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Narnia’s journey to the big screen revealed in ‘The Lion, the Professor and the Movies’

Marielle Hampe | Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” debuted in theaters in December 2005, Narnia supporters enthusiastically embraced the faithfulness of the movie to C.S. Lewis’s original text. Mark Joseph’s newly published book, “The Lion, the Professor and the Movies: Narnia’s Journey to the Big Screen,” describes the efforts of many individuals to adapt C.S. Lewis’s beloved children’s series into a multi-million dollar film franchise.

Since its publication in 1949, the seven-book series of “The Chronicles of Narnia” has sold over 120 million copies in over 80 languages. The series details the adventures of children in the fictional realm of Narnia where the children help the lion Aslan.

Walden Media and Disney co-produced “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and the second movie in the series, “Prince Caspian.” After poor reviews and financial difficulties for “Prince Caspian,” Disney left the franchise. Walden Media co-produced the latest installment, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” with 20th Century Fox.

Joseph worked for Walden Media for five years, and he played a small role in the development of the film. He wrote his book from the “perspective of a cultural observer,” he said in an interview with The Observer. “While I had a lot of private conversations and knew a lot of inside information, I relied on public source material for the writing of my book.”

Originally, Joseph wished to title his book “The Road to Narnia.” As his writing continued, Joseph said he thought it would be “neat to play off of Lewis’s original title, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ and to inform the reader that the book is also about the views of C.S. Lewis and the important role of the lion Aslan. It’s not just about the movie.”

Joseph crams every page with facts and stories about the primary people involved in the Narnia series. He reveals several unsuccessful attempts to make the movie that were vetoed by C.S. Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham. For instance, in previous ideas, earthquakes would replace air raids, the children would ask for cheeseburgers and fries instead of Turkish delight and Janet Jackson would be cast as the older sister, Susan.

Joseph describes Gresham’s attempts to keep any proposed script as faithful as possible to Lewis’s book series. The books contain symbolic Christian themes that Gresham and faithful followers of Lewis wished to preserve.

Joseph commented that he, like many other people, is curious what Lewis would think of the produced movies. Lewis did not like Disney and did not want Disney to gain the movie rights to his books.

“The Lion, the Professor and the Movies” reveals that some Narnia supporters felt uncertain about Disney’s involvement in the film. Joseph describes a boycott started in 1995 by the American Family Association because of Disney’s perceived tolerance of homosexuality and diminished representation of family values in Disney products. The boycott eventually stopped, but Joseph’s inclusion of these types of interesting facts provides enlightening behind-the-scenes information.

C.S. Lewis gave the world a children’s series that has endured for more than 60 years. Joseph began reading the Narnia series as a child. His favorite books written by Lewis are “Mere Christianity” and the “Screwtape Letters.” Joseph read Lewis daily for about 10 years, and he said that he “so would have liked to meet him.”

Joseph harnessed his dedication and love of Lewis to produce an insightful and entertaining read in “The Lion, the Professor and the Movies.” Any admirer of C.S. Lewis, “The Chronicles of Narnia” series or movie production can find something to appreciate in Joseph’s articulate account of the Narnia franchise.