue for Christ as Lamb and Lion. Which position would seem straight forward and which has an obvious contradiction, Kathy?

Matt Huisman said...

However as it is the book of revelation and hence dealing with the second coming that would seem to be a bit different.

The Lion of Judah used in Revelation has prophetic Old Testament significance as well.

I suspect you are right, of course one could make the point that rather than change the religion to suit his desires maybe he should have found a religion that met his tastes better.

I think that the disconnect we're having here is our understanding of the battleground and what the ultimate end is in this 'fighting' version of Christianity.

Christians say that there is a rebellion going on in the world (and within each of us), and that we live in enemy territory. (You'll note that Jesus talks about Satan and describes him as the Prince of this world.) Resistance to the powers of the enemy requires the sort of discipline and courage that Lewis refers to, not because Jesus asks us to dominate the world by force of arms, but because we are engaged in a battle for souls (including our own).

This is where you find meaning from the verses you cited, we defer to others out of love and a desire for their ultimate well-being. But don't let those words confuse you; love sometimes requires a tough response to its intended recipient.

Except that Christ himself explicitly says it IS all about comforting the afflicted. Repeatedly.

No. For believers, we love our fellow man because he is loved by God, and when our lives have been transformed by Christ, we can’t help but do so. And by the way, we're not believers in order to receive comfort. Comfort, like happiness, is not something you will find if you look for it. We believe because we have pursued the truth - and at the end of that truth we find many things, including comfort.

[I'll be back for more later...]

Tlaloc said...

"The Lion of Judah used in Revelation has prophetic Old Testament significance as well."

I'm not sure that helps your case since the Old Testament was just that- the OLD testament. A closed book with the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant.



"Christians say that there is a rebellion going on in the world (and within each of us), and that we live in enemy territory."

Okay I'm with you....


"Resistance to the powers of the enemy requires the sort of discipline and courage that Lewis refers to, not because Jesus asks us to dominate the world by force of arms, but because we are engaged in a battle for souls (including our own)."

I think what you are saying here (correct me if I'm wrong) is that all the fighting in Narnia is supposed to be a metaphor for the internal struggle over our own souls. It's a reasonable position but here's where I think it fails: Narnia ALSO has a struggle for souls in addition to the physical struggle. The corruption of Edmund and the Turkish Delight being key examples. If this is truly an allegory and the physical fighting in the book represents spiritual struggle, then what does the spiritual struggle in the book portray?

It seems like you are heading for a "Ah, sahib, from there it is turtles all the way down" moment.



"No. For believers, we love our fellow man because he is loved by God, and when our lives have been transformed by Christ, we can’t help but do so."

I don't see how this pertains to my statement that Christ explicitly and repeatedly says that the christian faith is all about comforting the afflicted. Your reasons for comforting them is another debate entirely.



"And by the way, we're not believers in order to receive comfort."

Again this seems unrelated. I said Christ compells you to comfort others, including your enemies, not that you turn to Christ for comfort.

Matt Huisman said...

I think what you are saying here (correct me if I'm wrong) is that all the fighting in Narnia is supposed to be a metaphor for the internal struggle over our own souls.

Actually, I was referring more to Lewis’ other writings at the time. He uses the ‘battle/invasion’ illustration to give us a better sense of what is on the line in order to develop the appropriate sense of urgency and importance to our preparation and action. The New Testament is full of similar analogies.

It's a reasonable position but here's where I think it fails: Narnia ALSO has a struggle for souls in addition to the physical struggle.

My understanding of Narnia (I’ve only seen the movie – so I’m open to correction) is that all of life is engaged in this rebellion (represented by the vastness of the physical struggle), and we as individuals have our own role to play in it. The corruption of Edmund is a summarization of all of our stories, and describes how, why and what effect comes when we individually go wrong. It shows the insidious nature of sin and the power behind it. The trouble sin leads to, and the price that must be paid to overcome it.

It’s important to remember here that Narnia is a children’s story – an allegory – and is not the real thing. If it helps you picture the real thing, great. If not, leave it alone.

I don't see how this pertains to my statement that Christ explicitly and repeatedly says that the christian faith is all about comforting the afflicted.

Maybe it would help if I reset a moment here to your original question, which was that the lion seemed an odd choice for Jesus, and recap the logic behind Lewis' choice:

1) The bible in several places calls Jesus the Lion of Judah.

2) The lion represents kingship.

3) The lion's fierceness represents the will to resist the evil one.

4) You have described the lion as predatory, which I would suggest symbolizes the focus Jesus has on the sin in each of our lives - and his desire to root it out. (We believe that God is very personal and intentional in this way.)

5) The lion's strength overcomes the power of sin and the evil one.

The lamb-like statements you mentioned earlier are all important, but they are lion-like in the sense that they are part of the bizarre way that Jesus asks us to fight evil.

Tlaloc said...

I don't know Matt it still strikes me as quite odd.

For one thing while they do refer to Christ as a lion they also use that same animal to stand in for Lucifer (Peter: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour). And of course the use of lions in coliseums to persecute (with extreme prejudice) early christians was well known by Lewis' time.

I think a good case can be made for Narnia as allegory, however I am very suspect that a case can be made for Narnia as good allegory. It seems to use confusing imagery and to miss the essential nature of Christ's teachings in favor of the latter views of same.

Matt Huisman said...

As for the imagery, I don't see a better option than the lion - and I think there are many good reasons for using it. But I think the primary issue you're having is this whole physical struggle imagery.

Again, he's not focusing on how to fight - which is the nature of the items you mentioned - but rather that there actually is a fight going on that requires our attention, preparation and participation.

Like I said, if you don't like Narnia - no big deal. I just like to make sure we all comprehend the message.

Tlaloc said...

Well I think we've gotten as far as we can with this topic. But to be clear, it's not that I don't like Narnia, I just question the effectiveness of it as a Christian allegory on two levels.

James Elliott said...

Maybe there's an easier answer: Lions are cool.

connie deady said...

Maybe there's an easier answer: Lions are cool.

So are beavers (says a native Oregonian)