December 1, 2020

Shrinking Greatness To Fit The Screen :What worries me about evangelicals and the Narnia films

aslan.jpgIn December, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (LWW) will be released to the big screen. Probably no single piece of Christian literature has been enjoyed and passed on by so many people, Christian and not, as LWW. The expectation among lovers of the Narnia books and C.S. Lewis in general is strong.

Frankly, I’m worried. And I want you to be worried too.

Evangelicals are starting to get some practice at having movies pitched our direction. I remember when Chariots of Fire was about to be released, and someone organized a meeting of ministers and talked to us about the possibilities of using the film for evangelism. (Ironically, Chariots of Fire was produced by a Muslim.) No Eric Liddle running shoes appeared at Lifeway, however.

The phenomenon of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ convinced Hollywood that directly providing the Christian market with films they can embrace would make big money. The intensity with which evangelicals owned that movie surprised everyone. In fact, evangelicals embraced the film with more devotion than most Roman Catholics. How many buses did St. Boniface Church bring over? How many Catholic churches showed the film in the sanctuary during worship?

Was it possible to get too much of The Passion of the Christ? I think it has increasingly become clear that there has been a strong reaction against the innundation of the culture and the church with the film, and that many Christians have stepped away from the film, its violence and its truncated portrayal of the totality of the significance of Jesus.

For example, even though the DVD sold well and many Christians purchased it, I see very little use of the Passion in its DVD form by churches. A major campus ministry at a large state university nearby sponsored a showing of The Passion of the Christ during Holy Week last year. Almost no one attended, even among Christians on campus. It was not just a case of bad scheduling. There was simply no desire to repeat the experience.

I know that my own reaction is not necessarily typical, but I find my appreciation for The Passion of the Christ considerably diminished over time. There are strengths to the film that I frequently point out in discussions, but I also now always mention that isolating the cross from the totality of the incarnation distorts the Passion story. Gibson makes some attempts to remedy this, but they fail. No one can imagine the film, standing alone, communicating the Biblical portrait of Jesus as well as, for example, The Gospel of John film.

A good portion, however, of my diminished appreciation for Gibson’s movie is the awareness of how the marketing and promotion of the film took on a life of its own, and brought the distinctly secular, cynical, unholy forces of marketing to bear on some of the most sacred of all Christian imagery and story. I resent the commodification of the Passion of Jesus by those who wanted to make a dollar and draw a bigger crowd.

I am fearful- almost certain, in fact- that the beloved story of Aslan is about to be plunged into the same baptism of profiteering and evangelical, church growth driven manipulation. I am afraid that the story so many Christians have loved, will never be loved the same way, because so many of us will be sick of those children and that lion, courtesy of marketing maniacs making sure we all have the “Narnia Experience” until we’re tired of it.

Pre-movie marketing has been considerable, especially in Narnia related books. Because the Narnia stories can be appreciated by all ages, and have few serious concerns with violence, we can expect marketing of products of all kinds to all ages. With seven books to work with- and the possibility of more Narnia books produced in the future- marketing possibilities are endless.

Churches are, of course, going to be able to use the Narnia movies for evangelism, and there is nothing wrong, inherently, with this kind of ministry. I will take students to see the movie and discuss its themes. (I will have those students read the book beforehand, and be looking for differences.)

I have to wonder if we really want to repeat the kind of hyper-enthused phenomenon we saw for The Passion. Will we lose Lewis’s book as we’ve known and loved it, trading it in for a film that will never come close to the greatness of the book?

We’ve already been through this, in some measure, with The Lord of the Rings. Did the films present the books well? I say yes, but I also want to immediately say that the greatness of the film’s visual artistry cannot, in any way, be compared to the universe Tolkien created in the novels. If all future generations know is the movies, they have been cheated.

I am afraid future generations are likely to be cheated by films that will be excellent, but which cannot put the magic on the screen, no more than the magic of Harry Potter can be portrayed in the excellent films made from those stories. Despite the evangelical fascination with film, especially in the emergent church, an evangelicalism that trades books for movies will be diminished. Film cannot take us inside the human experience in the same way as literature, and the recreation of beasts and battles with CGI is a purely temporary pleasure.

What we will miss most is Jack Lewis himself. It was his delight in children and in the telling of these stories that has given the books the seasoning of joy that is the trademark of Lewis’s best writing. I am afraid that the playful nature of the personality of C.S. Lewis, so much a part of the Narnia stories, can never be translated to the screen. His wit, his eye, his turns of phrases, his complete naturalness and “at homeness”….can these ever live in a film? What we will have may be good, but it will be entirely different. It will likely be absent what makes the stories truly special: Lewis’s ability to make the stories work entirely and completely on two levels at once, without insulting either.

If what we have reduces the readers of Narnia books to watchers of Narnia movies, we will all be cheated, no matter how good the films are (and I expect them to be very good.)

I hope I’m wrong, and that after the Aslan stuffies are off the shelf, Peter’s sword has gone out of stock at Toys ‘R Us, and the Wardrobe is no longer available at Target, the Narnia books will survive and be read more than ever. I hope that after Narnia youth rallies and Narnia church growth emphasis and Narnia sermon series, we will have more people reading Lewis than ever.

Lewis never intended the Narnia books to be evangelistic tracts. It will be a perversion of the stories of the allegorical elements are forced to the front and rammed down the consciousness of unbelievers. Lewis was an apologist with a gently and respectful touch. Narnia lives as Narnia, and it lives as Christ’s Kingdom. You can see both, or you can see either. Whatever you see will be a rich and wonderful experience…if you see them through Lewis’s prose.

Can these wonderful touches be translated to the movies? I am skeptical. I hope for the best. I will be satisfied if we simply do little harm.


  1. Movies are reductionist. But at the same time, they also get a lot of people who wouldn’t ordinarily read a book to do so. The Lord of the Rings movies inspired my church’s book club to read the book—and these are a bunch of fortysomething ladies who would never otherwise read a book that had, sadly, become associated with junior high Dungeons & Dragons nerds. The Harry Potter movies got a lot of kids into the books; I expect the same will happen with the Narnia movies.

    Your comments on the Passion of the Christ reminded me of last Easter, when my pastor (who had never seen the movie) decided to show it on Good Friday. He invited everyone to come; we’d have snacks and popcorn and soda, and the kids would meanwhile watch a Veggietales movie or something. My first thought was, “This is NOT a popcorn movie.” And indeed, after the movie was over, no one had touched the popcorn, and very few could express anything other than shock and horror—and gratefulness to Jesus, of course, but mostly shock and horror.

  2. Michael,

    As excited as I am about this film, and I am very excited, I am afraid you are right to be worried. I have started reading LWW to my kids who haven’t read them yet (except the 2 yo). When you say-

    “Despite the evangelical fascination with film, especially in the emergent church, an evangelicalism that trades books for movies will be diminished.”

    You are spot-on.


  3. Something that Lewis once said has really struck a nerve with me lately. Someone once asked him if he thought there should be more Christian writers. His response was no, he wanted more writers who were Christians. I’ve been trying to understand what this means for me.

    I love writing, and have started writing short stories and whatnot. I don’t want to beat people over the head with Christianity, nor am I writing specifically for Christians. The idea, in my mind, is to write compelling stories that touch upon Christian values and ideals as major themes. So rather than doing an allegory about the crucifixion and resurrection or a story about demonic posession I have been writing about people alienated by materialism, people seeking redemption and unable to find it in their narcissism or instant gratification, people debased by a vile culture and people finding hope and joy in self-sacrifice. Sounds dark, I know, but I’m just getting some ideas out there.

    My question and concern is this: if a story is based on these ideals, intended to open the readers up to the foundations of Christ’s message and to open their eyes to the truth of the human condition is it okay if the story is a bit “raunchy”? I mean, how can one discuss the emptiness of casual sex without at least some depiction of casual sex? How can one show the depravity and vulgarity of a lost people without showing depraved things and saying things that are vulgar? The Bible has scenes of great evil and perdition throughout, is it okay to do it in popular writing?

    I just want to make sure that my writing isn’t unchristian despite my attempts to use it as an expression of my faith.

  4. “Christian” writing means….what?

    Well…these days it means published by Christian publishers.

    Think Flannery O’Conner would have gotten published in Nashville today? HA!

    A remarkable number of great writers were/are Christians and their work has nothing to do with this label. They do good work. It’s great writing. Period.

    Christian as an adjective is a lot of trouble. Lose it and write what you want. Just don’t bother to send it to a publisher that WILL tell you we fcan’t print those words because they might offend someone.

    (I remember when Lifeway refused to stock an album by delirious because it had the line …”She’s as pretty as hell.” Good grief.)

  5. I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia before my double digits, my aunt bought the majority of the series for me, and I share your concern. I’m afraid that like Lord of the Rings CoN will be shortened, squished, and hurried through some important, moving sequences (I’m still rather enraged at the shoddy portrayal of the Houses of Healing, even in the EE).

    Yet, I think you’re also correct in thinking that the movies merely being out there will get people to read the books, if the movies hadn’t been out, I wouldn’t have ever thought of reading the books.

    I don’t want the stories I love to be commercialised and sold until the public no longer associates the movie with the literature.

    I think the best approach for a lot of series like Harry Potter (I think those movies are simply awful, though…), Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Dune, etc. would be best portrayed in miniseries (similar to what they did with Pride and Prejudice). then you could experience the dialogues, the subtle wording, show the complexity of the plots, and all that good stuff 🙂

  6. Thanks for that, IM.

    Something that has been on my mind as I’ve started making this a daily blogstop is how much it seems that the corporate structure of modern (or perhaps postmodern) Christianity is doing a lot of harm. The Joel Osteenization and watered down CCMization of the Church is truly frightening. But it need not be this way. As a one time punk rocker/indie rock nerd who almost started his own record label in High School (debate and work got in the way), I think that Christians need to take a page from the indie playbook.

    If the only Christian music we hear is mealy-mouthed pablum, why not start a new label that will put out music that is challenging, interesting and contemporary? Not just the choice between ludicrous Christian punk rock or frilly easy listening from the usual CCM suspects, but rather something worth listening to. When the Christian publishers just want to put out books about how Jesus will make you happy, healthy, wealthy and cool (when Christ himself often saw a deficit of these very attributes), why not start an indie publishing company that will put out truly brilliant Christian literature? Its not as if these things haven’t been done before–some of the best popular music of the last 25 years (The Replacements, Pavement, Husker Du, I could go on) came out of indie labels. And publishing is on the brink of a self-published/independently published revolution.

    We need Indie Rock Christians. The DIY types that use passion, hard work and a little bit of vision and talent to promote a message that has been rejected by the powers that be. I really think that this could be an earth-shaking idea, one that returns the Church to its roots.

    Any takers?

  7. Excellent points, iMonk. I love the books. I also love the radio dramas put out by Focus on the Family – which is heavy on the narration for the reason you describe – the playfulness of Lewis’ language in the books. Even though I had never really given it much thought, I knew that narration would be lax with the movies, and am still unsure how this will affect how the movie compares with the book. A lot of the charm stems from the narrator, who has a unique take on things. I wonder if that will translate at all.

    I plan on seeing it, but if the movies discourage people from reading the books, it will be a great loss.

  8. wow, i had some of the same thoughts and gag reflex this week….after reading

    “Faith Leaders to Get Sneak Peek at Film”

    my only question is why didn’t the same
    Evangelical knuckleheads (Leaders)
    who sent the minions to “The Passion”
    not do the same for the “Luther” film? *cough*

    also hoping for the best!

    ps – can you change the Aslan pic to Jack with a smoke
    and a beer?…cheers 🙂

  9. Good post, a well deserved take on the corporate Christian market. I too was dissapointed after reading LOTR with the movie, don’t get me wrong it was spectacular. But anyone who has read the books knows that it doesn’t even come close. LWW won’t really do justice to the book either, even though I will be going to see it. And I wonder what Tolkein’s reaction would be to having his work put into the movie medium? His story was just that, story, not allegory, which he despised May books live on and satisfy us more than movies ever will.

  10. Personally, I can’t wait for the movie. I love the story, and I’m interested in seeing how it is brought to the big screen. However, I am not looking forward to the umpteen lectures, series, pamphlets, and VBS series on how to make Narnia “relevant” to the world.

    My main hope is that the movie will work with others that way the Harry Potter movies worked for me: I read all the HP books after seeing the first movie. Obviously, they were far better than any movie could be. Tranferring a book to the screen is going to permanently change the way the created world is preceived, be it LOTR, Narnia or Little Women. I see Professor Snape as Alan Rickman because of the fine job he did — even if that’s not the author’s intent.

    As for the church, it seems a lot of people can’t enjoy something just for the sake of enjoying something. Music for the sake of music seems almost dead in CCM (but living in non-CCM artists like Neal Morse and Surfjan Stevens), just as one can never just enjoy a movie — it must be an evangelical tool.

    If you want to watch the movies, then watch the movies. Hollywood will always be turning epic books into great (at best) movies.

  11. Well I suppose it was inevitable, given our culture, but your point is as others have noted, spot on. There is something about our evangelical culture that resists imagination and seeks for the direct experience. We like our fiction (but not our Bibles!) as allegory. The result is a kind of plug and play spirituality.

    As to the movie itself, I really fear the Disneyfication of Narnia, the same way they emptied Winnie the Pooh. Books, after all, are not scripts for movies or television, but something for our imagination. Narnia is far far bigger than any movie can convey; it is far more filled with the deep magic that only comes off looking cheesy (think Gandalf v. Saruman WWF knockdown in LOTR).

    It is also useful to recall that by their very nature films are a corporate process. It is not that film is less imaginative, but that it is supremely of a different sort. Multiple visions are at play, appealing to our sight, in contrast to the world summoned up by the writer. That is why the best literature for movies (or for that matter for the stage) almost invariably is drawn from second-tier (or worse) literary works.

  12. Eric in New Haven says

    Oh no, you’re right. I hope you are wrong, but you are probably right. I think over time, however, the movie will fade and the books will stand as they always have.

    It’s funny, when I first heard about The Passion of the Christ, for some reason, I thought evangelicals would probably be against it and boycott it. I was surprised when the opposite happened. I was wrong, and also rather enjoyed the movie, but I think it could have gone either way. I think many of these things could go either way until the evangelical consensus goes a certain way. Then if you disagree–your faith is suspect.

  13. I guess I’m not sure I’m really seeing the point here. The major issue being mentioned here seems to be the fear that the movie will “dumb down” or in other ways reduce the effectiveness of the literary work. From that standpoint, I just don’t see how this book/movie combo is any different than any other book/movie.

    Recently, my son has been reading Jurassic Park, and we watched the movie together. He is noticing all kinds of things that weren’t in the movie that are in the book, etc., and I had to explain to him why that is a necessary part of putting a book to film. Consider how long it takes to read the book, compared with the length of the film.

    To me, it’s not an issue of Hollywood (or Disney) watering anything down or commercializing it. It’s just the nature of the process, as others have pointed out here.

    I’m definitely with you on not liking the commercialization of the Passion of the Christ, however. When I saw all kinds of spinoff books, posters, miniature spikes on necklaces….

    It seems to me that the most serious issue is the way that churches in America just jump on the next bandwagon. Maybe we should all have “40 Days of Narnia” now…. 😉

    steve 🙂

  14. she_pondered says

    “Despite the evangelical fascination with film, especially in the emergent church, an evangelicalism that trades books for movies will be diminished. Film cannot take us inside the human experience in the same way as literature…”

    I have to disagree with this – I was just speaking with a man from Asia yesterday, talking about short films (which I realize is much different from a full-length feature) and he was telling me that there is something about the people from his culture, that they have an amazing capacity for facts, figures, anything they can glean from books because it goes straight to their minds. But reaching their hearts is entirely different matter. To him, film is a great way to do that – hearing something and seeing something impacts the heart in a way a book never could.

    Even though that’s specific to a culture, and books provide something that film never will, let’s not over-generalize that films will lead us down the wrong path. Certainly, every medium for communicating has its place – it’s a matter of knowing when each is appropriate.

  15. “Despite the evangelical fascination with film, especially in the emergent church, an evangelicalism that trades books for movies will be diminished. Film cannot take us inside the human experience in the same way as literature…”

    I would have to agree with this. Books can communicate so much more through how the words are placed and which synonyms are used that movies cannot match. I’m not talking about all books, or all movies, just the really good books and the really good movies. I mean, a movie can communicate plot really well. LOTR did a great job with that. But there are parts of books like LOTR that are comments about the human experience that weren’t and possibly can’t be put onto film, like the emotions and inner struggles of the hobbits, or the silly but important things like Tom Bombadil.

    One of my favorite books is “Crime and Punishment”. That gave me an illustration of sin, redemption, choice, responsiblity, and emotion that a movie could not and maybe never will be able to.

    Also, can a movie be made about the Bible that incorporates ALL of the lessons contained within? If you include all of Jesus’ sayings, then you get a very lengthy film, but if you don’t, then you don’t get the full length and breadth of his teaching, and therefore an inferior knowledge compared to the book.

    I’m not saying that movies don’t affect us in ways different than books, I’m saying that books give us more insights on who we are than movies do.

  16. My mother is a schoolteacher-turned-academic, and both parts of her career have been devoted to the issue of children and reading. And her conclusion is basically that some people have a knack for reading and some people don’t. It has nothing to do with their intelligence or their effort; some people just “plug in” to books and some do not. In a way this shouldn’t be surprising since reading is an invention, and we normally don’t expect everybody to be good at invented skills (such as football, or computer programming). But it does mean that however much books may be more meaningful to some of us than movies or TV are, for some people this will probably never be the case.

    It’s interesting to consider the fact that for most of Christian history, most Christians were illiterate. It seems to me that somehow the Gospel must be conveyable without the written word, or all those people would not really have been saved. This is not to say that movies are the best way to do it, just that an overreliance on books isn’t necessarily an improvement.

  17. I also have fears about evangelicals co-opting Christian art in any form. There is a tendency towards believing a movie is only “good” or “Christian” if it is both—and only if it explicitly tells the Christ story in narrative (The Passion) or allegory (LWW). And of course, the best movies always involve the Rapture and a scene with a preacher leading someone through the sinner’s prayer (sarcasm/off).

    And donÂ’t even mention LifeWay (you know, thatÂ’s always sounded like pig Latin to me). It just contributes to the WalMart-ization of our culture.

    As for “Chariots,” I happen to think that is one of the best movies ever made (in spite of the cheesy Vangelis soundtrack). The Muslim mentioned by Michael was none other than Dodi al-Fayed. I’m honestly a little surprised that neither his romance with the Princess of Wales nor their tragic deaths sparked renewed interest in the film, but it’s probably just as well. How, indeed, to market such hagiography? You can put a poster of The Passion or Aslan on your wall, but Eric Lidell? The virtues illustrated in his life are not popular ones today—humility, self-discipline, sacrifice. I wish there had been more about his missionary work, not just running, but no one would have seen it then.

  18. Camissa and She Pondered…

    Interesting that your comments are all about “reaching” people.

    Is that what we have with LWW? A way to “reach” people?

    If we judge all things pragmatically and evangelisitically, we will certainly turn the Bible into a short film. I agree.

    But what about literature as literature…not as evangelism?

  19. she_pondered says

    I simply wrote that film connects to hearts in a way that literature could not – and did not mean to imply “reach” in the way that evangelicals use the word. (It scares me that using just the word “reach” immediately means trying to get someone to believe something.)

    The concept of “reaching” people is interesting to me anyway – it’s unfortunate that the producers of LWW want to publicize that religious leaders are getting the sneak peek, essentially turning it into an evangelical piece before anyone gets to judge it on its own merits, by the standards of good film and story-telling.

    If LWW was produced well and manages to convey Lewis’s point of the series, then they won’t have to worry about “reaching” people. They’ll watch it because they want to.

  20. so again i ask…why no cheerleading for the
    Luther film from da “Faith Leaders” last year?

    even better…WHAT ABOUT THIS MOVIE???
    The Merchant of Venice

    just imagine what we missed out on! 🙂
    Shylock trinkets
    The Merchant of Venice video game
    The “Inspired” Soundtrack by “Christian” artists
    and Al Pacino on Focus on the Family

  21. I thought the Luther movie, while better than nothing, had a lot of problems. It needs a lecture before and two afterward to be useful. Finnes take on Luther is pretty screwed up in some important places. Other parts are OK.

    The Merchant of Venice? As a Shakespeare buff, I would say that Will has a great 5/6ths of a play there.

  22. Thanks i-monk – i agree with you (i’m being facetious)

    but why not bang the drum for other important movies?
    or is this about money and gaining power?
    and possibly the ruining of Narnia 🙁

  23. I didn’t mean you can’t enjoy LWW as literature. It sounds like you’re worried about two things here: a) LWW will be turned into an evangelical tool, and b) the tool will be the movie and not the book. I’m not disputing a), but I do dispute your implication that books are somehow an inherently superior form of storytelling, that they have better narration and take you inside the human experience and so on. Well, they do for some people, and don’t for others. And to my mind, whoever knows LWW only from the movie and never reads the book already belongs to the latter group anyway. So I don’t quite get the fretting about what the movie will “do” to the book. I mean, Disney screwed up a lot of my favorite fairy tales but I still like them.

  24. Camassia…

    When I teach literature, I say that the narrative method of writing/reading allows us to go into the internal aspects of a character in a way that is very difficult to do in film.

    Am I wrong? Could Catcher in the Rye be a film in the same voice?

  25. Jeremiah Lawson says

    I don’t think so. I haven’t read Catcher in the Rye but your point applies to Dostoevsky and Kafka. You can’t really film what’s going on in the minds of Raskilnikov or how Joseph K observes and is observed by Kafka. You can get the same problem with even comic books. I know of a couple of famous animated films adapted from comic books that don’t hold a candle to the comic books they were derived from (Akira and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind). The problem is not that the movies themselves were exactly bad movies but that the scale of characterization and theme the comic books dealt with spanned hundreds or thousands of pages and even with a comic book this can’t quite translate to the silver screen.

    I think in a way it’s weird that Christians try to use films as springboards for evangelism because they always seem to pick the painfully obvious choices of now famous authors who happened to be Christian. And, sure, Dostoevsky fits the bill now, too but people know you can’t film a Dostoevsky book and make it work, especially not if William Shatner is cast as Alyosha. My own experience is that people who aren’t Christians have more fun if you talk with them about Christianity in a way that touches not-obvious film choices like Mike Judge’s Office Space, John Woo’s action films, or Miyazaki’s animated films. You don’t have to pick films that embrace Christianity even subtextually to have good conversations about who Jesus was and is. Sometimes this Tolkien/Lewis bandwagon stuff feels like Christians saying that Paul went to the Athenians and quoted the Torah to them instead of their own poets.

  26. The one thing about LOTR – Peter Jackson
    didn’t go down the nutty Evangelical road
    that Mel Gibson did…
    shouldn’t LWW just stand on its own? PLEASE

    and why did so many conservative Evangelicals
    see The Passion? Because there pastor’s told them
    or was it the crazy Left/Right polemics that entered the game? (among other very nasty things)
    frightening thought

    btw – i think Dostoevsky is possible
    Wim Wenders could pull it off! 🙂

    oops – imonk i ment being “facetious” about my Merchant of Venice post..not your reply

  27. I read the Lord of the Rings about 12 times when I was younger (in Dutch). Then I read it in English. Then the movies came. I have watched the movies 3 or 4 times, one time in the ‘extended version’, with no cuts and so on. I just recently read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings again and I noticed two things.

    First, the movie may be accurate in the sense of most of the story line. Yet the movie cuts a lot of important ‘side issues’, for instance the repeated ‘prophesy’ of Gollum’s future role he might have, however clouded. I cought myself as well expecting things to happen that never happened in the book, even though I read the book so many times. But I missed the true ending the most.

    Secondly, a point of experience. After the movie, I was shattered by all the fantastic imagery and seeing all these things happen before my eyes. But I felt rather drained after the first amazement. After reading the book now again, I was rather filled with emotion and a notion of ideas like valour, nobility, wisdom and all those sort of things that we hardly see around us today, which spurs us on to pursue these things.

    I think movies leave us far too detached. They can convey certain things that are contained in a beautiful story, but I am not sure they are the things I would value to pursue.

  28. That’s very well said, Elbert. If there’s one thing that LWW-the-movie will not be able to bring to the screen, it is Lewis’s persona, as iMonk has said. And without his “voice” telling us the story, we’ll miss all the nuances and allusions that made us feel that the storyteller was actually with us when we read it.

  29. I think your insights about the “Passion of the Christ” perhaps show that, while Narnia fans are in for a painful few months facing the marketing onslaught (“Aslan stuffies” – quite), and while the movie is bound to be reductionistic and lack Lewis’ touch, in the end the qualities of the books will outlast the film.

    There are probably more people who have read/are reading/will read the LOTR books as a result of the films; the Passion may well have led many people back to the Gospel narratives themselves; and more people will read the Narnia books as a result of the film. These are *good* things.

    For those who think I’m being too sanguine: all the pessimism you can eat, from Tom R at It does look like the director has some slightly lame ideas about the book’s message (“IÂ’ve really tried to make the story about a family which is disenfranchised and disempowered in World War II, that on entering Narnia, through their unity as a family become empowered at the end of the story”), which Tom compares to Homer Simpson’s literary insights:

    Homer: “IÂ’m going to take revenge on that bear!”

    Lisa: “Dad! You can’t take revenge on an animal. That’s the message of Moby-Dick!”

    Homer, patronisingly: “No, Lisa. The message of Moby-Dick is: ‘Be Yourself’.”

  30. Good article, but two comments against panic.

    First of all, a book can never be filmed. All that you ever get is an adaptation, representing the personal insights of the director. I agree that in LWW, Lewis’ wonderful narrative voice will be lost (or at best relegated to a few minor transitional comments). But we will gain a new visual interpretation of the story.

    A great author writes something in a way that is ideal to tell his particularly story. Similarily, a great director makes a movie that ideally tells his story. I’ve read a lot of books about the struggles and dreams of a child growing up in a broken family and isolated from the world. Nothing touched me as deeply as E. T. Yet I feel there’s a reason no major author has approached Spielburg for rights to make an E. T. novelization — it just wouldn’t make a good book.

    As far as adaptations of books that lend themselves to cinema (as in much of LotR and LWW)goes, I find it hard to panic. Tolkien’s writings are selling as well as (or better than) ever, after the movies. In 20 years, makers of fantasy films will probably take inspiration from Jackson’s LotR. But I think that fans of the book will still be discussing the intricacies of Tolkien’s magnificently realized places and characters.

    I’m pretty sure that in 20 years, I’ll still be able to quote many lines from Sam that didn’t make it into the movie; I’ll also have a vivid memory of the image of Sam and Frodo on a rock in the midst of a stream of lava from the films. I’m glad I’ve seen both, and I’m hopeful that the experience of watching the Narnia films will bring more images of beauty into my life. And if the movie is too “Disneyfied” or has no real unique merits, then eventually the newness will fade off and I will stop watching it and go back to just reading the books.

  31. Jeremiah Lawson says

    E.T. was turned into a book. I read it as a kid. It definitely wasn’t the same. That’s just the way any medium works. IF you create something in one artistic medium other media can’t really equal it on its own terms. I made a deal with some friends of mine to adapt a comic book into prose just to prove the point. Try adapting a single Peanuts strip or a Calvin & Hobbes strip into prose and see how funny it still is! Book-fans are justified in saying a film can’t equal the book but as a long-time comics reader it goes the other way, too. No cartoon about Calvin & Hobbes could work because you interpose the voice of your own childhood onto Calvin.

    The best a film can hope for in adapting material not made originally for film is to approximate the tone and qualities of the source material. This is why, for me anyway, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films work even though they obviously aren’t the comic books themselves. For someone who likes Batman comics the Tim Burton films don’t capture the ethos or characters the way Christopher NOlan’s films do so where adapting popular source materials go we comic book fans have had to put up with worse than Tolkien fans. Jackson didn’t get everything but he didn’t make Batman & Robin, either.

  32. its not about how it will translate to Film
    (i’m hoping for the best!)
    its a question of marketing the movie specifically to Evangelicals…the last time
    (The Passion) it turned into a nightmare

    do we want it to spill over into some kind
    of nutty left/right political polemic? Please NO!

    the i-monk is right… we should be worried

  33. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Yeah, I understand what you both mean. And the marketing to evangelicals means a whole range of people will hate it in advance even if the film turns out to be okay (I can imagine the Village Voice reflexively dismissing the film as nothing more than a red-state celluloid Chick tract.)

  34. I agree that there are elements of literature that rarely transfer well to the screen. The recent film version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was a prime example of this: the majority of the charm of the books is Douglas Adams’ unique (dare I say “warped?”) narrative style, and even though Adams himself wrote most of the screenplay that wound up being filmed (Karey Kirkpatrick was called in to produce a final draft after Adams’ death), the only time you really get that sense of what THHGtG is all about is during the Guide entries and the opening dolphin bit. This is despite the fact that just about everyone involved with the film dearly wanted to portray Adams’ viewpoint and character on the screen, and in many cases succeeded. (The radio and TV miniseries retained more of the narration.)

    The author of a book doesn’t just tell you a story — to some degree he or she also tells you how you are to interpret the events. What the author accomplishes with words, a film director has to accomplish with other means, and all narrative media have different strengths and weaknesses.

    I’m reaching my Rambling Point and shall now stop. Do rent the Hitchhiker’s Guide film, though, if you haven’t seen it; but read the book first! 🙂

  35. My feelings about the upcoming Narnia film and the Passion are marked by the significant difference between the source material for both films.

    My problems with the Passion all stem from the lack of consideration for who Jesus was, what His death meant, what it accomplished, etc. It stands alone as a tale of self-sacrifice, albeit a powerful and well-known one. It failed to depict the reality of Jesus’ life as well as His death; it didn’t tell the whole story. Given Gibson’s religious beliefs, I assume he was just as intentional about what he put in the film as he was about what he left out of it.

    And who can blame him? The dying Christ is an image that everyone can embrace on one level or another, no matter their religious affiliation. Sure, the movie serves as a great jumping-off point in explaining the person and work of Christ, but I didn’t see my Savior up on the screen.

    Which brings me to the Narnia movie. I was blessed to grow up in a household where I was taught to understand Narnia, Aslan, et al as nothing more than an illustration of the work of Christ, and a fairly incomplete one at that. I don’t share the same reverence for Lewis’ tales that many of your readers seem to, and I don’t know why. When it comes to appreciating movies for their biblical imagery, I guess IÂ’m just more concerned with what has been left out than with sifting for the shards that were left in.

    Mel Gibson’s failure to present a complete picture of the Christ of the Bible is offensive to me.

    But I find it hard to work up the tears over the possible failure of a bunch of Disney suits to get the Narnia stories right. Books are hacked into movie scripts everyday, and if even some of the best parts (read: the clearest references to the work of Christ) I wonÂ’t be shocked or dismayed.

    Probably just disappointed.

  36. Thanks for the thoughtful and thought provoking insight. My seven year old boy notices the differences when we read Tolkien or Lewis and then watch any production. “Dad, why didn’t they have that in the movie?” And it is a wonderful teaching moment. “Dad what is the lesson God wants us to learn?” And then I pray he never ever looses that question. But for the grace of God I fear that so much of his world will change as he gets older and technology crushes in on him. Thanks again and keep up the intriguing work.

  37. Personally, I don’t think you have much to worry about in regards to whether the books will be lost in the movies. Certainly Harry Potter films are more hyped than any other kids’ movies I’ve ever seen and yet those books have sold 250 million copies! The films just got more kids to read the books and vice versa.

    Look at the tons of books that the Star War sagas turned out. The films came first and then the kids demanded more. The books followed and show no signs of ever stopping.

    Kids love to read still, despite all the middle age adult misgivings and gloomy predictions. One simple has to write well, without writing down to an audience whether it be Christians or kids.
    Too many people write junk and then wail that no one wants to read their stuff. I say, Write better and the little darlings will read just fine.


  38. I guess I have two concerns with the upcoming movie, neither directly related to the concept of it being turned into an evangelism tool:

    First, people will think they don’t need to read the books because they saw the movie. I first read LWW when I was perhaps 8. I read the rest of the series a couple years later. I return to it on a regular basis – it’s one of my few re-reads among “fiction.” I love the books dearly, largely because of Lewis’ “voice” in them – the narration, the descriptions, the little side-comments. None of this can be done in a movie. I also am concerned that people who see the movie before they read the books (or even after) will not have their own visions of the characters – they will only see what the director decided he wanted people to see.

    I also cringe at the thought of a marketing onslaught. I really don’t want to see “Turkish Delight” (which exists as a real candy, though not as a particular brand; in the U.S., “aplets and cotlets” are much similar) suddenly be produced by Hershey’s or someone and sold everywhere (like the Harry Potter jellybeans were; you could even buy them in bookstores). I really, really do not want to see “stuffies” of Aslan even though as I child, I was deeply fond of stuffed toy animals. (Somehow, it just seems wrong. Disrespectful.). But knowing the way the marketing monster goes, I’m gearing myself up to see “Narnia chic” clothing, and toys of the main characters, and other kinds of tie-ins.

    I don’t know. For me, many of those things sort of suck the enjoyment out of a book for me. I don’t know whether I’ll go see the Narnia movie or not – part of me wants to because I’d love to see how someone else envisioned the White Witch (the illustrations in the books notwithstanding I have very particular mental pictures of the different characters) but part of me also fears what the movie may change.