The Legacy of C.S. Lewis and Narnia: Part 2 of 2
Announcer:The 21st century's ushered in events and issues that caused us to ask "Where is God in today's world?" In response, Dallas Theology 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 2.
Mark Yarbrough:Kind of one of the things that I think, it's interesting that comments that I have read thus far, people have been amazed that it is, depending on how you interpret this particular statement, it is the best of Hollywood. I mean it's the best that is available today. You mentioned the special effects of "Lord of the Rings" and it was thrown at this movie.
Dr. Glenn Kreider:It is the best of Hollywood limited by the PG rating. Although that scene is very violent it is not bloody. There is some suspense involved, but the story is so clear and so foreshadowed that there is no doubt that the main characters survive and everyone does that from the very beginning. The suspense is more of the suddenness of an animal jumping off camera onto the scene but there's no blood. People are gored and drop to the ground and there is no puddle of blood there.
Mark: So in other words you think there were specific attempts to keep it...
Glenn: Oh I think without a question had the battle scene been displayed with blood and guts, it wouldn't have had a PG rating.
Mark:And that is great for parents that might be listening to this to consider as you are thinking about their kids. That's a question in and of itself. We all have children. I have children. What are your thoughts in that regard?
Glenn:Yeah, I would not take young children to this film. I think preschool age children... I just would be concerned about the level of...
Dr. Hall Harris III:I think that depends a lot on the children. I think that is a decision parents need to make for themselves. The 2nd time I saw the film, I've seen it twice now. I saw in the company of about six other adults and about 15 children ranging from teenage to three years old. In the final battle scene where the dwarf is getting ready to stab is it Edmond or Peter, I've forgotten at the moment. And Lucy grabs her bow and arrow and skewers the dwarf with an arrow. And the three year old immediately jumped up and says, "That's what you get." She obviously, she was very clear on who was good and who was evil and that evil gets paid back here with what they deserve. I think it's something that parents, if they really have young children they might want to see the movie for themselves and decide, before they take their kids. But anyone school age or older should be fine with it. And I agree with Glenn there was virtually no blood anywhere in any of the battle scenes that I can recall.
Darrell:Wasn't one of the points of the story the creation of the story originally in the midst of the blitz to on the one hand be a deflection from what was going on, but on the other hand to raise the issues that life and death and war raise? And to put it in a context in which you could have other kinds of discussions outside of the story with children.
Hall:Well, this is an interesting thing. Because I am going to refer to an essay, well, it was a talk that was later published as an essay that J.R.R. Tolkien did in the early 1930s, it's called "On Fairy Stories." One of the things that Tolkien argued in this essay which I think had a big influence on Lewis because this is almost certainly before Lewis starts to write the first of the Narnia books which is The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Tolkien argues, among other things, for the role of human beings as subcreators under God who can imaginatively create this fictional universe and populate it and exercise a creative function that is actually a part of the image of God in humanity the Imago Dei and that one most fully is acting in gods image when one does this creative exercise which is a very interesting theology, a Christian theology of the arts and creativity and things like that. But what Tolkien argued that when you created this alternative world...
Glenn: The diagetic world.
Darrell: The world of steroids.
Hall:In which you enter through what is sometimes called the willing suspension of disbelief. That is, we go into this world and we just take it at face value that it is real and it operates according to its own rules. We walk into it and it seems to us that it is a real world. But Tolkien argued that you can portray good as truly good and evil is truly evil in very polarized terms. Very different form the grays that we encounter in this real world where people operate from mixed motives and there is all kinds of pressure from all sides that are influencing. In this alternative world you can portray really good is good and evil is evil and you are forced to choose up sides. In choosing up sides in this imaginative world you learn something about the process of making the choice between good and evil. So that when you come back to your own world, the real world, the world that we live in, you are somehow better equipped to exercise discernment between good and evil and to make those choices when here they appear in shades in gray.
Darrell:What is interesting about that is that if you look at the way film and television and media have operated across the decades, if you go back to what some people view as the golden age of media, you know where good and evil were in clear contrast. Even your clothes reflected you wore white or black. You had this strong contrast. To a certain degree in a lot of movies today, we have lost that. In fact, sometimes the tendency is to try and help us sometimes to portray the bad guy as having good traits. Bonnie and Clyde being an example of that.
Glenn: Speaking of films with blood and guts.
Darrell: That's exactly right.
Hall: That's a diagenic world.
Darrell:But the point here is, that even the way media has responded to helping us with those kinds of questions has changed in the decades that at least I have been a part. I was thinking about, now this will date me, I was thinking about the series maverick... Back when I was growing up, we would get in a tense spot, and in the back of my mind I never felt any tension because I knew there was next week, and he had to be on next week.
Just a variety of things in the way literature and a creative world helps us to think through how we respond. As we make that more gray, we actually in many cases are reflecting... In fact the claim is to be more realistic and to be less idealistic about the way we portray good and evil.
Mark:Glenn, did you see it that way?
Glenn:I really took it differently. I found the white witch character a very effective portrayal of evil. It is that encounter with Edmund where we see the enticement of temptation. This character, when she shows up, is very cold and distant and actually a bit intimidating. She is really tall. But through offering Edmund this Turkish delight which he loves, she is able to entice him to be on her side and to be work at betraying his family members. I found that a really intriguing characterization of her, because from then on that's what she is. In a fairy tale world and a fancy world, she is a very evil character. But that Edmund would be so easily enticed by her, I think provides nice glimpse into the biblical world. A really nice entree into the original temptation narrative.
You figure how could anyone with half a brain fall for the temptation of the evil one, but we do it all the time. That may be one of the great benefits of that scene, is that we are to see Edmund is us and is easily enticed as we are.
Hall:Well I think there is something else to notice as well, and that is that Edmund has already had problems both in the book and in the movie. He is already "going bad" if you will, because he actually gets into Narnia when Lucy goes second time and realizes that her story, that the others had not believed initially was really true, and then when they returned back to this world after the second trip and Lucy is explaining how she was there again and Edmund was with her and all, he turns around and denies that any of this was real, and says that he was only pretending to go along with Lucy and her imagination. So he really betrayed her and let her down.
In a sense Edmund had set himself up for this encounter with the white witch and when she comes along and offers her candy and her warm drinks and promises to make him a prince and maybe someday even King in Narnia, since she has no children of her own, he is sort ready to fall, if you will. He is been setup already by the path that he has been on.
I think the other interesting thing about the portrayal of the White Witch with regard to her evil is... I think there is the point to be made that by the time Edmund starts to see, that maybe she is not so nice after all, he is in too far.
Mark: It is already late.
Hall:It is too late. And that I think is an excellent portrayal of the enticement of evil. By the time you really see what evil is for itself, or who Satan is, it's too late.
Darrell:I will say that I thought that the portrayal of the relationship between the siblings was very well done. By the time you got to that scene of the White Witch, you knew there was something going on. You were well setup for that scene. From that standpoint, I thought, you knew who a kind of bad apple was in the group.
Darrell:It made for an interesting situation. I am some who saw the movie not having read the book. So from that standpoint... My children have read it dozens of times. My daughter... the first thing she got on the phone, I said, "How is the movie?"
She said, "Well there are two things in the movie that weren't in the book."
That is the first thing she noticed, which is typical for someone who is an aficionado. But for me it was just refreshing to walk through the story, and I felt well setup to understand the children's relations to one another by the time Narnia came on the scene.
Glenn:Which is another place where there is no subtlety. As characters are so stereotypical; it is the older brother's responsibility to care for his family. The older sister who is really not active at all. You have the younger brother. You always have that in those kind of stories. You have this little younger sister who is perfect. I mean it is very stereotypical.
I think there is a profound question in there that these kind of stories raise, is that although good and evil are clearly portrayed and really are polarized, there is the profound question underlying that is that the only reason why Narnia is in the state that it is, is because Aslan is absent. So the question that is never addressed is why he is gone for a hundred years of winters with no Christmas. That by the way, I thought, Santa Claus could have been portrayed a little more clearly. [laughter]
Hall: Because he was Father Christmas, not Santa Claus. [laughter] This is England...
Glenn: No, the film is in America. [laughter]
Hall: But they still have British accents.
Glenn:Why is the world in the situation that it is. It is because Aslan is absent. When Aslan comes back it will be right. We have this tension which never really answers the question, why the absence of the lion for so long.
Mark:It begs for the question of Aslan's death and resurrection. What's in with that? I mean the climax of the book, climax of the movie. We need somebody to define atonement, because we have to relate that storyline, how it is portrayed to a definition of that. Can you talk about how does it work its way out at the end of the book. Glenn, we will start with you.
Glenn:The fundamental question of all people in all times, is that why is the world as it now is. Certainly if God is good, if the Creator is good, He would not have created the world as it now exists. Something must have happened to result in the world being as it now is. If the world is as it now is, and it's not the way the Creator created it, there is an expectation, there's almost a necessity that something happened in order that the world becomes the way the Creator intends it to be.
The means by which that redemption occurs, the means by which the atonement occurs is that that thing which has destroyed the created order, that thing which has introduced evil and what is not good into the world needs to be addressed and atoned. Lewis argues that there are a number of ways Christians have described and understood the atonement, a number of ways they have understood the work of Christ on behalf of lost humanity, and that there is no one right way to do so. I think that he's right about that. But at the same time he says, and he's right about this too, that what is essential to a Christian understanding of the atonement is substitutionary debt; the sacrifice of the God-man on behalf of lost humanity and of lost creation. And so that in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", it is the sacrifice of Aslan the innocent on behalf of the traitor Edmund which is the reason for his death. Because there is a law of Deep Magic, if an innocent one sacrifices himself for a guilty party, that one must be resurrected. That explains the resurrection.
Mark: Hall, you want to add to that?
Hall:Well, I think Glenn said it very well. I think in many respects, when you look at Aslan and what he does, it's clear that at that point at least, even though I agree with Glenn's earlier comments, I don't think this is allegory in the traditional sense. Lewis claimed it wasn't allegory. He claimed simply, I was asking the question, "If Jesus were to become incarnate in a world where animals talked what animal would he be and how would he appear?"
But I think by this time in the story, the Christian understanding of substitutionary atonement [overtalk] has stepped in and taken over if you will. So, that as Lewis is writing this, he's very clearly understanding, if you don't call it allegory, then what you would say is that Aslan is doing in that world what Jesus did in our world. So, there are clear parallels.
Glenn:But that story, that part of the story is in every story. That is so deeply embedded; that meta-narrative is so deeply embedded that every story has some means by which the conflict is resolved, and it often includes some form of substitution. But what makes this distinctly Christian is that it's a distinctly Christian telling of the story, and using a distinctly Christian and biblical symbolism of the lion. One cannot watch, as a Christian, that death of Aslan and not recognize that the lion of the tribe of Judah. In dying, his hair is pulled out, he is shaved, he is mocked, he is beaten. All of the parallels are obvious.
Darrell: It's an animal Passion.
Hall:Beyond that, Susan and Lucy are watching all that from in hiding. They're asking each other the question, when is he going to pounce on them? When is he going to attack his enemies and fight back? The whole point is, 'like a lamb led to the slaughter'. He allows himself to be killed. He doesn't fight back, he emptied himself.
Darrell: Yeah, it's a lion that becomes a lamb, not a lamb that becomes a lion.
Hall: Exactly right.
Glenn:That scene, I think, was very nicely done in that this lion is not tied up. There are ropes around him but they're just there. It's clear from watching the film that this lion is sacrificing himself.
Mark: Yes, right.
Darrell:Well, I think that raises a question about expectations in the movie that's helpful to think about as we wrap up. Sometimes when you go to see a movie like this and you know that there is this Christian connection, your tendency is to want to compare it point by point with what happens in the biblical story. My impression is that you shouldn't walk in and do it that way. Really, what's going on here is you're getting the high points, but don't expect all the details. Is that a fair way to think about the movie?
Glenn:I think it is. You can go in and enjoy the story. That was one of the values for me, watching it twice. The second time I watched it, I not only knew the biblical story - I knew the biblical story the first time -, but I now knew how the film was going to portray the story of the film. So I could watch it seeing things I hadn't seen before. Go in and enjoy the story; it's a great story.
Hall:Yeah, I think essentially, in one of the later Narnia books, I can't remember at the moment exactly which one it is, the children, when they were back in Narnia later are told by Aslan, "You were sent into this world to learn to know me so that when you go back to your own world you may know me better there under another name." I think that's really the point of this. The person who reads the book or who sees the film starts asking questions and then picks up their Bible and learns to know Aslan by another name.
Darrell:I think the movie did this brilliantly in that at the end, after the credits...and some people didn't stay, in fact, in the showing that my wife and I went to, we were the only two people who stayed all the way through the credits.
Glenn: Me too.
Hall: Same here.
Darrell: I thought, man you missed something. I don't if we should wreck it for the people who haven't seen it yet...
Darrell: ... or simply say, stay through the credits.
Glenn:You should always stay through the credits. Those are people who devoted a great deal of time and effort to doing the work. They deserve to be recognized.
Darrell:Let's just say it this way. There's a nice little surprise at the end of the credits that's worth staying for. It's like the Milk Duds of the movie.
Mark:Well, to wrap this up, this is one movie in a series. It's going to be interesting to see if other movies follow behind it from the same series. Obviously there has been great discussion about that. It's doing well at the box office which is probably going to dictate whether an investment is made on future books into other movies.
Guys, thanks a lot for your time. Greatly appreciate it, appreciate your comments as always, and we'll do this again soon.
Announcer: For more information about Dallas Theological Seminary, please visit our website at www.dts.edu.