Beginning Chapter One of the Great Story

It’s been a great C. S. Lewis semester for me: teaching my Lewis course at Southeastern University; enjoying the opportunity to teach his Mere Christianity along with my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, at my church every Wednesday evening; and having the privilege of sharing about my book at the Wade Center at Wheaton College.

I don’t take any of this for granted, and I appreciate all the doors the Lord has opened in the last four years since He inspired me to research and write about Lewis during the sabbatical I received from Southeastern.

Yesterday in the SEU class, we finished reading and discussing The Last Battle, Lewis’s climax to the Narnia series. I chose this one for the students to read because most had already read or were at least familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Yet there was another reason: the ending of The Last Battle contains one of the most wonderful depictions of the New Earth (even if it is in the fictional world of Narnia) that I have ever encountered. When God wraps up this tragi-comedy that we call “reality,” what will it be like? Lewis gives us a hint.

As all the characters that populated the seven Narnia books (except Susan, sadly) find themselves transported into Life after this life, they are trying to make sense of it all. The Lord Digory explains what has happened:

Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world.

You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.

Jewel the Unicorn captured it as well when he realized that he had “come home at last. This is my real country,” he proclaimed. “This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

There’s a reason why we can see beauty around us on this earth, yet long for more. As Jewel concludes, “The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that is sometimes looked a little like this.” And our tired old earth, regardless of being marred by man’s sin, nevertheless retains hints of the Reality that awaits us.

The final page of The Last Battle offers us a revolution in our thinking about death that is worth quoting in full:

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.

All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

If that doesn’t send a thrill up your spine, you’re not paying attention to the words. I look forward to getting past the title page and entering into the Great Story that goes on forever, and I am convinced, as Lewis says, that every chapter will be better than the one before.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 5)

This week, I’m sharing some of the comments respondents to my Wade Center survey gave regarding the movie versions of Narnia. For the sake of brevity here, I’m excluding comments on earlier productions, such as a 1979 animated Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe and BBC productions of four of the Narnia books back in 1988-1990. So here is the amended question I asked:

Have You Viewed Any of the Narnia Hollywood Productions? If So, What Is Your Opinion of Them?

The Chronicles of NarniaSome respondents were fulsome in their praise of the recent movies, such as the one who commented simply, “I love them. Excellent films and all seem to follow the book fairly closely.” Added to that was another’s perspective: “I thought these films portrayed Lewis’s books very well. They made Lewis’s characters come to life.” And a third contributed, “I believe they are a creative representation of the Biblical narrative that can penetrate hearts and souls.”

All of these responses concentrated on the substance of the films and a sense of satisfaction that they conveyed the essence of what Lewis sought to communicate. Another thought the quality of the production highlighted Lewis’s themes: “Amazing! I love the graphics, the film quality supported the story line and made it so real to me.”

Others, while supportive of the movies, noted some concerns about alterations of the message and about parts that were omitted and/or the addition of extra material that Lewis himself had not introduced. For instance, one respondent commented, “I have seen all three Narnia theatrical films. I enjoyed all three and thought they were generally well done. I was a little disappointed that they ‘watered down’ the Christian elements a bit, but I still thought they were good films and largely faithful to Lewis’s ideas and vision.”

Prince CaspianAnother seemed to suggest that there are natural limitations whenever one tries to convert a book into a film: “I appreciated how they brought the Narnia books to the big screen and made them understandable and attractive for a wider audience. I don’t believe that the movies could ever have quite the depth of the books but I did appreciate the translation of some elements to visual art.”

Similar in tone was this remark: “I have viewed the first two Narnia films. I enjoyed them, but felt that the content of the Narnia stories is better communicated in book form. Film diminishes the charm of Lewis’s authorial voice.”

Despite those positive and semi-positive reviews, comments decrying the loss of Lewis’s vision and disappointment with some of the decisions on how to communicate the message of the books on screen were more numerous. Here are the most representative samples in this grouping:

Voyage of Dawn Treader 2I have seen all three films based on The Chronicles of Narnia. I think they are well done cinematically, although some scenes hint at a low budget and inexperienced actors.

They maintain the integrity of Lewis’s characters and stories in name and outline, but the deviations therefrom are numerous and sometimes so great as to ruin almost entirely the theological, personal, and practical insights and applications made available in the books.

I watched the Chronicles of Narnia films. I think they were good, but commercialized. I think that C.S. Lewis has saturated the market, which is good, but I believe people begin to miss the depth that he provided. Also, the struggle that C.S. Lewis had with the Christian faith. I believe that the popularity of these movies has brought popularity to C.S.Lewis, but I hope that people explore more of his works and begin to wrestle with the different thoughts and ideas that he presented.

I have been SO upset about the ways in which the movies, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, diverged from the book. The book is my favorite of the series, as it is many others. The movie just took liberties that were “unforgivable.” Wardrobe was good, and Caspian was a “B” also because of things like having the White Witch show up.

I felt very disconnected from the Disney/Walden Media death scene (and movie as a whole) and felt the newer live action films lacked the understanding of the spiritual undertones of the works and Aslan’s character. . . . Disney/Walden’s LWW was the strongest of the recent films. Most people I’ve talked to felt that Prince Caspian was a huge letdown and Voyage could not make up the difference.

How to summarize? Of the three Hollywood films, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes across as the best. There is a strong sense of disappointment in Hollywood’s renditions of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Finally, there is strong criticism of deviations in the Hollywood scripts and depictions.

Next Saturday, I turn to my final question, which allowed the respondents to say anything they wished about the influence of Lewis on their lives. The survey turned up some fascinating comments.

Jesus, Aslan, & a Worried Child

What has impressed me tremendously as I read through the letters of C. S. Lewis to Americans is his genuineness. He takes time to respond even to those most of us would consider a bother. I’m now into 1955 in these letters, and at this point Lewis is getting a steady stream of them from children who are reading his Narnia books.

AslanOne letter stands out. It’s actually written to the boy’s mother, who has informed Lewis that her son is worried because he thinks he loves Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis wrote back to the mother what she should say to her son, Laurence. I find this letter fascinating. Lewis begins this way:

Even if he was loving Aslan more than Jesus (I’ll explain in a moment why he can’t really be doing this) he would not be an idol-worshipper. If he was an idol-worshipper he’d be doing it on purpose, whereas he’s now doing it because he can’t help doing it, and trying hard not to do it.

Lewis then gets tot he crux of the matter and explains why Laurence needn’t worry at all:

But Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feel that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.

Lewis & AslanEven though Lewis was still a bachelor at this time, and he never had any children of his own, he remembered his childhood and how a child thinks. How else to account for the astounding success of the Narnia books? He realizes that Laurence, as a small boy, is naturally attracted to certain things, and he helps ease both the mother’s and the boy’s concerns when he delves even further into the matter:

Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother.

He then suggests a prayer that Laurence can offer to God, which I find quite appropriate for a young boy:

If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this:”Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what you want and growing more like you.”

What’s even more touching, from my perspective, is what Lewis adds after that:

That is the sort of thing I think Laurence should say for himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added, “And if Mr. Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.”

This sort of humility shines through many of Lewis’s letters, but probably no more so than in the ones he wrote to children. He was a massive intellect, but he knew how to connect to his audience, be it at the university or in a personal letter to a child who needs reassurance that his faith is not misplaced.

The Dawn Treader . . . & Beyond

I saw Voyage of the Dawn Treader last night. In preparation for it, I watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian earlier this week. It’s a great way to fill a week.

Watching these films took me back to the first time I read The Chronicles of Narnia. They were actually some of the last Lewis works I tackled, probably because I wasn’t attracted to the idea of spending my time with children’s books. Yet, once I started, I was drawn into them due to Lewis’s talent for storytelling and his ability to combine a fascinating narrative with striking Biblical truths.

The new movie has many strengths: special effects that, even while they have become a staple in the business, still are amazing; character development [as much as one can in two hours, as opposed to a book]; and an alarming message about the dangers of temptation, delivered in a non-preachy manner.

So I guess I’m offering a semi-review here that concludes with an enthusiastic endorsement. If you haven’t seen it yet, take the opportunity this week.

What would C. S. Lewis think of the transference of his books onto the screen? That’s speculation, but I hope he would approve, particularly now that the technology has advanced to the point where his flights of imagination can be realized visually. There are four more Narnia books, and if this one does well—and it was #1 at the box office its first week—another one will go forward, either The Silver Chair or The Magician’s Nephew. As long as the franchise stays faithful to the Christian message, I pray for its continued success.

Breaking Out of the Ignorance Ghetto

What do Sarah Palin, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Joy Behar have in common? The first two, quite a bit; the last one only by virtue of her ignorance.

Last night, a Barbara Walters interview with Palin aired on ABC. One of the goals for Palin in the interview was to put to rest the notion that she is not a reader. “I read anything and everything that I can get my hands on as I have since I was a little girl,” she explained. When asked about her favorite reading material, one of the authors she highlighted was C. S. Lewis. She reads him, she said, “when I want some divine inspiration.”

That comment spawned another one online, from Joy Behar, who chimed in, “Didn’t he write children’s books?” This was another one of those snarky attempts by a cultural and political liberal to demean Palin’s intellect. Behar, who has made quite a name for herself on the Walters-sponsored program The View, apparently couldn’t resist the opportunity to make fun of the former vice-presidential candidate. Behar is already well-known for her acidic comments about the Christian faith, so this was sort of like a two-fer for her: she could lampoon Palin and chuckle at a Christian writer of children’s books simultaneously.

Well, she’s certainly correct about the fact that C. S. Lewis wrote some children’s books: undoubtedly she’s familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia. The movies based on the series have been quite successful.

The newest one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, actually opens today. Ms. Behar should go see it.

But anyone who thinks Lewis was only an author of children’s books is badly misinformed. Perhaps Ms. Behar doesn’t realize he was a highly respected scholar of literature. His own writings span from serious literary criticism to science fiction to philosophy. I would recommend to her anything he has written for her edification, but when it comes to worldview, his Abolition of Man is outstanding. It could rock her world if she were to approach it with an open heart.

Behar obviously is ignorant of the real Lewis. That might come from hanging around with other ignorant people too much.

It’s time for her to break out of her ghetto. There’s a whole new world out there to explore. Sarah Palin knows about it.