Friday, December 16, 2005

Narnia, Critics, Cheerleaders, Etc, With An Emphasis on the "Etc"

I've seen some criticisms of the Narnia films that accuse the film of harboring Christian or Christian-esque propaganda. This criticism is presented as if having such a background is some objectively bad thing.

Frankly, I don't see the big deal either way.

I love Asimov's sci-fi short stories. I enjoyed his robot novels, his Empire novels, and his Foundation novels. You know what you're getting when you read Asimov: a story written from the framework of materialism. For me to complain that Asimov doesn't have a classical supernatural Christian worldview in his stories [or in his life] is rather pointless, since Asimov is what he is, and he has written what he has written. I don't have to renounce the Christian religion to lie in bed late and read a story with atheist metaphysics while deriving pleasure from it, just as I don't have to renounce the Christian religion with its ultimate optimism for the elect to listen to Gary Numan's [see pic] late 70's early 80's robopop with nihilistic lyrics. I don't have to renounce basic human decency when I want to see some pro wrestler piledriven on the concrete by the babyface. The use of magic in a story [or, more true to my idiom, a computer game] doesn't cause my head to rotate while I project green ectoplasm because I've allowed Satan to get a foothold in my inner being [at least not for THAT reason!]. I'm not going to become a Papist merely because I loved Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz sci-fi with its latent Romanism. Etc. It's all entertainment, pleasure, a momentary enjoyment. [And we haven't gotten to playing Double Dragon in the arcades in the late 80's, nor have we discussed playing Streets of Rage as college students on a friend's Sega Genesis.]

As a conclusion, the critics who complain about Narnia and such seem rather inflexible in their ability to enjoy things that don't directly affirm their worldview. Nobody is forcing the critics to go, and, so far as I know, the public didn't subsidize the film. They might try enjoying it merely as entertainment, two hours of eye candy, a day out, etc. That some who vociferously oppose Christianity have to pile on a movie seems to this pedantic Protestant a mark of insecurity or desperation regarding one's worldview.

Anyway, let's change the topic slightly. I'll present some editorial material. [Well, the above is editorial too, so the topic is merely changing.]

I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as a young kid in the 70's or early 80's. I even saw the [British?] animated special of it. As a young boy who had no real conscience of his Baptist school background, the story seemed like your typical young adult fantasy fare.

When I was playing the assistant professor game in Chicagoland back in [I think] '01 or '02, I bought the seven-volume Narnia set by Lewis. Over two or three nights in bed, I read the books in the chronological order as the story unfolds. Hence, I read The Magician's Nephew and then read LW&W. Now as being 29 or 30 years old --- I'm getting old when I'm talking about being 29 as a remotely past event ---
I could, after being given a good grounding in classical Christianity, appreciate the framework of the entire collection of stories.

However, I doubt that young children will see the books as stealth Christian theology, but will either enjoy the books or not enjoy the books as their young minds please relative to fantasy. [BTW --- young children need a good fantasy life, as it keeps the imagination going.] Maybe this is too much a projection of my own background, though.

My favorites were Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle. If I remember my thoughts some three or four years ago, The Last Battle had a pleasant Christian subversiveness to it. Antichrist or the forces arrayed against Christendom are presented in a way in that book that reinforced [whether Lewis intended it or not] the idea that the wisdom of the world and the ideological movers-'n'-shakers of the world are not too different from the dressed-up false Aslan of the book. Oh, without giving any spoilers away, I truly loved the ending of the book as well.

While I like Lewis' writings, I can't say that the Narnia series occupies pride of place in the CS Lewis canon. I'd say that Screwtape Letters occupies pride of place, with the Space Trilogy holding its own as well.

Screwtape Letters really had an impact on me because Lewis' demons said almost word-for-word what my own doubts voiced in the early- or mid-90's, when God reached deep into enemy lines to pluck a know-it-all agnostic from his silly self-stultifying worldview. The demons talking about getting the Christian focused on "real life" instead of esoteric religious thinking, the entire "Christianity and [insert ideology here]" diversion, as well as the articulation of higher criticism, all resonated with a grad student who had suddenly come down with a serious case of religious buyer's remorse. Also, despite being single, the comments on Christian marriage hit a nerve with me as well. While doubting at times that I shall ever empirically test the veracity of Lewis' observations, they seem a priori true.

As for the Space Trilogy books, I consider these most excellent reading. I enjoy all three books, but each needs to be taken on its own terms.

Out of the Silent Planet is, at first glance, an anachronistic piece of storytelling with fantasy overtones. The romanticism of the story is rather ruined by Dr Ransom and others walking around on Mars [Malacandra] as if they're walking around on Earth. But, what is pleasant to read is Lewis' version of other sentient, intelligent, rational life forms who also communicate with Maleldil [hope I've spelled that correctly], Lewis' Yahweh for the series.

Perelandra is, I must confess, a beautiful piece of religious fantasy. It doesn't seem right to call it science fiction. As somebody who has always wondered what would have happened if things had gone differently in the Garden, Lewis presents a scenario with the Green Lady that I find to be re-readable to the nth degree. Those who froth whenever anything Christian or Christian-esque comes along will certainly froth at the extended dialogues in the book where the devil-figure of Dr Weston is tempting the Green Lady to sleep on the fixed land, but for somebody like myself, it is nice to see something good put out by the home team.

That Hideous Strength is a very dark book that, like the old B&W Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes, doesn't cause the reader to "freak out" with a direct display of terror, but rather lets the ideas slowly freak the reader out. The deliciously named N.I.C.E. and its protagonists becomes more and more starkly evil as the story goes along. The story suffers a bit from the dabbling with Arthur and Merlin, but otherwise that sort of book can be read over and over again. BTW --- I've seen the "bad guys" in the book criticized as cardboard straw-men stereotypes. I've also seen this criticism of the villians in Rand's two books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. However, I have known, interacted with, and seen people who speak the same sort of language of collectivism and abstract gobbledygook as do Lewis' and Rand's antagonists.

I wish that there was some way of "wiping" one's mind after reading a really good book, so that one could approach it again and again with a fresh mind. I said the same thing about the old Prisoner episodes as well as the old Star Trek episodes. But, part of the enjoyment, I suppose, comes not from experiencing the pleasure and stimulation that comes while reading a good story, but from recollections of the story and the concomitant pleasure as well. I suppose that, under this extreme scenario, one would only need to own one book. You could read it over and over as if it were new!


Blogger Jason Engwer said...

Are you planning to see the new Narnia movie? If so, you should write a review.

I saw the movie last night, but I haven't read any of the Narnia books. My impression was that the series probably will always be better in book format than as movies. I thought the movie was good, but not as good as I was expecting. I think it's understandable why Christians would want to promote the movie, but I think some of them weren't critical enough of it. I do agree with you, though, that some of the critics of the movie seem to be motivated largely by their opposition to Christianity.

It's a good movie with some significant flaws. It's not as good as some of its Christian promoters have suggested, but it's also not as bad as some anti-Christian critics have suggested.

Jason Engwer
New Testament Research Ministries

Saturday, December 17, 2005 9:54:00 AM  
Blogger steve said...

As I recall, the Silver Chair was a clinker. Prince Caspian as well as The Horse and his Boy were also weak entries.

I think the greatest of the series was Voyage of the Dawn Treader, although the Magician's Nephew and the Last Battle are also strong. The LWW is somewhere in the middle.

Perelandra was his masterpiece.

Saturday, December 17, 2005 3:45:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

To pick up on another one of Jason's objections, the idea of gradeschool warriors is every little boy's fantasy. That works in a children's book.

But on the big screen it must strain the willing suspension of belief, reminding one that this is, after all, based on a book for kids. The big screen can make some things look silly and childish.

Saturday, December 17, 2005 3:48:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Jason --- I don't have any conscious plans to see the Narnia flick, but that doesn't mean that someday I won't see it. If I was still in Chicagoland, Diane would surely drag me to the film, kicking and screaming. I'd make her buy my ticket. [I hope Diane sees this.]

Steve --- Silver Chair, Prince Caspian, and THahB were not particularly fun reads when I read them. At least, that is what my memory says. I remembered, as mentioned, The Magician's Nephew, LW&W, Dawn Treader, and the Last Battle, if I'm remembering the names properly. Those were enjoyable.

I completely agree about Perelandra. That book was beautiful. I loved the beginning as well as the ending.

Saturday, December 17, 2005 7:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

Of course I would drag you to the Narnia movie (and probably the Harry Potter one as well). And, maybe I would pay for your ticket as a Christmas present.

The trailers I've seen seem to be good, but I won't get to see it until next week sometime.

I will have to remind myself that this is not the Lord of the Rings and that the books were written for children. As long as I do that, I don't think that I will be disappointed.

Monday, December 19, 2005 10:47:00 AM  

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