Move Over ‘Potterheads’ C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is coming to Netflix.
Fantasy-Fiction is movie magic for film producers and directors. And those at the C.S. Lewis Society of California know this very well. In 2018, the streaming giant Netflix announced plans to produce C.S. Lewis’ beloved 7-volume series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for both TV series and movies.
“Lewis is enormously popular with well over 100 million sets sold in 47 countries of his Chronicles of Narnia series of books,” said David Theroux, president of the California C.S. Lewis Society.
He spoke with this reporter recently as he and the Society are eager to continue their cultural outreach despite the COVID-19 pandemic by making presentations via Zoom and other online platforms.
From February 21 to 24 for example, the Society is assisting in a virtual presentation — free live performances of the acclaimed play by William Nicholson, “Shadowlands,” inspired by Lewis’ memoirs, including his book ‘A Grief Observed’ and which resulted in the Academy Award-winning film by Sir Richard Attenborough, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
When asked ‘what is it about C.S. Lewis’ writings that make him even more popular today than when his Narnia series of books debuted over 70 years ago in the 1950s?’ Theroux noted it was because of the deeper meaning in Lewis’ perspective.
Fantasy stories do lean towards the ethereal, and ‘other worldly’ allowing authors like Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling and others to have vast audiences. Theroux believes it is Lewis’ “Christian Humanism” that sets his work at a unique angle, as is the case with Tolkien and Rowling. “Lewis was inspired by journey stories ‘breathed through silver’ into us by God,” said Theroux.
As in most fantasy epics, there is the ‘classic struggle’ of good and evil. Or, as in the Harry Potter series, “magic” used for good or “magic” used for evil.
Unlike Rowling who made up most of the “magic” elements and references in her books, Tolkien and Lewis drew upon the vast richness of ancient mythology.
Most of it as with Tolkien was fashioned after European folklore, primarily of the British Isles, Celtic, Gaelic and such.
Yet with Lewis it was an opportunity to express the “journey” elements in Judeo-Christian themes and teachings within the mythical context.
For Theroux and others, C.S. Lewis was expressing Christian truths through enduring mythic structure. While it is a debate and has been a debate for centuries, Theroux believes as Lewis and Tolkien did that “the story of Jesus really did occur.” And that the universal truths of His life and teachings are in essence the “True Myth.” Lewis and others like Tolkien understood this well, especially as they applied this inspiring wisdom to storytelling with purpose and transcendence.
“Lewis and Tolkien were close friends,” said Theroux. They were part of an influential literary group known as ‘The Inklings.’ This group encouraged the use of fantasy and other-worldly realms to tell a story of deeper and enduring meaning.
“They would read and share each others’s manuscripts over points of beer and much laughter each week,” said Theroux.
And even though their friendship endured over a span of decades, Lewis was apprehensive of the reserved Tolkien at first, notes Ethan Gilsdorf of Literary Traveler magazine.
“But the colleagues soon discovered they shared a like-minded interest in languages, poetry, myth and storytelling. They both avoided contemporary culture, neither had a car nor would drive one, and both largely ignored politics and the news. And in their fledgling efforts as novelists, they served as each other’s first readers.”
As a group that enlivened the haunts around Oxford, the hub of just about all intellectual stirrings for the English language (think Oxford Dictionary), ‘The Inklings’ were formidable.
“They rivaled writers like that of Virginia Woolf who was part of ‘The Bloomsbury Group’ which was named after a district of London,” said Theroux.
While Woolf is legendary, “the Bloomsbury Group’s influence has been modest in comparison to the global influence of ‘The Inklings,’ whose reach has become extensive,” said Theroux.
With more than 35 members and frequent guests, the Inkling’s would influence the establishment of other writers groups and be a source of Christian Humanism for such writers as Evelyn Waugh of Brideshead Revisited fame and Dorothy Sayers.
That’s not to say that all these writers got along always harmoniously. According to Ben Reinhardt of Touchstone Journal “it’s likely that Lewis would have never read Brideshead Revisited at all…Lewis toiled through the book.”
The reason for the greater influence of ‘The Inklings’ was again that it encouraged the use of imagination as a way to express reason (of existence) and human dignity. “That humanity is much more than what the modern age aspires to through the dehumanization of materialism, relativism, determinism and such,” said Theroux.
Pleased that the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ have made it to the big screen in recent years, far surpassing a BBC production of the first four books in the late 1990s and the animated-cartoon version on CBS of the first book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1979, “I consider the 2005 film of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ to be the best of the most recent major film versions,” said Theroux.
He also noted that “Lewis was not in favor of any sort of film adaptation. But, all of the films have greatly expanded the reach and interest in Lewis and his extensive work.”
Currently according to Theroux there are over 500 C. S. Lewis Societies worldwide.