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Monday, May 19, 2008


This weekend my wife and son and I, along with another couple, went to see the new Narnia movie Prince Caspian. I have been a fan of the seven books ever since I was a child, and I was blown away by the first movie. Realistically, I was a little nervous about the movie, not because I didn't think it would be well-made and be a terrific story, but because the analogies to the Bible are not as... well, they're not as nursery-school as in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This story requires some more mature thought to understand how it applies to Christian life. You have to be very intuitive... maybe the level of, I don't know, the average first grader... to see the Christian life in the story. Call me a cynic, but I was afraid the American Christian subculture, the ones that made the first movie such a success, weren't going to get it! Maybe I was wrong; apparently the movie topped the box office in its first weekend out, beating out even Iron Man, which seems to be the movie to talk about this summer. We'll see next weekend if that was because people liked the first movie so much, or because they liked this one.

Last week I read this completely missing-the-point review of the movie from the San Francisco Chronicle. It calls the movie "one of this year's biggest disappointments" which "lacks magic" and which has "no epic scale and no spirit worth talking about." A good bit of the review is about subjective things, such as character development and pacing, which are hard to argue with, not because I agree with them but because they are opinion. But the thing that I find the most... flabbergasting? Annoying? Frustrating? Is this: "The Christian allegory, unmistakable in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' is nowhere to be found in 'Prince Caspian.' Not even its former outlines are apparent. Alas, Lewis without Christianity just isn't Lewis." The fact that (at Lewis' own admission) Lewis never intended any of the Narnia books, even Lion, to be an "allegory" at all is apparently not something the author understands.

Yes, Aslan represents Jesus Christ. He dies and rises again. But listen closely: the Pevensie children are not the apostles Peter and John and Andrew and whoever. Edmund is not Judas Iscariot. The story is not The Gospel According to Clive Staples. The story is what it is. It is a story about what might happen if God created a world and populated it with talking animals, and that world needed saving. The messiah of Narnia is a talking animal, because it is a world of talking animals. One of the friends we went to the movie with told me that he was having trouble figuring out who represents what Bible character in Caspian... maybe that's because he misunderstood Lion as well.

So keeping in mind that Lewis had no intention of rewriting the Bible when he wrote his Narnia books, let's think about the Bible itself for a second. Let's think about Noah and the ark. Let's think about Esther and Jonah and David & Goliath and Job. Are those stories about Jesus and His death and resurrection? No, they are not, although it could be (and has been) argued that you can find things in those stories that point that direction. Aslan can't very well die and resurrect in every installment of Narnia, can he? If he represents Jesus Christ, that would actually be quite blasphemous (Jesus died once and for all, not multiple times: Romans 6:9-10). Prince Caspian tells more of the history of Narnia. Aslan is present in the story, but not quite in the way he was in Lion (although if you remember, he didn't exactly turn up in the first ten minutes of that movie, either!)

Prince Caspian is, in some ways, a more down-to-earth representation of the Christian life than Lion. The Pevensie children are faced with a challenge, and they rise to the occasion. This is real life, although most of us don't live our real life shoulder to shoulder with minotaurs and centaurs. Egos get in the way of making wise plans, as when Peter presents the foolhardy plan of attacking Miraz's castle and will not listen to Caspian's objections, which are based on first-hand knowledge: "You called us," Peter arrogantly says, shutting up the only person with real understanding of the strategy they needed to follow. Caspian then lets his own personal issues undermine the plan, which might have worked anyway if executed as intended. I keep remembering a scene afterward, when Peter, brooding over his defeat and the loss of life caused largely by the personal failures of his own leadership, is sitting staring at a huge mural of the not-yet-present Aslan. It reminds me of times in my life when things didn't work out for me, and I sat wondering when God was going to help out.

There are smaller lessons for smaller people, too. I had a discussion with my eight-year-old about a scene where the entire army of Narnia's enemy is about to cross a bridge, and little Lucy appears on the other side, apparently all alone. Lucy smiles at the army of her enemies, and pulls out her tiny dagger. The reason Lucy can smile is that she knows that although we (and Miraz's army) can't initially see him, Aslan is right behind her. Echoes of David and Goliath, for sure. in the end, Lucy does not have to use her dagger... Aslan wins the battle then and there.

In one earlier scene, Lucy wakes up to the sound of a lion's roars. She gets up without waking the others, wandering off into the woods alone, and finds Aslan waiting for her. My little boy asked me, isn't that bad to go into the woods by herself like that? It gave me the chance to explain that yes, it is dangerous for a child to go off by him or herself, but Lucy had heard the voice of Aslan. When we truly hear the voice of God giving us instructions, sometimes there may be risk involved, but if it is the voice of God, our safety is guaranteed. (As it turns out, Lucy was dreaming... when she wakes up for real, she wisely wakes Susan before going anywhere, which is also a good thing for a child to see and understand.)

Peter and Caspian aren't the only ones whose personal failures cause problems... in the course of the story Aslan appears to Lucy several times, but although she joyfully tells the others about seeing him, she does not actually follow him, as she knows he intends for her to. When she finally finds him, she asks him if she could have averted some of the bloodshed if she had followed him as she knew she should. Aslan tells her that the could-have-beens are not what matters. What a lesson to each of us! We fail God on a daily basis, but we can't erase those failures and correct them... time continues moving in a forward direction, and we have to continually take the situation as it now is and seek God's plan B, C, D, or Z, until we stop messing up and get it right.

Surprisingly, the character who does not fail in his duties in this movie is the much-maligned Edmund, who made such a mess of things in the first story. In a scenario created for the movie which is not in the book, Edmund actually rescues Caspian and Peter from making the colossal error of reawakening the White Witch (the situation is alluded to in the book as a possibility, but in the movie version it almost happens). Again, it shows how sometimes the wrong choice seems so right, and it takes the help of a friend to (in this case literally) shatter the illusion that wrong is right.

In the end, Peter goes through a grueling one-on-one battle with the evil usurper-to-the-throne Miraz, finally beating him but refusing to execute him (the agreed-upon outcome of the to-the-death battle) humbly deferring to Caspian (the true rightful king of Narnia) that honor. Caspian takes the killing sword but refuses to execute Miraz, who is then killed by one of his own men with a Narnian arrow in order to make the battle continue (the one-on-one battle was supposed to determine the winner of the war without extending the fighting). Caspian is the true rightful king of Narnia; it is his throne to begin with. Then his side beats Miraz in a fair fight, earning back the throne again, but still they face a horrible bloody battle. This is when Aslan steps in and crushes the army that has come against his people.

Why doesn't Aslan come on the scene earlier? Lucy asks him that same question. "Nothing happens the same way twice," Aslan tells her (a bit ironically, Aslan says this same line twice in the movie!) This is the primary thing people need to keep in mind when watching this move. It is NOT The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The Lion and the Witch do both appear, of course, but the wardrobe, such an important part of the first story, does not (the children get into Narnia this time through a train station and out through a tree root... seriously!) This is a different story. The stakes are different; the characters are different (the Narnians from the first movie died hundreds of years ago); the way it works out is different. What is not different is that the believers in Aslan face opposition, a crisis, just as believers in Jesus do; the Narnians must fight their enemy, just as believers in Jesus do; the Narnians make mistakes, and sometimes they have grave consequences and casualties, just as Christians do in real life; and at the right time, just when everything is hopeless and the Narnians have come to the end of their rope, Aslan comes in and wins the battle. This is the character of the God of the Bible. This is life as we experience it. God does not expect us to sit around and do nothing when evil strikes, but when the battle becomes too much for us, He brings salvation.

Prince Caspian is every bit as much of a Christianity-based movie as The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Hopefully, Christians will take the time to think about it and understand the more complex issues in the story. If they are lost in this movie, they will be even more lost in later installments; it only gets more involved (and thus, more meaningful) from here on out.

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