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Monday, December 05, 2005

Maybe I'll go see Narnia
I haven't read the Narnia books, and, while the trailer looked interesting, I wasn't too curious about the movie. However, Polly Toynbee, the Granuiad reviewer, really talked me into it.

Polly starts by saying
'Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion'

Children won't get the Christian subtext, but unbelievers should keep a sickbag handy during Disney's new epic
Well, that's what I call irresistible. Anything that prompts Polly to bring an unbeliever's barfbag to a children's movie must be worth looking into.

If the name Polly Toynbee sounds familiar, it's probably because readers of TBHB that also visit Scott's Daily Ablution will remember her Faux Fat 'Facts' and how she Exposes Elitist Hypocrisy. The Adam Smith Blog has posted on how she got her facts wrong when it came to EU integration, but I digress.
This new Disney film is a remarkably faithful rendition of the book - faithful in both senses. It is beautiful to look at and wonderfully acted. The four English children and their world are all authentically CS Lewis olde England. But from its opening scenes of the bombing of their Finchley home in the blitz and the tear-jerking evacuation from their mother in a (spotlessly clean) steam train, there is an emotional undertow to this film that tugs on the heart-strings from the first frames. By the end, it feels profoundly manipulative, as Disney usually does.
It's a movie, Polly. Of course it'll be manipulative. Of course the train will be spotlessly clean. Spotless trains in manipulative movies are a long-time tradition that goes back to the days Brief Encounter. Polly continues,
But then, that is also deeply faithful to the book's own arm-twisting emotional call to believers.
And I ask, isn't the purpose of literature to send an emotional call?

Polly's hopeful that maybe kids won't get the Christian message, because
Most British children will be utterly clueless about any message beyond the age-old mythic battle between good and evil. Most of the fairy story works as well as any Norse saga, pagan legend or modern fantasy, so only the minority who are familiar with Christian iconography will see Jesus in the lion. After all, 43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young - apart from those in faith schools - that number must be considerably higher.
which may not be so bad from Polly's point of view, except that,
All the same, children may puzzle over the lion and ask embarrassing questions.
Heaven (roll your eyes if you may, Polly) help us when children do as children may, which is to ask embarrassing questions because they are children.

What caused Polly to suggests to suggest that "unbelievers should keep a sickbag handy" is this:
Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?
The essential concept of Christianity, that God gave his Son for the redemption of our sins, is repugnant to Polly because we didn't ask Him. Even if she calls herself an unbeliever, an omnipotent God should be, in her view, subject to man's beck and call, politely refraining from action unless requested. Like children in Victorian times, or like women under burqas, not seen and not heard. Still, that's not as repugnant to Polly as the possibility of a triumphant Christ:
Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice[*] of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight.
In other words, not only did Christ's Grace intervene in our lives, He triumphed over evil instead of just sitting there, having already taken it; hence, Polly is affronted. Christ should have stayed in the place Polly wants him to be: meek [**], weak, and refusing to fight.

And to make it all worse, here comes the GOP:
Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peel [sic] in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong.
Oh, I get it -- "It's all Bush's fault!" That Narnia was written by an Irish guy living in England half a century before the war on Islamofacism, and that Norman Vincent Peale's been dead for well over a decade, matter not to Polly's disgust over "the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America". (BTW, Polly, it's Norman Vincent Peale of preaching and writing fame, not to be confused with Mrs. Emma Peel of Avengers fame). Oprah Winfrey, that tool of the vast-right-wing-conspiracy, has made herself hugely wealthy and successful preaching a slightly updated version of Peale's message. I wonder if that makes Oprah a "warped, distorted neo-fascist".

Having bemoaned that the "godly will reap earthly reward", Polly's worried that Disney may not make a lot of money
Disney may come to regret this alliance with Christians, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For all the enthusiasm of the churches, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ bombed in Britain and warehouses are stuffed with unsold DVDs of that stomach-churner. There are too few practising Christians in the empty pews of this most secular nation to pack cinemas.
I'm sure Disney's losing sleep on that, considering Mel Gibson's experience.

But wait! Polly's review ends in a final paragraph of . . . libertarianism, and individual responsibility?? Read for yourselves:
Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.
"No one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can": what a curious thing for Polly to advocate, and having her say that "no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging", when last year she was bemoaning that
The tragedy is that Blair was the first prime minister to arrive in office gen uinely determined to take us at last to the heart of Europe. Instead, he took us to Baghdad.
Curious, indeed.

[*] I for one love the orotund voice of Liam Neeson. The orotund-sounding Mr. Neeson was enourmously sexy on stage several years ago when starring with his now-wife in Anna Christie on Broadway, but I digress.
[**] Update Scott reminded me of this,
"And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; / And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple."
Meek, you say?
Update 2 don't miss La Shawn's new blog, Fantasy Fiction for Christians, with its Narnia files.

Update, December 7 Dynamo Buzz has The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Part II

In further entertainment news,
Lucius Malfoy heads The Forbes Fictional Fifteen: (any similarity to Michael Milken is purely coincidental, of course)
THE NORTH SEA - When Lucius Malfoy was sent to jail over a year ago, the business world assumed he'd slip into poverty, obscurity and eventual madness. Azkaban prison has a way of destroying its detainees, and few observers figured he would be able to remain solvent.

But instead, Malfoy has prospered. The ivory-haired devil’s fortune increased nearly 30% over the last year. It's a major vindication for the 51-year-old wizard, and an indication that Malfoy's portfolio--and his mission to destroy Harry Potter--still has lots of life left in it.

Much of Malfoy's gain can be attributed to surging commodities markets. The price of gold is at its highest level since 1987, up 16% since January alone. Malfoy's stores of gold galleons and silver sickles--among the purest mintings of those metals known--have appreciated significantly.

His stock portfolio has also fared well. Most wizards eschew "Muggle" markets, preferring to invest in Goblin mutual funds or Niffler futures. But Malfoy bucks the trend, holding shares in a variety of companies, including Wal-Mart Stores (nyse: WMT - news - people ), Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) and Halliburton (nyse: HAL - news - people ). "I am constantly on the alert for opportunities to exploit you filthy Muggles," he told us nearly seven years ago (see: “Malfoy’s Malicious Methods” Forbes, Mar. 21, 1999).

And the value of Malfoy's personal possessions has appreciated significantly. Since the return of Lord Voldemort, artifacts and tools of the Dark Arts have become hugely popular, trading briskly in secondary markets like eBay (nasdaq: EBAY - news - people ) and Borgin and Burke's. As the patriarch of an ancient family, Malfoy is reputed to hold a wealth of valuable objects. Despite repeated searches of Malfoy Manor, his home in Wiltshire, the Ministry of Magic has been unable to find any prohibited items--but sources close to the family say they still possess countless treasures.
Via Fantasy Fiction for Christians, Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, by U. of Tenn. College of Law professor Benjamin Barton,
government is controlled by and for the benefit of the self-interested bureaucrat. The most cold-blooded public choice theorist could not present a bleaker portrait of a government captured by special interests and motivated solely by a desire to increase bureaucratic power and influence. Consider this partial list of government activities: a) torturing children for lying; b) utilizing a prison designed and staffed specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; c) placing citizens in that prison without a hearing; d) allows the death penalty without a trial; e) allowing the powerful, rich or famous to control policy and practice; f) selective prosecution (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges); g) conducting criminal trials without independent defense counsel; h) using truth serum to force confessions; i) maintaining constant surveillance over all citizens; j) allowing no elections whatsoever and no democratic lawmaking process; k) controlling the press.
Lucius would agree.

A bit of advice for the very very rich:
I have some advice for another Forbes-list person, who just got married:
Make up with your father and his family.
Learn Greek, and get a degree in finance. You need both in order to find out what the Foundation's going to do with your money.
You had your moment of rebellion: Now dump the Doda. Nothing spells g-o-l-d-d-i-g-g-e-r better than a
  • Latin lover
  • twelve years older than you
  • horseback riding
  • dude nicknamed Doda
  • without a job
Foundations have no sense of humor, and you don't want to be the next Barbara Hutton anyway.

Enough said.

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