Saturday, December 24, 2005

Narnia, E.T., and Mormon Story Telling

Recently I was able to see the Narnia film and was thrilled by its faithfullness to the book. Aside from that, it was a beautiful movie filled with great visual moments. The acting could have been better, but children have not been known for outstanding performances. Aslan was one of the best mostly CGI creatures, aside from Golum, every created. He had a natural grace and movement to him that might only be matched by King Kong if the reports I am hearing of that movie are correct. Sadly, the great awe felt for Aslan in the books could not be translated easily. It was hard to see the connection the Children developed for Aslan, and made his death of lesser emotional power than the books delivered. Sometimes well written words speak a thousand pictures.

What was more evident than the books was the Christian symbolism, as it wasn't hidden behind descriptions and lengthy dialogue. For some who saw the movie, particularly Christians of zeal and critical of Hollywood and modern culture, that was the most important function of the movie. Aside from some who see magic and fantasy of any kind as satanic, this was a chance to preach and teach the message of Jesus' suffering and saving. It was a missionary moment for the moment. That is where the problem starts for this movie and Mormon fiction.

In the early 80s an even bigger film, E.T., hit theaters. The movie was touted as family friendly and emotionally touching. What it wasn't, from any information available, was seen as a Christian missionary moment. That can easily be understood. The main characters were from a divorced family, it had slight profanity, good and evil were hardly mentioned, and it was written and directed by a social Jew. Yet, the story itself had many of classic elements of Christian symbolism and some of it subtle. Most of the symbols came from the main character and alien E.T. He was not of this earth, he had healing powers, he took upon himself at least Elliot's experiences, He suffered in a natural setting, died and was placed in a tomblike encasing, came back alive from his own power, and left into the sky by spaceship with a careful expression of faith in him to remain behind. Even the movie poster had religiously symbolic power, with the finger of Elliot and E.T. touching like The Creation painting in the Sistine Chapel.

That brings Narnia back to square one as a Christian film. What makes it Christian? The story isn't unique. The hype is as much theater as the film. It talks of good and evil, but doesn't really explain the concepts as a teaching tool. The characters are no more Christian than any other children in Disney films and the work "Christian" isn't mentioned once. In the end, the talk of a "Christian film" is vague and unfulfilled even if the recent efforts have been enjoyable.

Of course, this is directly related to Mormon fiction as the same problems arise. Is Mormon fiction defined by subject matter, cultural markers, sermonesque studies, character identity, or promotional hype? Or, like the difference between E.T.and Narnia for general Christianity, is it more about who writes and produces the material? Perhaps it is a combonation of all of these and a wider net can be cast. In casting the net wider the whole argument about "Mormon fiction" might become pendantic and self-serving. It might be more important for Mormons to write than that they write Mormonism. Taking Orson scott Card's example as a wide net caster, he has impressed many non-Mormons with the positive qualities of Mormonism with very few Mormon characters and blatant symbolism. His book "Lost Boys" is one of the most realistically realized Mormon families in all literature. Yet, their faith is only part of the story while in some instances the story itself speaks more about family relationships, good and evil, and afterlife theology. Mormon fiction will only succeed outside its own world once it becomes second nature rather than front row seat.

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