Narnia: Allegory and Allergy
Chris Heard cites a report which gives the impression that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe's religious aspects are being downplayed in the media. I've been getting the opposite impression, especially from yesterday's Guardian article, which reports as follows:
"Disney is deliberately promoting this film to the religious - it has appointed Outreach, an evangelical publisher, to promote the Christian message behind the movie in British churches. The Christian radio station Premier is urging churches to hold services on the theme of The Gospel According to Narnia. Even the Methodists have written a special Narnia-themed service. And a Kent parish is giving away £10,000 worth of film tickets to single-parent families.
"US born-agains are using the movie. The Mission America Coalition is 'inviting church leaders around the country to consider the fantastic ministry opportunity presented by the release of this film'. The president's brother, Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, is organising a scheme for every child in his state to read the book. Walden Media, co-producer of the movie, offers a '17-week Narnia Bible study for children'. The owner of Walden Media is both a big Republican donor and a donor to the Florida governor's book promotion - a neat synergy of politics, religion and product placement. It has aroused protests from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which complains that 'a governmental endorsement of the book's religious message is in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution'."
This is all rather sad, but hardly surprising. But the part of the article that caught my eye in particular was the following contrast between Tolkien and (Philip) Pullman:
"Tolkien hated Narnia: the two dons may have shared the same love of unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons - even children; both their fantasy worlds and their Christianity assumes that rigid hierarchy of power - lord of lords, king of kings, prince of peace to be worshipped and adored. But Tolkien disliked Lewis's bully-pulpit.
"Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials - has called Narnia 'one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read'."
But Tolkien and Pullman had/have different reasons for hating Narnia. Pullman is rather hostile to Christian doctrine. Tolkien was orthodox to the core -- so Catholic he believed Lewis to be too liberal, if anything -- and certainly professed the beliefs and doctrines allegorized in Narnia. What Tolkien despised about his friend's work was the allegory itself, for its unoriginality and the way it rendered myth so one-dimensional. In a word that Tolkien would have despised as much as Narnia, it was "cheesy".
Like PZ Myers, I was left cold by the Narnian Chronicles as a kid (some of Myers' antipathy towards Christianity leaves me equally cold), for reasons which I later understood to square with Tolkien's. One person's allegory is another's allergy. There's nothing wrong with the Christian ideas as such. I often surprise people for liking The Passion of the Christ. Gibson's film was powerful, even to me as a non-Christian. You don't have to be a believer to be moved by the power of myth, especially in a story well told. But in my view, the Narnian chronicles preach more than engage mythological drama in any meaningful way.