Finding Favor by Brian Jones, Free for CAPC Members
Jones helps us think rightly about the intersection of faith and blessing, setting straight some of the tainted notions we have picked up from the world at large.
Reading all the reviews of Prince Caspian this weekend, especially the ones from fellow Christians, I began to wonder if my husband and I had seen the same movie that everybody else saw. I was particularly struck by the many reviews that argued that the movie had left out the book’s theme of faith versus skepticism. I’d thought the entire movie—even the battle scenes—illustrated the importance of faith in Aslan, albeit often through negative example.
(Just to throw down a little street cred, I should mention that I grew up engrossed in Narnia. The Chronicles were read to me while I was literally still in the womb—and many times thereafter. I still love the books and consider them to be one of the main influences in my spiritual formation. I’ve also been known to object vociferously to film adaptations of Christian fantasy; I’m usually the annoying purist that’s being told to “pipe down” as I grouse my way through a showing of any of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. So I thought that I’d naturally be among the crowd deploring the film version of Prince Caspian. Fortunately, one of the virtues I’ve learned from Narnia is to admit when I’ve been wrong—not that it’s one I find easy to practice, as anyone who knows me will attest.)
In an article we linked to from Christ and Pop Culture, Steven Greydanus, a critic whose opinions I very much respect, writes, “the filmmakers eviscerate the crucial theme of skepticism about the existence of Aslan and the Kings and Queens of Cair Paravel, as well as the whole world of Dwarfs, Talking Beasts, and spirits of wood and water.”
After seeing the film, I read that comment again and thought, “Huh?” My husband and I both thought faith and doubt were laced all through the film—and not just any vague faith, but faith specifically in Aslan. Maybe the bit about wood and water spirits doesn’t come up, but the film shows us that Caspian doesn’t believe in the Narnian creatures’ existence prior to meeting them. Moreover, Trumpkin may be more accepting of the Kings and Queens than in the book, but he certainly doesn’t seem to believe in Aslan.
It wasn’t until I read a very perceptive observation by Ken Brown that I really understood what Greydanus meant—and maybe I even started to understand why there are such divergent Christian responses to the film’s faith themes.
Ken first clarifies that the film’s Trumpkin “never really disbelieves that the old stories are true; he only doubts their present value.” Trumpkin wonders why the Kings and Queens—as well as Aslan—“abandoned” Narnia for 1300 years, and he seems less doubtful of Aslan’s existence than of his goodness or relevance to contemporary life in conquered Narnia.
But here’s what really brought things together for me: Ken goes on to say, “But, personally, I’m not as troubled by this as others have been, as I think real faith has a lot more to do with trust than with belief anyway. Thus Trumpkin’s (and others, including Peter’s and Caspian’s) lack of trust in Aslan is actually a more realistic, and troubling, form of doubt than his simple disbelief in the book. If the movie gives less ground than Lewis’ original for letting us cheer the comeuppance of the disbelieving materialists, it provides a more nuanced exploration of the danger of lack of trust – in each other and in Aslan – among the ‘faithful.’ To me, this seems of greater value in our postmodern context than the attack on modernism that Lewis intended.”
I see the film addressing issues of faith because my own faith struggles—and those of my peers—have been much more of the postmodern/trust variety than of the modernist/belief variety. I’ve never really questioned God’s existence, but I do struggle with trusting God. If things are going well for me, I may be tempted to think God is irrelevant; if things aren’t going well, I may doubt his goodness, but not really his existence.
This was not C.S. Lewis’s struggle. He was more plagued by Enlightenment (or modernist) rationalism that argued away the existence of God based on “fact.” Sure, we still have our Richard Dawkinses today, but by and large I think we in the prosperous West are less likely to disbelieve the existence of the supernatural than we were in the 1940s.
In the postmodern context especially, it makes sense to include Peter’s and Caspian’s temptation by the White Witch. The occult holds greater appeal in an age that doesn’t question the supernatural but does question God’s supremacy. (Not that there wasn’t a sort of thrill to the occult as the dark flipside of Enlightenment rationalism—the pre-conversion Lewis himself felt this appeal, even when he was denying the existence of God—but it was the appeal of that which has been repressed, rather than the appeal of a seemingly valid and equal alternative to Christian belief, which is where postmodernism places the occult.)
I don’t want to imply that I see the movie differently from many Christian critics because they’re “modern” and I’m “postmodern,” because I’m sure it’s not that simple. For starters, I think most of us are mixes of postmodern, modern, and even pre-modern qualities—just in different ratios. All I can say for sure is that the movie’s faith struggles are much closer to my own and those of my generation than the faith struggles in the book.
That’s not to say that I like the movie better than the book or that the movie is without flaws in its treatment of faith. Like other reviewers, I was bothered by the alteration of Aslan’s lines, though I’m not sure that the screenplay writers are aware that changing a few words has vast theological implications. I wish they could recognize the difference, but my guess is that it’s an issue only perceptible to those already on the “inside” of Christian language.
So what do you, our readers, think? Is your opinion of how well the Prince Caspian film addresses faith a reflection of your own struggles? If your obstacles to belief have been more of the “modernist” variety, can Prince Caspian help you to better understand the “postmodernists” around us, even if you dislike the film? And, postmodernists, does reading the book Prince Caspian help you to understand those who doubt God’s existence—or attempt to prove his existence—on the basis of reason and fact?
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