Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Yes.

21 comments:

NickPheas said...

I did rather wonder if the fair Zoe would be drummed out of Grauniad Columist Club for quite such an attack of obvious common sense.

Mike Taylor said...

From the article:

More intricate is the argument, expressed recently by Polly Toynbee,
that the film equates raw, physical power with righteousness. Aslan
isn't a character; he is raw might, an amalgam of borrowed biblical
potency and slightly unreadable Britishness.


Am I alone in being mystified by this? Granted that Aslan is supremely powerful, can it really be escaping so many people's notice that his principal contribution to the story is to be killed?

I read one review that complained that Aslan should have been a lamb instead of a lion, because a meek, gentle lamb better symbolises what Christianity is about. (He obviously hasn't read the "not peace but a sword" passage recently, then). But this seems a momentous missing of the point. For a lamb to be sacrificed -- for something weak and defenceless to be given up against its will -- may be poignant, but it's hardly unusual. But for a lion to be sacrificed! For the one who does indeed, as Toynbee points out, represent raw, physical power, to deliberately lay that power down: surely even a critic with no interest in the Christian analogy can see that this is better storytelling?

Dan Hemmens said...

I read one review that complained that Aslan should have been a lamb instead of a lion, because a meek, gentle lamb better symbolises what Christianity is about.

Another great one is the "Aslan is actually a Mithraic figure, because he's a warrior-god."

I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that a lot of us non-christians have some difficulty distinguishing "God the Son" from "Jesus". Aslan the Lion is not very much like Jesus the Carpenter. His life is very different and he's ... y'know ... a lion.

NickPheas said...

Am I alone in being mystified by this? Granted that Aslan is supremely powerful, can it really be escaping so many people's notice that his principal contribution to the story is to be killed?

Well yes, he does get killed, but it doesn't really count. You have to remember that Aslan is tricksey. He wrote the Deep Magic, he knows it better than the Witch and so knows perfectly well that through dying he will break the Queen's power and get better a dozen or so pages later.

Dan Hemmens said...

Well yes, he does get killed, but it doesn't really count. You have to remember that Aslan is tricksey. He wrote the Deep Magic, he knows it better than the Witch and so knows perfectly well that through dying he will break the Queen's power and get better a dozen or so pages later.

This isn't *entirely* true. He knew of the Deeper Magic, but he wasn't sure it would work.

To get back to the good old not-allegory-actually, it's kind of like suggesting that Jesus didn't "really" die on the Cross, because he knew that he was going to come back from the dead after three days.

Arthur said...

Fundamentally, the whole "is it really a sacrifice if you know that you're going to come back?" argument is one of those things that people aren't going to see eye to eye on, because everyone comes to the discussion with their own view on the topic.

Christians and non-Christians who accept that particular part of the Narnia story will always say "Yes, absolutely, a fast is still a fast if you know you're going to get a big bacon sandwich at the end of it, and the very idea of the representative of Law and Justice and Virtue and Authority willing submitting to the tender mercies of shrieking, cackling evil in order to redeem mankind/save Edmund is a potent symbol however you cut it."

Non-Christians who don't buy that part of the story will always say "Symbolism nothing, Jesus/Aslan had the cards stacked against Satan/Jadis all the time because he's God incarnate and wrote the rules of the game himself. The representative of all that is Good and Right using his divine authority and wisdom to play a crafty trick on the representative of Evil is hardly a grand moral statement."

If you dig it, you dig it, if you don't you don't, although the fact that a story doesn't work for people who don't "get it" could be seen as a point against it.

NickPheas said...

This isn't *entirely* true. He knew of the Deeper Magic, but he wasn't sure it would work.
Is that in the text? I've not read the book in rather a long time, but I don't remember any sense that Aslan was surprised by the outcome. Not that you ever really get into his head. There's certainly nothing in the film suggesting that it wasn't all part of his cunning scheme.

It is of course one of the classic rotes of fantasy fiction to have the hero give himself up to the villain, cause the villain to engage in a complicated ritual that in the end brings about the villains defeat. Brer Rabbit did it all of the time. In carrying out such a cunning scheme of course you have to play the part. Aslan comes to the Witch as though defeated. Brer Rabbit twists and turns and begs not to be thrown into the briar patch. Doesn't mean either of them didn't know exactly how they were going to turn the enemy's strength against them.

That at least was how I always read the book.

Earl Wajenberg said...

No, the bit about Aslan "not being sure" that the Deeper Magic would work is *not* in the text, and at least one conservative Christian reviewer was unhappy about the alteration (though he still gave the movie a thumbs-up on the whole).

In the text, as best my memory serves, Aslan tells the girls that, though the witch knew the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time, she did not know the Deeper Magic from before time moved, to wit that the willing sacrifice by an innocent for a traitor would undo death itself.

By the way, I have heard that the idea that Jesus *tricked* Satan with his sacrifice is an old one, used in medieval morality plays.

Jacob Steel said...

Lewis himself observed that "People who say that they don't like Milton's God really mean that they don't like God". I would say that exactly the same is true of Aslan - a lot of criticism that is directed at the Narnia books is actually criticism of Christianity in general, by people who don't want to admit it.

On the other hand, I think that criticism like Polly Toynbee's, which boils down to "this is a book written to promote Christianity, I think Christianity is bad, therefore I think this book is morally bad, irrespective of it's aesthetic merits" is perfectly legitimate.

Adding "and so my enjoyment of it is spoiled, and so should yours be" to that is more controversial. Is it fair to demand that the works of, say, Kipling, be criticised solely on grounds of literary merit rather than the views expressed? Is the analogy fair?

Moordarjeeling said...

The fact that Edmund has to labour under the guilt of being responsible for the Godhead's death (distilling the toxic psychological burden of most religions)

Most religions? Hopefully some kind of typo?

SK said...

Actually, in the book Edmund doesn't know that Aslan died for him and Lucy and Susan debate whether to tell him (Lucy thinks he should know, and will find out anyway; Susan thinks that's an unfair burden to place on anyone).

Whether he eventually does find out is unclear (by the time they get back they are more concerned with healing Edmund than telling him anything, and then the book tells the story of the Golden Age in summary). Certainly if he does the guilt doesn't seem to be a crushing burden either when he is King, or in later books.

But finally, this whole 'guilt' issue is once again an exmaple of the crticis spectacularly missing the point. It's one thing they did get right in the film: Aslan's conversation with Edmund, followed by his presentation to the others with the words 'there is no need to speak to him of what is past'. How much more explicit a statement do you need that Edmund's guilt has been dealt with and is no longer relevant? Edmund need labour under no guilt, because Aslan has removed it.

They criticise the Narnia books for promoting Christianity, but the seem to have little idea of the kind of Christianity they promote. The whole point of Christianity as Lewis saw it (see, eg, God in the Dock) was that it removed guilt.

NickPheas said...


Most religions? Hopefully some kind of typo?


A case can be made (don't know that I would make it, but it can be made, so let's play devil's advocate) that most religions invest a lot in pointing out to individuals that there is an infinately superior being out there and one's own will should be subserviant to his.

We've got one major faith built about the veneration of a perfect being who died for our sins, how are you supposed to live up to that?

We've got another major religion where the very name means 'Submission'.

We've another where we are trapped on a wheel of death and rebirth and we are only here in the material world because we were failures in our last lives.

Yet another is routinely sterotyped as being driven entirely by guilt. And chicken soup.

Dunno much about Hinduism.

If I were a Guardian columnist I'd probably have no problem working this into a throw away line.

American Ronin said...

So, having flogged the horse of this tempest-in-a-teapot Narnia controversy until the flesh is well-nigh stripped from the bones, when do we get to hear some thoughts on the actual film itself?

Arthur said...

I put my opinions on my blog, but in summary: the CGI was ropey, the directing was a little lazy, and it failed to distinguish itself from the LOTR or Harry Potter films. Hollywood, apparently, can only use the Peter Jackson Manual of Style when filming British fantasy novels.

American Ronin said...

I agree with you about the lazy directing and the way it didn't seem any different from the other Epic Fantasy Money-making Franchises, but I thought the CGI was quite well done. Certainly a lot better than the previously-used alternative of having human actors in animal suits. My main complaints are

1) Some of the harder edges seem to have been blunted. Aslan felt a little less impressive and dangerous than I'd always pictured him, and there was a little too much of the vague positivity filmmakers use instead of morality.

2) The additions to the story were, in the main, glaring an illogical. The entire sequence on the melting river does not make sense. It literally defies logic, and, at least to me, was a blatant and incongruous insertion into the story, presumably because they felt the movie had gone on too long without an action sequence. That was my biggest problem with the Lord of the Rings films too, now that I think about it. Bad enough that they took Theoden's balls away and had him try to flee from Saruman, but whose idea was it to flee to Helm's Deep, towards the oncoming enemy horde?

I will say the movie was much better than I'd been expecting.

Sylvia Drake said...

Yes, but what did you think of The Phantom Menace, actually?

Dan Hemmens said...

1) Some of the harder edges seem to have been blunted. Aslan felt a little less impressive and dangerous than I'd always pictured him, and there was a little too much of the vague positivity filmmakers use instead of morality.

Basically my sentiments, assuming that by "a little less impressive and dangerous" you mean "not remotely impressive or dangerous" (for full comments, see weblog).

Arthur said...

My main CGI-based objection is the beavers, to be honest. They look incongruous.

On the other hand, I have a very low tolerance for CGI - as I mention on my blog post on the subject, I think it's the worst thing that's happened to cinema for a long, long time. (With the exception of 100% CGI films like The Incredibles.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

Naturally, there is a review in the pipeline. (I expect that all those Guardian readers are expecting something more developed than "it rocked" or "it sucked" :) )

Abigail Nussbaum said...

But in the meantime, Andrew, could you at least tell us which way you're leaning? :-)

American Ronin said...

Yes, but what did you think of The Phantom Menace, actually?

Most underrated film in the series :)

Naturally, there is a review in the pipeline.

Naturally.

(I expect that all those Guardian readers are expecting something more developed than "it rocked" or "it sucked" :) )

That's probably a good opening for a crack at the Guardian's expense, but I'm not the man to make it.