Sunday, December 11, 2005

Through the Wardrobe

The only problem someone might have with the new Narnia movie are the inevitable comparisons to the Lord of the Rings trilogy released from 2001-2003. I have heard it remarked over the weekend by at least three friends of mine that “it’s quite good, but no Lord of the Rings.” To them I’ve said “Of course not. They were different books by different authors.”

While it’s true that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were lifelong friends, and indeed it was Tolkien, a devout Catholic, who helped guide Lewis from his atheist beliefs towards ultimately becoming a Christian (high Anglican). But both men took different approaches to their fantasy epics. Tolkien deliberately avoided creating an allegory and invented a pre-Christian era epic on an Arthurian scale, complete with invented languages (Tolkien was a philologist who spent much of his life inventing the languages within the LOTR). He preferred to let the reader “discover” the hidden meanings and experience the Divine Providence at work within the story as it unfolded.

Lewis on the other hand, wrote a story aimed at smaller children on a smaller scale. He wrote one book a year for seven years in completing the complete Chronicles of Narnia. As such the movie is much less “busy” than the LOTR trilogy was. But it is still a magnificent and a magical movie. Purists may decry the addition of two or three additional scenes that are not in the book, but I felt that they served the story well. The first scene especially (added for the film) helps to remind viewers of why it is the Pevensie children have left London and are staying at the old professor’s home out in the country. Children (and indeed many adults) need to be reminded of the era in which the book takes place: London is under the nightly bombing “blitz” of Germany’s Luftwaffe and it’s no longer safe for Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in the city.

I won’t go into the story any further than to say that if you’re a fan of the Christian symbolism and meaning behind Lewis’ book, you will not be disappointed. If you are of the secular world and want to enjoy a good story, this movie is for you as well. It is very well cast, well acted (Georgie Hendley, who plays little Lucy, is perfect and a wonder to watch; and Tilda Swinton as the white witch Jadis is icily evil), and the sets and imagery and “magic” all work wonderfully. My only real beef with the film (and a small one is that) is that the musical score was I thought lacking. Peter Jackson commissioned Howard Shore to compose the memorable and soaring score for his trilogy of LOTR movies…I only wish that Andrew Adamson had done the same for TLTW&TW. But that’s a trifle. This movie will definitely deserve a place in your DVD collection when it is released. But I would highly recommend watching it in the theater if you can. Narnia is a big movie that should be seen on the big screen. Indeed it opened #1 this weekend.

The only "negative" reviews I've read are by those critics who can't seem to be able to get past their own anti-Christian bias when looking at this movie. Our local sourpuss, the same man who gave The Passion of the Christ just two stars, gave Narnia 2.5. Another example is in this review by Scott Holleran. If they would instead focus on the merits of the movie (a children's movie devoid of flatulance or burp jokes and children not talking back in smart-alecky tones) they'd perhaps rethink their critique. Actually, I feel sorry for them being unable to appreciate a children's fable when they come across one.

Other reviews are here and here.

For those who want to learn more about the books please read on.

While The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was the first book published, in the Narnian timeline of events, it’s actually book number two. The Magician’s Nephew explains the beginnings of Narnia, how Jadis came into Narnia, and how it is that the old professor has the wardrobe in the first place.

The Chronicles of Narnia are seven tales that cover almost half of the twentieth century and over two and a half millennia of Narnian history from its creation to its final days. Many readers prefer to start with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because of its simplicity, magical power, and for the way it sets up the basic “supposals” from which Lewis created all the stories and the world of Narnia.

Aslan (Turkish for “lion”) is the unifying symbol of all the stories. Aslan is intended to represent Christ, but not as an allegorical figure. In Narnia he appears not as a man but, appropriately, as a Narnian talking lion. The symbol of the lion (a traditional symbol of authority) perhaps owes something to a novel by Charles Williams The Place of the Lion. In his The Problem of Pain Lewis wrote, “I think the lion, when he has ceased to be dangerous, will still be awful.” As a child, significantly, Lewis attended St. Mark’s (Anglican) Church in Dundela, on the outskirts of Belfast. The traditional symbol of St. Mark is the lion, a fact reinforced by the name of the church’s magazine in later years, The Lion.

Chronological Order (Narnian time):
The Magicians Nephew
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

Order of Publishing:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Prince Caspian (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
The Magicians Nephew (1955)
The Last Battle (1956)


At 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an awesome review!! Thank you -- sounds good!!


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