On God and Prince Caspian
The second instalment of the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia is now in the cinemas. And it is very good in many respects. Prince Caspian as a film is perhaps even better than the first film in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
But as is often the case, a film version of a book is often guilty of taking liberties with the original text, either by omitting things, adding things or changing the emphasis of things. So C.S. Lewis purists will be somewhat displeased with how the film has rendered the book.
But the film itself, as I said, is really quite good, and I encourage readers to go see it. But I want to go back to the book version of Prince Caspian to highlight a few theological points.
Lewis of course was a committed Christian, and Christian theology runs throughout his seven-volume children’s stories. His works of Christian allegory have been loved by millions, and a new generation of fans are arising through this film series.
Of course some friendly critics have thought that Lewis was being too explicit with his theology. Another Christian writer of equal renown, and friend of Lewis, JRR Tolkien, on occasion chided Lewis about this. Sitting together with other literary friends at an English pub drinking warm English beer, Tolkien would occasionally tell Lewis – as they were reading their new literary works to one another – that he was being way too forthright in presenting the Christian message in his fiction.
But leaving aside the differences the two had as to what Christian fiction and storytelling should look like, it remains clear that both were committed Christians, and the Chronicles are much more clearly theological and apologetic in nature than the fiction of Tolkien.
Indeed, Lewis was steeped in classic theology, so even his children’s stories come laden with strong theological themes and references. Let me mention just one episode in the book which is played down somewhat in the film. Through much of the book Aslan the lion (the Christ-figure) is absent from the action in Narnia, and the four Pevensie children – the central characters – keep wondering when he will again appear.
The youngest, Lucy, is especially desperate to see Aslan again. Finally, while the others are asleep, she does come to meet with him. The first thing she says upon seeing him is to remark that he is bigger. To which Aslan replies, “That is because you are older, little one”. “Not because of you?” she asks. “I am not,” he replies. “But every year you grow, you will find me bigger”.
This is basic Christian thinking here. The more we grow in Christian maturity and understanding of just who this God is that we worship and follow, the “bigger” he becomes. That is, the more majestic, the more awesome and the more holy he appears. The only appropriate response is to see ourselves as even less.
Of course the nonbeliever, and the unspiritual believer, has it backwards. They have far too high a view of themselves, and far too low a view of God. Only when we actually see God for who he really is do we lose all our distorted perspective and pretensions of grandeur.
We can only fall on our knees when we have a genuine glimpse of the living God. Indeed, this must always be the case. Consider Isaiah, when he encountered God as portrayed in Isaiah 6. He saw the Lord seated on his throne, “high and exalted”.
Above him were seraphim proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory”. The sounds of their voices caused the temple to shake. All Isaiah could do is wail and say, “Woe is me, I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips”.
It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). And all that saint after saint in Scripture can do is simply fall prostrate when they encounter this high and holy God. It is all any mere mortal can do. But many people have not had such an encounter, so their view of God is way out of whack. Their perspective is skewed, and their view of themselves is exalted while their view of God is diminished.
Only when we let God be God, in all his majesty, grandeur and terribleness, can we be truly who we are meant to be. But when we seek to take God’s place, and exalt ourselves, we mess things up big time. We distort everything, and get all our priorities out of line.
This episode from Prince Caspian is simply one of many found throughout the seven-volume series. If you have not yet read these books, you really should. They provide a great theological education, as well as great enjoyment and entertainment.
And if you are interested, why not see the film versions as well? As imperfect as they may be in relation to the originals, they still offer much of value. We can only look forward to the third film instalment. Long may the Chronicles continue, at cinemas and in bookstores.
9 Replies to “On God and Prince Caspian”
A Tasmanian newspaper review bagged the film for “trying to ram religion down young people’s throats” (or similar) while claiming it was too violent for children anyway.
But the strange thing is, those not familiar with Lewis or the book may not have even noticed any religious themes in the film, just a good fantasy adventure. Presumably this reviewer is aware of Lewis, and hates his Christian beliefs.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I went to see it and I loved it. I really got the message “go tell my disciples AND PETER” from the Prince Caspian character. I heartily recommend it.
I went and saw it with my daughter (11). After the movie we sat in a cafe and talked about the Christian themes in the movie and she was able to name quite a few. She is now avidly reading the other Narnia books and enjoying them immensely.
What I like about them is that at one level (the simplest) they are just a good yarn. When you dig a little deeper you notice that they are teaching you moral truths such as the importance of honesty, self-sacrifice, courage and so on. Further digging reveals deeper truths consistent with Christian theology, such as the Fall, redemption (the dying God), the power in the Blood of Christ, that we live in “shadowlands” and reality that we don’t currently see is far more vivid and exciting than the shadows.
Having said all that, what I like the most is that the stories/movies appeal to the imagination of children and in doing so offer hope that there is a better world just around the corner, just waiting to be discovered.
I am afraid that I have neither read or seen Prince Caspian – not yet – but would wish to reiterate Bill’s commentary.
It seems to take a lifetime to understand that in the same way that salvation was none of our doing neither is sanctification. Any maturity, growth, enlightenment, reformation of character are not of us: we remain sinners saved by God’s Grace. We will always be thus, until the day we die. It is only the Holy Spirit who can show us the depth of our depravity, of which we are only a billionth aware at the time of our conversion and only the Holy Spirit who can sustain, guide and enable us to joyfully obey God’s commands. Without the Holy Spirit, we can do none other than follow Frank Sinatra’s maxim: I did it my way.
Human growing up differs from our growth in Christ. Humanly I have learnt to become independent, to stand on my own feet, to become autonomous, my own lord. I want total freedom to go anywhere, whenever, and do whatever without reference to anyone. Our whole education system is geared towards this autonomy, this independence of spirit. We then wonder why our sons and daughters are so arrogant and self- centred. The paradox of maturing as a Christian is that the opposite happens; I have to learn to surrender more and more until there is nothing left of my own will but only that of the Father. I have to learn to submit willingly as Christ himself did. He learnt to empty himself, becoming nothing.
Philippians 2:5 says that our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
David Skinner, UK
I attended Prince Caspian, and enjoyed the movie as an entertainment experience. On the other side of the coin, being a avid CS Lewis fan, I was dismayed at the liberties taken with the story. No longer was it a story about children restoring Narnia. It was transformed into a movie for an adult audience. Somehow the childhood innocence and of the main characters had been lost. One thing that redeemed the movie for me was that the realization that failing to follow Aslan’s guidance from the start had created untold problems and grief later on for the children and the citizens of Narnia. Only when Aslan appeared did things start to go the way they should. A timely reminder to all of us to seek God’s guidance first and avoid the consequences of a bad decision later on.
I just would like to say, the film is wonderfull and whatever your beliefs,the message of Jesus is something we must all reach out for in our lives. I live in the UK and things are not good at the moment but the message of Christ has totally changed my life.
Sean Ackland, UK
Bill – English beer is “room temperature” – kinds of beer/lager are only refrigerated to disguise the fact that they have no flavour; real/good beer has no need of this. Oh well, I admit that it’s really a lot to do with climate. If I lived somewhere hot, Australia, parts of the US, etc., I’d want it chilled (Britain is cold enough without your beer setting your teeth on edge). And think of the subtle flavours I’d be missing … I bet C S Lewis would agree with me – there was a man who knew his pint.
John Thomas, UK
Hey, the next time I am out your way, you will have to buy me a ‘room temperature’ English beer.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch