4 Stars – INSPIRING
C.S. Lewis once noted that if you cannot explain a theological concept to a child, then you don’t fully understand it. Putting this belief into practice, Lewis created a fictional world of Narnia in which he taught the principles of Christian faith to children. However, not only children have fallen in love with his moving tales that speak of God’s sacrificial love and trustworthy care, adults and scholars have been inspired by his insights as well.
In this film which recreates the first book in the seven-book series, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Disney brings to the big screen the central tenets of Christian faith. These rest in three interlocking beliefs: The first is that evil has the power to paralyze us and take our freedom as well as the warmth of love from our lives, leaving us stone-cold. The second is that sin, such as deception and betrayal, creates a debt which must be paid, as it is a debt not only to society but also a debt to moral reality. The third belief is that this debt can be paid by someone who has never sinned by substituting their life for ours and, by taking a punishment they don’t deserve, breaking the power of sin and death.
As in all children’s literature, the heroes and heroines of our tale are children. Set in war-torn WWII England, the four Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) must leave the danger of London’s bombing raids to live in the country with an eccentric professor (Jim Broadbent). It is in his mansion during a game of hide-and-seek that they discover the portal into the land of Narnia.
Narnia is not so much a replica of our world and experience, as it is an explanation of both in symbolic form. One of the first symbols we discover is that evil is personified in Narnia by the White Witch, or as she likes to call herself, The Queen of Narnia (Tilda Swinton). The Witch has claimed the throne of Narnia from its rightful rulers and imposed a one-hundred-year winter on the land. This cold imprisonment not only becomes personal when her wand freezes her enemies into stone, but it also becomes universal when she doesn’t allow Christmas to break the icy bleakness of perpetual winter.
This symbolic representation of evil easily communicates the shivering experience of being victimized by those in power and left hopeless in an unjust, unrelenting world, regardless of whether we are children or adults. It explains evil far more efficiently and completely than does a theological treatise.
Another symbol of evil reflective of our world is Edmund’s deceit and betrayal of his brother and sisters. Having been seduced by the temporary pleasure the Witch could magically offer him, and longing for the power to dominate his brother and sisters, Edmund agrees to betray them. His lies cause him not only to have to leave his family, but also to become imprisoned in the cold dungeons of the Witch’s palatial powers.
This symbolic representation of sin is also effective. Children, as well as adults, understand that a lie or a betrayal isolates us and leaves us out in the cold. The fact that untrustworthy, unfaithful behavior not only affects our ability to enjoy others and celebrate Christmas, but it also paralyzes us and prevents us from experiencing love all the other days as well. It truly feels like a frosty, frigid winter without Christmas.
However, the central message of the story and the reason Lewis began with this tale is the sacrificial death of Aslan (voice by Liam Neeson). When Aslan agrees to die in Edmund’s place at the Witch’s hand, his sacrifice not only redeems Edmund from his individual sin, but also breaks the power of the stone table and finality of death. This symbolic representation of the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ for humanity and his resurrection power to breathe new life into stone-cold people, is one of the best in all of literature and makes it so clear that even a child can understand it.
Long beloved as one of the most meaningful of Christian books, “The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe” has now become one of the most beloved of films. It is a gift to all of us. Merry Christmas!
- When Aslan willingly lays down his life for Edmund, the Witch does not understand the deeper implications of her actions. Do you think that those who do evil in our world understand the ultimate victory of good? Do you believe good will win over evil? Why or why not?
- The statement made by Lucy at the end of the film was told her earlier by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (voices by Ray Winstone and Dawn French) in the book: “Aslan is not a tame lion. But he is good.” In what ways do you think that God is not a “tame God” but instead reveals “good?” Is our inability to control God something that gives you hope or fear?
- The love that Peter and Edmund share is not easily recognized in their struggle for male dominance. What do you think would have helped them understand each other better? Was it their father’s absence that was the cause? Was it Edmund’s behavior or Peter’s?
- The explanation by the Professor that you can seldom get into Narnia the same way again could explain why profound spiritual experiences are often random, unexpected and unrepeatable. When he advises her to keep watch for new ways to enter, do you believe he is giving us counsel on our encounters with God? How have you “entered” into a spiritual place with God? What was the door? Has this been a repeatable experience?