Aslan (later) : "The Witch knew the Deep Magic. But if she could have looked a little further back... she would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards." from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Earlier this month, Disney ran the first test screening of its December release, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in a California theater. The existence of a screenable print constitutes a kind of opening bell for two questions regarding its content. The answer to the first, "Is it any good as a movie?" will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Disney and its co-producer, Walden Media and will only be known later this year when the box office comes in. The second, more intriguing question, "Has it reproduced the Christian character of C.S. Lewis's book?" could also be worth tens of millions if it inspires Passion of the Christ-style repeat viewings by conservative Christians. And the answer could lie in whether the four sentences above, which constitute a kind of evangelical sniff test make it into the film. (A Disney spokesperson said that since he had not attended the screening and that there is not yet a final cut, he could not verify whether it contains the lines, but promised that "the movie is going to be as faithful to the book as possible.")
Lewis always insisted that his seven Narnia books were not a point-by-point Christian allegory. Much of The Lion, the Witch owes more to English folktales or Norse and classical myth than to the New Testament. The passage of the four Pevensie children through the magic closet into a world laboring under a spell of eternal winter is not Christian, nor are the cruel white witch, talking animals, centaurs, and even a duo of Roman gods who inhabit it. True, the description of the redeeming figure of the lion Aslan as "the Son the Great Emperor-Beyond-the- Sea" is a big hint. But even Aslan's sacrifice on a huge stone table (not a cross; and performed with a stone knife, Aztec-style), and his subsequent miraculous recovery could have been borrowed from any number of world religions.
It is the book's explanation for this key sequence that makes it exclusively Christian. After Edmund Pevensie betrays Aslan and his brother and sisters, the Witch claims his blood in accordance to the laws of "Deep Magic." Aslan concedes this and offers himself up in proxy, announcing glumly, "I have settled the claim on your brother's blood." Miraculously revived, he explains, "the Witch knew the Deep Magic. But if she could have looked a little further back... she would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."
This is Christianity in a kid-lit veil. Like any good sermon, its key points can be traced to Biblical citationshere mostly from the Letters of the apostle Paul. Edmund's treachery corresponds to the sins of humanity, which Paul explains is inherently doomed to violate God's Law ("The Deep Magic"). Because of this violation, writes Paul in Romans, humans are literally owned by Satan ("slaves of the one whom you obey"); and "the wages of sin is death." The idea that Aslan, because he is sinless, can voluntarily pay for Edmund's blood with his own, is the powerful Christian doctrine of blood atonement, developed from texts like the First Letter of Peter: "You know that you were ransomed... with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." Like Christ's, Aslan's resurrection is inevitable ("If Christ has not been raised, then ... our faith is in vain," Paul writes in First Corinthians.) And it conquers not just his death (or as Aslan would say, causes it to move backwards) but that of all believers, who will also see resurrection. Paul rejoices: "Death is swallowed up in victory... O death, where is thy sting?" In The Lion, Aslan and Lucy Pevensie celebrate with a "mad" game of tag.
Gibson's The Passion of the Christ magnified one fraction of the Atonement/Resurrection storyChrist's sufferinginto a two hour movie. By contrast, Lewis packed the two huge ideas into a few lines at the brief hinge moment of his plot. But the same electric current than charged The Passion runs through them. What the Lion's filmmakers do with the charming storytelling that surrounds them istheologicallyoptional. But if these key ideas are muddled, the film may be a classic, but never a Christian classic. And its revenues, large as they may be, will reflect that.