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Thursday, December 1 2005
C. S. Lewis, Narnia, and Finding Hope Beyond This World...
Within a week, the screen adaptation of C. S. Lewis' book, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," will make its way to the big screen. Articles and movie trailers abound (it is a bit odd hearing Al Michaels on ABC's Monday Night Football talk about Narnia and Aslan!), and a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that the Disney and Walden Media joint venture has pulled out all the stops in marketing the film, not only to Christians, but also through school systems and retail venues throughout America.
The film is the first in a planned series of seven, and is reported to have cost $150 million to make, with profits expected to exceed $800 million including DVD sales - and they thought Tolkien's trilogy was a cottage industry! Meanwhile, HarperCollins, the publishing house of the C.S. Lewis Company in London, is publishing 170 books by or about Lewis in 60 countries. Peter Ross, writing in a November issue of the Sunday Herald in England, suggests that if we were to knock on that window of the Kilns in 1950 (Lewis' residence in Oxford) and inform the author of his widespread fame, he would think us "liars or lunatics!" Those familiar with Lewis' writings will pick up on his allusion. The latest hubbub even has it that a letter was recently recovered, supposedly written by Lewis to a producer following a 1959 BBC radio adaptation of one of the Chronicles books, in which he expressed great disdain toward any movie adaptation of the books. The plot thickens...
But returning to the Chronicles of Narnia books, all seven of the books were written over a six-year period between 1948 and 1954, and today they have sold almost 100 million copies. Clearly, Narnia today has become a byword for fantasy and the imagination. Lucy and the other Pevensie children making their way through the magical wardrobe into the land of talking animals has become one of the most famous stories in all literature.
Much has been written about the companionship between Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, and a fellow member of the Inkings literary group in Oxford. While Lewis would find "success" for his books a rather difficult and humbling thing to accept, Tolkien never felt at ease with celebrity. One could make a good argument that one of the reasons for their friendship cooling over the latter part of their lives was due to the overseas success in America of Lewis' Chronicles. What is more, Tolkien would labor over his trilogy some twelve years, while Lewis wrote the entire Chronicles series of seven books in less than half the time. Both men would, of course, achieve great literary (and cinematic) success, but mostly after their lifetimes. In many ways, Tolkien viewed the Chronicles as a rather simplistic, "preachy" fairy tale series that was too overtly Christian in its message. And while those familiar with the Christian story will see the clear connections between the Christian faith and the magical world of Narnia (Lewis did not consider the books as allegory, but used the idea of "supposal," Aslan the lion as Christ, the children as disciples, etc.), enjoying the books does not require one to read them through a Christian lens.
But what could a children's book-turned-film about fairy tales and magic have to do with finding hope and purpose in life? What message could possibly help us along our way as adults? Why is it that children and adults alike have found these books, irrespectful of religious background, so comforting and moving through the decades since they were first published? The answer lies - and I mention one of the primary "vehicles" that Lewis employed - in the Wardrobe. It is through the Wardrobe that the Pevensie children sometimes (but not always) enter the magical world of Narnia. It was Lewis' belief that with the Wardrobe, the "inside is bigger than the outside," for it opens up into a whole New Country, a whole New World, beyond our own world. What was he saying? I think he was suggesting to us several things. First, genuine faith has a mystery and transcendence to it. We don't ever get it "figured out," for God Himself is bigger, larger, even than what we may come to believe about Him. Secondly, Lewis wants to remind us that we all need fantasy, mystery, hope, and our imaginations to understand that this present world is not all that there is. That somehow, someway, Another World awaits us, a world where there is no longer pain, frustration, disappointments and hurts, but a world where all things are eventually, "made right."
In many ways, he was telling us something that we all need to hear. For you see, deep down inside of us we all have an understanding that life is more than simply our net worth, our achievements, accomplishments. Deep down we know that life is more than "bread and circuses." Deep down, we all believe, or want to believe, or need to believe, that this present temporal life is but a preparation before another world dawns.
In the November 21 issue of The New Yorker magazine, Adam Gopnik gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the formative influences in Lewis' life. He concludes his article, "Prisoner of Narnia: How C. S. Lewis Escaped," with an insightful observation, reflecting on the magical world of Narnia, one that I am sure Lewis would agree:
"It is here that the atheist and the believer meet, exactly in the realm of made-up magic. Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less our hopes."
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
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