Saturday, December 17, 2005

Narnia: Disturbing Magic

We returned from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" a little over two hours ago. What a beautifully executed film.

The opening sequence is worth the whole movie. I can't recall a single film that shows us the terror of being on the ground under a bombing raid while trying to protect one's children. This opening device is the only part of the movie that truly moved me, and I think it is in part because it was unexpected and so well done. I really appreciated that effort.

The rest of the story is well-known in the circles I run in. No surprises.

What was surprising is how my understanding of the story and the gospel has changed in the last several years. I couldn't believe how dichotomistic Lewis is in his narrative. There is good. There is evil. The good is all good. The evil is all evil. Good must win and will. The good that must win will do so by killing, destroying, wiping out all evil. No forgiveness. No opportunity to change. End of story.

For my postmodern soul, this kind of eschatalogical conflict left me anxious. Is this even a possible way to view war any more in this world? What does this kind of narrative do to our imaginations? Do we frame our current conflicts in such a zero sum game?

When terrorists attack us, they represent themselves, yet are embedded in countries of people who are not out to harm us. Is it right to fight wars where those who are not evil are victims and can't be so easily sorted out from the "bad guys"?

The scene that upset me the most in the movie: Aslan standing by while Peter had to kill the wolf. My goodness! Peter was commanded to kill by the God figure without any intervention or help - yet the expression on his face was one of absolute repulsion (as it should be!) at the prospect of doing so. I did not like that at all! What about justice or punishment that doesn't include immediate execution at the hands of a boy!? Is that even how they did it in WWII? Did Nazi officers get shot point blank by the good guys while their compatriots stood by?

If the "deeper" magic is that the betrayer can be redeemed if one who is pure takes his place in judgment, then why wouldn't Aslan have done so on behalf of the wolf or on behalf of the evil, enslaved creatures working for the White Witch? In fact, isn't that the message most Christians equate with Christianity - that Jesus can to redeem the whole world? Yet in Lewis's world, the evil creatures are not to be redeemed at all. They are to be destroyed. Aslan dies only for one, not for everyone.

And all on Aslan's side are frozen by the White Witch, not killed, while those that the "good guys" kill are truly dead.

The underpinings of religion married to empire couldn't have been clearer. And the idea that we become more honorable through the murder of those we oppose ran as a theme throughout the story.

I no longer see Christianity in these terms. Perhaps it worked when Hitler was taking over Europe. But today? Do we honestly believe the route to a peaceful world is slaughtering our enemies? Hmmm. That sounds a bit like the Nazi vision of justice, doesn't it?

9 comments:

Old Mom said...

Interesting that the part you were moved by bears no relation to the writings of Lewis. My daughter is reading the book to her brother (so they can go see the movie) and had to check with me to be sure it was WW II that formed the background; that is how little of the war is actually in the book.

The black/white aspect of the story is, I suspect,part of what has prevented my children from liking the books in the past. They have heard bits and pieces of LW&W from group reading at their Montessori school when they were younger, and DD read and loved THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW. But she has never been able to read the others--she said the ideas were fun but the characters were wooden and all the same. . .my dc love the nuanced, really expansive world of Tolkien much more. . .as do I, although I did read all of Lewis's books as a child (only 3 tv channels--we read more.)I even read The Screwtape Letters, Perelandra, etc.

Lewis was himself, I think, an unnuanced person in some ways. His "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" thing has always irritated me as there is at least one other choice (how about "misquoted" Jack?) Convinced aetheists who convert to convinced Christians in one blinding flash (and vis-versa) have by that very act demonstrated a tremendous capacity for either/or thinking.

Finally, I drag out a few childhood memories of reading the books myself. . .back in the 1960s/70s Lewis was not well-known in the US as a Christian and I, frankly, didn't even catch the allegory the first time through. I remember being bewildered by the Last Battle in general. What was with the characters who just drifted away? What was the stone table all about? Why was the whole thing so, ummm, mean in tone? So I guess, all those years ago, I was catching the overtone you have focused so well on here.

Great review!

Rebecca

Cajun Cay said...

Wow, Julie!

A very thoughtful review which I appreciated reading.

I'm looking forward to other comments.

Thanks!

Theresa said...

My ten year old son loves the books, but loved the movie more. He said it was the first time that has happened, that he has preferred a movie version to the book. I am sure it was the special effects-he loves that stuff and these were undoubtedly excellent. He hasn't picked up on the Christ allegory at all and though I considered it, I'm not going to bring it up to him for the very reason you point out. I find it disturbing that Aslan dies only for Ed, the traitor, and that the others are fit only for slaughter. The dichotomy of the "saved" vs the "damned" was just too cut and dry for me. And it just plays too much into this administration's political agenda.
To be fair, Aslan slaughters the damned AFTER his death, resurrection, and return. And the Christian message is right in line with that aspect. If I understand correctly, we are told that at the point of Christ's second coming it will be too late for any conversion. Perhaps that was what it was all about?

Love2Learn Mom said...

I think you might be reading too much into it. Why do the creatures in Narnia have to be equivalent to humans on earth? Could the witch and the wolf be more equivalent to demons, who have chosen and sealed their own their fate with full understanding once and for all?

Also, keep in mind that Edmund was repentant, whereas the wolf had no such qualms and was, in fact, completely intent on killing and coming back to kill again. (I dunno - do the wolves turn things into stone? I didn't get that impression.)

Also, Edmund might be considered as representing the human race in general, with all our faults, failings and pettiness.

It is a fairly simplistic story (only 85 pages), but I liked how they developed the relationship between the children in the movie. Edmund is more complex than I had considered him earlier, and the shortcomings of his siblings (which contributed significantly to his treachery) are more clear than in the book.

julieunplugged said...

Great comments in this thread. I am amazed that this particular post drew so much feedback.

The last poster asked if we must take the witch's creatures as analogous to humans in our world.

No, no one has to make this a literal one to one correspondence. What stood out to me, though, was the idea of doing battle to the death (whatever the opposition is). The idea is to join with forces that subdue the enemy.

But that can be flipped around to suit anyone's idea of good and evil.

I am wondering now if there isn't an alternative to "death" when we talk about evil. What would that mean metaphorically anyway? Can any of us exterminate impulses for bad or evil rom our lives?

No we must learn to deal with them, to acknowledge and resist them. But what does it mean to kill them?

I realize this is a children's book and only 85 pages. I just hadn't realized how much my thinking had changed about the vision of what it means to be a Christian until I saw this movie. It just doesn't reflect what I believe is the heart of the Gospel message.

JSD RN said...

Hi Julie,

We too saw Narnia recently and fully agree with your opening description. I wanted to know, was the example you used about the terrorists addressing a theological conflict in the movie surrounding the redeeming of Edmund? You wrote,

“If the "deeper" magic is that the betrayer can be redeemed if one who is pure takes his place in judgment, then why wouldn't Aslan have done so on behalf of the wolf or on behalf of the evil, enslaved creatures working for the White Witch? In fact, isn't that the message most Christians equate with Christianity - that Jesus can to redeem the whole world? Yet in Lewis's world, the evil creatures are not to be redeemed at all. They are to be destroyed. Aslan dies only for one, not for everyone.”

It seems that ‘theresa’ addressed this in her post. I’m curious to know a little more about this point you made.

Thanks

julieunplugged said...

JSD said:

"We too saw Narnia recently and fully agree with your opening description. I wanted to know, was the example you used about the terrorists addressing a theological conflict in the movie surrounding the redeeming of Edmund?"

I hadn't even thought about Edmund so much as Tumnus or any of the creatures who were caught up in the dominion of the White Witch who may not have explicitly chosen evil but were under its spell.

In thinking about terrorism, I was thinking about Iraq specifically.

The problem here is that I was looking at the Narnia story through the lens of contemporary issues as well as how my understanding of Christianity has grown or changed over the last four years. I realize that for most people, the story is a fairy tale of good versus evil, full stop.

But for me, since Lewis explicitly supports the Christian myth as the TRUE myth and since this is his vision of what it means to serve God loyally, it did make me want to think about how he understood war and evil. I don't like the idea that the "good" in this world must be married to empirical rule. That is not the Christian message.

Maybe I'll blog a bit about why I think so and we can talk more about it then.

Julie

P.S. How did you all find my blog?

JSD RN said...

I appreciate your explanation and can relate as well:

"The problem here is that I was looking at the Narnia story through the lens of contemporary issues as well as how my understanding of Christianity has grown or changed over the last four years. I realize that for most people, the story is a fairy tale of good versus evil, full stop."

My understanding of Christianity, as well, has changed over the past couple of years. It was with this perspective that I went into the movie.

Whether Tumnus, Edmund, the wolf, the fox, or that bull-headed thing, whether we or others judge our lives as 'good' or 'bad', until we are redeemed by Christ we are all under the dominion of the 'evil witch' (Acts 10:38, Colossians 1:19-21) and not by 'choice' but through our heritage (Romans 5).

Thankfully, Christmas is here to remind us that God did not come to leave His redeemed alone (John 14:15-18)...He did not go walking off on some beach as did Aslan. No fairy tale.

Perhaps this message will be introduced in Iraq and Afghanistan. Until then I will not fret about WMD's in those countries when I have to discover and destroy the WMD's or rather the 'Turkish Delights' in my own household.

Oh, how did I find your blog? My wife is a regular reader of your message board. The wisdom/thoughts you share have been a tremendous blessing to her in a time when motherhood is not honored as it should be. Thank you and Merry CHRISTmas.

Theresa said...

I found your blog through a link on Cay Gibson's House of Literature blog. I am a frequenter of the 4realerning boards and a BraveMom myself. The Writers Jungle and Bravewriter have really been a blessing in our homeschool, btw. My 10 yo son has gone from dispising writing to voluntarily working on a novel, thanks to your advice.