The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


Posted to on January 31, 2006


"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was directed by Andrew Adamson, who also directed "Shrek"--another children's film that is meant to appeal to adults. The film was co-produced by Disney and something called Walden Media, which was founded by Philip F. Anschutz, a fundamentalist Christian supporter of the Republican Party and the CEO of Qwest. The avowed purpose of Walden is to spread morally uplifting films to children, especially those with a Christian theme, even if they are contained subliminally as they are in the Chronicles


This is a story of four children--two boys and two girls--living in London during WWII. Their mother ships them off to the countryside in order to escape Hitler's bombs. They are put up in a labyrinthine mansion owned by an aloof professor that is tended to by his irascible maid.


One day as the bored children are playing hide-and-seek, the younger girl discovers a wardrobe closet to hide in. As she burrows through the fur coats stored there, she eventually tumbles into a snow-covered forest just beyond the closet's exterior. There she meets a faun who has been instructed to kidnap her by the wicked White Witch who rules over this realm called Narnia. If she was accompanied by a pet dog, one can imagine her declaring, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in England anymore."


Although C.S. Lewis was converted to Christianity by fellow Oxford don J.R. Tolkein and was obviously inspired by the Fellowship of the Ring, the more obvious literary antecedent is "Wizard of Oz". Instead of being transported into a parallel universe by a tornado, these children have a much less arduous path: through the back wall of a closet. Once there, they have to complete an identical mission: kill an evil witch. In "Wizard of Oz," Dorothy joins forces with a three anti-heroes, while in the Chronicle the children are allied with Aslan, the lion king of Narnia.


C.S. Lewis's film is drenched with Christian symbolism. Although Christ is often symbolized by a lamb, he is also the Lion of Judah. Under the grip of the White Witch, Narnia has not enjoyed a Christmas for 100 years--although there's plenty of snow. If the White Witch is killed, you see, the snow will end and spring will happily begin. In order for all this to transpire, it is necessary for prophecies to be fulfilled. In one of them, Aslan will have to sacrifice himself in order that one of the children, who has betrayed the others by going over to the White Witch, be redeemed and saved from death at her hands. (Although the White Witch is supposed to represent consummate evil, it was hard for me to work up a head of lather since she is played by Tilda Swinton, one of cinema's most appealing personalities.)


The film is pretty slow going until the final fight scene between the Forces of Good and the Forces of Evil. Despite being eminently Caucasian herself, all of the White Witch's minions seem to be rather dark-skinned, just as the Orcs were in "Fellowship of the Ring." Gosh, I wonder why.


If it is meant as Christian propaganda, one has to wonder if it is subverting its own goals through the inclusion of witches, fauns, centaurs and other creatures drawn from the ranks of mythology. Furthermore, the return of Christmas in this tale seems closer to the pagan roots of this holiday than to celebrating Jesus' birth. After all, putting up a pine tree as a symbol of the oncoming spring would owe more to Nordic ritual than the sort of austere Anglican theology favored by Lewis.


In any case, I doubt that any child will be converted to Christianity as a result of watching such a film. Speaking for myself, I found it entirely harmless just as I find films based on Tolkein and L. Frank Baum harmless.


I do confess that there is something that does bother me a bit. Baum, you will recall, was a newspaper man in South Dakota a decade before writing "Wizard of Oz." In editorial after editorial, he lashed out at the Lakota people and wrote the following on the occasion of the death of Sitting Bull:


"With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.


"We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America."


Which brings me back to Philip F. Anschutz, the Christian co-producer of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Five years ago, he was the CEO of an oil company before moving on to communications. In this capacity, he decided that oil profits were far more important than the rights of the same race that L. Frank Baum defamed.


"As remote as this place seems here in south-central Montana, a rambling valley of sagebrush and towering rocks far from any town, one is never truly alone. Looking on from scores of vantage points are colorful images of men and animals, among other illustrations, that were painted on the rock walls perhaps 1,000 years ago.


"Indian tribes that trace the presence of their ancestors here say they believe the spirits of their elders remain, making these 4,200 acres about 50 miles south of Billings a sacred place to them. Their name for Weatherman Draw is Valley of the Chiefs, and their oral histories teach that even enemies dropped their weapons to share the valley in peace.


"Yet now, the valley and its fading ancient art are at the center of a major conflict, one of the first that illustrates the kind of dispute that erupts when the nation struggles to balance energy needs with environmental and cultural concerns.


"In time, the conflict here might provide a model for resolving similar conflicts throughout the West.


"Just a quarter-mile from the heart of the valley, a Denver company, Anschutz Exploration, wants to explore for oil. Company officials say the valley might sit atop as many as 10 million barrels -- 420 million gallons -- making it a welcome addition to the country's fuel supply, said Bill Miller, a company vice president.


"Anschutz is owned by Philip F. Anschutz, one of the country's wealthiest businessmen and a major Republican donor."


"For more than seven years his oil company sought permission to drill here. But it was not until February, after President Bush took office, that the Bureau of Land Management approved one exploratory well."


(NY Times, June 22, 2001)


Fortunately, the Indians and their environmentalist allies were able to block Anschutz's blitz. Now, there's a drama that cries out for a cinematic treatment. We do face moral challenges in today's world, but the real heroes are those who fight real world corporate domination, not fairy tale witches and gremlins.