Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Christ, the Devil, and Lewis

I decided to reread the Narnia Chronicles with the news that there will be a film released around Christmas, with the amazing Tilda Swinton as the White Witch. I’ve been wanting to reread them for a while for a couple of reasons: I first read them when my parents were divorcing, and even the name Prince Caspian summons up images of my mother sunbathing in a bikini in our Omaha backyard while crying about leaving (odd, but true), so I was hoping my rereading them I will actually remember them, as I was emotionally otherwise engaged; I am also interested in the Christian imagery, which I kept hearing more and more about.

And wow—I’ve read the first two books, and it’s insane. I’m particularly sensitive right now, given our current religious situation in this country—the war,etc., and I feel like cosmologies are everywhere—from Christianity to Scientology, Mel Gibson to Tom Cruise.

For those of you who don’t know, the first book is The Magician’s Nephew, which deals with the creation of Narnia, and the second book is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which deals with the war over Narnia and the death/resurrection of Aslan the lion. And basically it’s crazy with Christian allegory—with a little Greek thrown in for fun-- The evil queen is a descendant of Lilith; the humans are called “Sons of Adam”; one of the children bring evil into the new world; the lion must die for the sins of a traitor, but then manages to come back to life and triumph.

Lewis was famously a theologian, and a friend of Tolkien’s. His world is less complex than Tolkein’s, and more whimsical, although Tolkein took his subject from another tale as well. I prefer Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, though it is baldy anti-religion. Narnia is for a younger child, I would imagine. But that is where it’s magic lies. Who does not dream of a new world? Who didn’t touch the back of their closet after reading this book as a child, hoping that it would dissolve and reveal an enchanted glade? I love the World between Worlds in the first book, and how there are many different worlds. Pullman owes a debt to Lewis for this. And Lewis’ writing is wonderful—easy, descriptive, charming, captivating. Also funny that it was written for a little girl, as Alice was written for a little girl, and Peter Pan for a little boy. Tiny British muses.

The ideas to me in the first two books are a catechism in Christian thought, though: the world is created by a breath of a god-like creature; there is evil, it’s your fault on some level and your responsibility; there must be a battle; there must be a death/resurrection. And I guess that’s what sitting in my craw at the moment. I am fascinated at the whole idea of resurrection, especially now that people are “dying for our country”—it begs the question of what did Christ/God do that any parent with a child at war is not asked to do? And be glad about it? It’s the martyrdom that’s at the base of all our thought. I was particularly interested in the way that Aslan is killed. He is lashed to a stone table, but only after being shaved and ridiculed. He is beaten/dehumanized (de-lionized?). And that struck me the same as the Roman soldiers in Mel Gibson’s highly successful snuff film “Passion of the Christ”—not only do they kill him, they mock and beat and taunt him as well. As if killing was a release from the ridicule. Or to make things worse. Now is this to dehumanize their victim for themselves, or is it to dehumanize the killers for us so we don’t feel bad later when they are slain? And where is the Christian value of life in that? I don’t want to get off into those contradictions, but it’s interesting in our current climate. There is a nebulous “terrorist” who is evil and bad by nature for no reason, has no humanity or intelligence, and therefore we are off the hook when they are killed. These are how wars are fought. I could go on, as the examples are endless.

There is a great excerpt from Julia Sweeney’s recent one-woman show “Letting Go of God” on This American Life, where she talks about her bible study, the idea of Christ suffering, and how off-put she was after actually reading the bible and seeing its contradictions. (She's recording it on CD, and wirting a book--can't wait). I have no intention of offending anyone, but the questions are interesting. For me, that’s how we find god. And it’s interesting for me to see in this book written for children such bold ideas as resurrection put forth. That idea, that someone can save us by dying for us, is now at the center of Western thought. I don’t think we can underestimate its importance.

I’m also interested in the principal evil being an independent, power hungry woman. Of course, the most fascinating Disney villains are as well--the new film of the book is being made by Disney. Why is that? I also want to know why Aslan sets up a monarchy in the first book, and the political system of choice is a monarchy. There is much of kings/queens in the bible, and noble lineage (Christ descending from David, etc—hero must have noble blood, King of Kings, blah blah, blah--my Lord used for Jesus as well as for the despot who levies a tax on you). I am fascinated that our mind goes there so easily, that we are still a product of centuries of that thinking. Democracy is only 200 years old. Before that—unheard of-- some people were just born to serve. I hear that the Christian imagery gets less as the books move on, and I am excited to know. There will be more thoughts, as there is much more. But I am constantly interested in how all of these thoughts and belief systems are abutting in our current culture.

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