Monday, December 19, 2005

Fundamentalist Christian Critics of Narnia: Continued Adventures in Missing the Point

In a previous post on the current Harry Potter film I noted the renewed chorus of evangelical voices raising criticism over the film's alleged "occultic" elements, and I raised the question as to whether evangelicals would likewise raise criticism over the The Chronicles of Narnia film. With the premiere of the Narnia film it didn't take long for criticims in the form of pixels to surface.

I recently came across an op-ed piece in the titled "'Narnia' naysayers," that comments on criticism of Narnia and Lewis, not only from the Far Left, but the Far Right as well. The author, Catherine Seipp, points to criticisms from Christian fundamentalists such as Steve Van Natten's website Balaam's Ass (of all things), who indicts not only C. S. Lewis as a closet Pagan and esotericist, but also his companion Inklings as well.

The article also points to similar criticisms raised by other fundamentalists or evangelicals (depending upon your definition and classification) such as Jeff Zakula of Keepers of the Faith, and John Robbins of the Trinity Foundation (who also raises the question of whether Lewis went to heaven, a question he answers in the negative).

One of the interesting things about these critiques is that the arguments against Lewis are many of the same arguments that evangelicals have used against J. K. Rowling and Potter. This raises two thoughts for me. First, I am reminded, once again, of Lewis' statement on the interpretation of literature, namely, that elements found within a story find their meaning as the author defines them within the fictional story, even when elements are drawn from the real world. This would, of course, include elements taken from Pagan mythology. Despite their definition in the real world, they too take their meaning within the story. Second, I am struck that the fundamentalist critics mentioned above are more consistent than their evangelical counterparts. Assuming their criticisms are valid, shouldn't Lewis and Tolkien be in the crosshairs just as readily as Rowling?

I hope we can take away from all this that we have been poor students of literature and film, and that we continue to do a poor job of engaging popular culture. We're really just preaching to the choir, and engaging in a lot of hand wringing given the church's shift to the margins of cultural influence. But regardless of whether it's a fundamentalist or evangelical critique, I think both camps are partners on the same adventure in missing the point.

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