Reflections on Narnia: the movie, the symbolism and the allegory

When I was seven years old, I used to pray that the powers that be would release movie versions of the final three Chronicles of Narnia books. I loved the BBC versions of the first four books. Sure, they seem terrible now, but back then it made no difference to me that Mr. Beaver definitely looked like a six foot man wrapped in brown foam rubber.

I went into the latest movie, Disney’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, wondering how it would treat the spiritual aspects of C. S. Lewis’s beloved Christian allegory.

Well, I would say the movie is generally faithful to the book. And just like with the book, those who are already familiar with the story of Jesus Christ will understand the parallels, and those who are not familiar with it will have no idea what they are missing.

However, a question that dawned on me, due in no small part to an article by Adam Gopnick in the New Yorker, was “How does C. S. Lewis’s allegory treat spirituality?”

Gopnick argued that a better allegory would have made Aslan a wretched donkey instead of a beloved lion, which would emphasize Christ’s humility.

I was skeptical of this idea at first, but after watching Andrew Adamson’s interpretation of Lewis’ story, I am not so certain that Gopnick is wrong.

Now, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan obviously represents Jesus Christ; the White Witch represents the devil; and Edmund Pevensie represents all of humankind.

Well, if this is the case, what does everything else represent? The movie certainly portrays Susan as the rationalist, who only believes in the laws of nature (a characteristic of Susan that Lewis brought out in The Last Battle). Also, the movie highlights Lucy’s childlike faith of one who simply trusts God because God is so obviously trustworthy. In fact, the movie seems to be told through Lucy’s wide, believing eyes.

Narnia as a whole represents humankind as well, with Aslan leading them out of an eternal winter; and those whom the Witch turned to stone are particularly effective portraits of people dead in their sins, unable to do anything until Aslan frees them.

Of course, there are some things I still cannot figure out, in addition to Gopnick’s initial complaint. What is this sons-of-Adam and daughters-of-Eve business, and what role did they really play in redeeming Narnia? And what is represented by their going back home? Is that death, only to be followed by their resurrection in later books?

Also, the White Witch, misunderstanding the ancient prophesy, is simply thrilled to be sacrificing Aslan for Edmund’s sins, while the devil probably understood well that Christ’s death was the devil’s undoing.

Finally, why does Peter lead the army believing that Aslan is dead? What could they possibly hope to accomplish? In a much more realistic move, Jesus’ disciples scattered as early as his arrest.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not a perfect allegory.

Of course, Lewis denied that the book was an allegory at all, and, for once, I believe him.

But one last question: Why should it be?

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