Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Movie Review: Prince Caspian

For Father’s Day, my kids and wife took me to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian based on the children’s fantasy novel by the late Oxford don and Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis. If the previous film adaptation of Lewis’ Narnia series (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) suffered from a rather wooden, literalistic approach (with the exception of an opening scene of the Battle of London in WWII, so that modern children would know WHY the Pevensie kids were sent to stay away from their parents in an old house in the English countryside owned by an eccentric Professor), the current film takes far too many liberties with the book in my view. There are large omissions, such as Caspian’s upbringing with his tutor (a half-dwarf) and the way this leads to his knowledge of and love for “Old Narnia,” and sections created out of whole cloth, such as the assault on the castle. An obligatory romance is created.

The explicit Christian themes of the novels, which, however clumsily, were evident in the first film adaptation, are almost entirely missing here. Unless one knows the books, one has no idea from this film that Aslan the Lion is a Christ-figure. (His words to the 2 older Pevensie kids at the end, telling them that they cannot return to Narnia because they must learn more of him in their own world, are changed to say that they must learn to LIVE in their own world.) Scenes which are supposed to convey the difficulties of faith and discipleship become little more than trying to “believe in fairies” while reading Peter Pan in order to save Tinker Bell’s life.

Most disturbing to me is the extent to which this film version completely endorses the “myth of redemptive violence” which is so anti-gospel and which is the dominant religion of our planet–no matter what outward differences of creed people profess. (When people ask me whether or not I believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, I answer, “Which Christians?” “Which Muslims?” I can tell little difference between the violent God of John Hagee or Pat Robertson and the God of Osama bin Laden–and both are false gods–demons in disguise. On the other hand, I suspect/hope that members of the Muslim Peace Fellowship and members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, whatever differences or even errors embraced by either or both groups, are worshipping the one true God.) C. S. Lewis was not a pacifist and, in my view, this distorted both his Christian apologetics and his Christian fiction. But violence was never redemptive for Lewis. At best, it served a negative, defensive function–an accomadation to a still fallen world. The real action, the real way of redemption, is elsewhere in all his works. In a clumsy fashion (and too much seeming to imply a penal substitution view of the Atonement, which Lewis did not hold) this is conveyed in the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But in Prince Caspian, everything depends on violence and greater firepower. I think Lewis would have been horrified. I know I was.

I was also concerned that the Telmarines, the bad guys, were swarthy while the Pevensies (the human heroes) are fair. This seemed to give the whole a racist overtone, although it was relieved by several of the centaurs (all good guys) appearing very dark skinned. There are slight overtones of racial prejudice in Lewis’ original works, but also much evidence that he fought these prejudices and sought to overcome them in his fiction. I was greatly afraid that the Narnia vs. Telmarine struggle in this film seemed to convey a “West vs. Arab/Muslim” connotation. I hope that is reading too much into the film, but there is much pro-war propaganda out today that seems very Manichean in worldview–and not all of it flows from the U.S. White House.

My children enjoyed the film and there are good parts. The adaptation of Reepicheep the Mouse was great. Trumpkin the Dwarf is portrayed fairly well, too. I enjoyed it as a Father’s Day outing with my family. But, if there are to be further adaptations of Lewis’ Narnia books to film, I hope they do a MUCH better job than this one.



June 15, 2008 - Posted by | arts


  1. I was also concerned that the Telmarines, the bad guys, were swarthy while the Pevensies (the human heroes) are fair. This seemed to give the whole a racist overtone

    I don’t know, Michael. I found the books to have slightly anti-Arab, anti-Muslim overtones to begin with. I recall that was my impression way back when I was a young man reading these for the first time, even back then when I was a much more conservative person. I’m not sure that the movie distorts much from the book in that regard, but it’s been a few years since I’ve read Caspian, so maybe I’m misremembering.

    I LOVED Reepicheep in the movie, and since he’s one of my favorite characters in all of fiction, that may have colored my view of the film. You are right on all accounts, though, about the changes from the book.

    I always wonder, if they want to tell a different story, why not make up your own story rather than taking an existing one and changing it??

    Still, I liked it.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | June 16, 2008

  2. Karl Barth taught in the Dogmatics that the message of Mahammed is ‘no different than “paganism”’, a paganism all the more dangerous because Islam was able to instil amongst its followers the ‘esoteric essence’ which Barth equates with ‘monotheism’(2).

    In fact, Barth EXPLICITLY taught that Nazism was a new form of Islam:

    “Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill—with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam [emphasis in original], its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet.”

    I don’t suppose that Lewis’ and Barth’s “Manichean worldview” can be laid at the feet of the Bush Administration, though. Maybe they were just Islamophobic bigots who have failed to fully understand that Islam is a religion of peace. Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket!

    Comment by Jesse Rivers | June 16, 2008

  3. “On the other hand, I suspect/hope that members of the “Muslim Peace Fellowship and members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, whatever differences or even errors embraced by either or both groups, are worshipping the one true God.”

    This stinks of heresy. It suggests that a person can deny that Jesus was Divne, was the Son of God, the eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, and yet is still worshipping the same God as a Christian who claims these beliefs to be true. Why? Because they are both pacifists? I doubt John Howard Yoder would indorse such blasphemy. I doubt Ronald Sider would endorse such blasphemy. I KNOW Karl Barth would not endorse such blasphemy. But Westmoreland-White has moved oh so far beyond such narrow-mindedness!

    Pacifism has become your idol! A substitute for belief in the risen Christ.

    Comment by Jesse Rivers | June 16, 2008

  4. Michael,

    Sami and I watched Prince Caspian the other day, on one of our few “date nights” when my mother takes our son. It was, alas, a date night wasted.

    As far as I could tell, what little plot their was in the novel – it was decidedly not my favorite of the Narnia books, which aren’t my favorite of Lewis’ novels (I greatly prefer the Space Trilogy, especially Perelandra, and ‘Til We Have Faces) – was cut from the movie.

    I had great hope for the film on the strength of the first movie, as well as Douglas Gresham’s involvement. However the film was little more than a series of well-choreographed battles, exquisitly filmed, sure but ultimately serving no end.

    The moral of the story seems to be essentially that war is the only way to mediate disputes or to resist the violence and injustice of oppression. And, of course, you will win that war if you have Aslan (or God) on your side.

    I spent the whole film seething.


    I’ve read a few of your comments, but have not yet responded because

    a.) I don’t leave a lot of comments here, and
    b.) your relentless yet generally substance-less attacks would not reward the time I’d spend responding to them.

    However, I must respond to your last comment because, inflammatory though it may be, it is not without substance – even if I judge that substance to be based on a fundamental error.

    First, I have to wonder why you bother to leave the comments that you do. I understand that your mode of discourse is not uncommon in the blogosphere, but I wonder about your motives, as well as the motives of the countless other commenters who pepper their screeds with countless personal jabs.

    If Michael is in fact as you describe him, then it seems improbable that your motive here is to persuade him of anything, or to convert him to your version of authentic Christianity. That – an aim to persuade and, as such, to convert – would be a noble(ish) motive, especially as it might be coupled with a legitimate interest in his personal well-being. However, if that were your motive, your technique, like that of the countless others in the blogosphere searching out, correcting and rebuking those deemed to be in error, is questionable at best.

    Offering insult after insult is, as best as I can tell, an extraordinarily ineffectual tool of persuasion. Though I was please that in your most recent efforts you built arguments around your insults, even if the accusation of idolatry seems far-fetched.

    In you last comment you took issue with Michael’s suggestion that peace-making Christians and Muslims may in fact be worshipping the same God, arguing that such an assertion “sticks of heresy.” Forgetting for a moment the historical and ethical problems embedded in the use of the word “heresy” – which serves at best to use political power rather than the power of persuasion to resolve theological disputes – I fear that you may have misunderstood his point.

    He was not saying that Muslims of any stripe and Christians of any stripe share the same doctrinal commitments. Rather he is – from the position of one who sees, I suspect, orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy as at the center of Christian practice and devotion – that the way in which each camp, the peace-making Christians on the one hand and the peace-making Muslims on the other, structures their lives constitutes an act of devotion, and act of worshipping the one true God.

    Such a claim – your protests to the contrary – is quite consistent with John Howard Yoder, despite your doubt that he “would endorse such blasphemy.” This is, of course, because for Yoder no less than for Michael, the Christian life is defined not merely by orthodoxy – right belief – but by orthopraxy – right practice.

    Is this assertion – that worship and devotion is less about what one believes about God (though that is not unimportant, or those theologians who assert as much would probably not have devoted their very lives to the study of our beliefs concerning God) and more about how one lives for God, before God – is this assertion so threatening that one must trot out the tired saw of “heresy” to smack it down whenever it arises?

    Comment by sandalstraps | June 16, 2008

  5. I agree that the Lewis books had anti-Islamic overtones–but these seemed to be directed at the Calormenes, who show up most prominently in A Horse and His Boy and in the horrible The Last Battle. However, in the latter Lewis does suggest that non-Aslan worshippers could be worshipping Aslan in ignorance under another name (Tash)–as the author of Acts has Paul suggest to the Athenians at Mars Hill and Paul himself hints more cautiously in Romans.

    At any rate, I didn’t really like this adaptation.

    I will not reply to challenges about my orthodoxy from people like Jesse Rivers because, as Chris (Sandalstraps) suggests, the tone is simply to start an argument or to denounce, not to engage in real conversation.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 16, 2008

  6. Oh, my my aren’t we sensitive. Now you are telling me that you can believe (with Muslims) that Jesus is just another old dead guy, that while is body rots in the grave because he never really rose from the dead, that his revelation was superceeded by Mohammed and yet we worship the same God! All this orthoproxy stuff is just plain old works righteousness. You suggest that we are not saved through the RISEN ONE but becuase you believe in something called “pacifism.” Hence, the heresy.

    Sider ALWAYS REJECTS this theological nonsense. Yoder would have been appalled! He had, like Barth, his mentor, a high Christology. And we know what Barth thought about Islam (see above).
    You mumble on and on and on about “orthopraxis” to your little heart’s content but it is all theological bluster.

    As C.S Lewis might say, who gives a horses ass about the Muslim Jesus. THAT dude can’t save anybody.

    Or, as Paul (you know the racist, sexist, homphobic New Testament guy) might say, if Christ ain’t risen, Dude, your faith is VAIN. Muslims believe Christ ain’t risen, therefore….

    Comment by Jesse Rivers | June 16, 2008

  7. No Jesse, that’s not what I’m telling you at all. But I don’t suppose you’re much for subtlety, nuance, or – God forbid – reasoned, polite discourse.


    I apologize for engaging Jesse. Won’t happen again. My bad.

    Comment by sandalstraps | June 16, 2008

  8. Okay, this is my ONLY reply to this nonsense:

    I affirm Nicene/Chalcedonian Christology. I am a Trinitarian of quite ordinary views on the matter.

    I never said that Muslim views of Jesus or God are adequate. I think they imperfectly worship God because of their views. But that doesn’t mean that they worship a different God–any more than Jews do. (Yoder often said that one good definition of the term “Christian” is someone who, through Jesus of Nazareth, worship the God of the Jews.)

    I have had my disagreements with Sider and with Barth’s approach to other religions, despite my other agreements with him.

    I have NEVER suggested that we are not saved by the Crucified and Risen Christ! I do claim that anyone who does not embrace nonviolence has misunderstood who that Crucified and Risen Christ is.

    None of this is on topic and I am done!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 16, 2008

  9. Michael,

    As I study and teach my congregation about the great doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, it grieves me that you are among those who reject it. I just don’t know how you can read the OT and then reject what is clearly the fulfillment of the sacrificial system in the death of Christ. And of course, passage after passage in the NT teaches the the wrath of God had to be satisfied by Christ’s substitution for us. Sin is the problem Michael, and God is way too Holy to allow sin to exist in those who will eternally live with Him. He punished Christ on the Cross so that through His death we might live. And that IS the Gospel!

    I pray that you will come to see this and that it would radically change your unOrthodox views of our great Savior and God.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | June 16, 2008

  10. While I wouldn’t exactly put it the way Jesse does, he does have a point. I don’t understand how you can have rather “ordinary” Trinitarian views (Nicea) and then say at the same time that Muslims, who are radically opposed to the Trinity (as well as to the Divinity of Jesus) worship the same God. They seem to be strikingly different Gods.

    Comment by DON | June 17, 2008

  11. I’ve not seen the movie yet. I’ll probably wait for it to come out on pay-per-view. But I’m disappointed to hear that the dwarf-tutor is not in the movie.

    Comment by James Pate | June 17, 2008

  12. DON,

    Again, the claim is not that these disparate groups believe the same things about God, that they subscribe to the same theological description of God. Rather the claim is that they worship the same God. This is not difficult if one grants that the act of believing something about God – while perhaps related to or a part of worship – is not identical with worshipping God.

    Comment by Sandalstraps | June 17, 2008

  13. With all dure respect Sandalstraps, that really doesn’t make sense. Its like saying the worshippers of Baal and the worshippers of Yahweh were worshipping the same God. They just had a different “theological description God.”

    It is possible, after all, to worship a false God, is it not? Or do you believe it is NOT possible to worship a false God? If it is not possible to worship a false God, then there can be no such thing as idol worship. Or are you suggesting that whether or not a God is “false” is a purely subjective matter.

    In one sense, Westmoreland-White agrees with me. He says that the God of Hagee and Robertson is a false God. They are not worshipping the True Pacifist God of John Howard Yoder Christian Peacemaker Teams, and, well, Michael Westmoreland-White. They are worshipping a false “violent” God and hence are not even true Christians. He says, “I can tell little difference between the violent God of John Hagee or Pat Robertson and the God of Osama bin Laden–and both are false gods–demons in disguise.”

    So, Westmoreland-White proclaims publicly that confessing Christians such as Hagee and Robertson are involved in DEMON WORSHIP, then tells us that certain Christians and certain Muslims are really worshipping the same God, even though Muslims deny the Trinity, the Deity of Jesus etc. and you get upset with Jesse for calling this heresy. I don’t understand this!

    Comment by randy P | June 17, 2008

  14. 1. As I study and teach my congregation about the great doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, it grieves me that you are among those who reject it.

    heh-heh. Daniel said, “penal”!

    2. The dwarf-tutor (Professor Cornelius, I believe?) IS in the movie, just in a much reduced role.

    3. As CS Lewis notes in The Last Battle, those who do good and worship a God of truth and beauty and peace, worship God. Because any other gods AREN’T gods of Truth and Beauty and Peace. Even if they think they are worshiping another God, there is only one God.

    Now, if someone is worshiping a god of war and hatred and bile, THAT person is worshiping a false god, even if he calls that god Jehovah or Jesus.

    Or, in CS Lewis’ words (when the soldier who worshiped the false god Tash came to realize the True God, Aslan):

    “Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.

    Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false.

    Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | June 17, 2008

  15. “Now, if someone is worshiping a god of war and hatred and bile, THAT person is worshiping a false god, even if he calls that god Jehovah or Jesus.”

    oR ALLAH? So if someone is worshipping a God that has turned Jews into pigs and monkey’s or commands that those who are apostates should be put to death, or commands violent jihad to extend the Dar al Islam into the Dar al Harb, or treats Jews and Christians ad dhimmis–can one then assume that they are worshipping a god of war and hatred and bile. Sounds like the God of the PROPHET MOHAMMED. And not just of Usama bin Laden but “moderate Muslims” as well.

    Comment by randy P | June 17, 2008

  16. No big fan of either Pat Robertson or Hagee, but comparing them to Osama bin Laden– notorious terrorst–and suggesting they worship demons is just plain mean-spirited and ignorant.

    Comment by Dan Hollander | June 18, 2008

  17. been watching the TV–a spokesman for Obama has been saying that Obama has been clear for at least a year that he would “stike” Al Qaeda anywhere in the world if he has “actionable intelligence.” Obama is for preemptive military strikes against Al Qaeda. That means he is for killing terrorists preemptively.

    By Westmoreland-White’s logic it would seem that whatever God Obama worships it is a warlike demon God similar to that of Hagee and Robertson (and Osama bin Laden). But of course, his demon war-god is not as bad as McCain’s demon war-God since McCain wants to win the war in Iraq and Obama wants to withdraw from Iraq. Which is why peace and justice folks must support the candidate who worships the less warlike Demon-god Obama’s God) than the more warlike Demon-god (McCain’s god.) Obama for President!

    Comment by Dan Hollander | June 18, 2008

  18. So Dan, C.S. Lewis trumphs the Bible now, huh?

    John 3:16-18, 36: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

    That’s pretty clear – no Son, no salvation. And notice there is nothing in that text that says if you worship a god of love, you get eternal life. Come to think of it, where in the Bible is that particular verse, Dan? Answer: NO WHERE! It doesn’t exist!

    John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

    “No one” means “no one” – If you believe that “God so loved the world” means everyone in it, then when Jesus says “no one” then you can’t start exempting people. Either Jesus’ “yes” is “yes” or His “no” is “no”, but it certainly cannot mean both.

    Acts 4:12: “Nor is there salvation in any other [than Jesus Christ], for there is NO other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

    No Jesus, no salvation. Again the name of God means something and you cannot be saved apart from the name of Christ.

    One more – Romans 10:8-17

    But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”–that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation . . . for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

    Notice Paul’s clear logic here. Once he establishes that one must confess CHRIST with their mouth to be saved and believe that God raised Him from the dead (that’s pretty specific isn’t it? – I mean, clearly to Paul, one MUST believe in a risen Christ, not merely a good teacher), he goes on to point out that one must call on the NAME of the Lord (which is clearly Jesus), and then he addresses one of the major criticisms of exclusivism, namely, “what about those who have never heard?”.

    Notice what he does with this. How can one be saved according to Paul? Well they must call on the NAME of the LORD. But how can they call on HIM (meaning Christ) if they don’t believe in HIM (Christ)? And then how can they believe in Christ unless a preacher is sent to them? Answer: THEY CAN’T! So, then Paul makes a bold statement – which is that faith comes from hearing. But hearing what? “THE WORD OF CHRIST” which is “THE WORD…NEAR YOU…–that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, which is “if you confess with your mouth JESUS AS LORD!” SO IT IS CHRIST ALONE! SOLUS CHRISTUS as your Anabaptist forefathers whom you have rejected called it!

    So once again Dan, hear the Word of the Lord and repent! Your argument is with Scripture and the Holy Spirit who inspired it, not with me! Come back to the faith once handed down to the saints!

    Comment by D.R. Randle | June 18, 2008


    If you want to debate my Christology, etc., first make sure you have it correct. Look on my posts under “Christology,” etc. and not those under “arts.” If you want to debate Dan’s theology, do so on his blog.

    This hijacking of posts has not happened in awhile and I was very happy. If it starts back, I will ban offenders from the site.

    I will NOT have one of those blogs where people come to abuse me constantly and blogging is just a series of written versions of the “O’Reilly Factor” or other abusive trash.
    Stop it!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 18, 2008

  20. When it comes to the topic of “Hollywood’s?” interpretation of Christian themes, I just assume that they will disappoint me and I’m usually right. Don’t think I’ll waste my money on this one.

    BTW, I normally enjoy reading your blog. This series of comments, however, is reading less like a “written version of The O’Reilly Factor” and more like some bizarre mutation of The G Gordon Liddy Show and The 700 Club.

    Comment by Eyemkmootoo | June 18, 2008

  21. Eyemkmootoo, I’ll take your word for it. I try to avoid as much rightwing TV or radio as possible for the sake of my blood pressure and peace of mind. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 18, 2008

  22. Michael,

    Thanks for the post. My wife and I both thought many of the same things as you concerning the film adaptation of the second book.

    One thing, though – and I have not read ALL the commetns above – but the Telmarines came off as Spanish/Castillian to me, not Arab.


    Jon Reeves

    Comment by Jon Reeves | June 19, 2008

  23. “I will NOT have one of those blogs where people come to abuse me constantly and blogging is just a series of written versions of the “O’Reilly Factor” or other abusive trash. Stop it!”

    Fair enough. but on the other hand if you say something provocative and mean-sprited turn about is fair play. If you start with “abusive trash” like camparing Christian believers you happen to disagree with politcally (Haggee and Robertson) with USAMA BIN LADEN then you are hardly in a place to criticize. folks who live in glass houses…

    Comment by JimO | June 19, 2008

  24. Is the G. Gordon Liddy show still on?

    Comment by James Pate | June 19, 2008

  25. Thank you for the review Michael. You shouldn’t be sorry for your comments. Other bloggers (one at least of whom i see abusing you here), have written things that I find distasteful but it’s their right to express their views. There seems to be a bit of hypocrisy on his part.

    Comment by steph | June 21, 2008

  26. Sorry – I identified the blogger with the wrong comment. His comment didn’t abuse you. I think I was scrolling up and down and didn’t check.

    Comment by steph | June 22, 2008

  27. ..except he shouted alot and was, to me, distasteful.

    Comment by steph | June 22, 2008

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