| || ||
Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe |
Not Quite a Movie Review | James Como | December 7, 2005
All my life Ive loved movies, but only at age twenty
did The Chronicles find me. Ive spent much mental energy paying
close attention to both, and now that they have met and that Ive witnessed
that meeting I am thrilled. We could get picky, but we would be picky indeed to
fault this book-to-movie; such pickiness would say more about us than the
Like most people Ive more often suffered over than been delighted by
this sort of transmutation. In moving from printed page to my mind, the book
becomes my own; and I know that you, another reader, have your own book too.
Certainly our mental books overlap, but the differences between them are a big
part of what keeps us talking. In moving from the printed page to the screen,
however, the book must first hit my eyeballs and my ears. Two senses are
assaulted, and that is no small thing. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Aristotle
wrote in his Rhetoric that to be persuasive one should "set it before
their [the audiences] eyes." (He didnt say "ears," but
he didnt have amplifiers.) He was right then and hes still right,
which is why movies are so irresistible: heavy-handed or not, spectacle up there
on that big screen makes all the difference. (And note well: in his
Poetics Aristotle included spectacle as one of the five major features of
As I watch the book-to-movie I may be (in truth, I usually am) swept away
but no longer, as with my mental book, when the movie is done. Moreover,
you and I and all of us will have seen more or less (though never exactly) the
same spectacle, so our talk changes. We no longer discuss author Xs book
but director Ys movie; we no longer talk about our own mental books
the one weve taken solitary walks within and lived through but about
our shared spectacular experience.
The point: if we cherish the book, if we regard our mental book as what the
author closely intended, and if the director gets that wrong or worse,
betrays it well, then, we want to throttle the director, who is undoing
not only author Xs cherished world but our very own mental book as well.
Worse: now with Ys betrayal out and about, anyone who had not read the book
but has seen the movie will get it all wrong. These . . . these turnips .
. . will not know that Y is a knucklehead, or worse.
Why, then, has the Narnia movie thrilled me? Faithful both to the substance
and spirit of the book, it overdoes nothing. This matters enormously, for the
great danger of lavish spending on the production of a movie with epic promise is
excess. In this case, though, from deep meaning to sheer spectacle
with the effect of talking and exotic beasts somewhere in between we
behold ordinateness: this movie is fitting.
That is a lot not to have to worry about: a great relief, given my
not-inordinate worry. How unlikely an accomplishment is this absence of excess
in how very many ways the movie should have been seriously overwrought,
given all the temptations of greed, proselytizing, and vanity, and all the risks
of writing, casting, formal complexity, and technical innovation how
unlikely an accomplishment this ordinateness is I leave for each of us who love
the books to marvel over and to give thanks for. I do thank God, and all the
people who labored. And without quite knowing exactly what he did or how
he functioned, what he contributed or (more importantly) what he prevented
we should probably thank Lewiss stepson and a co-producer of the movie,
Douglas Gresham, and I do.
All of which is not to say there has been (or is) nothing at all to worry
about. Along with Lewiss Narnia (and our mental correlative) and the movie,
there is the Twilight Zone Narnia the Narnia of publicity, marketing and
media chatter which bears little relation to either of the first two.
Over here we have a schizophrenic sales pitch: on the one hand an Evangelical
Narnia, with its study guides designed to awaken every sleeping dragon that Lewis
had sneaked past, and on the other a perfectly non-Christian Narnia that,
according to a version of one Gresham interview, couldnt offend the most
devout secularist because there is nothing Christian about it. Over there we have
venomous conflict and willfully wrong-headed criticism: the opportunistic Philip
K. Pullman (the Christophobe of His Dark Materials fame) and a few
smart-aleck New York pundits with really loud megaphones. And bit further away
barely discernible but no longer merely on the horizon we have a
tarted up Narnia, including a new Narnia tale "inspired" by C. S.
Lewis, a simplified version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and a
growing pile of trivializing merchandise. In short, the books and the movie have
become both a goldmine (and we really must ask of C. S. Lewis Pte Ltd, the
copyright holder, How much is enough?) and a battleground.
In truth, however, although Lewis had an indisputably Protestant cast of
mind, he did not have an Evangelical one. He limited his religious thinking,
writing, speaking, and witnessing strictly to those venues he thought
appropriate; he had many Catholic beliefs and practices; and it is doubtful he
ever would have referred to himself as having been "born again."
Furthermore, we know that he did not set out to write Christian propaganda when
he wrote The Chronicles. In other words, unless you are of Pullmans
febrile ilk, you really dont have much to worry about; and if you
dont believe that then just ask the many thousands of people who love
Narnia and who arent Christians and who dont see its Christianity and
who dont care that others do. If Lewis was a commando, "behind enemy
lines" as he put it, surely his battlefield was less the culture-at-large
than the heart of each of his readers.
In that light, I note finally Lewiss great accomplishment with Narnia.
We recall his famous late-night talk with Tolkien and Dyson in 1931, the one that
resulted in Lewis realizing that a myth could remain a myth and still be a fact.
What Lewis has done in The Chronicles is to re-mythologize
Christianity, re-locating our response from the intellect to the imagination.
That is, with his fairy tales and we do well to recall that, according to
Lewis, "sometimes fairy stories may say best whats to be said"
Lewis has restored that stage just before facticity, or its potential,
breaks through, that stretch of time when the longing evoked by the myth
as such still beckons pure. Let everyone who sees this movie feel that,
and then let each of them wonder . . .
T. Como is the editor of Remembering
C. S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him, just released
by Ignatius Press, a collection of twenty-four reminiscences and impressions
from friends, students, and acquaintances of C.S. Lewis.
He holds advanced degrees in medieval English literature
(Fordham University) and in Language, Literature and Rhetoric (Columbia
University) and is Professor of Rhetoric and Public Communication at York
College of the City University of New York, where he has taught for over
A founding member of the New York C. S. Lewis Society (1969) and former
editor of its bulletin, CSL, he has published C. S. Lewis at the
Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences and articles on Lewis in
such journals as National Review, Seven, and The Wilson Quarterly.
In 1993 he visited the closed set of Richard Attenboroughs Shadowlands
and interviewed the principals, after which he commented (not entirely
favorably) on that film. Dr. Como also lectures widely on Lewis and other
Christian authors, including Moral Learning In and Out of Narnia,
the Thomas More Lecture on Learning, for St. Thomas More College in Fort
Worth, Texas, and, most recently, Congruent Christians, one
of a number of public of lecture series he had given at the Center for
Christian Studies of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan
He has also written on the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and, more generally,
on the political culture of Peru, where he has lived and visited with
some frequency. He has also published Branches to Heaven: The Geniuses
of C. S. Lewis (Spence). A Catholic and native New Yorker, Dr. Como (and
his Peruvian wife) have two grown children and live in Westchester County.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him | An Interview with James
Puritania | Joseph Pearce | An Excerpt from C. S. Lewis and the Catholic
An Hour and a
Lifetime with C.S. Lewis | An IgnatiusInsight.com Interview with Dr.
Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill | By Gord
the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
Love, Beauty and Reason | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
The Measure of
Literary Giants | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
C. S. Lewis | Ignatius Press resources:
By C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce, A Grief Observed, Mere Christianity,
Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters)
Lewis and the Catholic Church | by Joseph Pearce
C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him
Lewis for the Third Millenium | by Peter Kreeft
Lewis' Case for the Christian Faith | by Richard Purtill
Complete Chronicles of Narnia | by C.S. Lewis (single, hardcover
Chronicles of Narnia
Set | by C.S. Lewis (7-volume set, softcover in case)
Set (3 tapes)
Life of C.S. Lewis: Through Joy and Beyond (DVD)
(BBC edition; DVD)
Magic Never Ends (DVD)
Giants, Literary Catholics | by Joseph Pearce
Converts | by Joseph Pearce
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
| || || |