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.