As The Passion of the Christ's box-office figures continue to climb, many pundits have described the film as a cultural phenomenon. Some have gone on to say its success ensures that Hollywood is set to make additional Christian films or biblical epics. Don't be too sure.
Three years ago I wrote of HarperCollins' publishing plans to expunge C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia of all of its Christian elements.
The media giants are back at it again.
Following on the successful heels of Harry Potter and Frodo Bag-gins, it was only natural, I suppose, that a feature-length motion-picture version of the Narnian adventures would follow.
Walt Disney Co., in cooperation with Walden Media, recently announced its plans to make a big-budget motion picture of Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe scheduled for a Christmas 2005 release.
Poor Lewis must be rolling over in his grave.
Fully aware of the potential damage of such a venture, Lewis once warned against a Disney version of his book.
“I am sure you know that Aslan is a divine figure,” he wrote to Jane Douglass on June 19, 1954, “and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simply blasphemy.”
Mark Johnson, one of the film's producers, recently said their movie would not be a Christian project per se.
“We are intent on not making this into a Christian movie,” he said.
One can almost imagine the Disney studio executives and animators gathered around an oversized oval mahogany table.
“I absolutely love the Aslan character. He's likable but a bit frightening,” says someone.
“Agreed, agreed, but do you think his death is necessary?” asks another.
“No, it's not. It's not. It's ancillary to the story. It really adds very little,” says a third. “I say we cut that.”
“Maybe he doesn't have to be a lion at all. Perhaps he could be more lovable … a donkey perhaps,” replies an animator.
“Hey — better yet … a chimpanzee. Kids love monkeys,” chimes in another animator.
“No, no,” protests someone in marketing. “The lion works. We've got a warehouse filled with remainder merchandise from The Lion King. If the animators create a Simba-like Aslan we can unload the excess merchandise through our partnership with Burger King.”
And on it goes.
In The Last Battle, the final book in Lewis' series, Shift the ape dresses Puzzle, a donkey, in a lion's skin and attempts to pass him off as Aslan and the friend of a false god named Tash.
When a lamb questions the ape about Aslan's identity, the ape responds: “Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for You Know Who. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.”
The ape's trickery is the beginning of the end. It leads to the ultimate destruction of Narnia.
Disney's attempt to pass off its “donkey” dressed in lion's clothing is bound to have similarly disastrous results, especially at the box office.
Lewis, an admitted agnostic, came to a radical conversion to Christ in 1929 at age 31. That decision colored his every thought and word thereafter, including his children's books.
Removing the Christianity from his books would be like deleting Christ from the New Testament.
As Lewis explained, the lion Aslan is a Christlike figure. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe he is bound and shorn, laid on a stone table and killed by the White Witch only to rise again.
The Walt Disney Co. might take a lesson from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. It would likely earn more money by retaining Christ rather than by deleting him. Twenty-five million viewers have demonstrated that Christ attracts. Mr. Eisner, are you listening?
Tim Drake is the Register's staff writer.