The Legacy of C.S. Lewis and Narnia: Part 1 of 2
Announcer:The 21st Century has ushered in events and issues that cause us to ask, where is God in todays world? In response, Dallas Theological Seminary presents DTS Dialogue - Issues of God and Culture: The Chronicles of Narnia. The first major motion picture of C.S. Lewis' epic series has swept the nation and has drawn attention to the significance of biblical themes in contemporary cinema. Join us as we examine some theological and cultural implications of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," Part one.
Mark Yarbrough:Welcome to another addition of Dallas Seminary Podcast. I am joined here at the table by Dr. Darrell Bock who is the Research Professor at New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture. Across from Dr. Bock is Dr. Hall Harris. Dr. Harris is Professor of New Testament Studies. To his left is Dr. Glenn Kreider, Professor of Theological Studies in the Theological Studies division. My name is Mark Yarbrough. I am the Executive Director of Communications at Dallas Theological Seminary. The topic that we are going to be discussing today is Narnia and C.S. Lewis and the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Just some stats if you don't mind to start off. Obviously this movie was released here in the United States on December the 9th. It did about $70 million, almost that, second behind Harry Potter which had been out a few months before that. The total U.S. gross to date is $122 million. Globally, it has taken in about $200 million. Obviously many people are going to watch this movie and many people will be seeing it in the days ahead. So it brings up a lot of questions about C.S. Lewis, the theology of C. S. Lewis, and the movie itself and how authentic it is in relationship to the book and this is one that I can say that I have actually read the book before seeing the movie like many other people, and so that is what we are going to talk about. Dr. Harris, I am going to punt the first question to you if you don't mind and let's look at the great question of who is C. S. Lewis and what is the general story line of the series of the Chronicles of Narnia.
Dr. Hall Harris:Well it might be more effective to ask the question, who is C.S. Lewis in the U.K. and who is C.S. Lewis in America, because it has been said more than once that it is almost as if you are dealing with two individuals. As far as the U.K., United Kingdom, Lewis was an intellectual. He was an academic. He spent his entire professional career at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, ended up as a professor of medieval and renaissance literature. Started out as a tutor in the university system which is, well it is difficult to describe that. In the American system there is no real equivalent, but it is sort of like a private teaching assistant who is hired by students to help them prepare for exams and write essays and critique their work, and eventually Lewis gained faculty status and spent his entire life basically in the academic field. He was particularly interested in renaissance and medieval literature which was his specialty. But he was extremely widely read, remembered virtually everything he read, and was able to comment on lots and lots of different things. Now, C.S. Lewis started out as an atheist and became a Christian in the 1930's, largely under the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien, famous in the U.S. for being author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Lewis, after his conversion to Christianity, began to write apologetic works, essays and other pieces, some of which were broadcast over the BBC, and during the second world war he actually went around and spoke at various military bases, notably RAF stations, talking to the troops and sort of giving a basic introduction to Christian theology. Shortly after the second world war, Lewis began to be more involved in fiction, and the fiction is what he is perhaps better known for in the states. He did a series of seven children's books known as The Chronicles of Narnia. He also did a set of three books that are more what we would call science fiction that go under the general title of the space trilogies, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, and those books have continued to be popular along with some of Lewis' apologetic works like Mere Christianity, God in the Dock, The World's Last Night and other essays, there is a whole string of those that he wrote and in addition to the Christian writings, he did a number of professional writings as well, like literary essays, and "The Allegory of Love," and a number of others, "The Discarded Image," a number of more technical works within his field that are not very well known in the U.S. So that's who C. S. Lewis was in a nutshell.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Now that's who he is in the U.K. Who is he in America?
Hall:Oh yes, I forgot about that point. Thank you for reminding me Darrell. Lewis in the U.S. has become sort of a hero of the faith, inducted almost into Hebrews chapter 11 you might say, by evangelical Christians in the U.S. where he is generally widely respected for his apologetics, and particularly his logical and rational approach defending the Christian faith in his arguments for the genuineness of the Christian faith.
Mark: And why do you think that is? I mean we have all done it. Everybody sitting here at this table, we've quoted C.S. Lewis. He has shown up in lectures and sermons. Why is that?
Dr. Glenn Kreider:Well one of the reasons is because he is so quotable. He has a way of taking complex issues and boiling them down into a sound bite. I spent a little time looking this morning at a couple of websites that have just page after page after page after page of quotation. And he says what we would all like to say very clearly and succinctly. In a way, what makes him very effective in modern apologetics is that he has a really nice way of demonstrating the logical inconsistency of other views and painting Christianity as the reasonable, rational alternative.
Darrell:An example of that, I think, is the famous thing that probably all of us have heard, that Jesus was liar, lunatic, or Lord, which actually is a boil-down of a passage in Mark.
And so you think, "Golly, Lewis did this wonderful, creative thing," on the one hand, saying it, and you kind of think it was a saying ex nihilo, "out of nowhere," and then, lo and behold, you read this passage in Mark and you go, [fingers snapping] "That's where he got it!"
Mark:And he follows up on those themes on a regular basis. My other favorite is "He's either on the level of someone who claims to be a poached egg or he is the lord of the universe." And they show up all over the place.
Well, let's jump right into the movie. Obviously, that's the phenomenon that we're dealing with. What is the backdrop of The Chronicles of Narnia?
Hall, you mention that it was originally released by Lewis as a children's series. What is the backdrop, anybody jump in on this one, of The Chronicles of Narnia, and in particular the movie that we're talking about, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?"
Hall:Well, just to give a really quick summary, the movie, and the story, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," on which the movie's based, opens with four English children who have been sent to live in the countryside outside of London to escape the Blitz during the second World War, the German bombing of London.
And so they're living in a large house that's run by an old professor and his housekeeper. The youngest of the four children, a girl named Lucy, discovers in a vacant room an old wardrobe--a wardrobe is a large closet-like piece of furniture that you stored coats and clothing in--and when she looks into this wardrobe, she finds that it's actually a doorway into another world, the world of Narnia.
And it turns out as she makes her first visit to this other world that the land of Narnia is under the spell of the White Witch who has turned the country to eternal winter and never Christmas.
And so the country is populated by talking animals, basically, and they're desperately hoping for the return of their king, who happens to be a lion named Aslan.
In the course of the story, it turns out that all four of the children end up visiting Narnia. One of them turns traitor and goes over to the side of the White Witch, and ultimately is rescued only by Aslan himself substituting himself for Edmund, the traitor, and allowing the White Witch to kill him.
So Aslan steps into Edmund's place and dies in his place, and then is resurrected and of course there is a big battle scene at the end where the White Witch is permanently defeated and everything is put right in the end.
That's the basic summary.
Mark:OK. Now with that basic summary, one of the great questions that is often asked is, "Is this to be understood as an allegory to the Bible?" How would you approach that particular topic?
Glenn:It seems clearly to be the case that the film and the story are allegorical. The question would be whether Lewis intended to write an allegory of the Christian story. His own testimony leads us to question that.
The story originated in his own attempt to provide entertainment for children who stayed in his house during the war. And he had these images in his mind about this world and he begins to tell the story and the story develops.
I think in order to understand Narnia, you have to understand that Narnia is a real world. It's not a REAL world, but it is a "real" world, and in order to understand the world of the story you have to understand the diegetic world that Lewis constructs.
And because Lewis is a Christian, because he is immersed in the Biblical symbolism and literature, because he's immersed in the language and the images of the text, they show up in his world.
But whether it's legitimate to read...I think I would caution against doing that, reading the story alongside of the Biblical story and trying to do a one-for-one correspondence.
Darrell: What is a diegetic world?
It's a world on a diet?
Glenn: I have a handful of technical terms I like to drop in the conversation.
The diegetic world is the world created by the story, or it is the world of the story. It's the world of the film, it's the world of a piece of literature. And in order to understand the story, one has to understand the world that is constructed by the author, by the storyteller.
Darrell: So how the characters interact, and the nature of the reality that's being portrayed, and all that...?
Glenn:In the world in which you and I live, animals don't talk. When we engage in warfare, you don't have flying hippos and those kind of things.
Darrell: We did in my house.
Mark: So in other words, if this world existed, how would the Biblical story have enacted itself in that world? Is that safe to say?
Glenn:Lewis said that the question he's trying to answer is, "How would God incarnate himself in Narnia?" And obviously Aslan is Jesus. Obviously the lion metaphor, the lion symbolism is the point.
But in order to understand Narnia, that's Lewis' intention. How would God incarnate himself and address the problem in this world?
Now because in the meta-narrative of the creation, fall, and recreation--that's the big story, the organizing--
Darrell: The meta-story--
Mark: There he goes, the Big Story--
Glenn:So in that story which is the relationship between the creator and his creation, whether that story takes place in the world that we know or in a fantasy world that Lewis creates or Tolkein creates. There are similarities between those worlds so that there is always in every good story and in every story (not even just a good story), every story has a problem that needs to be resolved.
There is peril and there is a need for redemption and salvation. And that God, in Lewis' story, enters into the world of Narnia as Aslan and he is the one who makes things right. He is the one that restores order and restores truth and the creator's design for that world.
Mark:Before we get into some of the specifics, and you had mentioned obviously, the character of Aslan, we will talk about that. What are some of the differences between the book and the movie? That is the age-old question of how can you take any book and have it into a movie. And to some degree, especially as we are dealing with this topic, it was the great question that was asked with the Passion of the Christ and how can you take a story and relay it? What are some of your thoughts on that as you have seen the movie now.
Glenn:I'd like hear Hall address some of the specifics. But one of the things that must be said, I think, is that when you move from a story you move from a piece of literature into a film, much of the narrators ability to communicate what is actually going on in the thought life of people is missed, it is gone.
What the filmmaker does is either communicates that through facial expression or the other character's descriptions. But you really have to guess what is going on in the character's minds. There is so much. The great strength of Lewis is that in these stories he tells us a lot of what the characters are thinking. Which you don't see in the film by very nature of the genre.
Hall:As far as major differences, some of the most noticeable things would be first of all, there is a fairly extensive introduction that starts with a German bombing attack on London that shows the children running for an air raid shelter and trying to escape. Then they are put on the train and sent out to the professor's house in the county.
Lewis opens the book with one sentence: "There were four children who were sent away to the country to escape the air raids." This is understandable because of modern audiences. When Lewis wrote the book, everybody knew what was going on in London in 1940.
Obviously, changes like that are necessary to give a little back-story and fill in details. Some of the other problems that you run into when you go to the medium of film is that you have to keep things moving along very, very rapidly. One of the big problems that confronts directors and scriptwriters of films is how to move characters from place to place when they are in widely separated locales.
For example, when the children and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are escaping from the Beaver's house to get away from the White Witche's wolves, who are her secret police, they go through this tunnel and come out somewhere else. It brings them to where they need to be. That tunnel is not in the book. It is a device that was added into the film to move character's from A to B.
Then there is the other idea that in order to hold a modern audience's interest you have to have an action movie. There are some scenes, which I would almost say are "throw away", which are put in there for the sake of increasing the danger or the action. This would be the waterfall crossing the river scene where the ice flow breaks up and the children go washing down the river on a chunk of ice.
Then when they are pushed to land by the Beavers, who shove the ice block along to the show, Peter is left holding Lucy's coat and for a few dreadful seconds Susan and Peter think that Lucy has been drowned and washed away. And she comes walking in from the side saying, "Has anyone seen my coat?"
None of this is in the book. This is all added in. Probably the other single most biggest and obvious thing is the final battle scene at the end. Which, obviously, many of the special effects were done by the same company in New Zealand that did "Lord of the Rings," there are lots of similarities.
Anybody who has seen both of those films can detect in the creatures and the way they move and in particularly, the size of the relative armies because in Lewis' book, he only devotes a handful of sentences to describing the last battle. And it's, obviously, because he thinks it is a children's book.
In fact, earlier at one point, when he is describing Aslan's trip to the Stone Table (which is where he is going to die and be killed by the White Witch). Lewis, actually in the book has a little aside that he makes that "I can't really describe all these horrible creatures that are here because if I did, your parents wouldn't let you read this book."
In the movie, I am afraid most of those creatures are there in all their hideous special effects glory. And the battle scene is much bigger in scope than I think Lewis would have envisioned, probably a few hundred fighting on each side. In the battle scene in the movie is a cast of thousands.
Darrell:Well, I think that is an example where you see you are moving from a literary genre to a video genre. You are use to certain things. Actually, you mentioned "The Lord of the Rings" but the other scene that came to mind when I hit the battle scene was the Star Wars movies and some of the conflict that you see there with the special effects and that kind of thing.
It is an interesting phenomenon. Actually, I think there was actually concern about the level of the violence in the film for the children who go to see it. I think it is also a little bit of a difference, perhaps, between Europe and the United States. In the sense that Europe tends to downplay issues of war, having experienced war as it has, where the United States tends to have movies that go in this direction very, very easily. I think that you are seeing all kind of cultural things in those moments where you get those differences.
But I have to say that it certainly adds a pop to the film. I don't know if you had a shorter battle scene if you would have the same effect in film that you would have. You can handle it more crisply in a book because people can imagine it but now you have to visualize it on film.
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