Friday, December 9, 2005

I *heart* A.O. Scott even *more* - enough to break away from the book revisions

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.

4 comments:

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Yes - I completely agree; I feel like a lot of the stuff that's been written about Narnia recently misses the boat. It's a great review. And I totally agree about the girls, too; it's no coincidence that my most favorite scene ever in LOTR is when Eowyn kills the Nazgul king, and that Jill Pole is my favorite Narnia character.

I liked Narnia better initially b/c the people in it seemed like real people; the hobbits, in Tolkien, seemed like "real" people, and everyone else was like people out of epic poetry (hmmm, I wonder why that was...). Of course, it helps that I had the British thing to make Narnia comprehensible (I had British family members who lived through the same world that Lewis did).

Dr. Virago said...

You know, I'd forgotten about Jill until you mentioned her and the article that ADM linked mentioned her. My memory of the later books is fuzzy, but the fact that Lucy is the primary set of eyes through which the reader encounters Narnia in LWAW stuck with me.

And though I didn't have British family members, I'd *been* to England at the tender age of 9 (so I knew things were a little different there, despite our shared language) and had a seriously anglophilic mother, so I grew up on a good amount of British English lit, even the children's books. My imaginative life, in fact, was pretty darn British, come to think of it.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

And there's the whole thing that it's Lucy and Susan who are with Aslan when he dies/comes back. Of course, it wasn't till I saw the movie this weekend that I thought, duh, there's a Biblical model for this... I had always just thought of it as a sign that the girls were special.

Dr. Virago said...

LOL -- I also just recently had the head-slapping moment of recognition re: Lucy and Susan with the resurrected Aslan when I was reading one of the reviews or articles about the movie. (And for pete's sake, I work on religious drama!) Of course, it's *still* a sign that girls are special!