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The Narnia Scare

The excitement in the conservative Christian community over the forthcoming movie of C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is matched only by the hysterics the “Christianization” of Narnia is causing elsewhere. In Salon today, Laura Miller asks, “Can we still cherish the books without believing in their most obvious message?”

The obvious answer, which Miller herself arrives at, is “yes.” The adventure and magic of the Narnia books stand out from any purported message Lewis implanted in his tale.

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Another answer, which Miller also hints at with her quick course in Manicheism, is that Lewis’s books aren’t really, or at least purely, Christian. By all accounts, including his own, Lewis never “intended to teach a form of the gospels,” as Miller would have it, but used the stories to place the Christian story amid the fund of myth and folklore he grew up with (and lived with: he was a pal of J.R.R. Tolkien). Sounds more like a project for Gregory Maguire, whose novel “Wicked,” about the witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” became the Broadway musical.

American conservative Christians, hard up for culture they can accept or call their own, have taken up the movie as a cause celebre, with plenty of encouragement from Disney, because in other books Lewis was a sly, funny Christian apologist. But had Disney commissioned “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” from a high-priced Hollywood scriptwriter, conservative Christians would likely have attacked it as a pack of pagan desecration of the crucifixion. And Miller would likely have seen it opening weekend.

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