Eustace Clarence Scrubb died for your sins

There’s a film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s fantasy The Chronicles of Narnia on the way, and already people are fighting about it.

The books are explicitly Christian allegory. The Narnia universe is parallel to ours and has a creation narrative, a Savior, stories of temptation and redemption, unbelievers, resurrection, an apocalypse, and an opposing faith that’s an obvious parallel to Islam.

It’s also a kids’ fantasy book with talking animals, magic, an evil ice witch queen, ordinary children who become powerful adults in a different universe, dragons, and magical sea voyages to the end of the earth. So this isn’t The Passion of the Christ, here. I read the entire series many times as a kid and remained a loyal secular humanist agnostic intellectual liberal.

Naturally, atheists are annoyed by the arrival of this film and evangelicals are delighted. I’m sure the churchy folks will press the opportunities they get as hard as possible, and lots of us will be invited to see the movie and have a “discussion” afterwards. I think you have to be pretty hardcore antireligious to object to that.

The more serious problem is Lewis’ pseudomuslims. They seem culturally to be Turkish or Persian, and their God is a terrifying war-daemon. It’s as though he conflated the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, and Thuggee into one generic Eastern Challenge to Christianity. For his time it was an awfully enlightened picture of the Mysterious East; the worshippers of Tash aren’t bad people, their cultural differences are shown as interesting rather than abhorrent, and there isn’t any over-the-top Fu Manchu racism. But it’s not very helpful in 2005 to imply that nonchristian turban-wearing people from the Mediterranean area are demon-worshipping empire-building militarists. I have no idea if this part of the story is addressed in this first movie; it won’t be if it’s just a filmed version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe so that will be a future problem for the filmmakers to work out.

For my own part I hope they didn’t castrate Lewis’ story and make it less of a Christian allegory. The temptation to make it easier to swallow for a large audience must be great, but it would be doing the works and the author a terrible disservice to “improve” this into a sword & sorcery romp without a point. As a lifelong Lewis fan and ex-Christian I’d rather be bothered by a simplistic Bible analogy than patronized with meaningless Masters of the Universe quality entertainment.

If you read Lewis’ autobiography, you can see him as a child completely absorbed in the Norse myths, reliving the doomed and noble fight of the Gods against evil. He didn’t grow up to practice Viking religion, but he wrote some damn fine myth-based kids’ books. Leave the myth in there, whether you believe in it or not. Please!

18 thoughts on “Eustace Clarence Scrubb died for your sins

  1. they already made a major ruin error by ‘reordering’ the books into chronological order. So TLTWATW is book four. Pisses me off so much because one of the things i loved about them being out of order was it really drove home how time was different there than here.
    i made my kids read them in original order 😀

      1. Re: NO
        That’s how it’s supposed to be. The original books weren’t in chronological order. The latest versions have been rearranged by the publisher or the estate to be “right”.

  2. I was really confused when I was a teenager and found out it was a bible based story. I saw it as verrry pagan with elves and talking animals and evil witches. Hehe.
    Oh well.

    1. Yeah. That’s because Lewis, unlike modern American fundamentalists, loved the world’s mythologies and didn’t think they were inherently evil. He could write good science fiction and fantasy because he didn’t need everyone to be from Tennessee. And still be a Christian. Who woulda thunk it?
      Oh, wait. He was educated. Can’t have that! 🙂

      1. We need more educated christians like him. I work with a guy with a theology degree who is just awesome, he’d never assume to offend someone with religion.
        If only we had more!

  3. The problems with any modern representation of the Calormenians are significant, I agree; but just imagine how the rightish Christian sorts will react when /The Last Battle/ comes along. I forget the character’s name, but there’s one who Aslan rewards even though he served Tash, because he was doing it it with the right spirit.

    1. Yeah! That one is going to offend the entire evangelical community simultaneously, leaving only friendly ecumenical Arminian weenies smiling. I can’t wait.

  4. My understanding is that you should be prepared for a shock from the other side. This is apparently being produced as a “Passion of the Christ” for kids. Perhaps by the neocon “Left Behind” gang of thugs, I don’t remember. There was an article in Time Magazine a few weeks ago on how you would be able to tell by whether the final cut contains “…when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
    I agree that portraying Tash worship is going to problematic at best, but that is completely not part of the story until “A Horse and His Boy” (which they might wouldn’t bother turning into a movie anyway because it is so dull and hardly contains perky British kids at all) and “The Last Battle” (which is the final book in both the canonical and heretical orderings).

    1. Re: the first one. I’m not sure what you mean. If they left that in, it would be the Left Behind crew? I don’t think they should take it out, myself. It’s too important.
      As for your second point: Yes, that’s exactly why I said it wouldn’t be a problem yet if this was just the first book.

      1. On the first point: that is my understanding. It wasn’t clear what the alternative was: perhaps it was just softer words but maybe the mob was distracted at the last moment and didn’t get around to actually killing Aslan. I could go any way on it myself even as a fan of the series and an ex-Aslan worshiper, although I find myself sympathetic to a movie studio who didn’t want to get sued by the parents of a child who decided to martyr himself because he took Lewis’ words as a personal calling.
        It’s not as big as the whopping BIG LIE in the story, which is that Turkish Delight is tasty enough to be worth betraying anything, much less your family and a noble civilization.
        The second point is one of the main unanswered questions that I’ve had — when in Narnia time reckoning did humans live in the world? Tumnus and the Beavers didn’t recognize their race, but is that because the Calmorenes hadn’t found their way to the world yet or because Aslan secreted them in a separate part of the world to develop a civilization, or because these were just a bunch of hicks who were under-exposed to racial diversity?

  5. I loved those books when I was a kid. I hadn’t even realized the Muslim allegory until I read the more recent complaints about the film adaptation. I see them now, but the world of Tash and his followers is so bizarre and alien that if you replace the turbans with some other kind of headgear, I doubt Muslims would ever realize to protest the movie if agnostics didn’t bring it to their attention.

    1. Yeah. The only reason I call it “pseudomuslim” is that this is what current politics will call it. The Calormenes dress like Persians, live in a place very much like Turkey, and worship a God who resembles one of the lesser and creepier Hindu avatars. They’re Orientalism distilled. So they should just be generally offensive and not particularly. But I bet it doesn’t go down that way if the films get that far.

  6. It is one of my all time favorite series…..and it did not turn me Christian, gay yes, Christian no…..
    (oh wait…I am not gay either)
    (And no! it did not turn me into a Furry either!)
    (Although…now that I think about it….talking animals? Could Lewis be party responsible for the Fur people?)

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