When I was 5 or 6, my dad began reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to me. Night after night, I begged for the next chapter, and then the next book, and then the next. I was captivated by the mystery of it all; the beautiful landscapes, the colorful characters, the heroic acts.
More than anything, though, I fell in love with the depth of the mythology. The children opened the wardrobe doors and stepped into a world where hope held strong, where love was powerful, and where even the darkest times were governed by the Emperor-over-the-sea and his son Aslan.
The impressive thing about Narnian mythology was that it was all in words. C.S. Lewis was able to communicate a place of joy and wonder using just his imagination and a third-grade reading level vocabulary. He didn’t waste many words on ethereal concepts, but instead shared the idea of beauty through simple descriptions of the physical world. Reading his work launched my love of reading and literature, and sparked my ability to visualize the things I was reading as though they were real. They are backed by a love of words, and an appreciation for the way words can powerfully communicate beauty and ideas.
Here’s the key issue at work. The books are powerful because they take the simple beauty of God’s world, use it to communicate a deep mythology modeled very closely on the Christian understanding, and ultimately celebrate the power of a God who is sovereign and self-sacrificing, merciful and just. They highlight the beauty of the Christian message without technical descriptions of theology. They prime our souls to understand and accept the character of God.
So then, my desire for the movies does not center on technical accuracy of storyline, or impressiveness of cinematography, or quality of acting. My desire is that they do what Lewis intended- prime souls for understanding and accepting the character of God. My desire is that a person who watches the movie will catch a glimpse of how God’s love for his creation might manifest itself in another time and place. My desire is that watching the beauty of Narnia would, as the books do, highlight the beauty and depth of the world God has given us here and now.
Frankly, I don’t think they do. As Alan has shown us, Aslan was handled badly, and I imagine that will continue to be the case. The story is altered to bring out more humanistic themes than spiritual ones. The dialectic poles of God’s character are not communicated as clearly. The books have gone from a mythological expression of spiritual realities to a simple adventure/fantasy story.
So then, I encourage you to read the books first. Read them to yourself, read them to your children. Read them because they foster appreciation for the written word. Read them because they are exciting. Read them because they will help you see the world for its beauty. More than anything else, read them because they foster a deeper love for God and his world.