Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Faith Works 12-3-05
Jeff Gill

The Lion, The Prof, and the Pub

Don’t forget to blame Charles Williams.
You see, his friend Jack had dreamed over the years about a lantern in the middle of a forest, amidst pine trees brushed with snow; when his fellow professor Tollers wrote a book about fantastic creatures and everyday heroism by average folks, it touched a chord. Then "The Place of the Lion," another of Williams’ "spiritual thrillers" based on the entrance into our world of Platonic ideal forms (are you still with me?) included not just a lion, but THE archetype of Lion-ness roaming about and bumping into people, changing their lives, the chord became a melody.
Which was "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Since, as all Inkling fanatics know, Jack is what his friends called C. S. Lewis, friends like J. R. R. Tolkien, known as Tollers, and the late arriving Charles Williams, evacuated like the Pevensey children from blitz-torn London to the Oxfordshire countryside.
The Narnia Chronicles went on for six more books, and there are few events of my childhood more exciting when I went to the library after reading installments of the first volume in a Sunday School weekly and found out that the story went on. If you read right through the final book, "The Last Battle," the tale just begins with the last page.
The three Oxford dons and more who met in pubs and private rooms to meet and read their writing to each other called themselves "The Inklings," and their work as a whole has touched more people than any other literary cabal in history this side of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Those last four never got to share a table at an inn, though.
Like many other Inkling fans, I marveled at the parallel but diverse creativity of this group, imagined the scenes in my mind’s eye richly, and regretted that they were none of them filmable.
Then came "The Lord of the Rings" to the big screen, and anything was possible. Except there was one obstacle to Narnia seeing the inside of a theater: much, much more than Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Narnia is pervaded by Christian themes and imagery. To thin out that element of the chronicles is to whittle the plot, let alone the characters, down to frail sticks incapable of supporting a major studio release.
Then came "The Passion of the Christ." Indications are that Walden Media, the firm behind the movies, had committed to Narnia before Mel Gibson’s quixotic quest found mass audiences open to unambiguous faith on film. But the success of "The Passion" had to have helped.
The publishers of the Narnia series made an odd decision some years ago to repackage the set, boxed or just numbered, in the order of events, rather than in the order Lewis wrote them, starting in 1950. So now "The Magician’s Nephew" is labeled "1" when you go to the store.
Yikes. No wonder publishing is in trouble, even as people buy books by the armload. You start with "The Lion, the Witch etc." like Philip Anschutz, the evangelical financier who founded Walden to make these movies, was smart enough to know. Do you really want to tell people who’ve never seen any "Star Wars" movies: start with "The Phantom Menace"? In 50 years, will folks start with Episode IV: "A New Hope"? I think so.
In much the same way, when people ask me about exploring the Christian story, I don’t tell them "First, you gotta read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy." You really ought to someday, but I offer up Luke’s Gospel as a starting point that gives you an entrance to the huge narrative you’re about to enter. Mark isn’t a bad idea, either, shorter and to the point, but Luke carries you along with enough detail to hold the modern mind.
The front porch, though, is the Christmas story. It isn’t quite Luke, but has a pinch of Matthew, and a sprinkle of Isaiah and Micah, with some imaginative interpolations thrown in. You don’t want to live on the porch, and you really ought to read past Luke chpt. 2, but it gets you to the door.
And the Narnia movie will add some very nice decorations for the season to anyone’s house of faith, even if you don’t put a manger scene in the middle of yours.
Now, will anyone have the nerve to film a Charles Williams novel?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share the blueprints of your house of faith through disciple@voyager.net.

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