We’ve been asked to comment on an article that appeared in the Washington Times last week. I didn’t really know quite what to say, as every single paragraph in the article begs an entire article on its’ own. There’s a lot to be said about it, and it is a very manipulative article, leading you to believe certain things that the article says without giving the context for when quotes were said. People have a tendency to use quotes from authors and things how they want, and based on needs to prove things. I have a specific example regarding Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, but we’ll get to that later.
First, if you’d like to read the article in the Washington Times, you can find it here. I’m going to comment on three main parts of the article with my own thoughts on what was said. That way, it’s more digestible.
1. Prince Caspian’s Christian Message Downplayed?
“The Lion, the Witch” grossed $745 million worldwide but “Prince Caspian,” which veered substantially from the plot and downplayed the film’s Christian message, grossed $420 million.
The author of the article clearly missed something when she watched Prince Caspian, a film which not only kept the Christian message, but enhanced it in many ways. The film had the same plot as the book: Shakespeare’s Hamlet shares the same plot as well, for the most part. The Christian message is strengthened in the struggles of the Pevensie children to see Aslan, and more.
2. Narrow-minded in a faith way?
The Narnia films, [director Michael Apted] told Rhema FM, a New Zealand Christian radio station, “present a challenge, for me to put the material out there in an evenhanded and interesting way; and not to be, in a sense, narrow-minded about it, either narrow-minded in a faith way or narrow-minded in an agnostic way. I have to open my heart to what the stories are about.”
There are a couple of things to make note of about this interview. First is that the interview happened in 2007, about a year or so before filming started, and well before Disney dropped the project and Fox picked it up and the script was re-written twice.
Secondly, trying not to be “narrow-minded in a faith way” isn’t quite as negative as it sounds. It merely amounts to accessibility. Will the film be accessible to all people, including those that aren’t faith-based? If the film is too narrow in scope, then it’ll have a hard time connecting with those people.
The more important part of the statement is that he wants to make it in an “evenhanded and interesting way.” This means that it will include Christian elements. It may even enhance them, which is something that has happened in other films that folks wouldn’t claim to be Christian. Sometimes the thing that you try to downplay ends up shining through more than you had intended. This happened with the C.S. Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia documentary, though they originally downplayed it, and were asked to put more in.
3. Script Advisor leaves project
Ted Baehr, publisher of Movie Guide and president of the Christian Film and TV Commission, read one of the earlier scripts for “The Lion, the Witch” and told me the movie would have veered in a bizarre direction had then-Disney President Dick Cook not “held the line.”
As for “Voyage,” Mr. Baehr is in touch with a script adviser who left the project a year ago.
“He said it was drifting from its Christian vision,” Mr. Baehr said. “It was not expressing the intent of C.S. Lewis nor the true story of the Dawn Treader.”
Dick Cook may have held the line for LWW, but one has to wonder if Dawn Treader might have been on course to be Pirates of the Caribbean 4 (which is actually going to film this summer, called On Stranger Tides). Another thing to note, like the interview with Michael Apted, the script adviser left the project a year ago. This was also prior to the move to Fox. The script was re-written two times since this adviser has likely seen it last. From what I have heard, personally, it has many very important scenes from the book intact. I’m not the biggest stickler for a film to be an exact replica of a book, but I do look for the film capture the essence of the book. Hopefully this has changed since the film was dropped by Disney in 2008.
Back to Tolkien
As for the Tolkien quote about The Lord of the Rings that I was referring to. He was once quoted as saying, of the Lord of the Rings, that it has “no allegorical intentions â€¦, moral, religious, or political.” In an interview on BBC 4, he responded to a similar question: “No. I dislike allegory whenever I smell it.”
However, a 1953 letter in which Tolkien argues that Lord of the Rings is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” Tolkien concludes that the book’s religious aspects are thoroughly “absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
Which is it though? Well, I’ll point out that the interview on the BBC 4 happened in 1971. Nearly 20 years after the letter was written. Tolkien may have later changed his mind regarding symbolism, or allegory, within the Lord of the Rings. One thing he didn’t want to have happen, is people to see it as a World War II allegory.
See what I did there? I manipulated time by not stating it, to point out how things might have changed so that the alarmist mentality doesn’t help anyone. I do not know the intentions of the article’s author, but I hope that they were not malicious.
For those that wish to know what Tolkien actually thought, however, read the following. It’ll explain more what he was talking about. In the end, the 1953 letter, combined with the foreword are the intent for the Lord of the Rings.
From the Foreword to the Lord of the Rings: “As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. [...] The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. [...] Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
Is Narnia drifting from its vision?
I’m going to say no, and there’s no reason to panic. The film is about eleven months away, and the only thing we can do is wait and see.
One last thing, from NarniaFans columnist Michael Thom:
It struck me as odd that the author references Perry Moore’s sexual orientation but doesn’t make clear that he was also a major force (as I understand it) in getting LWW from page to screen – without any complains from Christian audiences.
You can also read Mark Sommer’s fantastic article on Hollywood Jesus