De-Christianizing Aslan

When the third film in the “Chronicles of Narnia” series opens this week, fans are wondering what role Aslan, the Christ-character, will have in the movie. For many, the effort to de-fang Aslan the lion began as soon as Disney decided to put C.S. Lewis’ childhood classics to film.

On the verge of the release of the third film, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Aslan’s voice actor, Liam Neeson has waded into religious relativism, making Aslan into a character who is as much Mohammed or Buddha as he is Christ.

In an interview Neeson, who has been described as a practicing Catholic, said that while Aslan symbolizes a “Christ-like figure…he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.”

Lewis’ former secretary and a trustee of his estate, Walter Hooper, disagreed.

“It is nothing whatever to do with Islam,” said Hooper.

“Lewis would have simply denied that. He wrote that the ‘whole Narnian story is about Christ.’ Lewis could not have been clearer. … it was not Lewis’ intention.”
William Oddie, former editor of The Catholic Herald, described it as a “shameful distortion.”

“Aslan is clearly established from the very beginning of the whole cannon as being a Christ figure,” added Oddie.

Whereas Aslan, as Christ, is the Sacred Center to the Narnia books, in the films he’s become something of an after-thought. The previous films have eliminated any discussion of “the Great Emperor,” (i.e. God) and Aslan’s relationship to him (Son of God). That elimination of Aslan’s majesty has gone a long way toward de-fanging him. It reminds me of the modern trend of emphasizing the “meek and mild” Christ, while completely ignoring the Christ who drove the money-changers from the temple or described the pharisees as a “brood of vipers.”

Aslan features quite prominently in two of my favorite scenes from the book “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

The first is when Eustace needs Aslan’s help in removing his dragon scales. After the painful process of removing his sin… or skin, Aslan tosses him into a pool. The allegory is an obvious allusion of Eustace’s need for Christ in order to shed his selfishness, regain his true nature, and to be cleansed in the waters of baptism.

The second, is when the voyagers have crossed the great sea and arrive at Aslan’s country. There, they encounter a lamb who invites them to have breakfast of roasted fish on the beach. Another obvious allusion for Scripture readers, to Christ’s seaside breakfast with his disciples after his resurrection. As the children are with the lamb, he changes into Aslan the Lion, for he is both lamb and lion.

How, I wonder, will these scenes be made in the movie? Will they be in the movie at all? Will I be able to find Christ at all in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”? I’ll be in the theater this weekend with my own children, anxious to see.