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A Heresy on Narnia, and Liam Neeson’s Rum Thing



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I just saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and I have a heretical admission to make: I enjoyed the film more than I remember enjoying the book. (Before you send me enraged e-mails, please know that C.S. Lewis is, in general, one of my favorite writers.) Two important factors made the difference: The character of Eustace, whom I remember from the book as being simply loathsome, is in the movie more of a Larry David figure — you can understand why people dislike him but he’s basically an entertaining curmudgeon. (Larry David, at least in his fictionalized self-presentation on Curb Your Enthusiasm, is the misanthrope as Everyman. In most of the fixes he gets into, the audience is given enough information to see that he’s in the right; but the other characters lack this information and become very angry with him.) The other key change is in the character of the courageous mouse Reepicheep. In the book, I found him too cloying; in the movie, I thought him quite noble and inspiring.   

Anyone distracted by the recent controversy surrounding the film should be reassured. Liam Neeson, who provides the voice of the lion God-figure Aslan, became the target of an Internet Two-Minute Hate after his assertion that the figure of Aslan was not simply and merely a Christ figure. “Aslan symbolizes a Christlike figure,” said Neeson, “but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids — that’s what he means for me.” Do a Google Blog Search of “liam neeson” plus “mohammed,” and you get over 30,000 hits, on which you will find the words politically correct, moronic, idiocy, ridiculous, etc., thrown around with gay abandon. But note carefully: Neeson was not making an assertion about Lewis’s intent in creating the character, he was saying what insight he himself brought to the role. And it is an accepted tenet in Christian orthodoxy that there are elements of truth in other religions — as it were, adumbrations of Christ. And finding instances of basic truth (as well as such virtues as piety, courage, and so on) in other religions is a very Christian thing to do, because these are indeed seen in Christian thought as echoes of Christianity. This idea was discussed most memorably in the following passage:

 

I read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole outline of Christian history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense. Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken. You will remember I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive “apart from his Christianity.” Now, I veritably believe, I thought — I didn’t of course say; words that would have revealed the nonsense — that Christianity itself was very sensible “apart from its Christianity.” But I hardly remember, for I had not long finished The Everlasting Man when something far more alarming happened to me. Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing,” he went on. “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it really happened once.”

Many readers will, I am sure, recognize that the passage above is by C. S. Lewis, who, like Chesterton, knew that echoes of Christianity in other religions were evidence more likely of the truth of Christianity than of its doubtfulness.

And so, Liam Neeson may find it a “rum thing” that other impressive leaders in mankind’s religious history, and virtuous mentors to young people in our own time, are reminiscent of a Christ figure created by C. S. Lewis. Lewis and Chesterton would suggest that there’s a profound reason for that.

So much for the controversy. As for the film itself, its messages are powerfully Christian without being tediously preachy. One of my favorites — I don’t remember whether it was in the book, of which I do not have a copy at hand — was in a scene in which a human character, who had been transformed into a monster, had been transformed back by Aslan. No matter how hard I tried, says the character, I couldn’t move toward Aslan; he had to move toward me. Whether it was C.S. Lewis’s line originally or not, I’m sure his Protestant heart would have been warmed by seeing this particular sentiment on the big screen. (Martin Luther, and St. Paul, would doubtless have approved as well.)

The long and short of it: a fine movie, and appropriate for just about all ages. (Very young children back in my own youth — I’m 46 — might have found some of the computer-generated monsters too frightening; but I understand today’s children are made of sterner stuff.)



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