Hollywood and the Miracle of 'Narnia'

Some diehard fans of "The Chronicles of Narnia" are in a tizzy over recent comments made by officials associated with the third film in the series, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."

Still others are focusing instead on the strides that Hollywood has made toward being more responsive to the values and interests of the heartland.

There will be plenty of time for post-mortems in the months ahead about why these comments have depressed turnout and imperiled the series, but for now traditionalists would do well to remind themselves that it's not every day -- or even every year--  that a work so steeped in a traditionalist perspective and based on the books of such a prominent Christian make it to the Big Screen in a town not known for its religious devotion.

It's often said that any time a movie is made, it's a miracle, and as I write in my new book, "The Lion The Professor & The Movies: Narnia's Journey To The Big Screen," in that sense alone, the "Narnia" films are something of a miracle.

Author C.S. Lewis wrote the series between 1949 and 1954 and although the books had sold nearly 100 million copies by the time we hit the millenium mark, attempts in Hollywood to make a film of the series never gelled in Hollywood until 2001 when Walden Media obtained the rights to develop the books into films.

Although Disney abandoned the project after the second film in the series under-performed, 20th Century Fox picked up the third movie in the series which arrived in theaters just before Christmas. According to the website Narniaweb.com Over the just passed holiday weekend the film grossed $10.5 million. Since its release it has grossed $86.9 million domestically and its worldwide total is up to $297.1 million.

Setting aside whatever silly quotes from actors, directors or producers may have ticked off fans, what should matter to most traditionalists is that a powerful retelling of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has now entered the mainstream of the pop culture of the world and will likely promote greater understanding and tolerance among all faiths.

I've noticed this myself in my interactions with those from other faith traditions for whom the central story of Christianity has been confusing at times.

Speaking with friends from other countries and other religious traditions during the time of the release of "The Passion of The Christ," not a few folks seemed befuddled by what they had seen; the most common question I was asked is "why did he have to die?" and while the questions sent some scurrying to learn more, for others it just remained inexplicable.

With "Narnia" on the other hand, I've noticed that people from others faith traditions have reacted with a greater understanding about why Christians believe that Christ died and what they believe his death accomplished on their behalf.

Another gift that C.S. Lewis has given the world through the "Narnia" series is a reminder that while there is a place for straight religious doctrine in churches and elsewhere, stories are, and have always been, the way we humans have communicated important truths to one another.

While we can often build up the best defenses against political or religious dogma, we are much more open to adjusting our own views when confronted with a great story that teaches us an important lesson.

For some, especially Lewis fans, "Narnia" is a thinly disguised tale about the Savior they adore, and a powerful affirmation of the things they believe. For others, the stories and the movies can merely be enjoyed as great tales about a heroic lion and four courageous children who together change their world.

For traditionalists, the "Narnia" series also proves that Hollywood may be becoming just a little less fearful of taking on works that include religious subtexts. Perhaps it also demonstrates that executives in Hollywood are more willing to listen to the stories that animate the American heartland even as they promote greater religious understanding and tolerance. And what's not to like about that?

Mark Joseph is a television, movie and music producer and author of "The Lion, The Professor & The Movies: 'Narnia's' Journey To The Big Screen."