A Classic Fantasy Tale Re-imagined into Film
On December 9th the C.S. Lewis Estate with Disney Pictures and Walden Media are releasing a new visualization of C.S. Lewis’ 1950 post-World War II beloved fantasy, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Stepping into Narnia
The magic begins in an unexpected manner. A mother and her four children try to get to an air-raid shelter while the German’s are bombing London during World War II. They make it to safety, but the mother, Mrs. Pevensie (Judy McIntosh) decides to evacuate them to the home of an old professor in the countryside. Peter (William Moseley) is the eldest, then Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and the youngest Lucy (Georgie Henley), say goodbye to their mother as the train departs from the crowded station, their names pinned to their coats.
When they arrive at the isolated train stop, Mrs. Macready (Elizabeth Hawthorne) picks them up and takes them to the mansion of Professor Digory Kirke (Jim Broadbent). She lays down the rules as they enter the magnificent house. The children begin to bicker about who’s in charge and Edmund, especially, seems to resent being bossed about.
The children expect nice weather, but instead it rains. They decide to play hide and seek. Lucy runs off and opens the door of a large room empty except for a closet at the end. She walks towards it, opens the door with the tree carved on it, and shuts herself in. It is full of coats and such and as she pushes toward the read of the wardrobe, she suddenly finds herself in a forest covered in snow. She walks toward a lamppost in a clearing and encounters a faun, a creature that is half-deer and half human. He asks her if she is a “daughter of Eve.”
The faun’s name is Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy). He seems very shy but kindly and invites Lucy to his home for tea. Soon he begins to be sad. When Lucy asks him why, he admits that he is supposed to report any “daughters of Eve” that come to Narnia to the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) or risk being turned into stone for treason. But he likes Lucy and helps her get back to the wardrobe, hoping that the Witch’s spies, the trees, won’t see them. Lucy thinks she has been gone for hours, but it has only been minutes, and her siblings do not believe her tale.
Soon after, Edmund follows Lucy through the wardrobe. She runs off to find Mr. Tumnus, but Edmund encounters the White Witch who has kept Narnia in a state of winter without Christmas for 100 years. She beguiles him with a treat called “Turkish Delight.” Edmund’s gluttony leads him to tell the Witch about his brother and sisters and she makes him promise to bring them to her to Narnia.
When the children all go through the wardrobe to Narnia, their adventures begin. Edmund sides with the White Witch only to be imprisoned by her. The children try to save Mr. Tumnus who has been taken by the Witch. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (voices of Ray Winstone and Dawn French) help to guide them. By now, the children realize they must help rescue Edmund as well because the Witch thinks Edmund has betrayed her. Along the way, the children discover the prophesies about the “sons of Adam” and the “daughters of Eve,” and that one day the great Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), would return to save Narnia.
Indeed there are signs that he has come back: Father Christmas appears once again and winter is turning to spring. The laws of the land, however, dictate that the Witch can put a traitor to death. Aslan saves Edmund; it is Aslan who will make the great sacrifice at the Stone Table and through the Deep Magic, something terrible – and wonderful – happens.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe follows the book very closely by imagining the story from words into images and sound. For example, the book barely mentions the bombings, but C.S. Lewis in later writings explains that The Chronicles were written for the children who stayed with him and his brother Warnie during the war, and whose imaginations needed to be enkindled. So, the movie begins by showing how frightening it must have been in war-torn London, and the pathos of a mother sending her children to live with strangers so they will be safe.
Once the children arrive at the house of the Professor, the chronicle follows the book closely, only condensing elements here and there. The young actors are wonderful and fresh. It is the first film for Georgie Henley, and the second for William Moseley and Skandar Reeves; only Anna Popplewell is a veteran with an impressive filmography.
Lucy (the name means “light”) provides the radiance that the film displays even when there is danger and sorrow. Georgie Henley as this youngest child seems to let her imagination run free to embrace the fantasy world of Narnia to the extent that by the end, she is the one we remember.
The Weta Workshop, the New Zealand-based team behind the special effects for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, crafted the visual effects. Richard Taylor, founder of Weta, said that he wanted the film to feel like it was actually crafted by the citizens of Narnia, and I think he achieved this. Rhythm & Hues, with headquarters in Los Angeles, handled much of the digital animation aspects and effects in the film. The CGI’s (computer generated images) are realistic and wonderful to behold, from the fauns to the beavers, to the great Aslan himself. The CGI’s look almost as real as the animals and creatures they become on screen.
After his death to atone for Edmund’s treason, the lion Aslan rises in glory – it is the one moment in the film that gave me goose bumps. Liam Neeson’s voice as Aslan is gentler than I expected, and the touch of his paw calming, reassuring, filled with goodness. A child can intuit the unity in this magical world between all creatures and nature, a unity that as adults we yearn for, and by our good efforts, strive to make real.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is directed and co-written by Andrew Adamson, who also co-directed the Oscar-winning Shrek, and co-wrote and co-directed Shrek 2. His dedication to a faithful interpretation of the film for the wonder and delight of all audiences is evident throughout. Other writers are Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely.
For those wondering about the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that is The Magician’s Nephew that Lewis wrote five years later (1955): the story is in the door of the wardrobe itself. The tree from which the wardrobe was made is carved there, and other panels which are more difficult to see during the film, also reflect the prequel. Walden Media hopes that more of the Chronicle stories will make it to film, alas, not The Magician’s Nephew.
Is there a Difference between Harry Potter and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?
With all of the controversy about the Harry Potter series it seems natural to ask this question. An Australian educator, Dr. Susan Reibel Moore, suggests that parents who may be concerned about the possible negative influence of the Harry Potter books or, for that matter, those of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, look for the quality of benevolence toward children as the fundamental premise of the story. In the occult world, there is no comfort; there are no caring adults. The occult wants to recreate the world in a godlike way in order to control it. Fantasy wants to transform the world into a place where goodness wins the struggle.
Dr. Testa, vice president for education and professional development at Walden Media thinks that C.S. Lewis probably influenced J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, though their approaches are quite different. He told me during an interview last July that “Fantasy—the world inside the real world—is a literary tradition that goes way back in English history, a rich mine to excavate. Lewisuses storytelling as a teaching tool. He was a caring adult who tried to help children make sense of the bad things that had happened to them during World War II when London was bombed. This was the event that caused them to be separated from their parents and evacuated to the countryside to live with strangers.” And this is how The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe begins.
Violence and Fairy Tales
What is remarkable about this film is that it shows violence without blood (perhaps necessary to get a PG rating), yet our imaginations fill in what is missing in a kind of gestalt dynamic. Aslan’s death and the battle scenes are intense, whether we read about them or see them imagined into visuals. Yet C.S. Lewis did not set out to frighten children for no reason. He wrote:
“A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as children’s literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened.
“Theymay mean that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is hopeless…or they may mean that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil.”
“C.S. Lewis was a man of faith”, said Dr. Testa of Walden Media, “with a compassionate nature who reached out to children. He believed that by writing this ‘fairy tale,’ as he termed it, he could create hope for the future. The atomic bomb was the biggest moral event of his times. Five years later he wanted to give children a gift, something to look forward to and a way to resolve this moral reality through story.”
Resources for the Faith Community
To help promote the film to faith communities, Motive Media has created a website www.NarniaResources.com so that leaders of schools, churches, groups, and organizations can bring the film into a conversation with faith and the moral imagination. In addition, many books have been published since the movie was announced that can contribute to this dialogue and the teachable moments the film provides.
For example, Mary Margaret Keaton, author of Imagining Faith with Kids: Unearthing Seeds of the Gospel in Children’s Stories from Peter Rabbit to Harry Potter (2005) writes, “For Christians the allegory is obvious. Aslan represents Christ, who offered his life in place of ours, whose death and resurrection won our freedom and redemption. In Aslan’s loneliness and sorrow, we recognize Jesus’ agony in the garden; in his humiliation and shearing, Jesus’ passion; and of course, in Aslan’s resurrection, the Easter story.” (Available from www.pauline.org)
Keaton, a wife, mother, catechist, and journalist believes that talking with children about the moral dilemmas faced by the children in the story is the best way to let them talk about their own impressions and feelings of the film. She recommends that parents and teacher acknowledge the struggles children face when figuring out right from wrong, the difference between lying and telling the truth, feeling anger, asking for and giving forgiveness, and the struggle to be courageous and good.
Christin Ditchfield, author of A Family Guide to Narnia: Biblical Truths in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (2003), goes through each of the Chronicles moment by moment offering biblical parallels and giving scriptural references as ways to link fantasy and faith. For example, when Lucy first looks into the wardrobe, Ditchfield quotes Ecclesiastes 11:9: “Be happy … while you are young…. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see.”
Finding God in the Narnia (2005) by Kurt Bruner & Jim Ware (who also wrote Finding God in the Lord of the Rings) is a guided tour of the and of Narnia that points out connections to the Christian faith.
Dr. Testa of Walden Media, however, explains that there will be different readings of Lewis’s classic. “Like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, you can read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in many ways. This is the beauty of reading texts. As American Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “In a good short story the message of the story goes on expanding the more a reader thinks about it.
“This is also what Jesus was up to with the parables. The more you think about them,the more they mean to you. What you bring to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is what you will get out of it. Our goal is to interpret the book faithfully into a film that audiences will delight in, at whatever level or dimensions they choose.”
According to C.S. Lewis, the purpose of fantasy is to heighten the child’s sense of reality and to explore and try on life through the imagination. In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe audiences young, old and in between, are in for a fantastic voyage about goodness which is the essence of peace, that engages the story-teller, and listener, in all of us.
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