Artifact Analysis: Christianity in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Introduction and Thesis
The movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a Walt Disney film directed by Andrew Adamson and released in 2005. It was based off of the popular children fantasy series, The chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis (Russell, 2009) book, in which 4 siblings, Edmund, Peter, Susan and Lucy come across a wardrobe in their professor’s home that also doubles as a magical portal into the land of Narnia. In Narnia, they come to meet mythical creatures and face the white witch who has ruled Narnia for years and commands that all “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve” (humans) be brought to her. The children are then tasked with saving Narnia until Edmund falls for the witch’s trap and needs to be rescued by Aslan, the lion and king of Narnia. Aslan gives his life to save Edmund from the witch but he soon resurrects from the dead and breathes life into all beings that were frozen by the witch (Russell, 2009).
With the growth of popular culture as well as the growth of constant conflicting religious beliefs consequently comes a growing presence of portrayals of religion in popular culture artifacts such as the Narnia series. While the film may not immediately resonate as a religious artifact, there are various themes and occurrences that can be analyzed using specific theories of religion and popular culture, such as religion in popular culture . When applied to an analysis of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, there appears to be clear evidence of the intersection of religion and popular culture in the cultural product (Mühling, 2006). Thus, this analysis will examine The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe from a theoretical perspective and suggest the film and the book (since the film was derived from it) are an example of religion in popular culture (Forbes, 2000). It will particularly discuss the Christian undertones (death, resurrection, betrayal and symbolic references to Christmas) that were transmitted into the artifact as a means of showing how religion and popular culture intersect.
The following sections of this analysis will discuss a close reading of the important scenes in the film, means of production, and lastly consumption and reception before the conclusion.
Means of Production
The means of production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe will discuss both the production of the novel as well as the film but focus mainly on the book as is the core reason behind the making of the film. The book is part of a seven part series of fantasy novels written by author C.S Lewis and published in the year 1950. On the other hand, the film was directed by Andrew Adamson and co produced by Mark Johnson and Phillip Steuer in the year 2005 under Walt Disney pictures and Walden media Production Company (Russell, 2009).
C.S Lewis converted to Christianity in his adult years and was considered one of the most famous converts to religion (Baehr, 2005). After conversion, he devoted a lot of his time to the production of multiple books with Christian themes and stories about faith. Although Lewis denies beginning the chronicles with the intention of incorporating Christian theology that appeals to children into the plot, it is obvious that his Christian background as he says, “pushes itself in of its own accord”. In one of his final letters written before his death in 1961, Lewis wrote regarding his intentions with the series that the whole Narnia story was ended up being about Christ. In the letter he states, “I asked myself ‘supposing that there really was a world like Narnia and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours), what might have happened?’ The stories are my answers” (Baehr, 2005). Thus, the intersection of religion and popular culture is explicitly noted by the author as the end goal of his work. His involvement with the church and his faith are reflected in his novels and act as a subliminal children’s Christian book.
The 2005 filmed followed suit with the Christian themes remaining present although watered down a bit. As the novel was directed towards a youth audience, so too was the production of the movie as Walt Disney pictures is geared primarily to young audience, which also often aims to teach children good values (not necessarily Christian values) regarding right and wrong .
Upon further analysis and deeper interpretation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe one can identify the subliminal use of religious themes and dialogue embedded within the plot. The theory that will be used to analyze critical scenes of the movie to support the claim that there is an intersection of religion and popular culture in this artifact is one outlined in Forbes’s text as religion in popular culture (Forbes, 2000). According to Forbes, and other religious scholars, religion can either implicitly or explicitly be embedded into popular culture with explicit depictions being blatant representation of a religion or religious figure and implicit being through the use of allegorical Christ figures (Forbes, 2000). Furthermore, Forbes notes that implicit religion can be found in characters, and plot structures and through themes in the products such as forgiveness, sin, death etc. (Forbes, 2000). This position of religion in popular culture can effectively be used to analyze the artifact at hand even without knowledge of the author’s Christian background and openly admitted intention with the plot.
In order to sufficiently outline the religious undertones of the artifact, this section of the analysis will focus on a character analysis or Edmund and Aslan as well as the themes of sin/betrayal, temptation, crucifixion and resurrection. The first thing that is important to note is the clear borrowing of the names Adam and Eve from the bible into the plot. In the film, the prophecy states that 2 sons of Adam and 2 daughters of Eve will save Narnia from the white witch and bring back happiness into the dominion. This is an example of religion in popular culture as those names clearly make reference to Adam and Eve in the bible as well as the notion that humans (including the 4 children) are descendants of the first man and woman made.
Delving further into more implicit representations of Christianity, it has been argued that Edmund’s character is pivotal as his role outlines various themes found in the bible (Mühling, 2006). For example, Edmund was known as the child who could never do as he was told and always seemed to stray from instructions. It was no surprise that he was used as the betrayer in the plot. In one particular scene when Edmund met the white witch — whom appeared to him as someone he could trust and was fond of- he is tempted by her offer to make him prince of Narnia as well as through her promise of sweets such as Turkish delight. He betrays his siblings by running away and informing the witch of Aslan’s plan to save Narnia from her rule in hopes of attaining more power and sweets. This particular character has been the basis of much scholarly comparisons to theology. It is argued that the witch takes on the role Satan/the serpent in the garden of Eden as he tempted Adam into biting into the forbidden fruit by positioning it as the most sought after and by offering Adam the notion of power and that he will know the things that God does not want him know. Adam betrays God and it is said that for this reason/the beginning of sin, God sent his son to save the world (Mühling, 2006). Much like Adam, Edmund gave into temptations and betrayal in hopes of finer things. Upon escaping from the captivity of the witch, Edmund finds his siblings and begs for forgiveness from Aslan and his character develops towards redemption of his “sin”.
It has also been argued by scholars as well as admitted by the author that Aslan, the King of Narnia, is a representation of Jesus Christ (Mühling, 2006). Evidence of this is also found through implicit Christian themes of forgiveness, crucifixion/sacrifice and resurrection. In the artifact, Aslan is depicted as a Lion, which appears to be a reference to Jesus Christ being referred to as the “Lion of Judah” in the book of revelations (Baehr, 2015). Aslan was always made reference to as the true king who is coming to save Narnia from all things evil. More importantly, Aslan sacrificed his life to save Edmund from the white witch because according to the Narnian prophecy, traitors belonged her. In order to save Edmund from his wrong decisions he gave up his life as a sacrifice and his body was left on the stone table until the girls (Lucy and Susan) turn back to look and his body was resurrected. This can be compared to the notion that Jesus came to save humanity from their sins much like Aslan did with Edmund (Mühling, 2006). In the bible, Jesus Christ was buried in the stone tomb and was also resurrected and appeared to the women (Mary Magdalene) and tells her to tell others that he has resurrected. Again, this parallels with the Lucy and Susan being the first to know of Aslan’s resurrection and informing the others. Through this close reading, it has been made evident that there are direct parallels in terms of character portrayal, plot and themes in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Christian religion.
Consumption and Reception
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe received very conflicting feedback and criticisms from those who either or refused to engage in the consumption of the artifact. On a grand scale, the consumers of the film and novel positively received it positively, as the book sold over 100 million copies in countless languages (Amazon website). On top of that, it was then transformed into a major motion picture producing a box office earning of 745 million dollars (Box Office Mojo website). Despite the undeniable success of the artifact, it is still met with conflicting views mainly between religious and secular groups of people. Resistance from the secular group is to be expected, as this has been a point of contention throughout history, but the critiques from other religious groups provide an especially interesting insight into what the Narnian idea of Christianity is (Russell, 2009).
A widely held critique of the idea of ‘Narnian Christianity’ is that the ‘Lion’ Aslan as an allegorical Jesus, does not fit with some people’s notions of Jesus as the ‘Lamb’. (Toynbee, 2005) The portrayal of Aslan in the novel does not represent him as the peaceful, turn-the-other-cheek God of the meek many Christians would have preferred him to be. Others criticize the novel for its lack of dimension in its Christian emulation, and its prescriptively didactic nature. Comparisons between Lewis’ Narnia and Tolkien’s Middle Earth have been made, and as they were friends and avid drinking companions at Oxford, it is without a doubt that they would have critiqued and built off of one another, whether consciously or not (Longenecker, 2008)
While it may be greatly oversimplified generalization, here is a brief explanation that has been offered. Lewis’ Protestantism and Tolkien’s Catholicism influenced their views of their respective fantasy worlds: “For a Protestant, truth consists of abstract propositions to be stated, argued, and affirmed or denied. For a Catholic, truth can be argued dialectically but it is ultimately experienced” (Logenecker,2008). While Lewis has a clear discourse he wishes to instil in the author, Tolkien’s Middle Earth creates an environment in which questions of morality can be explored more organically. In this way, Tolkien’s world is dynamic, and Lewis’ lacks the same depth. This lack of attention to detail could seem offensive to some, and may even imply to others that the author does not take the material he is basing his allegory off of seriously. However, both of them created a world infused with the same “unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons — even children”(Toynbee, 2005). The difference is that the image created by C.S. Lewis seems more caricatured, and thus has the potential to create a negative backlash. Lastly, he was criticized for allowing his Orientalism to undermine his moral stance (Caughey, 2013).
In conclusion, The Lion the Witch and the wardrobe depicts various theological Christian themes in its plot such as crucifixion, resurrection, betrayal, good vs. evil and the supernatural. Although the artifact does not have to be interpreted from a theological standpoint by secular viewers, there is no denying that there is a clear intersection of popular culture (Narnia) and religion (Christianity) when analyzing the artifact from a theoretical lens. Overall, the analysis of this artifact suggests that society and more specifically popular culture borrows and benefits from the use of popular culture, whether it is to transmit moral notions unto its audience or simply to satisfy the author’s imagination. Religion is embedded in much of society and the more analysis is done using theories or religion and popular culture, the more we can understand and identify the intersections as well as the importance of religion and popular culture (Forbes, 2000). All in all, the both secular and religious communities supported and accepted The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and its theological nuances.
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Picture 1: accessed from: http://movies.disney.com/the-chronicles-of-narnia-the-lion-the-witch-and-the-wardrobe
Picture 2: accessed from: https://quotesgram.com/cs-lewis-quotes-on-marriage/