At the time, many of my friends and acquaintances were aghast that I refused to watch the new phenomenon, much less their old favorite The Lord of the Rings, and some even threatened, with all the best intentions, to tie me to a chair if I wouldn’t comply! But I held my in my refusal to submit to their promptings. It was not until two years ago that I finally decided to watch the first Narnia film, for my own sense of well-roundedness. And believe it or not, it was that film, and its terrific music score, that helped me come to realize the heart and soul of Lewis, the man who found Christ and sought to lead others to him through the means of good old-fashioned story telling.
It seems that many Ringers tend to enjoy extolling Middle Earth at Narnia’s expense. “Well, it’s not Lord of the Rings”, is a common enough refrain whenever someone brings up something about Lewis’s brain-child. Not just Lewis, mind you, but also Jacques and his colorful and courageous world of Redwall and Mossflower Wood. But after a while, this sort of attitude comes off as nothing less than snobbish and annoying. The simple fact is that Narnia and Redwall were never meant to be adult fantasies, and cannot be expected to display the same characteristics. Thank heavens they don’t! Personally, I feel that one high-flying, big-budget adult fantasy is enough for a lifetime. I want to relax and have some fun occasionally.
Let’s face it, Tolkien was a one-of-a-kind character who virtually dedicated his entire life to creating another world, with all the complexity of our own. But few can be honestly expected to try and repeat that. He turned out a masterpiece, certainly, but there are many masterpieces with different styles, dimensions, and intents. They compliment one other, and form the tapestry that makes up a worthwhile anthology of stories that matter. Some would say that LotR has more “depth” than Narnia. I’m not so sure about that. After all, since Narnia is a direct allegory for the Story of Salvation, it is armed to the teeth with powerful meaning. Of course, like Redwall, it is meant for a younger audience. But the truths taught are ageless. Furthermore, sometimes being more direct “hits home” with keener precision than trying to bury the meaning so deeply it takes an archaeologist to unearth it!
What I have come to appreciate in all three authors, Lewis, Tolkien, and Jacques, is their penetrating understanding of the eternal battle of good and evil. The three of them had experiences in the World Wars of the 20th century, and the scars they had received never to have been far from mind. Their stories are hinged on the dual elements of paradox and grace. Refugee children, country hobbits, and peaceful monks, must rise above their simple backgrounds and battle against the powers of hell. They, it is emphasized, are the only ones who are capable of doing so. Providence is with them to raise them up; it has been foretold that special grace will be given to them. It all comes back to the baby laid in a manger, and the carpenter nailed to a cross. Even in the blackest moments, there is the hope and belief that all things will yet be worked to good.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is the music paired with film adaptations that has especially brought figures like Lewis and Tolkien to life for me. In the track “Evacuating London” from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I feel so strongly the workings of Lewis’s mind. There is pathos as the war separates a British family, just the sort of thing he probably encountered many times in the war years. Yet the music holds an undercurrent of a deeper meaning to suffering, the battle, the adventure that we must all embark on. There is Aslan just behind the door of an old wardrobe, if only we seek Him out. Also, in the score The Battle, when Peter Pevensie prepares to lead the armies of the Lion against the White Witch, the curtain of allegory seems to tear away, and the story of Easter comes blasting to the fore. There are times when the choral voices, although mostly inarticulate, seem to say “Jesu Christos”, and my mind’s eye sees Lewis gazing at me from across the years, saying “And that, my dear, is what it’s all about.” I don’t know anything with more depth than that.
God Speed, Mr. Lewis