Aslan gets a makeover?
June 3, 2001 9:03 PM   Subscribe

Aslan gets a makeover? (NYTimes link, reg. required, sorry.) Apparently Harper-Collins and the C.S. Lewis estate see a Harry Potter-style merchandising bonanza in the Narnian Chronicles -- if they de-emphasize that pesky Christianity, that is, and write a few more Narnia books, and produce some plush toys of the Narnian characters. I feel queasy.
posted by litlnemo (39 comments total)

(I wish I had a more substantive comment, but all I can really say is . . . ew.)
posted by feckless at 9:24 PM on June 3, 2001

it's Sick and Wrong. it shows that the publisher has no conception of their own property. and their unmitigated greed. etc.

posted by rebeccablood at 9:45 PM on June 3, 2001

What is kind of freaky is that Lewis' estate is all for it. Of course, they aren't even blood relatives... but they did have a personal connection with the guy. One might think they would find this appalling, but no.
posted by litlnemo at 9:49 PM on June 3, 2001

I'm sure they just don't see the conflict. They may even see it as a gateway -- the same way that Disney insists its cultural whitewashing of myth (e.g. Mulan, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas) is really good for the image Asians, Arabs, Africans, and American Indians. Or perhaps the same way that the University of Illinois thinks that Chief Illiniwek is a proper presentation of Native American culture to the unwashed masses.

I have this strange image of Djinni Babies in McDonald's stores selling Islam ...

Anyway. "Oh bother", said Aslan, "I've got my head stuck in a hunny pot again."
posted by dhartung at 10:08 PM on June 3, 2001

This all depends on *how* they do it. If they bring Narnia into the 21st century, so to speak, and tell stories that do not dismiss the original tales while remaining separate from them, this could actually be mildly cool.

Kinda like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: THE NEXT GENERATION!
posted by ZachsMind at 10:12 PM on June 3, 2001

But Narnia ended with The Last Battle. Even with the temporal weirdness between earth and the Narnian world it would be difficult to do it.

I would guess that they might create stories to fill in the time period while the Pevensies were Kings and Queens of Narnia (like A Horse And His Boy), which could work OK, or create stories with previously undocumented visits to Narnia by the kids (which would contradict statements in the current books)... or add a whole new group of Earth kids visiting the Narnian world (extremely questionable... might work if the stories focused on Calormen or other places that we know less about from the original stories).

Writing new stories bothers me, but they could be done well. It's the perspective that they are taking on this that bothers me more.

Aslan plush toys, for god's sake?!

I loved these books as a child and still do love them and reread them often. Perhaps it's silly of me to care about this, but I do.
posted by litlnemo at 10:27 PM on June 3, 2001

It's like Scarlett all over again. God, can't anyone just be satisfied with a good work? (I'm not a huge fan of Narnia, but damn it, Lewis wrote enough. We don't need more.) Or, for that matter, the rape of the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate.
posted by Ezrael at 10:40 PM on June 3, 2001

While we're at it, why not a Lord of the Rings Prequel Trilogy, where we follow young Sauron when he was an innocent young lad, brought up by bad people and turned to the Dark Side? Oh, wait...

But c'mon. Speaking as a narrow-minded fundamentalist born-again Christian, Narnia was supposed to be a biblical allegory, and you know what the apostle John said at the end of Revelation, about adding stuff to the Bible and all. BWAHAHA!!!

So leave Narnia alone!

(Not that I won't be buying those sequels if they actually do push through... ^_^ )
posted by brownpau at 11:05 PM on June 3, 2001

Oh wait, I have an idea: The Islam Chronicles of Calormen. :P
posted by brownpau at 11:06 PM on June 3, 2001

When they issued new editions with cover art by Chris Van Allsburg, it was a step in the right direction.

But this is rape.

While they're at it, maybe they can update The Once and Future King with a Heath Ledger pictorial.
posted by donkeyschlong at 12:48 AM on June 4, 2001

With literary sacrileges like this, it ought to be possible to sue the keepers of the flame: even to have them stripped of their rights. It's like inheriting a stately home and turning it into a drive-through McDonalds. In fact, shouldn't there be the capacity to "list" literary texts while they're in copyright (in the way that there are "listed buildings"), giving them some protection from derivative works or other nasties?
posted by holgate at 4:51 AM on June 4, 2001

dhartung: don't even get me started on the Rape of Pooh by Disney.
posted by holgate at 4:58 AM on June 4, 2001

"What is wrong with trying to get people outside of Christianity to read the Narnian chronicles?" (Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson) asked, adding, "The Christian audience is less in need of Narnia than the secular audience, and in today's world the surest way to prevent secularists and their children from reading it is to keep it in the Christian or Religious section of the bookstores or to firmly link Narnia with modern evangelical Christianity."

Please. In damn near every bookstore I've visited, the Narnia books were found in the Children's Section. I myself read and loved the Narnia books before I had any knowledge of Christianity much less how I felt about Christianity, and the books were a present from an agnostic aunt. Gresham's statement either indicates a severe underestimating of the tastes of a non-Christian audience (assuming that anything with a patina of religion would mark the books as Not-to-Be-Read), a vast overestimation of a Disneyfied Narnia Series's ability to "pull" folks into Christianity (has anybody anywhere converted to Islam because of Aladdin?), or Pure Greed cloaked in Righteousness.

I vote for the latter. What a damn shame.
posted by Avogadro at 6:22 AM on June 4, 2001

This is the most shocking thing I;ve seen in a long while. I need time to attempt to recuperate and think it over. But what the heck were they thinking of!

Fools. I agree with the idea above about 'listing' classics. How can they do this if they've ever read the books?
posted by nedrichards at 7:36 AM on June 4, 2001

How did C.S. Lewis the spiritual property of evangelicals?

He, himself, was anything but: he became a very high-church Anglo-Catholic and would have had very, very little in common with a typical American evangelical.
posted by MattD at 7:38 AM on June 4, 2001

Aslan plush toys, for god's sake?!

Why not? He's just a tame lion.
posted by straight at 8:02 AM on June 4, 2001

"The whole children's market is geared toward anything new. You can only keep rejacketing something a certain number of times, and in the end you have to produce something new."

No, you don't have to produce something new, because every year you have a whole new audience. Just keep selling to the next generation of kids - if the works are good enough, they'll keep selling.

I really loved the mention in the article that the publishers are "developing the new novels" before even finding authors. That's preposterous - marketing committees do not make literature. Authors do. (Have a look at the travesty that will soon be marring the mall in Washington D.C. as the new WWII memorial for an example of what "art by committee" gets you.)
posted by dnash at 8:11 AM on June 4, 2001

has anybody anywhere converted to Islam because of Aladdin

i did, but only because i want to wear those cool pants like the ones Aladdin was wearing.
posted by tolkhan at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2001

In fact, the reason the marketers say that "in the end you have to produce something new" is because the stories that I read as a child -- and which my children will read, damnit -- are, for the most part, tales that are out of copyright, and therefore can't be readily turned into plush toy tie-ins without being Disneyfied.

So it's not a matter of "if the works are good enough, they'll keep selling", because selling well-written books isn't enough these days for kids' publishers, especially with public domain texts. (There's no room for big mark-ups on rejacketed Grimm and Andersen.) That's why, as the clock ticks down on the copyright of the Lewis estate, the "keepers of the flame" are showing this kind of desperate desire to eke out as much as possible from the estate's intellectual property.
posted by holgate at 8:41 AM on June 4, 2001

you know what the apostle John said at the end of Revelation, about adding stuff to the Bible and all. BWAHAHA!!!

Off-topic, but this passage surely relates only to the book of Revelations, since, after all, there was no "Bible" as such in the days of John. The Church decided what was Canon and what was not many many years later.
posted by daveadams at 10:00 AM on June 4, 2001

My (hypothetical) famous author stepfather dies, leaving an estate. Thanks to Mickey Mouse copyright law rewrites, his works are still under copyright when his brother dies, and the estate becomes mine. While growing up, the estate has mean a cashflow that's allowed me to, well, not worry so much about money. I could use some more money, though, and these publishers and their lawyers have a neat idea... I could do good things with the money, after all... It'll mean editing a lot of stuff out of Dad's books, but that'll just mean they get a larger distribution, right? I could do good things with the money...

Another good argument for limiting perpetual copyright.
posted by dws at 10:35 AM on June 4, 2001

Another good argument for limiting perpetual copyright.

Yeah, if they go into the public domain, nobody will ever change them, right?
posted by kindall at 10:44 AM on June 4, 2001

No, you don't have to produce something new, because every year you have a whole new audience.

Unfortunately, it's not the kids who are buying the books, but their parents, and they're likely to pick the new Harry Potter of the day over "old" books like Narnia. The audience doesn't grow over the generations, it dwindles.

Still, that's no excuse.

has anybody anywhere converted to Islam because of Aladdin

Are you kidding, did you see Jasmine?

Islam = babes!
posted by jpoulos at 11:21 AM on June 4, 2001

Yeah, if they go into the public domain, nobody will ever change them, right?

It's not a question of change; rather, one of "passing off". I don't mind modern redactions of the tales of Hoffmann, Grimm and Andersen, but I do like the fact that there are canonical texts that aren't subject to the commercial controls of a small number of beneficiaries.

The point being that literary estates aren't public companies, with the obligation to generate as much income as possible; the trustees should have a number of responsibilities in return for the financial benefits of retaining copyright. The analogy with listed buildings holds again: when you inherit a country seat, you have a responsibility to maintain its architectural integrity.
posted by holgate at 11:28 AM on June 4, 2001

Trying to take the Christian allegory out of the Narnia books would be like trying to take the Nordic legends out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Foad, thou retroactive despoilers of my childhood.

posted by Mars Saxman at 12:53 PM on June 4, 2001

Douglas Gresham has been a great defender of C.S. Lewis works over the years on the various usenet groups for Lewis. This twist does not make much sense other than the new publishing firm that has taken control.

I am huge Lewis fan. His adult works have been adopted as basics for all variations across the Christian faith, be it Catholic, Anglican, or Evangelists.

I do not understand how the Narnia stories would be worth much by stripping out the veiled (to a child) Christian overtones. The Narnia stories are great, not because they are full of Christian over tones, but because they are great stories of good and evil, much like Star Wars is a great story of good and evil. I had these stories read to me in public grade school as they are very well written stories. Next thing they will go after Tolkien's works as he was one of the Inklings with Lewis.
posted by vanderwal at 2:00 PM on June 4, 2001

Who ever said Aslan was a tame lion?

According to the books, "He isn't safe-but He's good".
posted by bunnyfire at 2:00 PM on June 4, 2001

I think that was a wee joke. The books are rife with characters constantly murmuring, "He's not a tame lion, after all."
posted by Skot at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2001

If there's one thing I've learned from nearly a decade of being addicted to Star Wars novels, it's to avoid these kinds of things like the plague.

Thank god I stocked up on my childhood classics a few years ago. And here I was miffed that they renumbered the Narnia books in chronological order.
posted by fujikodunc at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2001

fujikodunc - the renumbering had me peeved to no end. I had to turn to one of my Lewis reference books to get the order straight.
posted by vanderwal at 5:03 PM on June 4, 2001

There's no attempt to mask the Christian undertones of the original works, from what i can see. Just the new stuff, the toys, the marketing, and the new books will be created from a non-Christian axis.

The sensible thing to do would be just to let the old books be and not try to hyper market them, since they're already seeing a 20% increase in sales.

Did Lewis create the books for the express purpose of exposing the masses to subtle Christian propaganda? I haven't read his biography so I don't know. If so, maybe the capitalistic marketing machine is the updated version of carrying out this agenda.

By the way, didn't HarperCollins just get bought by Vivendi (owners of Universal?) or was that someone else?

vanderwal-- Here's what my seventh grade English teacher put on the board on the first day of L,W, and the W discussion:

she then crossed
an 'O' in good: G-OD

and added a 'D' to evil: DEVIL

in other words, any time you're talking about good and evil, you're talking about Christianity.
posted by benjamin at 8:26 PM on June 4, 2001

bunnyfire, you need to read the books more carefully, heh. They talk about Aslan being tame and not being tame (depending on the characters) *dozens* of times during the books. In The Last Battle, especially, the King is convinced that there might actually be bad actions from Aslan, because, after all, "no one ever said he was a tame lion".

Anyway, additional books would be a bastardization. Calendars (especially with more Van Allsburg work), plush toys and the whatnot would be great. The Narnia books were always my favorite kids literature, and such mass merchandizing would help introduce them to the next generations.
posted by Kevs at 8:56 PM on June 4, 2001

Benjamin -

Christianity picks up its good and evil from Judaism. The stories of good and evil permeate all cultures, religious or not. Basing all conversations of good and evil on Christianity is short-sighted (this is not a personal jab, just hopefully educational).

Read the Joseph Campbell works, particularly the "Hero with a Thousand Faces" and "The Power of Myth" and you will know far more than your teacher does. LWW does have Christian overtones (the most blatant is Aslan's death and raising from the dead), but to children it is just a great story and it is adults that add the depth to make the Christian tones stand out.

Much of the background for the setting of Narnia comes from a book Lewis wrote when he was a child/teen, "Boxen". This is many years before Lewis embraced Christianity.
posted by vanderwal at 6:31 AM on June 5, 2001

Maybe I'm wrong, but I got the impression they were only going to de-emphasize the biblical allegory in marketing the series, not change the text of the original books. It's pretty sad to see Narnia commercialized, and supplemental books set in the same universe will never be as good (see Star Wars and Dragonlance (probably Little House, as well, but I wouldn't know) in particular) as the originals.
posted by daveadams at 7:48 AM on June 5, 2001

Anyway, I didn't make the point well, but I don't particularly care for the direction the publishers and the Lewis estate are taking with the series. Lewis himself would surely never have agreed.

But that's just the world we live in now, and it's up to the owners what to do with their property, isn't it? The originals are still available, so we can still enjoy them as they were.
posted by daveadams at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2001

The article points to new children's picture books which tone down the biblical elements and to begin writing new books for the original series. The originals are fantastic well written stories that will hopefully not be rewritten at any point (the possibility of "tightening up" the originals is always a possibility if they make movies out of them).

This whole discussion has convinced me to purchase the hardbound versions as my paperback series is 25 years old and the pages are falling out of the glued spine.
posted by vanderwal at 8:44 AM on June 5, 2001

in his biography, it says that c.s. lewis emphatically stated that the narnia stories were *not* meant to espouse christianity to the masses. there are tons of works of fiction that involve god figures and themes. it's only because of his other works specifically on christianity that people proclaim his intent to push subtle christian propaganda.

i hate it when people analyze fictional stories and talk about what the author meant or what societal issues the author was referring to. i think i first developed that hatred when i heard people read all this christian meaning into the narnia books. they're stories dammit. children don't analyze stories for their deep philosophical meaning, they read them for the pleasure it gives them.

i would hate to see them rewrite any of these books. on the other hand, i know i would have loved an aslan stuffed animal when i was 6.
posted by brig at 11:54 AM on June 5, 2001

why does EVERYTHING need to be commercialized?

If Disney ever gets ahold of Aslan, I believe I will puke.
posted by bunnyfire at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2001

btw benjamin. i was under the impression that the HarperCollins monolith was part of the NewInternational, Fox, Murdoch monolith. could well be wrong though:

And indeed I've just clicked on the 'alright' and clipped this coiche quote:

The company is part of News America Publishing Group, a division of News Corporation.

Hope that answers your question.
posted by nedrichards at 2:40 PM on June 5, 2001

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