Monday, December 29, 2008

The Magician's Book: Narnia from a Skeptic's View

When I began to see reviews of The Magician's Book online, it looked like another attempt by a non-believer to discredit Christianity. But the more I read about it, the more I was intrigued. I was not disappointed.

As a child, Laura Miller found herself enchanted by The Chronicles of Narnia. But she became disenchanted upon finding out that there are many Christian symbols throughout the books. Subtitled "A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia," The Magician's Book is based on the author's relationship with the Chronicles throughout her life.

The book is divided into three sections. "Songs of Innocence" corresponds to her early days. It describes the relationship of children to fantasy. "Trouble in Paradise" talks about her rejection of the Chronicles after she finds out about their Christian source. It brings up the subject of Lewis's prejudices and personal life. "Songs of Experience" is about her study of Lewis's academic writings in relationship to the Chronicles.

The title, The Magician's Book, is a reference to the book that Lucy uses in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to make the Dufllepods visible. The book contains a story that cannot be re-read, and that Lucy cannot remember later. However, the story has made such an impression that when she reads certain other stories in the future, they reminds her of the story in the Magician's book. For Miller, the Chronicles have become a book that will never be the same as it was when she first read it. But she does recognize the same feelings it evoked when she reads certain stories now.

Fans of Lewis may bristle as the writer reminds us of some of Lewis's prejudices. He was certainly not a perfect man, and although he lived in another time, we must wrestle with his views on other races and women. But I will not attempt to tackle that subject here. While Miller certainly makes her views against Christianity known, she does not resort to ad homien attacks. There is much that believers can profit from if they will empathize a little with her views.

Toward the end of the book, there is a chapter titled "The Third Road." It recounts an old Scottish ballad. There is a narrow road beset with thorns and briers--the path to righteousness. And there is the broad road lined with lilies--the path to wickedness. But there is also a third road, a beautiful road twisting through fern-covered hillsides--the road to Elfland. This road, says Miller

leads neither to heaven nor to hell, and it promises a place where the relentless moral weighing that Christianity imposes upon every action in this world simply doesn't apply.

This is apparently how the author is able to reconcile herself to her love for Narnia. The otherworldliness of Narnia can be enjoyed, and the references to Christianity ignored. Miller talks about the writings of Lewis and JRR Tolkien on mythology, and does an admirable job explaining their views. But what she does not wrestle with is their assertion that all myths point to Christ.

The Chronicles end in The Last Battle with a description of a New Narnia that is "more real" than anything they have yet experienced. Miller finds the perfection of this place boring. She contends that the lack of trouble and conflict means an end of stories. She would rather have the imperfections and the never-ending stories. But, just because we have yet to experience perfection does not mean it will be a time and place where nothing happens. A story without any tension is beyond what I can comprehend, but that is part of why it is so intriguing. Certainly the God who created us, and knows us better than we know ourselves, will have things for us to do that will be more enjoyable than any experience or story we have yet to encounter.

But what about the here and now? When Christ talked about the Broad Way and the Narrow Way, He never said that the Narrow Way was "beset with thorns and briers" and that the Broad way was lined with lilies. Whatever road we choose, there will hardship along the way. But Christ said that He came that we might have "life more abundantly." Believers not only have Heaven to look forward to, but a perspective on life that is a reason for enjoying Earth, too. Certainly that's also what Lewis was trying to convey in the Chronicles. But I'll have to leave that for another day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas Perpective on Winter

Winter begins, officially, Sunday. But many of us have been experiencing winter weather already for quite some time. Places which normally have a comparatively mild December, such as Portland and Seattle on the west coast, have already seen more winter than they normally do all year. The inconveniences and irritations of winter are, I'm sure, especially poignant to those who have thought they had escaped it by moving to a more moderate climate.

Even for us who are used to cold, snowy winters, the phrase by C S Lewis in his first Narnia book, "always winter and never Christmas," takes on new meaning when we take the snow brush and ice scraper to the windshield one more time. I even found myself in my Facebook status wishing "out loud" that I lived much further south.

This all seems incongruous when we start hearing Christmas songs like "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" or "Let It Snow." What is so wondrous about this Winter Wonderland when you are shoveling out your driveway? But it seems that the nostalgic connection of Christmas with snow overcomes our irritations. Perhaps that is part of what Lewis meant--that Christmas makes winter "worth it."

The ancient pagans celebrated the "Yule-tide" this time of year because of the winter solstice. The sun had retreated to it farthest point south, and this was the time it would begin its return north. Thus the promise of returned warmth even during the coming months when the world they knew was at its coldest. Lewis quickly captures this aspect of the coming of Christmas. Just after Father Christmas arrives, things begin to thaw, and spring soon arrives.

With Christmas comes not only the promise of spring, and the rejuvenation of everything around us, but also the promise of New Life to each individual. Jesus called it being "born again." That is why He came--to give His life so that we might have a rejuvenation of the soul. That does not mean everything will immediately "thaw" like it does in Narnia. As long as we are in these mortal bodies we will not taste the fullness of spring that awaits. But we can experience a springtime in the soul as we allow God to melt our hearts.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Getting Tolkien Wrong ...while being faithful to him

Thirty-one years ago this month, a made-for-TV animated version of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit made its debut on NBC.

After watching the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit this weekend, I am glad that Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro are making two movies. Much was lost by trying to squeeze the film into an hour-and-a-half (minus commercials) time slot. And, although Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass should be commended for their ground-breaking work as the first to attempt to put Middle-earth on screen, some of Tolkien's worst fears came true.

In a letter to his publisher in 1946 [Letters of JRR Tolkien, #107, p. 199], Tolkien complained about proposed illustrations for a German translation of The Hobbit. The illustrations were too "Disnified" for his taste. Little did he know what would be done to his characters when, not Disney, but the makers of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman got a hold of them.

The teleplay by Romeo Muller was not bad; it won the Peabody award in 1978. It is faithful to the book, and uses much of the same wording Tolkien uses. But the interpretation of Tolkien by the animators leaves little to be desired. Bilbo is not badly represented, but the almost "Snow White" appearance of the Dwarves is not helpful. The Elves are much worse. The strange lighting surrounding Elrond's head is silly enough, but the portrayal of the wood elves as some sort of blue amphibian-like creatures makes no sense at all. And why does the Elvish King sound like he has an Austrian accent?

The use of song throughout the film was perhaps a good idea for its time, and it works as well as it does in previous Rankin/Bass TV productions, if you can get by Glenn Yarbrough's vibrato. The biggest problem seems to be that, although many of the lyrics seem to be taken right out of the book, the whole tone of the music, and the movie itself, is much more gloomy than the book. I miss the lightheartedness of the elves and Biblo's humorous taunting of the spiders.

In his review of the Rankin/Bass version of The Return of the King, Greg Wright pointed out that, despite its shortcomings, that movie does a good job conveying moral lessons to children. I do not have the same praise for The Hobbit. In fact, perhaps the greatest lesson of all in the book revolves around the Arkenstone, which is not even mentioned in the movie. The importance of doing what is right, even if it means standing up to your companions, is lost. There is only a comment by Bilbo that he does not understand war.

Even worse, the movie makes it appear (unintentionally or not) that Bilbo had run away from the fighting, which does not happen in the book. Bilbo is knocked unconscious in the book, but the movie makes it appear he just uses this as an excuse, and actually had abandoned his fellows and hidden from the battle. So much for conveying good lessons to your children.

My suggestion: Get yourself a copy of the book and spend time reading it to your children and grandchildren. You will all profit from that experience more than watching the movie together. We'll see how much profit the next version of the story will bring in 2010.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two Jacks Remembered

November 22, 1963--45 years ago today. Two Jacks passed on into eternity. One was known for the fantasy world he created; the other for the fantasy world created around him by his public image. Most of us know more about Narnia and "Camelot" than we do about the men behind their fantasy worlds.

Behind the legends were men who made a difference in the world. C S "Jack" Lewis left a profound influence on religion, and John "Jack" F. Kennedy left a profound influence on politics, although some of their ideas are now seen as outdated.

May God send us another pair of Jacks for such a time as this.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Change: Calculating for the Dragon

Last week I ruminated a bit about a comment Nikabrik the Dwarf made in Prince Caspian. “To speak plainly, your wallet’s empty, your eggs addled, your fish uncaught, your promises broken. Stand aside then and let others work.” This week I was reminded of a comment made by JRR Tolkien in The Hobbit. It seems that conservative political writers know their C S Lewis and JRR Tolkien!

The scene is in chapter 12, "Inside Information." Bilbo has just taken a "two-handled cup" from the hoard of Smaug the Dragon. The Dwaves are enjoying the moment when the narrator gives a foreboding observation: "It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."

It is relatively easy to grab a trophy and run, but it is not easy dealing with the dragon. It was far too easy for Congress to come up with a "Bailout" plan, but it will be far more difficult to deal with the economic Dragon that has lain hidden for many years. The powers that be, including Congress, the Administration and Wall Street, did nothing while the Dragon of predatory lending and other shady dealings was left to slumber until the day of its awakening.

The Dwarves were fortunate that Providence was on their side, and Bilbo turned out to be a shrewd negotiator in the end. As Gandalf says at the end of the book:

You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!

Bilbo agrees, saying, "Thank goodness!" I think perhaps Tolkien intended more in those two words than just a common expression of relief.

I wonder how much Providence will continue to tolerate our excesses. And I wonder if we shall ever find a leader with the quality and humility of Bilbo.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Change: Nikabrik's Empty Wallet Speech

In the book Prince Caspian, Nikabrik the Dwarf sums up his assessment of the Narnian's situation with this judgment: "To speak plainly, your wallet's empty, your eggs addled, your fish uncaught, your promises broken. Stand aside then and let others work." This seems to capture the mood of our country as we approached the 2008 election.

The tide of politics has its ebb and flow, and, depending on your point of view, the tide has now either flowed or ebbed for the good or the bad. The majority of voters, although not the predicted landslide, have apparently decided to have the audacity to hope. But many conservatives are wondering if Nikabrik and his comrades have conjured up the White Witch.

I was reminded of Nikabrik's words in an article in about the life of Joseph. As we approach the Thanksgiving season in the midst of economic turmoil, what do we have to be thankful for? Joseph's life certainly had turmoil, but Andrée Seu's article reminds us to be thankful in every situation. God is working out everything for good.

As we approach Thanksgiving, many are hurting. Jobs are being lost every day. What is God trying to teach us? Will Obama be able to step up to the plate and guide us to a better future? Will our congressional leaders be able to resist corruption and stand for the American people? I do not know the answers to these questions. But I do know that God is in control, and have the audacity to hope that He, at least, knows what He's doing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dramatizing Christ: How it All Started

Dorothy L. Sayers. An enigmatic woman to say the least. Probably most famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, Miss Sayers was also a writer of "religious" plays and other works with theological themes. In a time and place where representing any member of the Trinity on stage had been illegal, The Man Born to Be King was groundbreaking, to say the least.

Sayers' "Play-Cycle" was presented on BBC radio during World War Two from December 1941 through October 1942. The series was so popular that a book of the plays, including all the director's notes, was published in 1943. In the Foreword to that book, J. W. Welch, the Director of Religious Broadcasting of the B.B.C., commented (page 12)

The minimum duty of religious broadcasting to those outside the churches is to say: "Listen: This is the truth about the world, and life, and you". But how were we to say it so people would listen? Conventional church services and religious talks were of little avail. Obviously, something new was needed.

The archaic language of the Authorized King James version was a hindrance to people understanding the reality of which it speaks. While using the King James verbage in the introductory narratives, Sayers put the dialogue in the language of mid-20th-century England. Although criticized by much of the religious community for the "liberties" she took, she connected with the people.

Before there were books, Truth was spread by word of mouth. After the invention of writing, God instructed His followers to record his teachings in The Book. We are now in a time when communication had come to the point where video can be transported around the world in an instant by satellite and the Internet. Certainly God is using these means to reveal Himself to the world.

That is not to say that movies about the life of Christ have the same weight as the inspired scriptures. The Bible is the final authority. But the Truth of scripture is not dead dogma. It is "alive and powerful," and must be presented as such to the world. Christ came into the world (in a sense) as a dramatization of deity. As we seek to dramatize the deity through modern technology, we must remember to present Truth in love. Part of that love is conveying Christ in a language and manner that will resonate with the common man, woman and child.

The Man Born to be King was published as recently as 1990 by Ignatius Press. Used copies are available on and other online resources. It is said that C S Lewis read the book every Easter.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Remembering C S Lewis

If you have yet to read C.S. Lewis Remembered (2006 Zondervan), you are missing some great insights into the enigmatic author of such diverse books as The Chronicles of Narnia series, Mere Christianity, and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century excluding Drama. Remembered is a compilation of interviews with and essays by those who had contact with Lewis through the years as colleague, student, acquaintance or friend. It also includes a reprint of an interview on Science Fiction Lewis did for SFHorizons Magazine shortly before his death.

The picture that emerges of "Jack," as his friends called him, is of a highly intelligent scholar relentless in the pursuit of truth, yet winsomely jovial and generous to a fault. The contributors for this book do not all share Lewis's faith, but they are all admirers. Those who are believers are not all of the same "stripe" of Christianity. Many comment how Lewis, while living out his Faith, did not try to "ram it down their throats."

In the 1950's Dorothy L. Sayers*, author of the play The Man Born to Be King, wrote an essay for the magazine World Theater (Winter 1955-56) titled "Playwrights are not Evangelists." Her argument was that Christian playwrights should above all strive to produce good plays, rather than merely seek to evangelize. "A drama (or any other work of art) will not by itself make anybody a Christian. It can provoke attention and stir the heart..." but not convert the soul.

What Sayers wrote about playwrights applies equally to the works of Lewis, including his so-called theological works. When he set out to write a novel, I do not think he was thinking of the best way to manipulate people in order to turn them to God. He was seeking to write a good story. Nor did he assume that his non-fiction would create Christians. Certainly his desire was to be convincing, but he knew that intellectual persuasion and emotional manipulation are not the same as conversion. Salvation comes by the Word of God through the power of the Spirit of God. (1 Peter 1:23, Romans 10:17, Titus 3:5)

Perhaps the most persuasive argument for Christianity is a life well lived. C. S. Lewis lived his faith, as testified by those who knew him. Christians should strive to be the best they can be in whatever vocation in which they find themselves. If you are a playwright, be the best playwright you can be. If you are a novelist, be the best novelist you can be. I make my living as a welder. Living the Christian life, for me, means being the best welder I can be. Good craftsmanship will not convert the soul. but hopefully it will "provoke interest" so that I can be an influence. Whether my writing "provokes interest" I leave to you to decide.

*Sayers was an Oxford graduate who was friend of Lewis, mostly through written correspondence, and admirer of Charles Williams, a member of the Inklings--a writers group that included Lewis and JRR Tolkien. She is famous for her "religious" plays performed during World War 2, and her earlier Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories.

Monday, August 4, 2008 Birthday Present or Cybersquatting?

Wow! It's hard to believe that it's been a month since I made a Blog entry here. For those of you who follow my Narnia News Blog on Hollywood Jesus, you will know about the complaint that was filed by the C S Lewis Company against a Scottish couple who purchased the domain name I will not go into all the details here. You can read about it yourself on HJ by going to these articles: Birthday Present Leads to Web Dispute, Decision Due Tomorrow, Narnia Domain Name Decision. Be sure to read the comments attached to the articles, as these were used to update the information.

When the news first came out about the decision of the C S Lewis Company to file a complaint against the Scottish couple who bought the domain name, I was rather indignant. To take action against someone for wanting to provide an extra-special birthday gift for their child seemed rather uncalled for.

But as Proverbs 18:17 reminds us: "The first speech in a court case is always convincing—until the cross-examination starts!" [The Message Bible] It seems that the Saville-Smiths were not exactly forthcoming with all the significant details when they were interviewed by the Press. In fact, it appears that the story about wanting to give their son a birthday present was just that--a story. The conclusion by the experts at IPKat was that

...their actual motives had very little to do with simply getting a nice birthday present for their son. Instead, their acts of registering so many domain names now makes them appear like classic cybersquatters, but perhaps with a particular talent for tales of fantasy.

Jesus told His followers that we are to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." [Matthew 10:16] Rather than this being a case of The Man oppressing the little guy, as this has been presented in much of the Press, perhaps it would be much more accurate to portray this as discerning followers of Christ practicing wisdom. Let's look at a couple facts.

First of all, the testimony presented in this case overwhelmingly shows that the Saville-Smiths' intent was to make money off a protected trademark, not to buy their son a birthday present. It is true that while C S Lewis was alive he gave most of the proceeds from his Narnia works to charity, but this is certainly different than allowing someone to steal copyrighted material. The Saville-Smiths certainly are not a charity case!

Secondly, the C S Lewis Company is not in the habit of filing litigation against those who use the "Narnia" name. Those who follow the law, and use the name for a legitimate non-commercial purpose, have been left alone. A quick search of the Internet bears this out. Here are some examples:,,, and

So, where are all the royalties that are paid to the Lewis estate going? That seems to be a bit of a mystery. Besides lawyer's fees, apparently the money is put in trust. (See this article in the November 6, 2005 Sunday Times.) What the money is being used for seems to be a mystery. I certainly hope that Lewis's interest in helping the needy is being carried forward.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Chronicles of the Inklings

I suppose that the title I have chosen for this article is a spoiler for the book I am about to review. But, I am wondering why anyone would bother reading Here, There Be Dragons (Book 1 of The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, by James A. Owen; Simon & Schuster) unless they knew that it was about the fictional adventures of the three most famous Inklings: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Charles Williams. Award-winning Science Fiction writer and political activist Orson Scott Card is quoted on the the back of the book's dust jacket:

Is there anyone who wouldn't enjoy reading Here, There Be Dragons? If there is such a person, I haven't met him, and I doubt that I would like him if I did. I am only disappointed that, because this book is so new, I'll have to wait too long to read the sequels.

Well, Mr. Card has not met me. Would he like me? I guess he would have reason to doubt it. I found Dragons an interesting read, but not enjoyable. I was interested enough to plow through to the end, but I did not enjoy the plowing very much. Owen tries to be clever and original; but I found him to be rather annoying and predictable. And his research and grasp of vocabulary is a bit pathetic.

The book begins by bringing the main players together in 1917 due to the death of an Oxford professor. I suppose Owen thinks himself surreptitious by using only first names and not fully identifying the Inklings until the end of the book. While correctly identifying CS Lewis with the name Jack, at the end of the book he mistakenly attributes the source of the nickname to WH Lewis, Lewis's brother. Lewis chose the name "Jack" or "Jacksie" for himself--it did not originate with his brother.

Even worse, JRR Tolkien is identified as "John." Although this is Tolkien's correct first name, he was always called by his second name, "Ronald." His friends knew him as "Ron," "Ronnie" or "Tollers"--never "John." Owen does correctly convey that "John" has been in the hospital, but incorrectly assumes that a young man suffering with Trench Fever would be able to participate in strenuous adventures. On page 6, he indicates that the disease, pyrexia, was just the body reacting to the stresses of war "and manifested its protest with a general weakness of the limbs and constant fever." But Trench Fever is not a reaction to stress. It is a serious disease transmitted by lice. The only cure at the time was rest--something "John" does not get much of in this story.

Not only is the research lacking, but some of his vocabulary is inaccurate. For example, on page 275, Owen incorrectlly equates the word "casualties" with only those killed in the battle. However, "casualties," by definition, includes the wounded, not just the dead.

I suppose I could have gotten by these annoyances if the story itself was at all captivating. It was not. Tolkien, and especially Lewis, have been criticized for the hodgepodge nature of their fiction. Dragons is much worse. The premise of the book is that the fiction of the Inklings and other writers were based on their adventures in the lands of the Imaginarium Geographica. But the book results in a poorly sown patchwork quilt rather than what could be taken for materials that could be used to create Narnia, Middle-earth, and other lands of the imagination. It reminds me of what Puddleglum says to the Witch in The Silver Chair when she tries to enchant them into believing there is no land of Narnia above.

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if their isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.

Lewis believed that the world to come would be like this world, only more real. Narnia was written to help us appreciate the glimpses of that reality that are mirrored in our own world. Unfortunately, Dragons only creates a duller world than we have around us. I know I have profited from visiting Narnia and Middle-earth. I do not feel the same about Owen's Imaginarium Geographica.

James A. Owen's The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series includes Here, There Be Dragons (Oct. 2006) and The Search for the Red Dragon (Jan. 2008). The third book of the trilogy, The Indigo King, is slated for publication this October, 2008.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Mid-Summer Night's Dream for Venezuela

Summer Solstice. What they used to call Mid-Summer. This Mid-Summer night, the latest Chronicles of Narnia Walden/Disney film, Prince Caspian, opens in cines throughout Venezuela. Mid-Summer is mentioned in the book (in the middle of Chapter 15), but not in the movie.

The Christmas Season certainly was appropriate for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Some have thought that summer was the wrong season for Prince Caspian, but perhaps it is a bit of providence that it is playing this time of year. Michael Ward, the author of Planet Narnia, may have been incorrect when he suggested that the month "Greenroof" was equivalent to our month of March. It seems to me that June, the time when the trees are completing their Green Roof over the forests, is probably the correct seting for the book. Plus, early apples might be found in June, but never in March. (Of course, this one small objection does not negate all the fine work Ward has done.)

Some have suggested that Lewis's reference to Mid-Summer is somehow Satanic. This is despite the fact that Chapter Twelve ("Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance") is obviously an admonishment against occult practices. (For my view on Bacchus, see Divine Revelers: The god of wine helps awaken Narnia.)

God Himself is the One who gave us Mid-Summer. This goes back to the beginning when he created everything. Genesis 1: 14-18 (NKJV) declares:

Then God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to
divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for
days and years; "and let them be for lights in the firmament of the
heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. Then God made two great
lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the
night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens
to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the
night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was

The placement of the Sun and Moon and Stars is God's idea. Recognizing the cycle of the seasons is (or should be) recognizing Him.

Happy Mid-Summer!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Prince Caspian Resources

I found a British web site that has some great resources for discussing the lessons found in Prince Caspian.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Prince Caspian is Here!

The long-anticipated Prince Caspian is now playing in theaters. If you would like to read my coverage of the movie on Holywood Jesus, please visit Narnia News. For my review of the movie, follow this link: The Pirates of Narnia.

I have also been posting transcripts from interviews with the film's cast and writers. The interviews were conducted by a panel of reporters in New York City on May 3. The interviews, as well as other Feature articles, can be found in Hollywood Jesus' Narnia Features.

I hope you come by Hollywood Jesus and pay me a visit this Memorial Day weekend. Have a great holiday.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Divine Revelers: The god of wine helps awaken Narnia

Note: This Blog entry was published earlier as a book review on Hollywood Jesus in a slightly altered form.

There is a painting by Pauline Baynes that graced the front of the paperback version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for years in Great Britain. (This cover was not available on American editions until recently.) The scene is just after Aslan is resurrected and Lucy and Susan are dancing with him.

This passage in The Lion (near the end of Chapter 15) is reminiscent of the New Testament account of the resurrection, as well as other events in the life of Jesus Christ. The loud cracking of the Stone Table is like the earthquake and splitting of the Veil in the Temple. After realizing Aslan is real, Lucy and Susan “flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.” On Easter morning, Mary clings to Jesus when she realizes He is not just the gardener. (John 20:17 NKJV, NASB) In Luke 17 a woman anoints Christ’s feet and keeps kissing His feet.

After Aslan tells the girls about the Deeper Magic, the “romp” begins. Chasing, leaping, scrambling–”whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.” The romp only takes up one paragraph, but it would have taken up a few minutes on film, if the writers of the Walden/Disney adaptation of the book had chosen to put it into the movie. I am sure they felt that the film needed to move on at that point. After all, a battle is going on, and Aslan has work to do. So the movie bypasses the Romp and goes straight to the Roar.

Aslan’s Romp in Prince Caspian takes up much more than one paragraph, although it begins after the Roar. Strangely, after the trees are awakened, Aslan is is joined (in the book) by a exotic group led by a young boy with a wild face, who is followed by “wild girls” and a fat man on a donkey. Lucy and Susan soon recognize that the boy is Bacchus, whom they had learned about from Mr. Tumnus long ago. The fat man is Silenus. (If you have seen the original version [1940] of the Disney movie Fantasia, you may recall the scene of the fat man on a donkey during Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Disney morphs Bacchus and Silenus into one person.) Why is Lewis introducing the Greek god of wine and his drunken teacher into the story?

At the very end of Chapter 11, Susan makes the comments that she “wouldn’t have felt safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.” The inclusion of Bacchus was an attempt at “redeeming” the pagan myths, as Lewis often did in his fictional works. As he explains in his autobiographical book, Surprised by Joy, mythology was one of the things that awakened a sense of Joy in Lewis during his early life. Lewis defines this “Joy” in Chapter 1 as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” It is a desire for something other and outer, that he later finds only to be fulfilled in a relationship with God.

Prince Caspian is perhaps the most personal of the Chronicles for Lewis. Devin Brown asks in the title of a recent article for Christianity Today Movies, “Is Caspian Really C. S. Lewis?” The parallels between Lewis and Caspian are striking. The relationship of Lewis and his nurse, who told him Irish folktales, mirrors Caspian’s nurse, who told the Prince of the Old Days of Narnia.
When we leave Lucy and Susan at the end of Chapter 11, we follow the boys and Trumpkin to Aslan’s How. “The Sorcery” must be dealt with. Lewis believed that sin was trying to fulfill legitimate desire in an illegitimate way. The desire for restoration of enchantment to Narnia was a good thing. But will the Narnians trust Aslan and wait for him, or seek power elsewhere? Lewis had a fascination for the Occult, which he had to deal with in his personal life. The Specter of the White Witch must be dealt with at Aslan’s How.

Lewis was also concerned that the ideals of chivalry had been lost in the modern world. Thus we have Peter’s challenge to Miraz to monomachy– a fight to the death to establish who will be the rightful king. Peter demonstrates the chivalrous attitude throughout the fight, but the Telmarines are intent on treachery. They did not count on the awakened trees, however, and are soundly defeated. They have to throw down their arms as they try to flee back across the river and find the Bridge of Bernuna has disappeared.

The last half of Chapter 14 tells about how Bacchus helps destroy the bridge and then goes on another romp through the town. As people join them, the group is described by Lewis as “divine revelers.” This is not the drunken debauchery usually associated with Bacchus, but a celebration of the liberation of Narnia from an oppressive regime. The freedom extends even to the schools in town. Students are freed from the “sort of ‘History’ that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule [which] was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.”

A girl from one of the schools join the group, and they “helped her take off some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes she was wearing.” Lewis is not here promoting lasciviousness, like Bacchus of old would have. The girl is not being lewd, but is breaking free from the stuffy uniform that was worn by students in that day, including “ugly tight collars round their necks and thick tickly stockings on their legs.” In Chapter 2 of Surprised by Joy (”Concentration Camp”), Lewis describes what a school uniform was like for the boys.

Now I am choking and sweating, itching too, in thick dark stuff, throttled by an
Eton collar, my feet already aching with unaccustomed boots. I am wearing
knickerbockers that button at the knee. Every might … I am able to see the red,
smarting imprint of those buttons in my flesh when I undress. Worst of all is
the bowler hat, apparently made of iron, which grasps my head.

Part of what Lewis is trying to convey, I think, is that committed Christians can have fun without having to be drunk–or worse. But you don’t have to be a “stuffed shirt” in order to follow Christ. There is a liberation that Christians know which allows us to celebrate life. Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians have not discovered that freedom in Christ. With all that Christ has done for us, the Christian life should be one of celebration. We could all use a little redeemed Bacchus in our lives.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Time Flies When You're Having Fun in Narnia

Has it really been three weeks since my last post? Sorry about that. I have, to say the least, been very busy. Last weekend was the "Press Junket" for the latest Chronicles of Narnia move, Prince Caspian. This was my first time in New York, and the first time I was able to participate in interviewing cast members and writers of a movie! To read about my experience, check out these entries in the Narnia News Blog I write at Hollywood Jesus.

Live from the New York Press Screening

The New York Experience

Interviews and Contemplation

My review of the movie is scheduled to appear on Hollywood Jesus on May 16. I am also writing a Feature article on the book, which I hope to have published this Sunday. So stay tuned!

Here are some pictures I took in New York of Central Park and the Hotel where I stayed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Expelled from Narnia: Is Intelligent Design just another fairy tale?

"That's all nonsense, for babies... Only fit for babies, do you hear?"

"Who has been telling you all this nonsense?"

"Who has been telling you this pack of lies?"

"And never let me catch you talking -- or thinking either -- about all those silly stories again. ... do you hear?"

Prince Caspian has been telling his uncle, Miraz the usurper, about Aslan and the Old Days of Narnia when animals could talk. Miraz' response sounds like the reaction of many to those who believe God, or some Intelligence, had something to do with life as we know it today. Agnostic academics, such as Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Meyers, clearly want God left out of science. Miraz expels Caspian's Nurse from the Knigdom, and if the movie Expelled can at all be believed, biologists who even mention the fairy tale of "Design" are being expelled from the Academic Kingdom.

Of course, detractors of the film claim that the "expelled" were not removed from their jobs because they questioned whether unaided and unguided evolution was enough to give us the complexity of life (and in lifeforms) that we have today. But the "expelled" in the film at least perceive that this was the reason. It does seem evident to me, just from reaction to the balanced coverage Greg Wright has been doing on the movie, that opposition to the concept of Design is fierce. So it is not hard to deduce that there must be something to this.

But what of Intelligent Design? Is the concept credible? Or is it just Creationist Fable? The movie, as well as I.D. opponents, seem to lump Creationists and I.D.-ers into one basket. Stein, et al., are a bit inconsistent, at one point trying to show their differences, but, ultimately, failing to differentiate the two at all. The film, especially the closer we get to the end, seems to be about contrasting the agnostic approach with any approach that includes God. Theistic Evolutionists included.

Is it really so incredible to include God in science? Or do we need to push Him as far out of the debate as possible to avoid the conflict of Church and State? Or is pushing Him out of the debate an affront to our freedoms, as Stein asserts? There certainly seem to be political agendas on both sides.

I like what the Webmaster at Hollywood Jesus, David Bruce, had to say about all this:

Nearly everyone believes there is something more behind creation of the
universe than just mere chance. Is it any surprise that most evolutionists
believe in God? The big question is not evolution, but rather what are we
doing to connect with both the creation and the creator?

This article also appears on Hollywood Jesus, in a slightly altered from.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Prince Caspian: Anticipation is keeping me ... speculating

Four weeks from this coming Friday, I am scheduled to take flight (in an airplane--although I expect to be flying high emotionally, too) to New York to see a pre-screening of the new Chronicles of Narnia film, Prince Caspian. I plan to write a preview article the early part of May, and then a more complete review the weekend the movie is released across the U.S. (Prince Caspian hits theaters May 16.)

In light of rumors about the film (some apparently well-substantiated), I thought a preview before the preview was in order. The movie is not going to be exactly like the book, to say the least. This is unsettling to many Narnia fans, but apparently necessary. I reported in Hollywood Jesus' Narnia News Blog in February that had posted an exclusive interview with Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’s step-son and co-producer of the Chronicles of Narnia movies. Here are his comments about the changes:

Well we did have a bit of a problem with making Prince Caspian the book into
Prince Caspian the movie. You see, its largely a book of walking and talking.
The kids arrive in Narnia and then Trumpkin arrives and they all sit down and he
tells them the story of Prince Caspian. So if we had stuck to the book half the
movie would be four kids and a dwarf sitting round a camp fire talking. And then
they all get up and go for a nice long walk in the woods, arrive at the other
end and there’s a battle. Now this all works very well in the book, but it would
make a very poor movie. What we needed to do was to find a way of making the
story of Prince Caspian integral to that of the four Pevensies and carry both
through the whole movie. The raid is a part of that process. Its never as easy
as you think.
The "Night Raid" was one of the first "changes" to the book that hit the Internet rumor mills. This is as good a place to start as any.
Warning: The balance of this article will contain spoilers and speculations about the movie.

The Night Raid
In a recent Disney Insider, director/producer/co-writer Andrew Adamson gave some insights into the ideas he incorporated into the movie. “I thought it would be interesting if mythological creatures like the Narnians invaded Miraz’s medieval castle. It’s an image I’ve never seen before.” This is apparently the Night Raid that has been talked about on the Internet since at least last September. It is hard to imagine how this is going to fit, as it happens (according to Rpin Suwannath, previsualization supervisor for the movie) "only halfway through the story." I hope that this sequence is not all about the Narnian creatures taking revenge on the Telemarines. I am concerned by what Quint from Ain't It Cool News said in his report about the 45-minute preview he saw: "...these young teens and CG creatures [were] wantonly killing hundreds of soldiers." How this reconciles with Andrew Adamson's statement to MSM that the movie is "more intense, but it’s not bloody or gory," I'm not sure. Anyway, accoring to Quint, the "Raid" does not go well, and humbles Peter, who planned the attack.

Conflict between Caspian and Peter
The impression I get from the reports I've seen over the past several months is that Prince Caspian meets up with the Pevensies much earlier in the film (perhaps at Cair Paravel) than in the book. This gives more time to develop the tense relationship between Caspian and Peter. In the Disney Insider interview, Adamson remarks that "at one point Caspian’s consumed with vengeance, further escalating the conflict between him and Peter." I think this could be a good thing. Caspian has gone though the crucible, and it will be good to see the inevitable emotions worked through and resolved.

Reepicheep's Size
This might seem a very minor point, but it was important enough to C S Lewis that he described Reepicheep's size more than once, and Lewis is not big on details. From the small amount of footage (in trailers and commercials) I have seen, it looks that Reepicheep might appear on screen as a regular-size mouse. He is almost two feet in the book. I can't find it right now, but Lewis says somewhere in the books that the smaller talking animals are bigger than "normal," and the bigger ones are smaller than their non-speaking counterparts.

The White Witch
Narnia fans have been perplexed about the appearance of The White Witch in Prince Caspian. Isn't she dead? I think what the film creators are trying to do is to reproduce in a visual way the intensity of the scene in Chapter 12, "Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance." Talking about conjuring up her ghost works for the book. Visualizing her "in ice" might just work better on film.

The Relationship Between Caspian and Susan
Adamson has said that one of the prevailing themes in the movie is "the passage into adulthood." Part of growing up is learning to relate to the opposite sex. It has been reported that in the movie, Caspian and Susan flirt with each other. The reaction by fans of the book seems to be overwhelmingly negative to these reports. "This can't be; it doesn't line up with what happens in the other books." I happen to disagree. Although there is no hint of flirting in the book, I think this might be a good thing. Let me try to explain.
As I've indicated before, Lewis does not provide much detail, so it seems appropriate to "read between the lines." I think this is a good read. Here is an exiled prince (at the hight of puberty) with no human companionship except the four Pevensies. Among them is an attractive girl about his age who is obviously cultured and refined. It only seems natural to me that there would be some kind of "spark" between them. Of course, this cannot become serious (especially if Walden and Disney are indeed serious about completing the series), but I see no problem with a bit of flirting.
We do know that Susan is left behind in this world in The Last Battle, but we do not know her final fate. She has put her social life (lipstick and nylons and invitations) above her belief in Narnia, but what affect will the death of her siblings have on her? Will she be restored much as Narnia is restored in Prince Caspian? I suspect we will still be left hanging when the movie series is completed--unless they decide to read between the lines...

This post also appears as an article at Hollywood Jesus.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Review of Michael Ward's "Planet Narnia"

Last November I learned that a new scholarly work on The Chronicles of Narnia was coming out. Michael Ward had written an article promoting his book, Planet Narnia, in the December 2007 Touchstone Magazine. (The book was released in January of 2008.) I came across the article online while searching for news articles about the coming Prince Caspian movie. I was immediately intrigued, and wrote up a report for the Narnia News Blog I write for (For more on the premise of Planet Narnia, see by Blog report and Ward's web site.)

One reason I was so intrigued is that scholarly works on The Chronicles of Narnia are few and far between. Ever since Walden and Disney announced they were working on the movie The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, there has been no shortage of books written about Narnia, but few of them would qualify, in my estimation, as scholarly. Certainly, these books have their place, and I'm sure many readers are grateful for the help they have received. But Planet Narnia portended to go deeper, beyond the fluff and quickly recognizable "lessons" that can be learned by the books. (Not that we don't need to be "hit over the head" with the obvious once in awhile.)

Don't let Ward's "deepness" intimidate you, though. As should be obvious to anyone who has ever read any of my articles, I am a person of not much more than average intelligence, yet I was able to follow the book very adequately. I do admit that some of the literary references were a bit over my head, and Ward's vocabulary is much more advanced than my own. But I was not more lost than I imagine an American motorist touring in Paris would be--the words on the street signs might be difficult, but the International symbols would be enough to give direction. He paints a vivid enough picture that you can figure out the "foreign" words--especially if you have a good dictionary handy. Armand M. Nichol put it this way in his endorsement of the book (from the back of the dust jacket):

Michael Ward presents an absorbing learned analysis of C. S. Lewis's best-selling and beloved series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Readily accessible to the average reader, Ward's book reads so much like a detective story that it's difficult to put down.

I had exactly that experience when I read the book. Having recently re-read the Chronicles myself, my reaction on page after page was "Yes. I see. I understand exactly what you mean. That makes so much sense."

The other reason that the book intrigued me is that it included a part of Lewis's life we do not hear much about. There have been books after books written about C. S. Lewis's Christianity, but little about his great love of poetry and medieval literature. The book centers around Lewis's fascination with the medieval concept of the Heavens. His poetry is filled with the Seven Planets, and his science fiction space trilogy (especially the last book, That Hideous Strength) is filled with medieval Planet imagery. How Lewis imaginatively integrated this love for the medieval cosmic understanding with his Christian beliefs is nothing short of amazing. It gives me a sense of what a genius he really was.

Not all Lewis fans are thrilled with Planet Narnia. In an interview Douglas Greshem, Lewis's step-son, did for Family Christian Stores, he called the idea that the Chronicles are based on The Seven Heavens "nonsense." Unfortunately, Greshem's objections seem to be based on a misimpression of what Ward is saying. I sincerely doubt that Greshem could have read the book. Ward does not believe that the books are "based" on the Seven Heavens, or Seven Planets, but that the Planets are purposefully hidden elements in the books. They provide atmosphere without being explicit.

Devin Brown, author of Inside Narnia and Inside Prince Caspian, apparently does not agree with Ward's premise at all. In an audio interview available from The Christian Studies Center at the University of Kentucky, Brown ridicules the "hidden element" concept. He likens this to someone noticing that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe uses W's repeatedly and concluding that Lewis intentionally used W's as some sort of literary device to write his story. This seems to me to be a pile of straw. Ward's conclusions about Lewis's "imaginative strategy" (Ward's words from page 4 of the book) were based on Lewis's interests and writings, not just on patterns found in the 7 Chronicles. Lewis was not interested in something as insipid as basing a book on words beginning with W. He was definitely interested in medieval astronomy and hidden elements in Romance literature. I must conclude that Brown's reactions are based on an incomplete knowledge of Ward's book.

If you are interested in learning more about C. S. Lewis from someone who has studied his works much of his life, this book may be just what you are looking for. You will want to find a nice quiet place to read with no distractions, as this one will make you think. And it will make you appreciate the creator of Narnia more than you could have imagined.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Prince Caspian Preview in New York City

This May I will be heading for New York city for a Press-only preview of the film Prince Caspian. I am told that this will be one of the first showings of the film after its "final cut." The screening of the film is scheduled for Friday evening, May 2, and there is supposed to be a time for interviewing those involved with the film the next day. See my previous post for information about my work with Hollywood Jesus.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Long Overdue Update!

Thank you for visiting my Blog. Due to a recent death in the family, illness, and just plain busy-ness, I have not been able to update my Blog for quite awhile.

Notice: The domain name of my eBay Bookstore is not currently working due to some miscommunication with the host of that domain. will not take you to my Store at this time. Please use Thank you.

Update, 19March, 2008 -- The problems with have been resolved. You should now be able to use that link. Sorry for any inconvenience.

I have been continuing the News Blog for Prince Caspian at Hollywood Jesus. You can view that Blog at

Recently I wrote an article for Hollywood Jesus about the ABC-TV series LOST. I examined the possible infuence C. S. Lewis might be having on the show. If you are interested, please visit

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Prince Caspian Widget!

This is the new Prince Caspian Widget for the United States.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ABC's Lost's Narnia Connection Confirmed

This blog entry (in a slightly altered form) first appeared as a "Narnia News Blog Update" on Hollywood Jesus 02/16/08.

As I reported last week, ABC's TV series "Lost" has a new character named Charlotte Staples Lewis. The name is obviously derived from Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia series of seven children's books. Disney released the movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005 based on the first published book in the series. Prince Caspian, the second book to be published, will premiere as a Disney movie this May.

C.S. Lewis was called "Jack" by his friends, and it has been speculated that the character Jack in "Lost" somewhat represents C.S. Lewis's journey from Atheism (man of science) to Christianity (man of faith).

The first episode of Season 4 ("Confirmed Dead") was aired on February 7, and was rebroadcast February 14 in an "enhanced" version with clues and tidbits added to the bottom of the screen. This enhanced version is available online. (See below.) Starting at 23:56 in the episode, we receive confirmation that Lost's C.S. Lewis is indeed related to both the author and his books:

This is Charlotte Staples Lewis... she is an anthropologist. Her name is inspired by C.S. Lewis... author of The Chronicles of Narnia... a story of an unlikely passage... to a most unusual place.
Charlotte is seen in a flashback in a desert in Tunisia. She has learned about an archaeological dig there, and identifies some bones as that of a polar bear.

We've seen polar bears on the island... now here's evidence of the furry creatures... in another unlikely location.
Charlotte does some digging through the sand near the bones and finds a leather strap.

A DHARMA logo form the Hydra Station... the discovery is very important to Charlotte.

Polar Bears also come into play in Lewis's first Narnia book, pulling the White Witch's sleigh. It is also interesting to note that another of the "rescuers" is named Miles Straume*, which is a reference to "Maelstrom." "Maelstrom" originally referred to the tidal waters around Norway, and is important in their mythology. (In English, Maelstrom can refer to any Whirlpool-like phenomenon. The Asteroid Belt, which was thought by some scientists to be impassible, is often referred to by that name.) I mention this because the Disney Epcot Center ride "Maelstrom" in the Norway exhibit also has polar bears. Another inspiration?

To view the enhanced version of "Confirmed Dead" online click here, then select either 'Lost Season 4" or 'Lost Season 4 in HD Streaming" from the left-hand menu. Then click 'watch now" for "Confirmed Dead-Enhanced 02/15/08." (The date refers to when the episode was put online.)

*I am told Straume is also the name of a town in Norway.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Special "Super Tuesday" Edition: What DO We Want Changed?

There are some mistakes which humanity has made and repented so often that there is now really no excuse for making them again. One of these is the injustice which every age does to its predecessor; for example, the ignorant contempt which the Humanists (even good Humanists like Sir Thomas More) felt for medieval philosophy or Romantics (even good Romantics like Keats) felt for eighteenth-century poetry. ... Why should we not give our predecessors a fair and filial dismissal?

So C. S. Lewis began "The Funeral of a Great Myth" (published posthumously in the anthology Christian Reflections, as I mentioned in a recent Blog entry). Lewis realized the wisdom in taking the good from those who have gone before us while we seek to improve and expand our knowledge today. We must be cautious of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" as they used to say.

As we arrive at "Super Tuesday," it seems that every candidate is claiming to be the "Candidate of Change." America seems ripe for "change," and perhaps rightly so. But we must beware of change for change sake.

Jesus was certainly a catalyst for change, but even He said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." [Matthew 5:17 NKJV] "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." [Luke 13:52] As we seek new and better ways of running government, we must not forget the old foundations.

We must also beware of the tendency of politicians to--how shall I put this politely--exaggerate to try to make a point about their opponent. This has been going as long on as our country has had elections. James Madison, in the Federalist No. 55, 15 February 1788, commented on the mudslinging going on even then:
As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than
the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.

As we seek change, we need to not only be aware of the good of the past, but we must seek the truth in the present. Don't take what your favorite candidate says as the unvarnished truth--do some digging. When Jesus said, "The Truth shall set you free," He was speaking primarily of the truth about Himself. But the principle applies to other areas of life, not the least of which is politics. In this case, we may lose political freedoms if we are not careful to seek the truth. How often lies have led nations into slavery. With much freedom comes much responsibility. Choose wisely.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Will the Real Misogynist Please Stand Up?

C. S. Lewis has frequently been criticized for his supposed prejudices. I have always had a hard time understanding this. Even while he was alive, Lewis was accused of being a misogynist--of having a prejudice against or hatred of women. Kathryn Lindskoog, who wrote several books about Lewis, had been told in the 1950's (by Dr. Clyde Kilby, no less) that Lewis was a woman-hater. Her meeting with him on July 20, 1956, while she was taking a summer graduate course at the University of London, showed otherwise. Unlike his portrayal in the 1994 movie Shadowlands, Lewis was not a "shy, socially inept man." He had a a fabulous sense of humor (He has been called the personification of "jovial."), and Lindskoog describes him as "the kindest man I have ever met."

Some have criticized Lewis's attitude of women in warfare. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy are told to stay out of the battle because, as Father Christmas says, "battles are ugly when women fight." However, in The Last Battle, Jill Pole does play a major role in the fighting. In fact, the women (or girls) in The Chronicles are strong, important characters, not just window dressing. In A Horse and His Boy, Aravis runs away from her home country to escape an arranged marriage. Susan is praised when she rejects her betrothed after she finds out what he is really like. In The Last Battle, Susan is (indirectly) criticized, not for acting like a woman, but for her vanity (which men can be just as guilty of).

The women in Philip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials are also strong, important characters, but they also tend to be a bit stereotypical. The witches in the trilogy seduce men, but would rather really live apart from them. There are no male witches. There seems to be a parallel between the White Witch in The Chronicles, who uses her charms to bewitch (or try to bewitch) young men to her side.

Lyra is portrayed as a strong, independent woman in The Golden Compass, but there is a subtle change in the second book, The Subtle Knife. The leadership role is very much transferred from Lyra to Will. Lyra sees him as someone she can depend on when the Aletheometer tells her that he is a murderer. At this point Lyra sounds like a subject for Dr. Laura's 10 Stupid Mistakes Women Make to Mess Up Their Lives. I can just hear it: "Bad boys and the women who love them--next time on Montell Williams." To be fair to Will, he has killed in self-defense without intending to, but the Aletheometer does not make that distinction. Lyra is not setting an example here that I would want my daughter or granddaughter to follow.

Perhaps Pullman is trying to contrast Lyra with Mary Malone, a main character in The Amber Spyglass. Mary's name (M-alone), as well as the title to Chapter 7 ("Mary, Alone"), imply an independent spirit. Here is the ultimate strong woman of science who goes off by herself to save the world. Pullman often uses aloneness as a theme. Lyra and Will, although they have each other, at a critical point realize they have no one else to help them. They are like Frodo and Sam--if the "quest" is to be done, they will have to do it. Of course, in both tales there are those behind the scenes working to assist their success, but for their task, they are on their own.

The difference in The Chronicles is that Aslan is there, even when he cannot be seen. Pullman's universe has "Dust" to tell them what to do, but after that they are on their own. In Pullman's universe, Hope is in man. For C. S. Lewis, the Hope is in Aslan--in the Son of the Emperor Over the Sea--the Son of God.

Some helpful links:

2005 Article at on criticism of C. S. Lewis be for the release of the first Narnia movie; see also the comments, especially #53

Kathryn Lindskoog article about meeting C. S. Lewis

Review of Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Will the Republic of Heaven be Better?

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian tells the Governor of the Lone Islands that the slave trade must stop. Governor Gumpas is flabbergasted. Price Caspian just doesn't understand the economics involved, he says.

"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"

I have seen them both in an egg, said Caspian. "We call it 'Going Bad' in Narnia. This trade must stop."

A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit about what C. S. Lewis thought of Developmentalism--the idea that mankind is getting better and better all the time. Many think that if we were just not tied down with so many "unnecessary" restrictions, our Development would be faster. Philip Pullman seems to be calling for such a lifting of restrictions in his Dark Materials trilogy. Rather than being dominated by "The Kingdom of Heaven," Pullman calls for the creation of "The Republic of Heaven."

We in the United States know what it is to live in a Republic. The idea is to put power into the hands of the people rather than into a monarch or small group. The framers of the Constitution wanted the government to have as little power as possible--just enough to protect the People from invasion and from themselves. For this concept to work, for the People to rule themselves, the People must be "under God."

To grant that there is a supreme intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of his creatures; and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears to a common understanding altogether irreconcilable. Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed that the deity, from the relations we stand in to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever. This is what is called the law of nature....Upon this law depend the natural rights of mankind. --Alexander Hamilton in The Farmer Refuted, 1775, quoted in the Founders Quote Database

The Founding Fathers talked about the truths which are "self-evident." They were speaking about the law of nature when they declared that "All men are created equal." (Unfortunately, not all the Founding Fathers were uninfluenced by the supposed dictates of "progress" and economic "necessity," and it took nearly 100 more years for our practice to catch up with our rhetoric.) Freedom was an inherent right given by God, not granted by governments.

In The Amber Spyglass, the final book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, after the Regent has died, someone says that it will only be a matter of time before someone takes his place. A power vacuum always seeks to be filled. People naturally desire someone or something to follow. We see this in history with "Republics" that have denied God. Communist Russia practically deified Lenin and Stalin. China did the same with Mao. Countries that do not believe that there is a God who has given us rights usually end up with governments that grant very few.

C. S. Lewis wrote about the Law of Nature in such works as Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man. He points out that societies that never had contact with each other have similar moral codes and ethical structures. As Alex McFarland points out in the book Unshakable Faith, "That’s not to say that humans always do what is morally right; Lewis and others assert that all cultures, intuitively know what is right." There are self-evident truths that have, to one degree or another, affected cultures around the world. Murder, theft and adultery are taboo, while heroism, self-denial and honesty are applauded.

The same is true even in the cultures in His Dark Materials that have rejected the Magisterium. Pullman emphasizes over and over that although Will and Mr. Scoresby will kill to defend themselves or others, they abhor it. Will insists on leaving a gold coin whenever they have to take anything they need. The Witches seduce men, and one witch even kills a man who rejected her. But the point is made that at least his wife can be comforted knowing he was faithful. Many characters are praised for their heroism and self-denial, and even Lyra comes to realize that her lying ("the only thing I'm good at") will not avail in the end.

The Amber Spyglass, the last book in the series, ends with Lyra telling Pan that they were to build The Republic of Heaven now that The Kingdom of Heaven was over. The rule of the Magisterium certainly was oppressive. But will the Republic be any better? I have my doubts.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

C. S. Lewis in Praise of Evolution

Did you know that Phlip Pullman's His Dark Materials (the trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first book) is actually based upon an idea that C. S. Lewis praised? It's true. In an essay posthumously published first in the anthology Christian Reflections, Lewis had this to say about what he termed "Popular Evolution or Developmentalism":

Not merely terrestrial organisms but everything is moving 'upwards and onwards'. Reason has 'evolved' out of instinct, virtue out of complexes, poetry out of erotic howls and grunts, civilization out of savagery, the organic out of inorganic, the solar system out of some sidereal soup or traffic block. And conversely, reason, virtue, art and civilization as we know them are only crude or embryonic beginnings of far better things--perhaps Deity itself--in the remote future. ... nothing seems more normal, more natural, more plausible, than that chaos should turn into order, death into life, ignorance into knowledge. ... It is one of the most satisfying dramas which have ever been imagined.
"Imagined." Lewis asserts that the popular view of Evolution, although a thrilling idea, is an imagined "Myth." In fact, this essay is entitled "The Funeral of the Great Myth." Popular Evolution or Developmentalism, Lewis says, must be kept separate from the Theory of Evolution as taught by "modern scientists."

I do not mean that the doctrine of Evolution as held by practising biologists is
a Myth. It may be shown, by later biologists*, to be a less satisfactory
hypothesis than was hoped fifty years ago [the beginning of the twentieth
century]. But that does not amount to being a Myth.

I assume that this essay was written in the early 1960's shortly before Lewis's death. His "funeral oration" for Popular Evolution seems rather premature. (Perhaps this is one reason the essay was not published while he was still alive.) But he does seem to be correct about the mythical nature of popularized Evolution. He asserts that Popular Evolution is different than Evolutionary Theory because it pre-dates Darwin, and because it differs in content from the "scientific theory." Lewis reminds us that the writings of Keats and Wagner were inspiration for the idea of Delelopmentalism, and pre-date The Origin of Species. Scientific Evolution is a biological theorem. Popular Evolution, with much of its emphasis on Man's improvement, tends to be rather metaphysical. As has been popularized especially in science fiction, it asserts that the next stage of our evolution will be upward, even though the scientist recognizes that changes in species for the better are the exception rather than the rule.

I have been reading Pullman's trilogy, and have made it about half way through the third book. What the series apparently is about is humanity reaching toward its next phase in the evolutionary process. In this version of the Myth, god is trying to keep us from evolving. He wants to keep us under control lest we take his place. In the Dark Materials universe(s), god himself has evolved from matter, but has lied saying he created all other creatures. The lie is perpetrated so he can gain permanent control over everything. Dust, which is composed of conscious elementary particles (Think of the midi-chlorians in Star Wars, only smaller.), stand in his way. They are the repository of Truth; god is a liar.

For Lewis, the next stage of our evolution will come about when God changes us into something better than we are now, not when we when we get rid of God and "develop" on our own. God desires to lead us into all Truth, not keep it from us. His Truth will set us free to be all we were meant to be, not some evolutionary process.


*There are stirrings in the scientific world that some "later biologists" are beginning to doubt the validity of traditional evolutionary theory. And this is not just from the Creation Science domain. As early as 1986, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, pointed out that research in microbiology and other fields shows that the complexity involved in living cells is a huge hurdle that evolutionary theory has a very difficult time jumping over. Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box is another book on the subject, with an updated version published in 2006. These books have not been well received in the scientific community, however, and the controversy over the Theory continues.