Portraying Spiritual Themes in the Narnia Films

by Always Narnian

The Chronicles of Narnia, penned by author C.S. Lewis, are not allegorical works as some would think, but are “supposals,” as the author himself preferred to call them. Lewis said of the main protagonist in the series: ‘If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents Despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, “What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?” This is not allegory at all.’ (source: Letters of C.S. Lewis)

Three of the Chronicles’ titles have been adapted to the screen in the years 2005 through 2010. Have these three films been faithful to both the major and minor spiritual themes found in Lewis’ books?

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, directed by Andrew Adamson, and produced by Mark Johnson, maintains some of the major themes readers have long treasured in this story by C.S. Lewis. Aslan’s death, a portrayal of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, is a major scene in both the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe book and the film of that same name. This scene, if omitted, would change the entire plot and make-up of the story. In the film, there is an additional line that Aslan speaks after defeating the White Witch: “It is finished,” echoing the words of Jesus on the cross. However, Andrew Adamson denied he knew that these words were spoken by Jesus. Regarding this story, Adamson also said:

“I didn’t think a lot about the religious aspect of the film… I read [the book] when I was eight years old before I even knew what the word “allegory” means [sic]. I don’t know if C.S. Lewis really intended it to be allegorical, but he definitely wrote from a place of his own belief… I think because I set out to make a film of the book and I think I’ve stayed really true to the book… [people] can apply their personal belief and interpret the movie the same way they interpreted the book.” (source: Dark Horizons – Andrew Adamson)

Though Aslan’s death was still included in the movie, we see that Andrew Adamson’s farthest goal was to represent anything Christian in the film, the opposite of what Lewis said of his well-loved classic.

Prince Caspian, the second Narnia film, was also directed by Andrew Adamson and produced by Mark Johnson. There is a scene in the book where Lucy spots Aslan, and she tells the others that the Lion must want them to follow him. The others, however, could not see Aslan, and they choose to go in the opposite direction of where Lucy claimed she had seen him. Later, Lucy asks Aslan if things would have been different had she followed him then, despite the fact that she would have had to do so alone. Aslan replies with a very interesting statement:

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right – somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?” “To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.” [Prince Caspian book]

In the film, the lines have been altered, with Lucy’s question being:

“If I’d have come earlier, would everyone who died…Could I have stopped that?” Aslan replies: “We can never know what would have happened, Lucy.” [Prince Caspian film]

This answer of Aslan’s shows that he himself would not have known, as compared to his reply in the book that no one was told what would have happened. The Aslan portrayed in the movie is very different from that of all-knowing Christ in the Bible, whom we see calling out the thoughts and intentions of people’s hearts, prophesying about His own death and His return. The portrayal of Aslan in the film is less omniscient than that of the books, and he seems to rather be a last resort.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was directed by Michael Apted and produced by Mark Johnson. Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ stepson, who helped to produce all three of the Narnia films, said about Michael Apted directing the third Narnia film:

“I don’t think I said I was very glad it was done by an agnostic, but I think it’s a good thing that it was… [The] great temptation for me, as a Christian – the card-carrying, flag-waving, slogan shouting Christian on the team – … is to put some extra stuff in, to try to improve the message. And of course, we absolutely mustn’t do that, otherwise, we’d end up making a Christian movie. And we do not need more people making Christian movies, we need more Christians making good movies, and that’s what I’m setting out to try to do.” (source: Christian Teens About.com – Douglas Gresham)

Michael Apted also stated about the film,

“I didn’t want to make it so Christian specific. I do love the idea of making a film that’s spiritual in this day and age.” (source: access Atlanta – Michael Apted)

But wasn’t Lewis’ book specifically written with a Christian message?

The story of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader book is slightly different from that of its predecessors, having many sub-plots. Eustace, a rather nasty and spoiled child, leaves the group of sailors and finds a hidden cave in the mountains, where he falls asleep upon a pile of gold and gems – a dragon’s treasure. He soon awakes to find himself turned into a dragon. As the story goes on, there is a scene where this character is “un-dragoned,” so to speak, by the lion, Aslan.

This “un-dragoning,” which I feel to be one of the central spiritual applications of the book, was highly unexplained and confusing in the film. Here we have Eustace, a dragon for some time, finally landing on a sand bank somewhere in the ocean, and seeing before him Aslan, who begins to claw the sand. As he does so, claw marks appear in Eustace’s chest, as Aslan turns Eustace into a boy once again. There is no conversation or explanation during this scene.

In the book, we see Aslan tell Eustace to shed away the scaly skin.  Although Eustace tries as hard as he might, he cannot get rid of the dragon skin himself, and Aslan must do it for him. This scene, in my mind, is a picture of the sin in our lives, which we cannot get rid of ourselves. It is only Christ that can rid our lives of our own sin. After Eustace’s “un-dragoning,” you see a change in the boy’s attitude, yet it is still noted about him:

‘It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.’ [The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis]

The Silver Chair, the fourth Narnia film to be brought to us, is now in the very early stages of planning, said to be produced by The Mark Gordon Company, and the script is being written by David Magee. Mark Gordon has already spoken about Lewis’ books:

“Like many readers, both young and old, I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis’s beautiful and allegorical world of Narnia.” (source: ComingSoon.net – Mark Gordon)

This, at least, gives us a hint that this producer knows there is something more than just a story in the Chronicles. Since The Silver Chair film has only recently been announced, we can merely speculate as to what will be included in this upcoming film. Many of the themes in The Silver Chair may perhaps be less conspicuous than that of Aslan’s death in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but are still visible to those who know the intent of Lewis’ writing.

Will Aslan say, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” [The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis] which is perhaps a reference to the Scripture: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:44] Will Aslan’s paw be pierced by a thorn, his blood pouring over Caspian’s dead form and bringing him back to life? How will Aslan’s country be portrayed? Will the new film makers dig deep into the rich resources of Lewis’ book and be faithful to the “supposals” that were thoughtfully woven into the story? Time can only tell, as we await the fourth instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia

7 thoughts on “Portraying Spiritual Themes in the Narnia Films

  1. albero1

    Very nice, Always Narnian! I am impressed at the amount of research you obviously did to find all the quotes! 🙂

  2. Tenethia BrandybuckTenethia Brandybuck

    Very well written, Ann! I liked how you wrapped everything up with those questions. That was a intriguing clencher. Thank you so much for your thorough research on this. You introduced me to a good deal of new information 🙂 Much applause!

  3. elanorelleelanorelle

    I love how well you researched this topic, Ann! I sometimes wondered about the supposals/allegories/symbols or what you will, within the movies and noticed, too, some seemingly added elements and some that were taken out (such as what you mentioned for PC and somewhat for VDT). I certainly hope that the next film does not add in any unneeded things nor take out any of the important parts of the story. Again, you did a great job with this article.

  4. always narnianalways narnian Post author

    Tenny and Ela- thank you both so much! 😀 I am glad the article was at least helpful and pointed out something new for you both. Really, I was surprised at some of the information I found myself!

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