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55782082

55782082

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FEATURE
NARNIA INVADED
How the New Films Subvert
Lewis's
Hierarchical World
by
STEVEN D. BOYER
A
s EVERYONE KNOWS, two Hollywood pro-ductions of recent years bear the titles oftwo of
C.
S. Lewis's famous stories from
The Chronicles
of
Narnia: The
Lion,
the Witch
and
the Wardrohe
and
Prince
Caspian.
The third install-ment in the series.
The
Voyage
of
the
Dawn
Treader,
isscheduled for release this December, with
The
Silver
CWr slated for 2011.Many Christians are very excited about thesedevelopments, believing (quite rightly) ehae Lewis'sstories are shot through with deeply Christian imagi-native themes. Whae can be wrong wieh disseminae-ing ehe seories more widely in ehis way? The answer
is:
Absolutely noching—so long as it really is Lewis'sstories being disseminated. But there's the rub. Aehougheful inveseigation suggests that the
Narnia
films are very far from being a faithful representationof Lewis's own Christian vision of reality.This is a serious charge, so let me focus it a bitmore. I shall not objece eo the qualiey of the movies
Steven D. Boyer is Professor of Tbeolo^ at Eastern Universityin Saint Davids, Pennsylvania. He, his wife, and their fourchildren attend Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson,Pennsylvania.
simply as movies, nor to the interpolation of muchnon-Lewis material into both movies, nor even to theappropriateness of film, in principle, as a vehicle fortelling such seories. Objections might be made (andhave been made) on all three points, bue I shall notmake them here.Instead, I have a larger and more basic questionin mind. Do these film versions "do" whae Lewis'sbooks ehemselves "do"? Do ehose who see ehe filmscome away nourished in ehe same way ehae readersof the stories do? Do ehe films give us, or do theytry to give us, something recognizably like Lewis'scomprehensively Christian vision of the world?A
PECULIAR LOVE
OF
HIERARCHY
In order to address questions like ehese, we have eo askfirst what Lewis is trying to do. What is his "Christianvision of ehe world"?
We
could address ehis questionby focusing on the
Narnia
tales specifically, but it endsup being more productive (and avoiding some of thetwists and turns of scholarship on Narnia) to beginwith a broader account of Lewis's basic theologicaloutlook, and so that is whae we shall do.Underseanding ehis basic ouelook does bringwith it, however, one really substantial obstacle: wehave to think carefully about a significant elemenein Lewis's vision ehat does not play very well in ourworld, even among contemporary Christians. Thatelement is Lewis's peculiar fondness for hierarchy.The word "hierarchy" does not have very pleasantconnotations in our day, so to speak of someone be-ing "fond of hierarchy" sounds very "peculiar" indeed.It is like admitting that your great-uncle Jack, reallya fine old gentleman, never got over his childhooddelight in pulling the wings off flies. Of course, thisodd and even repulsive idiosyncrasy might be ignoredby members of the family, out of their affection forUncle Jack.The only problem with treating Lewis this wayis that his particular oddity reappears everywhere inhis work, usually quite explicitly, and it has an excep-tionally strong bearing upon the way he understandsorthodox Christianity. If we are going to understand
30
TOUCHSTONE
|
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER
2010
 
Lewis's deeply Cbristian vision ofthe world, we will needto try bard
to
understand bow this suspicious attractionto bierarcby is
a
part
of
it.
Two
INTERLOCKED PRINCIPLES
Lewis's thinking begins witb
the
Cbristian understand-ing
of
God as tbe Creator
of
tbe world, and
of
tbe worldas God's creation.
Tbe
historic Cbristian
doc-
trine of Creation requires Cbristians
to
insist on
j^m
uniting
two
fundamental principles,
and
oddlyenougb,
two
principles that
tbe
contemporaryoutlook
is
often prone
to
separate.First,
it
insists upon hierarchy. We migbt notuse tbis term very often,
but it is
clear that
any
serious doctrine
ofcreatio ex
nihilo
("creation
out
of notbing") involves tbe recognition of a very realbierarchical distinction between God and world.The difference between
tbe
great Creator
wbo
gives reality and tbe cosmos tbat receives realityis absolute. Tbe
one
is
utterly independent,
tbe
otber utterly dependent. Tbe one is worthy of allworsbip;
the
other rightly offers tbis worsbip.Tbere
is
bete
a
hierarchy
of
tbe deepest, riebestkind,
for
in every imaginable respect, tbe world
is
goodness of bietarcbically ordered relationships extendsall tbrough tbe world tbat God has made. Relationshipsof all kinds are ordered, Lewis thinks, with
an
appropri-ate kind
of
giving and
an
appropriate kind
of
receiving.Wben tbat order
is
respected, real joy
and
freedom
are
tbe result.Now we don't bave space here
to
pursue tbis ideavery
far,
but the
point
is
absolutely crucial:
in
Lewis's
The filmmakers have taken thesingle element in Lewis's talesthat twenty-first-century viewers
most
need to be instructed in,and they have recast it so that itcontributes to the error ratherthan correcting it.
subordinate—and rightly subordinate—to
the
God wbocreates and constantly sustains ber.Yet tigbt alongside this affirmation
of
hierarchy
in
the Christian doctrine of Creation, we find tbe insistencetbat creation is fundamentally, unambiguously gooJ—andwitb
a
goodness tbat grows directly
out
of
its unquali-fied dependence upon
its
Creator. Note
tbe
surprisinginterpénétration
of
tbese two principles. Creation
is not
good
in
spite
of
its
subordination
to
God,
in
spite
ofthe
hierarchy;
it
is good
hecause
of
its subordination,
hecause
ofthe bietarcby.
It
is good because
it
is created, and
to be
created is to be glorious precisely by virtue of refiecting orshowing forth the greater, bigber glory
of
tbe Creator.Indeed,
as
soon
as any
created tbing ceases
to be
rightly subordinate
to
God, tbat creature ceases also
to
be good.
It
becomes
a
competitor with God, like Molecbor Baal or Satan, ratber than a servant of God. This is
tbe
essence
of
sin
in
Lewis
s
mind:
it
is
a
turning away fromour true creaturely status.
It
is
an
attempt
to
replace
tbe
goodness tbat naturally comes from being subordinate
to
God
tbe
Creator witb
a
different, independent, autono-mous goodness.
It
is
a
rejection
of
God.
DELIGHT
IN
HIERARCHY
So hierarchy,
by its
nature,
is
fundamentally good. AndLewis follows
tbe
overwbelming majority ofthe Chris-tian tradition
by
going further,
by
believing tbat
the
mind, hierarchy
is tbe
source
of
freedom. Tbis meansthat, as odd as
it
sounds
to
most of
us,
bierarchical orderis sometbing tbat we all ougbt not
to
hate
or to
fear, butto deligbt
in.
To
be
sure, hierarchy
has
been abused,
and
LewisIS well aware tbat,
in a
fallen world, we need equality
as
a protection against that abuse.
But
it is
one
tbing
to
protect ourselves from
tbe
abuse
of
bierarcby,
and it is
anotber to reject outrigbt the thmg that is abused—and
it
is tbis latter error that tbe modern world has fallen into.Finding that hierarchy has been abused, we have rejectedbierarcby
in
principle.But tbis
is a
dteadful mistake.
It is
like discoveringthat some
of
our food has been poisoned
and
thereforeresolving never
to
eat again. Worse still,
if
Lewis
is
rigbt,tbis rejection of hierarchy is notbing less tban
a
rejectionof a fully Christian way of seeing tbe world.
COUNTERCULTURAL CREATIVITY
Of course,
it is
anotber question wbctber Lewis really
is
rigbt about all
of
tbis.
It
seems
to
be
a
prett)' importantquestion. Unfortunately,
it is
also
a
question tbat mostof us have very few resources
to
answer bonestly,
for tbe
simple reason tbat,
for
most
of
us,
"good hierarchy" is
a
contradiction
in
terms. Tbe very word
hierarchy
usuallybas
a
ring
of
doom
to
it
in
our culture:
it
reeks of domi-nation and oppression. For most
of
us,
even
to
consider
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER
2010
|
TOUCHSTONE
31
 
the possibility that something called
hierarchy
could
be
a good, edifying thing will take
an
intentional, counter-cultural act
of
creative imagination.Enter
The
Chronicles
ofNarnia.
At last, we are
in a
po-sition
to
see
at
least part of what Lewis
is up to in
thesedelightful tales. He wants
to
remind us what
a
beautiful,elegant, adventurous, festive place the world can be, andhe thinks that right order
is a
part
of
that good world.Through these stoties, Lewis gives
us the
imaginativetools
to
think critically—he would
say to
think moreChristianly—about our own cultural assumptions regard-ing hierarchy, equality, and
so on.
We
can
see Lewis's strategy
at
work
if
we just thinkfor
a
moment about what
his
original stories
are
like.Narnia
is a
great repository
of
hierarchical images
and
relations—of good kings
and
noble knights,
of
laborerswho
are not
disgruntled
and
servants who
are not de-
meaned, of Asian the great Lion who rules over all, whois never safe,
but
always good.One
can
hardly turn
a
page
of
The
Lion, the Witchand
the
Wardrobe
or
of
Prince Caspian
without encounter-ing compelling images
of
royal authority
and
knightlyvirtue—and
we see now
that both
of
these themes
are
intimately connected with Lewis's positive construal
of
hierarchy, which
in
turn
is
foundational
to his
distinc-tively Christian vision
of
reality.
HOLLYWOOD SHIFTS THE CENTER
So,
what about Hollywood?
Is the
Christian vision
of
the
Narnia
films anything like that of Lewis's own
Narnia
stories? That is the question we turn
to
next.Let
us
begin with some brief attention
to
WaidenMedia's 2005 production
of
The
Lion, the
Witch
and the
Wardrobe—very
brief attention, since
we
need
to
spendmore time
on
Prince
Caspian.
This brevity is unfortunatein
a
way, because
I
think there really
is a
fundamentalshift
in
focus
in
this first film,
a
shift from
a
story thatis chiefly about Asian
to a
story that is chiefly about
the
children,
and
especially about Peter
as he
grows towardmaturity. To be sure, Asian is quite helpful along the way,but he is no longer the center—and that is big news, if weare thinking about Lewis's Christian worldview. So thereis much more
to be
said about this first film, even
if
we
do
not
have time
to
say
it
here.Yet we must take time
to
note one aspect
of
Peter'sgrowing
up
that turns
out to be
especially relevant
to
our concerns. The greater part
of
Peter's maturation
is
his learning to take responsibihty for his situation ratherthan just quietly acquiescing
in
it. He must learn
to
takerisks even
in the
teeth
of
Susan's ever-so-rational goodsense;
he
must learn
to
follow
his
own judgment,
not
just
do
what "Mum" would want him
to
do. This
is not
a bad lesson: unquestionably, maturity does involve thiskind
of
growth toward independence. But consider
the
way this growth
is
formulated
in the
film.The opening scene shows
us an air
raid
in
London,and
we
find Peter very angry
at
Edmund because
the
younger boy, rather than running to the bomb shelter ashe
has
been instructed
to
do, runs back into
the
houseto retrieve
a
photograph of his father and then has to berescued by Peter. Peter performs the rescue all right,
but
he also savagely chastises his brother: "Why can't you justdo as you're told!?"
ONE
GOD, ONE EMPERO
!
DEFENDING CONSTANTINE
PETER
1
LEITHART
978-0-8308-2722-0,
373
PAGES, PAPERBACK, $27,00
"Too
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ham'
been able
to iniirniiir the a-wfid
>
xoord
Constantine,
knowing that the shudder
it
produces juill absolve
«
them from
the need to think through how the church and
the
pozuers
of the
world actually
relate,
let
alone
construct a
coherent historical
or
j
theological
argument on the subject. Peter Leithart
challenges
all
this,
and
forces
us
to
face
the question
of
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Constantiite's settlement
^'•'"""l/i/?iV7,s,
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IVP
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800,843.5)487
32
TOUCHSTONE
|
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER
2OIO

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