Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Narnia, Lord of the Rings and God

My favorite hobby as a kid was reading; yes, you read that correctly, READING. One of my earliest memories of loving to read was in my kindergarten class when I was five. We had 5th grade “buddies” that would come down weekly to read to us in order to help them with their reading skills but what happened was I would end up reading to my buddies instead. Now, I know I wasn’t really reading the words but the books had been read to me before and I could remember the gist of the story based on the pictures. I am sure my “buddies” either found me entertaining or annoying; either way, I got to “read” and I felt very proud of myself.

Fast forward a few years and I was reading at an 8th grade level in 3rd grade. I wasn’t trying to be a know-it-all or show-off, I genuinely loved reading and read hundreds of books. As I started reading more advanced books, I didn’t always know what the words meant and would take out our family’s dictionary (I am pretty sure I was only the one who ever actually opened them up) and look up the word so I could understand what it meant in order to understand the story. I even remember looking up hard to spell words and repeating them to myself until I could spell them without looking. My greatest accomplishment in the 1st or 2nd grade was that I could spell “Mississippi”, “Hippopotamus” and “Massachusetts”. I would walk around chanting them to myself as I did my chores. I am sure my parent’s thought I was nuts.

Cut to me discovering the Chronicles of Narnia series and I was HOOKED. My mom would come into my room at 2am and tell me to go to sleep and my response was always, “just one more page.” I didn’t leave the house without my books. I even took them on family vacations and was constantly told to “put your book down and look out the window, you’re missing it!” I was too busy engrossed in my fantasy books to care what was going on outside the car window on our drive to Jackson Hole, WY. Have you seen Wyoming? I have, I used to live there. I wasn’t missing much.

The Chronicles of Narnia took my imagination to a whole new level and I ended up re-reading the series several times simply as a form of escapism. Around the time I entered high school I had read the series seven times and was finally seeing some connections to Christian stories and beliefs. However, I never had a lesson in church, Sunday school, family home evening, youth events or girl’s camp that ever used fantasy fiction to teach what Yergensen calls “equipment for living.” I understand his point and that fantasy stories such as “Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” have Christian elements to them. However, I find it rather odd that any Christian based faith would use pop culture to teach lessons from their Bible and God. In fact, I would find it odd that any religion would use pop culture fantasy books/movies to demonstrate their teachings.

Even the view from my office looks like Narnia

On one hand, you have the group of Christians saying that fantasy fiction is “of the devil” while others espouse the virtues of the same fantasy fiction. One group of Christians do not speak for all Christians and some sub-groups may find using pop-culture helps keep their youth engaged in conversations surrounding religious virtues but I still find it a stretch that Lord of the Rings was the material used make to make connections between Christian ideals and the four fantasy themes named in Yergesen’s research: 1) realization, 2) repentance, 3) being strengthened, and 4) teaching others.

Nevertheless, Yergensen and others’ research has shown that Lord of the Rings has been a useful tool in creating dialogue with their followers which leads to better understanding of Christian beliefs and practices. If the main goal of a congregation/bishop/pastor/reverend is to know and integrate the teachings of their God into their lives and pop culture happens to be that vehicle, then so be it.

“Fantasy theme analysis has traditionally been viewed as the construction of groups and cultures through the sharing of similar stories. With equipment for living being a way to solve problems, people are doing more than just creating a culture with stories, but are sharing how they solve the problems of life” (pg.163).

I just don’t see the need for religions that are based on a book that is hundreds of years old to use fantasy fiction to teach their message. The Bible stories themselves are groups sharing and bonding over their culture. It almost sends the message that the religious teachings themselves aren’t “real” and are based on myths rather than God’s word, which Christians profess the Bible to be.

My love of reading has led me to read a diverse collection of books and I have found messages in each of them that either resonated with me, taught me something about life or myself, exposed me to brand new knowledge or straight up shocked and disgusted me. Some of the books I have read have been made into movies and the movies rarely live up to the imagery in my head.

“A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable.”

I learned those things from reading them first, not by being exposed to their film version. Again, if fantasy film has been able to help Christian faiths teach their message, then that is awesome. But reading stories and coming to your own understanding is much more powerful because YOU read the material, YOU asked the questions, and YOU found your answers without the influence of pop culture messages that change with time and societal norms.

1.     Have you ever read a book that has then been made into a movie? Did the movie live up to what you had imagined? Or not?
2.     Do you think it’s a sound religious practice to use popular culture fantasy fiction to demonstrate religious teachings?

3.     Do movies provide us with a deeper understanding of the messages they want to portray in comparison to books?


  1. Interesting thoughts Jess.
    1. Yes, I'm a huge chronicles of narnia fan. I started reading those when I was little as well, in addition to The Harry potter series. And no, the movie that is based on a book has never nor do I think it could ever live up to what I had imagined. This used to bother me, but now I realize that what I love for example about the chronicles of Narnia series is so deeply personal to who I am. The meanings that a book triggers in people and the things we imagine from books are completely personal. There's no way a film-maker could ever tap into the meaning and imagination I have for a book. They can only tap into their own. They can only give us what they imagine. Therefore it's impossible to give any objective representation of a book in a movie or to create a movie that's completely "true to" the book. Any representation of a book in film is biased because we all have different ideas and preferences about what we think are the most important parts of the book or what is its essence.

    2. Yes I actually think that it is a great religious practice to use popular culture fantasy fiction to demonstrate religious teachings. Truth can be found anywhere and everywhere, so I would be open to using any source, from any culture or religion, as long as I felt that it aligned with the spirit of what I was trying to teach. In particular, the chronicles of Narnia series, in every book has some very profound moments, many of which I actually have used or referred to in LDS church meetings. The one I have most often shared is the story of how Aslan helps Eustace turn from a dragon into a boy again in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader". It's extremely consistent with Christian teachings of the atonement/christ's sacrifice and repentance. So yeah, I think that whatever helps drive home the point in religious teachings is up for grabs.

    3.) No, I don't think movies necessarily provide us with a deeper understanding than books. I think they provide us with a different understanding. The creator of a film that is based on a book is making a choice about which parts of the book he or she wants to include in the movie. Each choice is made for a reason. The creator of the film wants to get something across to us. The same can be said for the original author of the book. He or she wants to get something across to us. The process of watching a movie or reading a book, although very different processes, in either case, is still a process of receiving the message the creator is trying to get across. So on one level of thinking neither one is deeper, just different.

  2. 1. Like Geoffrey, I really loved the Narnia series. I'll be honest though, I was so young with the movie finally came out that I really enjoyed how the capture the book. I wasn't the strongest reader and some of the missing pieces of the books came into light for me when I went into the movies. But I have been struggling with the Series of Unfortunate event Netlfix series, because I read the books in a way different light (much moodier). I also struggled with Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because they had cut so much of the initial stories.

    2. Honestly, I think that morals are morals. These religious teachings have also developed strong morals and life understandings in the readers.

    3. Again, when I was younger with the Narnia series, the first movie really did. But as we get older I think that creating our own sense of imagery through texts can give us a better or deeper inner clarification than any movie could.

  3. 1. Yes, there have been many books that I read have become movies. Though one book series that I was really INTO. Was the Hunger Games Series. I’ll be honest I was 50/50 about the movie. I did enjoy the visual, the strong actors and actress. THough I was upset with the things they left out and the things they replaced or changed. Especially when you read the book and so excited to see that one detail com of the book to a “real” image. Then next you know it was changed or never showed up. It’s an upsetting feeling.

    2. I don’t think there’s nothing wrong to use fantasy fiction to demonstrate religious teaching. In order to help people understand a certain religion teaching, it’s helpful to use example of things that we know of. By using example of day to day pop culture will help a those to understand a certain religion teaching/lesson.

    3. Honestly I don’t think so. If you’re someone who enjoys reading you will probably understand the meaning of the book. Especially when the book is full with more details of the story and the meaning. Movies based off books are probably helpful for those who never read the book to get somewhat of the same meaning as the people who did read the book. Though I don’t believe it gives off a deeper meaning.

  4. Hi Jessica,

    Great post (and gifs)! I was the same way as a kid, often hiding under chairs and tables wrapped up in a blanket and a book. A couple months ago, I was taken aback when I lent my collection of Narnia books to my niece, and was received with a "she couldn't get into them very much". To this day, I'll still reread my favorite The Horse and His Boy. The biggest difference from book to screen for me is the level of details and the mood. You could spend dozens of hours reading a book, but the movie has to equate to about two hours. I left the theater after watching HP6 EXTREMELY upset because the movie was so much differently from the books. To me, HP6 was one of the darkest books of the series, but the movie had this lighthearted, jovial teen romance feel to it that (for me) was a complete miss from the mood of the book. Where it comes to the meanings in them, I do feel that skimping on details or altering the overall mood from book to movie can lose a lot of its meaning. Although CS Lewis wrote The Magician's Nephew after Lion, Witch, Wardrobe, it acts as its precursor. Religiously (Christian) speaking, by starting with LWW and not Magician's Nephew for the movies, you miss out on all of the following Christian themes (Creationism, God/Free Will, Devil/Captivity, etc.). I would hope that authors don't just add more words and pages to make a longer book but because everything in it is applicable to the entire story, the entire point. Movies on the other hand, have the luxury of only needing to be entertaining so they can remove details, sections, or even stories from the series.

    As for using these types of pop culture for religious teachings, my opinion is why not? I, too, have read many books and types and between the Narnia series and Genesis and Revelations, I find Narnia to be a much simpler way to explain certain aspects of Christianity. Of course, you have the whole validity of the author argument, but for making minor analogies as a means to better learn, that's all stories like these are, just parables. Because of this, I will always prefer the books to the movies in getting a more in depth meaning/story, but that does not deter me from finding meaning in movies as well.

    1. Thank you, I love gifs!

      I had read LWW first and then The Horse and His Boy before I realized that The Magician's Nephew was technically the first book in the series. That book wasn't my favorite but it was the book that made me realize that the Narnia series had so many symbols of Christianity. It also helped me understand the symbolism in LWW and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader also seemed to have a lot of Christian/LDS beliefs engrained in the story.

      You are right, movies only need to be entertaining and they have to do so in about 2 hours.

      After reading the comments from you and others, I see why religions/spiritual groups use stories like Narnia to teach aspects of Christianity and that it's most likely a good practice. I will have to watch LOTR again to find the Christian themes though.

  5. To begin with I just wanted to say that I was like you early in grade school, but I believe I enjoyed reading because of the AR point system my school had for reading a book and taking a test on the book. It was an effective way to get kids interested in reading even if they just wanted the prizes that came along with the more points that you got.

    1) When the first Harry Potter came there was all of this up roar by fans that supposedly the movie cut scenes from the book out in the movie. What is interesting about that is if someone like me watched the movie first and than read the book we might thing that the book was just adding random stuff. I know that sounds stupid because the movies came after the book, but often I feel like people will take a visual representation and use it as fact and anything after that is simply an alteration of truth. This concept can be connected to the influence that movies have over audiences.

    2) This leads directly into question two and I would say that it is a sound religious practice to use fantasy fiction in movies to teach religious doctrine. As far as the business side of it goes, churches do not print their own money to pay for the buildings, electricity, plumbing, and other areas that are required to run a church. Churches rely on their members and the more members a church receives the bigger they are able to grow. The movies provide an avenue to show case a group's beliefs. Movies have long been a channel of communication in society that people sometimes buy into as truth. If churches can create a movie that represents their beliefs and use it to create interest in others who may become potential members than it is a great marketing technique.

    3) I would not go as far as saying that I know that movies can teach better than a book can teach because people learn in different ways. Some people like me love a visual representation because words can become challenging to understand for me. Movies are not necessarily a better teaching tool but they are a different channel of teaching.

  6. One of the most memorable books that I read as a child would have to be Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series consisted of the awful and unexpected things that followed the Baudelaire siblings. Every instance in the book took me by surprised with the dark tone in each chapter, but the film captured that feeling with some comedic moments.

    I think the use of religion in fantasy is another form of storytelling. I was not aware of the history of The Chronicles of Narnia, even as a private school student, but it shows the variety of pop culture artifacts that are available to people assigned to different religions and cultures.

    I also think movies can have a deeper understanding with the help of the cinematographer, screenwriter and director. The visual aspects of a book are still interpreted based on the reader's perception. Viewers can create a new understanding of the story just based on the delivery of the actors, the placing among the movie set and even with the color scheme.