Narnia: Magic for Adventists

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When I was a kid in youth group, our Sabbath School teacher showed us segments from the DreamWorks screen adaptation of C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe." One girl, the pastor's daughter, as I recall, refused to watch the clips on the basis that Narnia's magic was evil. No, she hadn't seen it. No, she hadn't read Lewis's other writings, including "Mere Christianity." She knew all she needed to know. Witches and dwarves and fauns were satanic, plain and simple.

That episode is emblematic of Adventists' relationship with magic. It creeps many of us out. Like many other conservative Christian denominations, we stay the heck away from it. An Adventist even wrote the book, literally, on the evils of Harry Potter and why children and parents must avoid that series. (This was going to be a review of Deathly Hallows Part 1, which is in theaters now, but I decided the inevitable fight over witchcraft wasn't worth it.)

Some time ago, we ceded magic to the devil. Some quotation(s) from Ellen White, some Mission Spotlight story, some anecdote about a ouja board firmed in our minds the belief that we're entering the devil's playground when we enter the realm of magic (and undoubtedly readers will want to point to still more evidence to make the case against magic in the comment section below).

Our problem really is that we have never been taught how to read. I don't mean how to sound out the phonetic pronunciation of words on a page, I mean how to appreciate and value literature. We Adventists are not very good at understanding rhetorical and literary devices, regrettably. C.S. Lewis's imaginative corpus of fiction and prose has been around long enough that most of us have figured out his stories are largely allegorical, with fairly transparent moral systems. Even so, a troubling number of us still get queasy at Lewis's use of magic in his writings.

We should get over it. Jesus used untrue (and Adventists might even argue theologically incorrect) stories to make points about the kingdom of heaven. The story of the rich man and Lazarus, in which a character who is in hell speaks to the living to give warning, comes to mind.

Whether in Rowling's Potter series or Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, magic is part of the literary world the characters inhabit. When we enter their world, we are invited to suspend our this-worldly hang-ups over fantastical creatures and enchantments, and go deeper than the superficial fears that if we read about spells we'll inadvertently be drawn into real-life witchcraft or some such thing. The rich textures of imagined realms often help us better understand the complexities of our own world if we let them. Or as a pastor friend of mine once put it in a sermon referencing Lewis's Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis's fiction is often more true than most people's "non-fiction."

So during this holiday season, see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader if you have the chance. This third cinematic release of the Narnia series will carry you into a world of spiritually-laden adventure and enchantment, whose spiritual overtones have been made even more obvious for the nervous among us. There's no mistaking the Christian themes in the film. Or if you're feeling very courageous, see Deathly Hallows Part 1, which is also playing. Its author is also avowedly Christian, and the themes (for those who make it beyond the witchcraft and wizardry) are distinctly, if more subtly, Christian as well.

Take the family to see the films. Let these works of creative storytelling spark conversation about imagination and literature and magic and Good and Evil. Because C.S. Lewis (and J.K. Rowling, for that matter) wove unmissable Great Controversy motifs into his (and her) works.

Better yet, read the books. Unless you're eight years old or younger you may have less appreciation for Fox Searchlight's version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which came across at times as a clumsy, CG-heavy cacophony of visual noise, lacking fully-formed characters. (There, that's my review of the film). The book, on the other hand, is a warm, witty and layered foray back into Narnia, for those who have been there before.

However you enjoy these stories, let there be no apologies for venturing into the worlds of literary magic. Aslan (and other wonderful, magical characters) waits for you there!



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