|So we saw the latest Harry Potter film last weekend, which means I've since forsaken Jesus and started worshipping the forces of darkness. It's been pretty fun thus far. You should really try sacrificing a goat sometime. The blood tastes a little bitter if you aren't used to it, but the burning carcass has a very pleasing aroma. And I'm here to tell you that drunken orgies with barnyard animals are even wilder than you've imagined. |
Only kidding, of course (or am I?). But the near back to back releases of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardbrobe does mean that certain Christian groups will sing the praises of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, while simultaneously condemning J.K. Rowling for her glorification of magic and the occult. This attitude has died down a bit as the Potter series has progressed. But leave it to Focus on the Family to keep the embers burning.
Notes Plugged In, Focus on the Family's web site that "shines a light on the world of popular entertainment":
Nevertheless, no matter how skillfully the story gets told or how selfless, ethical and heroic Harry may be, it's impossible for me to invest myself in a series that glamorizes witchcraft. It’s easy to laugh when spineless bully Draco gets turned into a ferret. But it gets harder to make light of the sorcery when a potion requires that a man hack off his own hand, borrow a bone from a rotting corpse and drain blood from Harry’s arm. There's a lot to chew on there. For instance, the reviewer has apparently forgotten that there really isn't any divine authority in The Lord of the Rings films. I'm also going to assume that the reviewer is comfortable with small children reading the Bible, a book filled with far more violence, sex and outright nastiness than anything I've witnessed in any of the Potter films. Goblet is a bit grim, to be sure, but it just doesn't quite stack up to a woman being gang raped and chopped into pieces.
Whether it’s grim treachery or comic relief, the film’s wall-to-wall sorcery is birthed from a faulty worldview that taps into the occult and never recognizes any divine authority. Unlike The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, the entire series is built on a shaky spiritual foundation that sends young fans confusing messages about the morality and merits of the dark arts.
Of course, this is film four. Families that consider the supernatural sinew that binds Harry Potter together more trouble than it’s worth probably put the kibosh on it a long time ago. The ones still with it have decided either a) sorcery isn’t a big deal, or b) while they oppose real-life witchcraft, non-stop spells and incantations are acceptable when used as a literary device.
Even those in the "go with it" camp may find their patience tested with Goblet of Fire, the first film to warrant a PG-13 rating. It’s extremely grim at times and even features the death of a Hogwarts student. I was amazed at the number of small children seated around me in the theater. At what point will moms and dads who’ve been saying “yes” to voracious young Potter fans decide that things have gone too far? This could be it. Dumbledore warns Harry, “Soon we must face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” They’re not the only ones.
But what I find most fascinating is what critics are either choosing to ignore, or are completely ignorant of, about Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Canadian film critic Peter Chattaway tackles the issue head on in a recent essay about the many threads of paganism found in the Narnia books. It's a great piece, and well worth reading in its entirety. But here are a couple of excerpts:
(M)any Christians will be watching (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) eagerly to see if director Andrew Adamson (or "son of Adam!") has respected the story's Christian elements.... Some of us, however, will be watching just as closely to see if the film has preserved those bits in C.S. Lewis's book that are a little more, shall we say, pagan. Presumably, the centaurs and fauns will look more or less like the mythological creatures depicted in ancient Greco-Roman art. But will, say, Mr Tumnus regale Lucy with stories of how the Roman god Bacchus filled the streams with wine when he feasted with the forest people? Something that I suspect might be even more troubling to many Christians comes in the final book of Lewis' Narnia tales, The Last Battle. In it a foreigner named Emeth, a follower of the evil god Tash, is taken by Aslan to his heavenly kingdom. He receives this reward because he has done good, not evil. Those who do vile things, says Aslan, are in fact serving Tash. But those who do good things are in fact serving Aslan. So, despite his service to Tash, Emeth has really been serving Aslan, or Christ, by way of the fact that he has done good, not evil. Is it just me, or does that seem a bit contradictory to a Christianity that believes in faith, not works, and in one way to heaven?
In all of his writings, Lewis was confronting a modern, skeptical, materialistic view of the world that had no room for the supernatural. Lewis believed that paganism and Christianity had more in common with each other on this point than either had with the modern, secularized world. In the essay 'Is Theism Important?', he wrote:
"When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, 'Would that she were.' For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads.
"If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is essentially the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcee differs from a virgin."
Prince Caspian is ultimately about how the "Old Narnians" reclaim their land from Miraz and his entourage, with help from several sources. There is Aslan, of course, and also the ancient Kings and Queens themselves; the four children have become young again in our world, but when Caspian summons them to Narnia, they retain their royal authority.
But Narnia is also liberated with help from Bacchus and his drinking buddy Silenus, figures from Greco-Roman myth who were associated with drunken, mystical celebrations in the forest called "bacchanals". Bacchus and Aslan even dance together, along with Lucy, Susan, the nymphs and the maenads. And as they pass through Narnia, they destroy a boys' school and a girls' school where the children are taught a politically approved form of "history."
Lewis even seems to flirt with something like astrology. In more than one book, Narnian centaurs look for signs in the stars. In Dawn Treader, Eustace meets a man who is a "retired" star, and says, "In our world, a star is a huge ball of flaming gas." The star replies, "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of."
Scenes like these might have been shocking to the early Christians, who saw themselves in direct competition with paganism, and sometimes condemned the gods as demons in disguise.