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Religious themes abound in ‘Narnia’ and ‘Potter’

Molly Griffin | Friday, November 18, 2005

The word “controversy” rarely applies to children’s movies, as they’re typically squeaky-clean, G-rated films. The looming holiday movie season, though, has not one but two movies aimed at the elementary-school set that are sparking debate before they even reach the theatres.

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” are both inspiring controversy, and, strangely enough, they have a common root: Christianity.

Many Christians have debated The Harry Potter series due to the belief that it promotes witchcraft and the occult. Richard Abanes’s book, “Harry Potter, Narnia and the Lord of the Rings: What You Need to Know About Fantasy Books and Movies,” differentiates between Christian fantasy, such as the Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, and those that promote un-Christian behavior, like “Harry Potter.”

Others, such as author Connie Neal, writer of “What’s a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?” claim that “Harry Potter” does promote virtue and is worthwhile for Christians to read.

While some degree of controversy is expected around the Harry Potter series, the Christian-themed “The Chronicles of Narnia” is unexpectedly stirring up debate.

An unusual argument has been posited by Phillip Pullman, a children’s fantasy writer who authored “The Golden Compass.” In an interview with a UK newspaper, The Observer, Pullman claims that the books contain, “… a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice; but of love, of Christian charity, [there is] not a trace.”

Controversy has also arisen in how the film is being marketed. There are those who feel that the series’ Christian themes are being overemphasized, and there are others who feel that they are being downplayed so that the series can keep up with “Harry Potter.” A New York Times article entitled, “Marketing Narnia Without a Christian Lion” questioned the extent to which the Christianity was going to be washed from the series in order to achieve wider popularity.

Other groups see the “Narnia” series as an opportunity to open the Christian message up to new audiences. A group called Catholic Outreach has advertised for 150 coordinators to promote film across the country, and many hope that the film will be a success on par with not only “Harry Potter” but with another successful Christian film – “The Passion of the Christ.”

Both “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” will face critics and admirers. While debates rage, the ultimate question will have to be settled at the box office.