>Go now and read A.O. Scott’s review of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, especially if you loved The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, but also even if you didn’t. (Note: registration required.)
Oh, he gets it, he gets it, he really gets it. Here is an especially good passage that could serve as general primer on allegory and symbolism for those viewers who think there’s a fixed “real” meaning to a film or other narrative:
It has never been a secret that C. S. Lewis, who taught that subject and others at Oxford for many years, composed his great cycle of seven children’s fantasy novels with the New Testament in mind and with some of the literary traditions it inspired close at hand. To the millions since the 1950’s for whom the books have been a source of childhood enchantment, Lewis’s religious intentions have either been obvious, invisible or beside the point.
Which is part of the appeal of allegory, as he well knew. It is a symbolic mode, not a literal one – there are, after all, no talking beavers in the Bible – and it constructs distinct levels of meaning among which readers travel of their own free will. An allegorical world is both a reflection of the real one and a reality unto itself, as Lewis’s heroes, the four Pevensie children, come to discover. The story of Aslan’s sacrifice and resurrection may remind some readers (and now viewers) of what they learned in Sunday school, but others, Christian or not, will be perfectly happy to let what happens in Narnia stay in Narnia.
Love him! Then there’s the closing, which is a veritable manifesto on the pleasures and importance of fantasy and imagination, especially in childhood, and which actually kind of made me teary, because I am such a sap:
For me, the best moments in the film take place in the wardrobe itself, which serves as a portal between England and Narnia. When the children pass through it for the first time, I felt a welcome tremor of apprehension and anticipation as the wooden floor turned into snowy ground and fur coats gave way to fir trees. The next two hours might not have quite delivered on that initial promise of wonder – we grown-ups, being heavy, are not so easily swept away by visual tricks – except when I looked away from the screen at the faces of breathless and wide-eyed children, my own among them, for whom the whole experience was new, strange, disturbing and delightful.
When I get around to seeing Narnia, I might write about it myself, in part because I was very much a Narnia-obsessed child, rather than a Middle Earthling, although now I prefer Tolkien to Lewis. I think the reasons for my childhood preference are pretty simple: Lewis gave me girls with whom to identify and Tolkien did not. Though one could argue than Hobbits are both childlike and androgynous, I was too literal as a child to see that. Plus, I was nutty about animals back then, especially lions, and I had a tremendous crush on Aslan. Really! That perhaps explains why, despite being pretty irreligious from an early age, I completely understand the erotics of religious devotion in so much medieval and renaissance literature! 🙂
OK, this break from my book revisions brought to you by the Unofficial A.O. Scott fan club.