Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Key players are downplaying the Christian aspects of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” less than two weeks before the opening of the expected blockbuster movie.

Douglas Gresham, stepson of the late C.S. Lewis — the Oxford professor who authored the top-rated children’s book — called the religious emphasis “an American disease.”

“The Brits don’t give two figs about that aspect,” Mr. Gresham said in an interview from his home near Dublin.

Even the film’s resurrection theme does not mean it’s a Christian story, he added.

“That idea is informed by the religious training of those reading it,” Mr. Gresham said. “The myth of a god who dies and comes back is in ancient Roman, Norse and Hindu mythology. The difference is that the Christian myth actually happened.”

The British press also has picked up on a disconnect between the film’s Christian nature and those most involved with it. Director Andrew Adamson, the New Zealand-born son of missionaries who grew up in Papua, New Guinea, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the film’s overly Christian themes are “open to the audience to interpret.”

Lead actress Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch, archenemy of the Christlike lion, Aslan, said of the film’s overtly Christian symbolism: “Faith is in the eye of the beholder.”

“You can make a religious allegory out of anything if that’s what you’re interested in,” she said.

Walt Disney Pictures, which co-produced the film with Walden Media, has been marketing the film aggressively to churches while Dennis Rice, its vice president for publicity, has said in interviews that the production is not “a religious movie.”

One anonymous official connected with the film conceded there is a mixed message.

“Essentially, you have a bunch of us as handlers and stewards and leaving people wondering what to say,” the official said. “We get phone calls asking why we’re catering to the faith community in our marketing and we get calls asking the opposite.”

But Lewis scholars said they were sympathetic with efforts to downplay religion.

“They don’t want to see the film treated in such a manner that it’d be inappropriately pigeonholed,” said Stanley Mattson, president of the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Redlands, Calif.

“There are powerful themes that resonate with the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, but it’s a book with universal appeal,” Mr. Mattson said.

Cultural elites attach disgrace to anything judged “Christian,” he said.

“It’s synonymous to ‘reactionary,’ ‘knee-jerk’ and ‘fundamentalist,’” Mr. Mattson said. “The problem now is that when Christians do great work, they hide their Christianity out of a sense of embarrassment to avoid the inappropriate stereotype.”

To counteract stereotypes, Disney is going the inclusive route, he said.

“A more cynical way of seeing this is wanting your cake and eating it, too,” Mr. Mattson said. “But Disney has done as outstanding a job of marketing the film as one could possibly imagine.”

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