A new film adaptation of C.S. Lewis' classic children's story, 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' (LWW), will be screened in your local cinema from early December - providing local churches with a fantastic evangelistic opportunity. In the wake of various initiatives to use 'The Passion of the Christ' - Mel Gibson's gory re-telling of the death of Christ last year, churches in the US and the UK are exploring creative ways to link into what is widely predicted to be the must-see blockbuster movie this Christmas.
?Unlike the 18-certificate Passion film, LWW aims to attract a family audience and although the UK film certificate was unknown as we went to press, it seems likely it will be granted a PG. The film has been made by Walden Films, which has a good track record of creating family-friendly movies. The decision by Disney to partner with Walden and distribute this film was initially not welcomed by Christian culture watchers in the US who warned that Disney might want to water down the Christian symbolism. Disney have always denied this intent and the input of Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C S Lewis, who is a co-producer has helped reassure wary Christians. "I am a committed Christian and I am very happy with the script," Gresham confirmed.
The Rt Revd Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter, was reported in the Daily Telegraph saying, "a faithful adaptation could not help but be a Passion of the Christ for children".
The Narnia tales?The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (LWW) is the best-known book from a series of children’s classics called 'The Chronicles of Narnia'. C.S. Lewis' beloved literary classic adventure follows the exploits of the four Pevensie siblings - Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter. Set in World War II England, the children enter the world of Narnia through a magical wardrobe while playing a game of 'hide-and-seek' in the rural country home of an elderly professor. Once there, the children discover a charming, peaceful land inhabited by talking beasts, dwarfs, fauns, centaurs and giants that has become a world cursed to eternal winter by the evil White Witch, Jadis. Under the guidance of a noble and mystical ruler, the lion Aslan, the children fight to overcome the White Witch's powerful hold over Narnia in a spectacular, climactic battle.
A Christian parable?There are numerous parallels to the gospel and instances of Christian imagery in LWW. Anyone who is planning to run a Narnia-linked programming idea in their church should read or re-read the book. At the heart of LWW is the death and resurrection of Aslan, who like Christ voluntarily steps in to take the punishment due to one of the 'sons of Adam'. Like the disciples, the children are grief stricken by Aslan's death and then delighted by his return, which leads to the climactic battle against the witch and her evil allies. There are many other links between the book and the Christian faith.
The author of Narnia Chronicles was arguably the most influential Christian writer, broadcaster and theologian of the 20th century. As well as writing children's stories he has written many Christian classics including:?Mere Christianity - this masterpiece ?provides an excellent opportunity for believers and non-believers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for the Christian faith.The Screwtape Letters - A humorous account of temptation, this classic satire entertains with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to the devil. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. Funny yet deadly serious.
The Problem of Pain - 'If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?' And what of the suffering of animals, who neither deserve pain nor can be improved by it? Lewis sets out to disentangle this knotty issue.
The release of LWW is sure to trigger media interest in the rest of C.S. Lewis’ writings. Checkout the 10 Narnia-linked Ideas section for creative ways to introduce people to CS Lewis’ writings. The book Mere Christianity has been instrumental in many people coming to faith in Christ.
The LWW filmmakers have already begun filming the second film from the Narnia series of books, a measure of their confidence that LWW will be a commercial success. The film adaptations of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings books (Lewis and Tolkein were friends and fellow professors at Oxford) which have achieved critical and box office acclaim, have convinced Hollywood that this sort of fantasy story pulls in the audience.
Brace yourself for an army of film spin offs in book, game, toy and DVD format. Harper Collins the publisher of the Narnia books has released a new version of this series in paperback with photographic covers based on the film, which they hope will appeal to an adult audience in the same way that the Harry Potter books had crossover appeal - helped by adult-oriented book covers.
At one level the film can be enjoyed simply as a children's adventure - albeit with breathtaking special effects and stars playing the leading roles - including Tilda Swinton as the White Witch. However, this winter the evangelistic opportunity exists to help our culture engage with eternal truths.
When Aslan, the great Lion of Narnia, told the children that they would soon have to return to the reality of their own country, the children were devastated.
'It isn’t Narnia, you know,' sobbed Lucy, 'It's you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?'
'But you shall meet me, dear one,' said Aslan.
'Are—are you there too, Sir?' said Edmund.
'I am,' said Aslan. 'But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.'
from Voyage of the Dawn Treader one of CS Lewis' Narnia books (Harper Collins)
My prayer is that we are able to help people of all ages experience the Lion of Narnia, and then learn about him by His real name, and as He really exists in our world.
10 Narnia-linked Ideas for your Church
Webwatch columnist John Allan lists 10 cracking ideas to link into the film.
- Dramatise it! Put on your own version of the Narnia story as a play. This can work especially well in the empty post-Christmas weeks of January and February when there isn't much entertainment around. There are several scripts you can use, including a good short version fromhttp://www.dramaticpublishing.com/. (Yes, you have to order from America, but they sent it to me within a week!)
- Run a children's art competition to publicise the film! There's a big one in America right now, challenging children to create their own artistic vision of the land of Narnia, using paint, markers, collage, photography, computer animated graphics, or even crayons. Why not pinch the idea on a smaller scale, publicize it in local schools, and offer four free tickets to the film as a prize?
- Give children a puzzle sheet to take with them when they go to see the movie - highlighting things to look out for in the story, and key lessons it teaches; possibly giving them a couple of Bible verses to look up which help to explain elements Lewis has put into the story - and offer a small prize for all sheets completed afterwards and submitted correctly.
- Hold a Narnia themed party (either for adults or for young people). Play tracks from the CD ‘Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia’ - in the shops now, with tracks from Delirious, Rebecca St James, Jars of Clay, and others; supply lots of Turkish Delight or other Narnia food; if you've got an Internet connection, let people find out "Which Narnia character are you most like?" (http://www.jamiefrost.co.uk/narniaquiz/) or chat to Mr Tumnus (at http://www.virtualnarnia.com); run a Narnia trivia contest (http://www.virtualnarnia.com/ has lots of trivia stuff you could use - if you don't want it to appeal only to hardcore Narnia freaks, make it a multiple choice quiz to give the ignorant a chance of guessing correctly!); watch part of the older 1988 film ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ (available on video from such places as Amazon UK). There are loads of things you could do! Use it either as a prelude to going to watch the film together - or as a follow-up, to get people talking and thinking about the film's message.
- Promote Mere Christianity with an advert in your local paper offering a free copy to moviegoers who want to explore further exactly what C.S. Lewis was talking about in Narnia.
- Theme your children's or 11-14 group's activities for a full half-term around the Narnia movie. You could include what-do-you-know quizzes, a Turkish Delight-making session, a ‘treasure hunt’ to find the Stone Table, games based on getting back to the lamp post... There are some ideas online at Aslan's Den (http://narniachronicles.blogspot.com/), where a Texan Christian has constructed a whole teaching curriculum for children based on Narnia. You could buy the Narnia computer game (out in November) and let the group try playing it...
- Run a series of family services with a title such as ‘The Gospel According to Narnia’. If you have a digital projector, show scenes from the 1988 movie. Focus on Lucy's first visit to Narnia (there is another world beyond this one), Edmund's betrayal (human beings are sinful), the journey to Aslan (Jesus is the real King), the death and resurrection of Aslan (the cross and its results), the coronation of the children (God makes us a royal nation). Use the services to unpack the gospel in a way closely tied to the plot of Narnia.
- Run a ‘reading group’ for people who want to read through the whole Narnia series, meeting after you have read each book to discuss its content and share your impressions. This will involve you in all sorts of discussions about the nature of the gospel. (After I'd written this, I found that some churches have done this already; if you want to find out about them, see http://cslewis.drzeus.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3014 . If you want to do the same with Mere Christianity, see ideas and discussion questions at http://www.cslewisclassics.com/rgg.html .)
- Run a C.S. Lewis evening tracing the life story of the creator of Narnia. You'll find plenty of pictures online which you can use to illustrate his career (or show clips from the movie Shadowlands). Use lots of readings from his work - especially Surprised by Joy - and from his letters (collected in, e.g., Letters to An American Lady). It needn't take long to put together and rehearse; but without too much effort you could put together an extremely effective presentation.
- Encourage teachers in your congregation to look at the Narnia stories with their classes, perhaps using the lesson plans listed at http://cslewis.drzeus.net/faq/. For RS classes or English classes, this could be a timely, popular and effective approach to try!
John Allan is a regular contributor to Youthwork magazine and is the Webwatch columnist in Christianity magazine. An experienced youth worker and school chaplain, he is based in Belmont Chapel, Exeter.
A Christmas Carol Service with a Narnia Theme
This creative service outline by John Allan, can be adapted to incorporate anything else you choose (for example, performed music, extra Bible readings, or alternative carols) but be careful not to make it too long!
Be careful: not all the children or (especially) adults who come will necessarily have seen the film, or even know the story. Helpful explanations will be needed throughout.
Carol services already feature one powerful story: the Nativity. You're trying to bring two stories together. Make sure the ‘Narnia’ theme doesn't loom too large. It must illustrate and unlock the Christmas story - not overshadow it!
Resist the temptation to multiply ingenious parallels between Lewis's story and Christian theology! You will quickly lose the children if you do! Best stick to the big, broad themes outlined below.
Carol: It came upon the midnight clear (or any other which talks about two worlds coming together)
Reading from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (or video clip if you have a digital projector): Lucy goes through the wardrobe and discovers another world,
Introduction: Welcome everyone. Explain: it may seem strange to incorporate "Narnia" with a carol service; but actually the film is about many important Christmas themes... such as the fact that the world we see isn't the whole of reality. Here's how the Bible describes Jesus' coming from one world into another...
Reading: John 1:1-14
Carol: In the bleak midwinter (or any which talks about the bitter conditions into which Jesus came)
Icebreaker: Narnia Challenge. You could do this by giving children a quiz sheet on arrival; or go through it with chosen children at the front, on OHP or Powerpoint. Award prizes! And explain: with the witch in control, in Narnia it's "always winter, never Christmas". As soon as Christmas arrives, in the story, Spring begins to break out. Christmas is a sign of hope to a world where people's lives are held in an icy grip.
Carol: Good Christian men, rejoice (or other carol expressing of joy and hope)
Introduction: C S Lewis, the author of the Narnia stories, didn't like the British commercial Christmas. In his view, the real Christmas of hope and the razzmatazz Christmas of the High Street were poles apart. He wrote, "Things are given as presents which no mortal every bought for himself -- gaudy and useless gadgets, 'novelties' because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?...Can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers?" He wrote a joking description of it as if he were an ancient traveller who didn't understand the country he had come to.
Reading: C.S. Lewis on "Xmas and Christmas" - choose excerpts from the whole essay at http://tinyurl.com/chmgu. (Just in case you haven't noticed, "the island of Niatirb" is "Britain" spelled backwards...)
Carol: Once in royal David's city (or another telling the real nativity story; introduce by saying: this is what Lewis knew Christmas should really be about...)
Reading: Matthew or Luke nativity story
Prayers: Say: Just as the Witch held her world in frozen despair, so our world today has many problems we should remember at Christmas. As you pray, if you have a digital projector or even OHP, you could interleave pictures of real-world problems (Iraq, homelessness, Tsunami rebuilding?) with movie stills showing frozen Narnia - you'll find some athttp://www.narniaweb.com/gallery.asp .
Film clip (or reading): the scene where the children meet Father Christmas and are given presents. Say: Christmas is about gifts too - and in Jesus God gave us the most costly gift he ever could. (You could distribute small presents of sweets to the children present...?)
Carol: Hark the herald angels (or another about the gift God gave us at Christmas)
Talk: Making three points:?- without Christmas's hope, human lives are like frostbound Narnia?- Jesus, the rightful King, came back at Christmas, just like Aslan, bringing springtime with him?- but later Aslan had to suffer in order to save one of the children; Jesus too came to die and rise again to bring us new life
Carol: O come, all ye faithful
Useful web links
Narnia.com - info about the film, trailers, wallpaper, book synopsis of the whole Narnia series, an excellent website which loads to explore, children will love it.
Christianitymagazine.co.uk - a range of resources to help your church make the most of this opportunity. Includes a complete sermon outline by John Allan along with a suggested all-age service outline to tie into the film, plus all the content of this article with permission to copy and adapt.?
Narniaweb.com - movie trailers and still production pictures, interviews and info about the movie.
narniaresources.com - this US site has been created to help ministers, youth workers, Sunday School teachers and others to use the film in outreach and teaching programmes, plus downloads and trailers of the movie.
Narniafans.com - movie info and interviews, profiles of C.S. Lewis. ?
Cslewis.org - the site of the CS Lewis foundation with info about C.S. Lewis and the aim of encouraging a renaissance of Christian scholarship.
?Cslewis.drzeus.net - an excellent site with many interesting sections which will increase your knowledge and understanding of C.S. Lewis. ?theonelion.net - movie news and an extensive range of interviews.
Comingsoon.net - advance clips, interviews and inside news. ?
Cslewisclassics.com/books - one of many web sites where you can buy CS Lewis books.?
Cpo.org.uk - CPO have exclusive UK use of images from film and these are featured extensively in their Christmas resources for churches, which include posters, invitation cards, a DVD with film clips, sermon outlines, ideas pack and more.??
An all-age sermon on Narnia?
PLEASE NOTE ?(a) This sermon has been condensed to just a few words so that you can develop it in your own style, and fit it to whatever length of time is available (from 10 minutes to 30 minutes would be possible with this framework, although I wouldn't personally make children sit for half an hour!). As it stands, it's economically phrased and boiled down to a few basic ideas. You will want to work on it before inflicting it on anyone!
?(b) You can change it to suit yourself. Among the more obvious changes you might wish to make are these:
- Simplify it. If you think it's too confusing to have people thinking about three things at once (the Narnia story, the shepherd story and our situation today), leave out the shepherd motif and instead just use one verse as the centre of your talk, which you can refer back to several times on the way through. For example, Isaiah 9:6.
- Add in your own illustrations. Be careful, though: the Narnia story is already imaginatively rich, and it only confuses people when you tell them too many extra stories. But you might wish to illustrate (e.g.) the point about entering a new world by quoting the experience of someone who became a Christian and felt he'd passed from darkness into light… and so on.
- Make it more interactive. Bring children (or parents) out to the front to taste the food (perhaps with eyes shut) and decide what they are eating, as well as telling you where it comes in the story. But don't let the "game show"` element detract from the fact that you're unfolding an argument which needs to be clearly understood!
Reading: Luke 2:8-20
What do you think of, when you think of Christmas? I suppose a lot of us associate Christmas with food. There are so many traditions: Christmas pudding, roast turkey, oranges in your stocking, mince pies, chocolate yule logs… The supermarket shelves look quite different at Christmas time because there's so much "seasonal fare" on display.
I don't know if you've been to see the Narnia film yet, but the story has a lot to say about Christmas. It's about a magical country where it's "always winter but never Christmas". And then Christmas comes back. Father Christmas makes a guest appearance with presents for everybody. So I suppose it's not surprising that the Narnia story - and C S Lewis's novelThe Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, on which it's based - mention food again and again.
But what kind of food is it? In one episode of the cartoon South Park,Cartman pretends to have read the novel, and summarizes the plot: "a bunch of uh, hippies, walk around and paint stuff. They eat lunch, and then they find a magical... camel... which they have to eat to stay alive." No, it's not about eating camels - he made that bit up. Here are some of the things you find in the Narnia story. I wonder if those of you who know the story can remember where it all fits in.
The new world
(Produce a piece of toast and perhaps a cup of tea. If this is physically difficult, a picture on card or on a screen will do!)
This comes very early in the story - when Lucy goes into the wardrobe, finds herself in a new world, and is invited home for tea by Mr Tumnus the fawn. She realises that she's arrived in a strange new world that she doesn't understand very well at all.
When the shepherds saw the angels they must have felt a little the same. A new world had just opened before them - an angel had materialized in front of them. It says they were "terrified", and you can understand why - they'd never seen an angel before, and they couldn't work out what was going on! No wonder the angel has to begin by saying, "Do not be afraid."
I think something similar happens nowadays when people find out about Jesus. No, they don't see an angel, not usually! But they become aware that there's a new world they never suspected before - a whole dimension of life with the invisible friendship of God; and although they may feel afraid of making friends with someone you can't see, they realize quickly that, just like the angel, God doesn't want to terrify us. He wants to bring something very special into our lives, and that's what Christmas is all about.
The big temptation
(Produce some Turkish Delight…)
This is what the White Witch gives Edmund, to persuade him to do her will. He can't get enough and dreams of having more.
Why did Jesus have to come to Bethlehem all those Christmasses ago? Because we're all a bit like Edmund - easily persuaded to do the wrong thing. This Christmas, as we celebrate, we need to remember people who are starving and homeless, and realise that so much of the trouble in our world is because of human greed and selfishness.
The angel said, "Today a Saviour has been born to you". "Saviour" means "someone who rescues someone else". Jesus came to earth to help us overcome the evil, wrong and selfishness in our lives, and live in a different way.
The dawning hope
(Produce some Christmas pudding - or even better, plum pudding if you want to be exact about it!)
This is what the White Witch finds the animals eating by the side of the road after Father Christmas has visited. They're having a party. It's a sign that her evil rule is over, and the true King, Aslan, is coming back.
That's what the angel told the shepherds: the king is coming! No wonder the shepherds ended up "glorifying and praising God". They were still poor shepherds. But the baby had arrived and hope was coming!
And gradually the ice melts all over the country. The witch's power is gone. Yet something very dramatic happens: she claims the life of Edmund because he is a traitor, and so he must die!
You probably know what happens next. Aslan lets the witch kill himinstead. But because of "the deeper magic" which the witch doesn't understand, Aslan comes back to life and the stone table cracks in two!
And although Jesus the baby king came back at Christmas, that wasn't the end of the story. It was only just the beginning. Because some years later he died on a cross; and the Bible says this wasn't just an accident. He died so that he could take the blame we deserved for our selfish, wrong behaviour, just as Aslan took Edmund's blame on himself.
What's more: like Aslan, he didn't stay dead. The King came back to complete the liberation. And today the living Jesus is alive and well in the experience of everybody who trusts him and asks for his forgiveness.
(Produce a bit of turnip - the more disgusting the better.)
You have to be a real Narnia fan to guess this one. It's from the very last book in the series - The Last Battle. Aslan has made everything wonderful in Narnia., but there is still a group of gloomy, sneering dwarfs, who distrust everybody and refuse to see the good around them. They live in misery and dirt, and some of the children want to help them. So Lucy asks Aslan to help.
When they arrive, the dwarfs are sitting in a circle, doing nothing. They are convinced they are in the darkness where nobody can see them. Aslan spreads before them a fantastic feast of wonderful food. They grab the food, and greedily eat it, but they can't taste its quality: one thinks he is eating hay, and another thinks he has eaten a rotten turnip. They start fighting and quarrelling as usual. Aslan leaves them; he can't do any more to help.
The message of Christmas is that the King has come back to the world. He's here. He has died and risen again to give us a new quality of life, more exciting and satisfying than anything else we will ever know. But sadly, so many people simply sit in the darkness, and can't - or won't? - appreciate what God is offering them.
The shepherds turned to one another and said, "Let's go to Bethlehem." They didn't worry about their sheep, or the time of night, or the sights they had already seen. They knew they were at the brink of something absolutely incredible and they didn't hesitate for a second.
This Christmas, God is offering us the greatest gift we will ever receive. Wouldn't it be tragic if we didn't appreciate it properly.