Monday, August 24, 2009

Critical Review: Narnia, Harry Potter & the Supernatural

By Hadassah Meadows

The Chronicles of Narnia – Specifically The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian, would be familiar stories to most children and adults alike in the English speaking world. The beloved stories of C.S. Lewis were created into highly commercial films in 2005 and 2008. The story focuses on the Pevensie children, ordinary children from our world who are sucked into another world where the children are forced to choose between the forces of good and evil. C.S. Lewis acknowledged the Chronicles to be an allegorical tale of the Christian Gospel, a claim which has become highly controversial amongst Christian and secular critics alike. One Christian critic states that “Narnia is a blend of what may be cautiously paralleled with the Gospel mixed with paganism and maybe Gaiaism.”

Despite controversy around C.S. Lewis’ motivations in writing The Chronicles of Narnia, the film adaption of the book has steered clear of any overt ‘religious’ overtones, yet has kept a large portion of the spiritual and supernatural themes. Does this reflect our current society, which although openly rejects or ostracises orthodox and fundamental religion, is willing to embrace the spiritual and supernatural with no qualms. A scene in Prince Caspian, (which some attribute its M15+ rating to), is in an underground cave, where a hag and a werewolf begin to call up the dead witch of the past. The protagonists of the story soon fight to stop such an atrocity, and it is made clear that some kinds of magic are acceptable, and some are not. The film clearly communicates that a séance to revive a dead person is an unacceptable use of magic powers. However, not all magic in the film is reviled, such as Aslan (the Lion and Saviour of Narnia) breathing stone statues to life. The film was a box office hit, and feasibly did ‘work’. Despite being pitched as a children’s film (and being released over the Christmas holidays), the film blended enough spiritual and supernatural content to keep in step with the current trend of our society who are eager to consume and experience the supernatural, paranormal and spiritual.

The Harry Potter series, written by J.K Rowling (first published in 1997) has been simultaneously lauded and criticised on a worldwide scale. The books captured the attention of the world very quickly after being published, and the 6th movie instalment was released less than 6 months ago. The first book, and film adaption, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, is the story of a young boy who is orphaned when his parents are killed while he is only a baby. He is a wizard, but remains unaware of this fact until his 11th birthday. The film follows the book relatively faithfully, and presents a magical world of witchcraft and wizardry full of excitement and adventure. Like Narnia, Harry Potter’s world (Hogwarts), is filled with mythical creatures and powerful forces of good and evil. Within each story there is a pre-existent villain who has the good creatures in the grip of fear, and it is only the children – in Narnia it’s the Pevensie children, in Harry Potter it’s Harry – who can set things right. This appeal to our culture’s sense of heroism, of good triumphing over evil, is strong within both films. Harry Potter also explores the spiritual and supernatural and the way power and magic are used. Just as the hag and werewolf wield a dark power in Prince Caspian, so does Voldemort (the murderer of Harry’s parents) wield power which he puts to evil use. Both films explore the spiritual and supernatural battle of good and evil, and make explicit to the audience that there is a clear distinction between these forces, and that each person has the capability to choose and distinguish between the two forces. Overall, Harry Potter is an entertaining and successful film which explores the good/evil dichotomy in relative depth.

In their appeal to our cultural longing for the supernatural, paranormal, extraterrestrial and spiritual, both Harry Potter and Prince Caspian highlight the shift from established religion to a new, more ‘thrilling’ form of spirituality. Post-modern society embraces these depictions of another, alternative reality - just look at the plethora of media available (Buffy, Twilight, Supernatural, Ghost, X files, Lord of the Rings, Medium, City of Angels, etc.). Harry Potter and Narnia deliver the action, adventure and supernatural storyline viewers are hungry for, which makes the films commercially successful, but are they communicating a balanced and unbiased presentation of religious gratification to the audience? On the one hand, statistics have shown a decline in the numbers of adherents to institutionalised religion over the past century, yet, as the pendulum always seems to swing back, will we see a shift back to our fundamental roots in Western culture as the ‘thrilling’ side of the supernatural proves to be unfulfilling once out of the dimly lit movie theatre?

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