J.R.R. Tolkein, the author of The Lord of the Rings , detested allegory. His friend, theologian C.S. Lewis, who wrote the seven Narnia books, embraced it. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe , the first book of the Narnia series to be published, is also the first to receive the Hollywood treatment. Somewhat surprisingly, the story’s Christian parallels have been left intact, narrowly rescuing the movie from sword-and-sorcery also-ran.
The story concerns the four Pevensie children: Peter, Susan, contrary Edmund, and charming Lucy (Georgie Hensley). They are tagged like luggage, as refugee London children really were, and shipped to the countryside to escape the Nazi bombings. In the home of big-hearted Professor Kirke, Jim Broadbent, during a game of hide-and-seek, the children discover that a wardrobe is a door to the magical world of Narnia.
The land has been enchanted by Jadis the White Witch, self-proclaimed Queen of Narnia, trapping it in a hundred-year-winter. The Witch (Tilda Swinton at her most sallow) makes quite a first impression, entering on a white sleigh, with Medusa’s hair, ensconced in furs and attended by a murderous dwarf. The younger brother, Edmund (Skandar Keynes), is snared by the Queen, who preys on his sibling rivalry, and beguiles him with sweets into betraying his family. The sweets are delicious, but they are made of snow, and they fill Edmund with cold and emptiness.
After a series of narrow escapes from the wolfen secret police, the other children join the army of the lion Aslan, the true King of Narnia, voiced by Liam Neeson. His lessons about Deep Magic sound like Mustafa the lion’s "Circle of Life" speech in Disney’s The Lion King . Consider that Mustafa was voiced by Darth Vader, and that Liam Neeson played a Jedi, and we can conclude…well, nothing, I guess.
Aslan is paralleled with Jesus Christ. Since he is without sin, he can offer his life in an act of atonement for Edmund’s betrayal. He is shorn by the Witch and sacrificed; his body is attended by the two weeping girls. The sacrificial altar splits in two as did the Jewish temple is in the New Testament, forever ending the need for sacrifices. Aslan is resurrected, and leads his army to victory. We are still six movies from Armageddon, but it’s heavy stuff, don’t you think?
Director Peter Jackson took a few pages of Tolkein and blew them up into the forty-minute-battle for Helm’s Deep. His friend and fellow kiwi director Andrew Adamson has done something similar; the climactic battle took up only two pages – two pages! — of C.S. Lewis’s book, but is stretched to twenty minutes of film.
It’s a question of priorities. Disney, with dollar signs in its eyes and the Christian base in its crosshairs, sees a franchise to rival Harry Potter , so the movie skews older. In one passage, C.S. Lewis wrote, "I won’t describe this further, because if I did grown-ups would probably not let you read this book." Because the movie realizes everything, pushing the PG to the limit, I can’t take my four-year-old. That’s kind of a shame; but then, Narnia best abides not on screen, but in the imagination.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is playing at Showplace West. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.