The runaway success of the Harry Potter books has a lot of publishers wondering if they can cash in on this new young-readers craze. What they're looking for is a great story, told in a compelling manner: a story that will leave readers begging for a sequel or six.

Well, the HarperCollins Publishing firm has just found what everyone's looking for: a series of children's books that has already sold 65 million copies worldwide. They're stories that have gripped readers' imaginations for half a century.

Just one problem: they're also filled with Christian imagery and allegory. The series, as you may have guessed, is the "Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis. And, according to The New York Times, HarperCollins is planning to tame Aslan--to make him more competitive with the boy wizard from the Hogwarts School.

This taming, they say, has taken the form of a "marketing makeover of Aslan and assorted Narnian habitués to expand readership and extend the brand." Extending the brand includes Narnia novels by "unidentified authors"--to continue the story that Lewis thought he had finished.

But all of this pales in comparison to what the Times calls a "discreet strategy to avoid direct links to the Christian imagery and theology that suffused the Narnia novels and inspired Lewis." In other words, they want to de-Christianize the stories.

This strategy first appeared in the controversy surrounding a proposed Public Television film about Lewis and Narnia. According to the Times, both the C.S. Lewis Company and Harper wanted those involved in the project to "[emphatically assure them] that no attempt will be made to correlate the stories to Christian imagery [or] theology."

This demand puzzled Carol Dean Hatcher, who is producing the film for Oregon Public Television. She called the attempt to minimize the Christian aspect of Lewis' work, including the Narnia tales, "astounding." She compared it to doing a biography of Hank Aaron and "refusing to acknowledge he was a baseball player."

Well, Hatcher is not the only person who's astounded. The story sounds like a parody. Narnia without Christianity would be like celebrating Christmas without mentioning Jesus.

If HarperCollins and the Lewis Company get their way, millions more young readers may read Lewis, but it won't do them any good. They'll not only miss out on the true meaning of the stories, they won't, as Hatcher says, really be experiencing Lewis at all.

If they pull this off, we can only guess what's next: Dante's "Inferno" without hell? "Paradise Misplaced"? How about "Pilgrim Goes Nowhere in Particular"?

While HarperCollins--which is the parent of Zondervan--and the Lewis Company control the rights to these books, there are things you and I can do about it. We can let our displeasure be known, and we can hit them where it hurts--in the pocketbook. Now, I know Zondervan to be a responsible Christian publisher. When we spoke to them about this issue, they assured us they plan to continue publishing the Narnia books in their original form and would have nothing to do with any version that attempts to remove the Christian imagery. Good for Zondervan!

But the others involved in this sorry episode need to know that the boy wizard is no competition for the lion that has never been tamed--either by the residents of Narnia or by soulless marketers in pin-striped suits.

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