Photo © 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media, LLC
ONE DAY, when he was having a meal
in a hotel dining room, C.S. Lewis
said a little too loudly, I loathe
So do I, said a six-year-old child
from another table.
Sympathy was instantaneous, wrote
Lewis in his essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children.
Neither of us thought it was funny. We both knew
that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the
proper meeting between man and child as independent
This attitude toward communicating with children
is characteristic of C.S. Lewis. On December 9, 2005, the
C.S. Lewis Estate with Walden Media and Walt Disney
Studios will release the film version of The Chronicles
of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobea gift
from C.S. Lewis to children.
St. Anthony Messenger sat down with the Boston staff
of Walden Media to talk with them about their company,
mission and co-production of the film.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and
the Wardrobe is directed and co-written by Andrew
Adamson, who also co-directed the Oscar-winning
Shrek, and co-wrote and co-directed Shrek 2. The visual
effects are crafted by the Weta Workshop, the New
Zealand-based team behind the special effects for The
Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Its the final touches that will make it feel like it was
made by the craftsmen of Narnia. We hope that we
play our small part in creating a world that feels cohesive
and real and breathing for the audiences to enjoy,
says Richard Taylor, founder of the Weta Workshop.
Adapting books into film is always risky business.
Walden Media itself has experienced box-office disappointments
with such films as Around the World in 80
Days and I Am David. Some viewers say the film versions
are too literal, others say not literal enough.
Walden and Disney hit box-office gold, however,
with Holes, along with Because of Winn-Dixie, which is
doing well in DVD sales. In the noisy and busy world of
cinema entertainment, The Chronicles of Narnia: The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe promises to hold its own.
Entering the Wardrobe
The story begins in a train station in London when the
German army is bombing the city almost every night.
Four childrenPeter, Susan, Edmund and Lucyare
evacuated to the country estate of old Professor
One day, while playing hide-and-seek in the professors
huge home, Lucy opens the door of a large
wardrobe to hide from her siblings. As she makes her
way through the coats and clothes, she accidentally
steps into a world called Narnia.
Lucy discovers from a talking faun that Narnia is a
land in perpetual winterwith no Christmasbecause it has been cursed by the evil White
Witch. The faun makes Lucy go back
through the wardrobe to protect her
from the witch. She discovers that no
time has passed since she entered the
Edmund independently happens upon
Narnia and tells the witch about his
siblings, so she persuades him to return
with the others. He manages to do this
by lying to his brother and sisters.
When they discover this, they are
angry at Edmund. He decides to get
even by turning them over to the witch
who recognizes themas do all the
creatures of Narniaas sons of Adam
and daughters of Eve and as threats to
When Lucy finds out that the witch
has imprisoned the faun, the children
set out to help him. As they journey,
they find out that the great lion Aslanthe foe of the evil witchhas returned
Then something magical happens.
Father Christmas, absent for many
years, returns to Narnia just as the snow
melts and new life bursts forth.
Edmund goes off to betray his siblings
and realizes too late that the witch is
evil. He is trapped by the consequences
of his poor choices.
Peter, Susan and Lucy meet Aslan at
the great Stone Table and tell him what
Edmund has done. By now the witch is
preparing to kill Edmund because she
considers him a traitor, but Aslans
many friends save him.
The White Witch tells Aslan that
Narnias Deep Magic permits her to
take a traitors life. Aslan decides to
give his life for Edmunds and is slain
on the Stone Table. But then, through
an even deeper magic, Aslan is resurrected.
A great battle ensues and destinies
A Tale for Parents and Children
Mary Margaret Keaton, author of Imagining
Faith With Kids: Unearthing Seeds
of the Gospel in Childrens Stories From
Peter Rabbit to Harry Potter (Pauline
Books and Media, Boston), writes:
For Christians the allegory is obvious:
Aslan represents Christ, who offered
his life in place of ours, whose
death and resurrection won our freedom
and redemption. In Aslans loneliness
and sorrow, we recognize Jesus
agony in the garden; in his humiliation
and shearing, Jesus passion; and of
course, in Aslans resurrection, the
In her book, Keaton, a wife, mother,
journalist and catechist, shows how
the story provides parents with ideas for
meaningful conversations with their
children. Some of these include
acknowledging the struggles children
have when figuring out right from
wrong, the difference between lying
and telling the truth, anger and asking
for and giving forgiveness, courage,
goodness and much more.
C.S. Lewis expert, author and professor
David C. Downing calls this
dimension of Lewiss work moral psychology
within the spiritual vision of
The Chronicles of Narnia.
Many of Lewiss colleagues were
shocked when he began publishing
books for children. Critics thought he
wrote tales of Christian allegory, but he
denied this in his book Of Other Worlds:
Essays and Stories.
This is pure moonshine. I couldnt
write in that way at all. Everything began with images: a faun carrying an
umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent
lion. At first there wasnt anything
Christian about them; that
element pushed itself of its own accord.
It was part of the bubbling.
The Life of C.S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis, nicknamed Jack,
was born on November 29, 1898, in
Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father,
Albert James, was an attorney. His
mother, Flora Augusta, died in 1908,
when Jack was 10 and his brother,
Warren or Warnie, was 13. That year,
both boys were sent to Wynyard School
Lewis developed an appreciation for
Norse mythology. By 1913, he had
abandoned his Christian faith.
In 1916, after two years of studying
literature and philosophy with a tutor,
Lewis won a scholarship to University
College, Oxford. He served in the
British army during World War I, was
wounded in France and returned to
duty in England. He resumed his studies
at Oxford in January 1919 and
received degrees in Greek and Latin literature
in 1920, philosophy and ancient
history in 1922, and English in 1923.
Lewis began teaching at Oxford in
1924 and remained there until he
accepted a post at Cambridge University
in 1954. He published his first
book, Dymera lengthy narrative
poemin 1926. In 1929, he became a
theist: In Trinity Term of 1929 I gave
in, and admitted that God was God,
and knelt and prayed. Lewiss father
died that year.
One September evening in 1931 he
had a long conversation about Christianity
with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson.
Lewis became a Christian the next day.
He wrote about this moment in Surprised
by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life: When we [Lewis and his brother] set
out [to visit a zoo via motorcycle], I
did not believe that Jesus Christ was the
Son of God and when we reached the
zoo, I did.
Lewiss prodigious literary output
that lasted all his life was about to
begin, influenced by his knowledge
and love for Greek, Norse and Roman
mythology, literature and history.
In the fall of 1933, Lewis and several
of his friends formed a group called The Inklings which was, originally, a
group of Oxford dons who wrote Christian
fiction. For 16 years Tolkien and
others would meet thrice a week.
Beginning in 1941, Lewis gave radio
talks on the BBC that were later published
and became the basis for his
book Mere Christianity in 1952. A new
edition of these talks is being released
in January by HarperCollins under the
title C.S. Lewis Goes to War: The World
War II Broadcasts That Riveted a Nation
and Became the Classic Mere Christianity,
by Justin Phillips.
During World War II some children
from London were sent to live with
Lewis. He was surprised at how few stories
they knew, so in 1950 he wrote
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the
first volume of what would be the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia.
To publish a book for children that
referred to these recent events was pretty
amazing, says Randy Testa of Walden
Media, both morally and imaginatively.
It would be like starting a childrens
story today that referred to
September 11, 2001. But he had his
reasons for this that he explained in his
essay on writing for children.
On April 23, 1956, Lewis married
American poet and divorcée Joy
Gresham in a civil ceremony to prevent
her from being deported by British
officials. She was a convert from
Judaism to Christianity, a fact which
she attributed to reading Lewiss books.
In December, while Joy was hospitalized
for bone cancer, they were married
according to the rites of the Church of
England. After almost three years of
remission, Joys cancer returned. Before
her death on July 13, 1960, at the age
of 45, they traveled to Ireland and
C.S. Lewis resigned from Cambridge
during the summer of 1963, suffering
from a variety of ailments. He died at
his home called The Kilns in Oxfordshire
on Friday, November 22, 1963.
Faith, Family and Film
This past July, I spoke about the new
film with Micheal Flaherty, Waldens
president and co-founder; Randy Testa,
Ed.D., vice president for education and
professional development; and Deborah
Kovacs, vice president of the publishing
division and project director of the film.
Will this new feature-length version
of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe deal with the back story that
C.S. Lewis told in The Magicians
Testa: Not directly. Careful viewers will
note that the film nods to the story
C.S. Lewis wrote in 1955 (five years
after the first volume of the Chronicles
of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe), by the carvings in the door
of the wardrobe that tell the whole
story of The Magicians Nephew.
Will there be sequels to The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe?
Kovacs: We hope so.
Do you think that the film will
appeal to college students?
Testa: Some of the stories, the novels,
that we come to as kids stay with us
for the rest of our lives. They are timeless,
like Roald Dahls Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory. Good childrens literature
stays with us as grown-ups. We
think that this film will appeal to all
those who loved C.S. Lewiss novel as
Why should older folks see this film?
Testa: Because it is a reaffirmation of
humanity, of all that is good and important
in human beings. Lewis valued
and felt it was important to nourish
the imagination. Like eating and drinking,
the imagination needs nourishment
no matter how old a person is.
So this is a film for all ages?
Testa: I think we truly have a film for
all audiences. This is the joy and the
delight of this film.
How conscious will the film be of
the story as a Christian allegory?
Testa: Like Madeleine LEngles A Wrinkle
in Time, you can read The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe in many ways.
This is the beauty of reading texts. As
American Catholic writer Flannery
OConnor once wrote, In a good short
story the message of the story goes on
expanding the more a reader thinks
This is also what Jesus was up to
with the parables. The more you think
about them, the more they mean to
you. What you bring to The Lion, the
Witch and the Wardrobe is what you will
get out of it. Our goal is to interpret the
book faithfully into a film that audiences
will delight in, at whatever level
or dimensions they choose.
What is special about this production
of The Lion, the Witch and the
Testa: There are multiple levels of the
realms and cultures represented in the
book, including 40 different species of
creatures that inhabit the world Lewis
created. New Zealands Weta Workshop,
the same company that produced the
visual effects for Peter Jacksons The
Lord of the Rings trilogy, did the preliminary
designs for many of the characters
that populate the film.
The characters were actually built
and animated by Howard Berger. But
there is only one door that leads to
another world, and that is an authentic
imagining of Lewiss classic for
todays viewing audiences.
What is the purpose of fantasy,
whether in books or films?
Testa: The purpose of fantasy, according
to Lewis, is to heighten the childs
sense of reality and to explore and try
on life through the imagination.
How is The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe different from the Harry
Testa: C.S. Lewis probably influenced
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry
Potter books, though their approaches
are quite different. Fantasythe world
inside the real worldis a literary tradition
that goes way back in English
history, a rich mine to excavate.
Lewis uses storytelling as a teaching
tool. He was a caring adult who tried to
help children make sense of the bad
things that had happened to them during
World War II when London was
bombed. This caused them to be separated
from their parents and evacuated
to the countryside to live with strangers.
What else is there that prompted
Lewis to write The Lion, the Witch
and the Wardrobe?
Testa: He was a man of faith with a
compassionate nature who reached out
to children. He believed that by writing
this fairy tale, as he termed it, he
could create hope for the future. The
atomic bomb was the biggest moral
event of his times. Five years later he
wanted to give children a gift, something
to look forward to and a way to
resolve this moral reality through story.
When Aslan is killed in the story, it
seems to be very violent. So what rating
are you hoping for from the
Testa: We are hoping for a PG rating. As
to this question of suitability, Ill defer
to C.S. Lewis who wrote, A far more serious attack on the fairy tale as childrens
literature comes from those who
do not wish children to be frightened.
They may mean that we must not
do anything likely to give the child
those haunting, disabling, pathological
fears against which ordinary courage is
hopeless...or they may mean that we
must try to keep out of his mind the
knowledge that he is born into a world
of death, violence, wounds, adventure,
heroism and cowardice, good and evil.
Micheal, you have a reputation as a passionate educational reformeran
innovator who believes in empowering children. When did this call come to
you to see education as the key to life?
Flaherty: When William Bulger was
the president of the Massachusetts State
Senate, I was an aide who specialized in
education. I read all the legislation
relating to education so I came to know
the role of government in public education.
Then I taught nights and weekends
in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and I
found that there was a great divorce
between educational theory and practice
in the classroom. I found this great
deficit when working with kids: They
were not excited about education,
Was this how you got the idea to
form Walden Media?
Flaherty: Yes. In 2001 Cary Granat, a
film executive, and I approached Philip
Anschutz, a Denver businessman with
numerous media holdings, to help us
bring Walden Media into being. Our
goal is to bring young people especially
to literature and learning through
movies that re-imagine classics, to help
kids get excited about learning.
Many of us here are parents and educators
ourselves and we want to provide
these kinds of experiences for our own
children as well. As we say on our Web
site, we believe that quality entertainment
is inherently educational.
What are some of the other projects
that Walden Media has produced and
is planning for the future?
Testa: We have produced several films
since 2002, including Ghosts of the Abyss,
Holes, I Am David, Around the World in 80
Days and Because of Winn-Dixie. These
are all available on DVD. Upcoming
films are Charlottes Web, Hoot, based
on the Newbery award-winning book by
Carl Hiaasen, Amazing Grace, the story
of William Wilberforce, and an upcoming
adaptation of the best-seller How to
Eat Fried Worms.
What resources are available about
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the faith community?
Kovacs: There is a Web site created
by Motive Media whose firm is helping
to promote the film to the faith
community. A Web site (www.NarniaResources.com)
has been created especially for leaders of schools, churches,
groups and organizations who wish to
utilize the film as an outreach or teaching
Is either the book or the film version
of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe about peace?
Testa: The story is about goodness,
which is the essence of peace.
A C.S. Lewis Filmography
Shadowlands, 1993. Directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Anthony Hopkins and
Debra Winger. The film was written by William Nicholson, a biopic based on his play.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 1979, PBS. Directed by Bill Melendez.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 1988, BBC. Directed by Marilyn Fox.
The Magic Never Ends: The Life and Work of C.S. Lewis, 2002. PBS (now on DVD). This
is an Emmy-nominated documentary on the life of C.S. Lewis, narrated by Ben Kingsley.
The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis, 2004, Walden Media and PBS. With
Dr. Armand Nicholi, this is an award-winning documentary that explores the basic spiritual
and philosophical questions that people face on a daily basiswith responses drawn from
the writings of both men.
Rose Pacatte, F.S.P., is a media-literacy education
specialist. She has an M.Ed. in media studies from
the University of London, a certificate in pastoral communications
from the University of Dayton and a
diploma in catechetics. She writes the Eye on Entertainment
column for St. Anthony Messenger.