Through the Wardrobe Into Joy

Glorious Narnia and its Deep Magic have spread into film, and all Christian men should rejoice. Those young enough and those old enough to enter into a childlike state of wonder will love “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” which opened December 9. Those in the excluded middle, too wise for innocence and not yet wise enough for a bit of second innocence, may merely enjoy what is very much a children’s film. The sophistication, graphic violence, and gorgeous women of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy are absent, though one or two scenes — such as Aslan’s sacrifice on the Stone Table — may frighten little ones.

The movie preserves most of the Christian allegory in C.S. Lewis’ book while simplifying and theatricalizing the story in order to fit it into a two-hour, 20-minute running time that keeps kids engaged. The book and film celebrate the old eternal loves, those that have increasingly faded since the French Revolution: love of our dependence on God, of family, of kings and birthrights (Lewis was a good Englishman), of differences between male and female, of just war and military heroism, and of the sharp distinction between good and evil.

The book is an excellent fairy tale for young children, but the movie is not excellent, just very good. Yet it is lovable for its story, Lewis’ fertile earnestness, its characters and its fantastic medieval images. Unfortunately, the movie’s director, Andrew Adamson, did not quite achieve the level of magic of which such a movie is capable. The fault lies in two areas: Technical aspects of the direction did not create the mood of timeless fantasy transcendence that Jackson achieved, and three of the four child actors did not reach beyond the merely good.

In particular, William Moseley, who plays Peter Pevensie, was not able to portray entirely Peter’s evolution from English schoolboy to heroic king — a difficult task for any teenager. Edward the Black Prince, he is not. The exceptional child actor in this movie is simple and luminous Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy.

For those unfamiliar with Lewis’ work, a plot summary: Four siblings, two boys and two girls, are sent to live with an old professor in the country during the London Blitz. Through the back of a wardrobe, they stumble into a magical world full of talking animals created by a lion called Aslan, wonderfully generated visually by computer in most scenes. This land of Narnia suffers under the rule of the White Witch, who has created 100 years of winter without Christmas. An old prophecy claims that two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve will save Narnia. Aslan returns to help the children, but one of the boys goes over to the witch’s side, forcing Aslan to take extreme measures to save him and all of Narnia before a climatic battle.

Lewis believed that ancient myths and legends prepared the hearts of men for the “true myth” of the Gospel, and his story is a modern imagining along the same lines. What if Jesus Christ were incarnated not as a man, but as an animal?

Some have complained that Our Lord should have been portrayed as a lamb, but in this they are sentimentally mistaken. One of the great joys of reading Lewis is his inclusion of what we might call the masculine aspects of Christianity along with the currently more-fashionable feminine aspects. A fascinating moment comes in the film when Aslan the Lion-God finally gets the witch into his power. There is a pause, and his choice of what to do educates us moderns on the true nature of Christ as described in the Bible.

Lewis knew the end of a Christian is to achieve not natural happiness but divine joy. Praise God for this joy-producing film.