"I'm a bit burned out on it all already." Those were the surprising words a dear friend--and the biggest fan I know of all things C.S. Lewis--said to me in confidence this week. She was referring to the cultural tidal wave that is accompanying the upcoming release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," the first in what is intended to be a several-movie, blockbuster franchise for Disney and Walden Media.

Sadly, I know exactly what she means. In the midst of multiple movie soundtracks, dozens of companion books to the movie (in case I have missed any theological insight up until this point), TV specials, and magazine articles, it is easy to already be at the "Narnia" saturation point. And, as I write, the movie still doesn't open for two more weeks. So for those of us who grew up loving the Narnia books and their message of redemption and sacrifice, the movie marketing blitz presents an interesting dilemma.

Will the temporal and shallow hype from the studio--as well as churches--overshadow what is timeless and eternal about this classic story? What will happen when Hollwood gets its hands on the Turkish Delight and the Stone Table--not to mention Aslan and the White Witch?

It was this very concern that kept me from jumping up and down with joy when-- post- "Lord of the Rings" and pre- "Passion of the Christ"--I heard that a big-screen adaptation of "Chronicles" was on the horizon. Narnia fans already have suffered through several embarrassingly mediocre and cheesy small-screen adaptations of "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," but now we were faced with the possibility of Hollywood turning this magic kingdom into nothing more than a theme-park ride in which all symbolic or spiritual meaning is lost.

Of course, Hollywood has lately found great success--critical and financial--with epics such as "Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter." And religious believers may find spiritual significance in those stories. But their authors' intentions have always been up for debate. Not so with Lewis and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." To Lewis, Aslan is meant as a Christ figure--and one unlike most depictions of Jesus. In the novel, Aslan is one moment fierce and powerful, while the next moment he is playing tag with the children on the mountainside. This is not a traditional literary representation of a god-like figure. To portray Aslan completely is, in my opinion, a much greater challenge than portraying Gandalf from "Lord of the Rings" or even Dumbledore from "Harry Potter." They are symbolic of wisdom and sacrifice but are basically one-note archetypes, unlike the multifaceted Aslan.

Which brings me to another concern about all the hype surrounding the movie: merchandising. Call me a purist, but it's difficult not to be a little concerned about things such as Aslan plush toys, Mr. Tumnus action figures, and Narnia video games where you battle the White Witch. If these characters, who I believe have deeply symbolic meaning, are reduced to nothing more than items on a kid's Christmas wish-list this season, they risk losing their power to have an impact on newcomers to the story.

Unfortunately, seeing how the Christian community has handled promotion of the Narnia movie has not put my mind at ease. Because of Lewis's background as a theologian, various Christian organizations--borrowing strategies used to promote 'The Passion of the Christ"--have developed evangelistic materials, from tracts to study guides, as tools to articulate how the movie illustrates the gospel message. Churches have scheduled special events around the opening of "Chronicles of Narnia," and they're engaging in missionary outreach to sell this movie to the general public.

Am I sounding a bit too much like Edmund?

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  • As part of that evangelical community, I respect other Christians' enthusiasm for sharing their feelings about this beloved story. I am all in favor of pointing people to what is good, pure, and true; pointing them--not beating them over the head with it. My biggest fear is that in an overzealous attempt to use "Narnia" as some kind of special marketing tool, churches will deny others, who may not agree with a Christian interpretation of the story, their chance to discover for themselves the depth of meaning(s) in the tale.
    And coming to it yourself is is always more rewarding and lasting in the end.