No, not Christmas -- Narnia. Here's the rundown of some of the journalistic hackery out there right now, most good, others not so good. I am curious as to how many of your loyal readers will be seeing the film tonight or this weekend. I will not be seeing it this weekend, as I will be out of town. Please feel free to leave links to other reviews of the film and let us know whether you think they accurately portray the movie. Actual news features are even better.
So let's start on the not so good. The Guardian's Polly Toynbee doesn't pull any punches, writing that "Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion," and that's in the headline. Everything from Aslan representing "everything an atheist objects to in religion ... he is pure, raw, awesome power," to C.S. Lewis weaving "his dreams to invade children's minds with Christian iconography that is part fairytale wonder and joy -- but heavily laden with guilt, blame, sacrifice and a suffering that is dark with emotional sadism." Toynbee clearly does not like Lewis, Christianity or The Chronicles of Narnia.
And here's more:
Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged. ...
Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials -- has called Narnia "one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read".
Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America -- that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peel in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis's view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis's earth.
We have already established that those who say Aslan as a lion does not truly represent Jesus Christ do not truly understand the nature of Jesus. We also know that Lewis was no neo-fascist. Toynbee fails to support most of her allegations with facts, but that said, those who need Toynbee's I'm Angry at my Dad, Christians are all Evil attitude, social critique mirroring pieces in the New Yorker and The New York Times can have it. The only difference is that Toynbee is not nearly as hard on Lewis as her American counterparts.
On the other side of the pond, The Detroit Free Press's religion writer David Crumm found a local angle, profiling the local folks who made short films that helped build Lewis's legacy. Crumm is much more factually focused in this straight news story and it's a solid local portrait of individuals who loved Lewis's writings.
RedState.org has a page devoted to watching the "hate" directed towards the Narnia film, highlighting the Guardian piece mentioned above. Feel free to browse through that long page of comments, but there's little there worth reading. I say chill out folks, ignore the "hate," otherwise known as criticism and enjoy the movie.
And onto my favorite Narnia piece of the week, The Washington Post's William Booth takes us on a rapid ride through the multitudes of literary criticisms, hypotheticals regarding Lewis's life and writings. Here's what I'm talking about:
C.S. Lewis scholarship has long been viewed as kind of fuddy-duddy-retro in academe, populated mostly by enthusiasts toiling away at religious colleges who often come to the massive Lewis output with an appreciation for its Christian message. "There is the feeling that it would be relegated to a corner," says Christine Mather, a Lewis scholar and a lecturer in gender studies at Vanderbilt University, "that it would be a lesser area of study for a lesser scholar."
Not now. Narnia Studies, with a minor in Harry Potter, are hot. "My goodness," says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, which houses the most comprehensive collection of Lewis material in the world. "There is a ton of stuff coming out right now. It's a publishing frenzy. Everyone is trying to capitalize on the movie."
Over the years there have been dozens of Lewis biographies, and they trace the common narrative about the life of Lewis, which was actually odd and troubled. Where they differ is in what it all means. Lewis is often portrayed in split-screen images: the reactionary, red-faced Oxford don who dislikes children but is described by friends as humble and generous to a fault, who spends his evenings answering letters to his 10-year-old fans (and, by some accounts, every letter was answered -- can you imagine?).
I liked and enjoyed the Booth piece. It covered the spectrum and quoted everything from Christianity Today to our friend Toynbee from above. It's an example of a thorough cultural critique of what is likely to be one of the more significant movies of the year.