for National Geographic News
The new movie Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe opens today in theaters across North America. But well before its release, the film had sparked a lively debate about author C. S. Lewis's religious influences in writing the beloved children's books on which the movie is based.
That may not be surprising to many C. S. Lewis fans. The story about four children who walk through a wardrobe to enter the magical world of Narnia plays out as a Christian allegory. In addition, another main character is a messianic lion.
However, Lewis himself said he didn't set out to write a Christian story, but simply a great children's tale. His creative influences, at least at the outset, were not Christian, but various mythologies from early cultures.
The world of Narnia is populated mainly by talking animals. But it also includes mythological creatures and figures, such as fauns, nymphs, dryads, Bacchus, and Silenus from the Greek and Roman traditions, and dwarfs and giants from Norse mythology.
To bring Narnia's characters to life, Richard Taylor, the movie's creature design supervisor, had to draw on a vast array of mythological societies and doctrines spanning more than 2,000 years.
"C. S. Lewis developed a world that is drawing on a rich culture of mythology, which has very strong pictorial representation through art, sculpture, and design," Taylor said in a phone interview from New Zealand, where his WETA workshop is based.
"Things as diverse as porcelain from the Grecian era, mosaics, bronze castings, marble carvings, sculptures, illustrative paintingsall of these influences we used to source and find the most appropriate mythological representation of a particular character or culture in Narnia."
Breaking the Spell
Born in Belfast, Ireland, C. S. Lewis later fought in World War I. A scholar on Christianity and medieval literature, he taught at Oxford University in England for three decades.
In 1950 Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the first of seven children's fantasy books collectively entitled The Chronicles of Narnia. The series became hugely popular and has to date sold an estimated 85 million copies.
One person who did not like the Narnia books was one of Lewis's colleagues and closest friends, J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the The Lord of the Rings books.
Tolkien, who relied heavily on Norse mythology for Rings, thought a fantasy world worked best when its mythology was self-enclosed. Encountering figures from different traditions in the same story would break the spell of the fairy tale, Tolkien argued.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES