Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Who Believes in Aslan Anymore?

The following is my article from the August edition of the newsletter, some of which I recycled from a previous blog entry.
-The Archer
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"Who believes in Aslan anymore?"

As a gift to the people being confirmed when the bishop visited in April, I decided to give copies of C.S. Lewis' classic children's book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I think that book is particularly appropriate for such an occasion because it tells a great story, is a perfectly succinct yet rich Christian allegory for adults as well as children, and was written by perhaps the most famous Anglican of the 20th Century. And last but not least, I think it is always a bit humorous to remind people who are officially joining the Episcopal Church that joining the Church is not all that unlike stepping through the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia.

Since people now know that I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis, many have asked me what I think of the new big screen movie that came out in late spring of Prince Caspian, the second in the Narnia series. I was, for the most part, a fan of the first film because it stuck fairly close to the plot of the novel. My fear when that first film came out was that Hollywood was going to try and water down the theological message of the book to make it appeal to more than just the Christian demographic, with the end result being an outright butchery of so beloved a novel. Surprisingly enough, they managed to keep the Christological theme of the first novel intact. In lieu of a normal Roar article, I thought I would give my thoughts of the Prince Caspian film from an Anglican priest's perspective.

I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by the movie, despite the fact that the cinematography and acting were well done. Having not reread the book in the last few years, I am hesitant to talk about the ways the movie departed from the plot line in the book. I realize that cuts have to be made unless you want a marathon of a film, but there were some glaring errors that I will avoid the temptation to knit pick here other than to make note of the rather bizarre cameo appearance by the White Witch and the sad lack of character development for Doctor Cornelius, the half-dwarf tutor of the young Caspian, who I believe was one of the more colorful characters in the original novel but got short changed in the new film.

What disturbed me the most about the movie was the violence. Granted, it was not Braveheart-style gore, but as far as I recall the movie, more of the film seemed to be one continuous battle scene that I thought grew tiresome. While themes of courage and chivalry were part of what C.S. Lewis was trying to convey to his young readers in the immediate post-World War II world, I personally think the amount of battle scenes overtook the main theological premise of the novel. I am convinced C.S. Lewis would have been horrified by that.

In a letter he wrote to a young American girl on the subject, C.S. Lewis explains that the major theme of the novel was, in fact, faith in the face of a world needing "the restoration of the true religion after a corruption" (Collected Letters, III, p. 1245). C.S. Lewis did not mean that in some sort of violent inquisitorial crusade mentality, but as a warning against religious apathy. This major theme was poignantly captured in a scene in both the novel and the current film when the dwarf, Trumpkin, is first introduced to Caspian and rather flippantly mumbles, “Who believes in Aslan anymore?”

Post-war pessimism leading to apathy, skepticism, and outright hostility to religion became trendy in Europe after two dreadful world wars. Sadly, this phenomenon continues to grow, a trend C.S. Lewis predicted and writes more about in the allegory of the last Narnia novel. We see continued evidence of this trend by churches in Europe largely empty on Sundays and the list of best sellers often being books by vociferous atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and others.

While Christianity has made many mistakes, I believe that major theme of Prince Caspian is that message of hope to those people who continue to “believe in Aslan” even if the prevailing culture no longer has much use for Aslan. Ironically, a book whose main theme was about the need for culture to remember, believe, and embrace Aslan and his message was sadly glossed over in lieu of the more current belief that movies should have more dramatic battle scenes and various other eye candy in order to make more money.

Luckily for those of us who still believe in the Christ that C.S. Lewis allegorized in the form of Aslan the Lion, the mystery of faith found in the Eucharistic prayer every week is still true and guides our life and our thoughts, regardless of however culture wants to ridicule or exploit it for fun or profit.

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.

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