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FIRST-PERSON (Phil Boatwright): Harry Potter vs. the kingdom of Narnia

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–I’ve been fair in my critiques of the Harry Potter film series, calling one “A masterpiece of technical craftsmanship and a brilliant example of rudimentary storytelling.” So, if I say to you that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” is the most tedious time-taker I’ve watched this year, understand my reaction is not solely based on a Christian-bound prejudice against the world of magic, black or otherwise.

Surely, I reasoned in my review, because this latest episode is laden with sluggish pacing, a lack of comprehensible narrative drive, and a cast that has grown less charismatic as they’ve matured, I think Episode 7, Part 1 would test even the most zealous of Harry zealots. (Review link: http://www.previewonline.org/rev.php3?3622.)

Well, moviegoers weren’t so tested. The box office receipts indicate Harry’s following has not diminished, but grown. With a little investigation, I discovered many of the attendees were members of church youth groups, despite biblical admonition about avoiding things of an occult nature. That brings us to the upcoming Chronicles of Narnia film, which also toys with sorcery and has a witch as a villainous character.

Where the latest Harry Potter film is dark and muddled, the newest Narnia sequel is vibrant and clear. What’s more, the Christ-like symbolism found in the pivotal character of Aslan is fairly transparent. But is it suitable for Christian audiences?

Those who don’t believe in the powers of the occult roll their eyes at any warning concerning youngsters playing with ethereal matters they do not fully comprehend. A secular worldview never considers demonic forces as a reality, let alone associates Satanic misguiding with stories aimed at children. I would, however, remind those seeking a relationship with God through Christ that Wicca, a fast-growing religion, is a cult that denies Christ, and, therefore, should be taken seriously as anti-Christ.

Arguably, perceptive children can view such material without succumbing to the snare of the occult, but there are those who view films such as 1996’s “The Craft” and find themselves drawn to experimenting with the supernatural. Unhappy at home, unpopular at school, frustrated with the trials of life, many young ones seek solace in something supernatural. And since Christianity often seems a part of their parents’ established world, some teens rebel by delving into fortunetelling or experimenting with incantations in hope of finding meaning. Once ensconced in that dark culture, it suddenly governs their lives and ultimately destroys their souls.

In a television special entitled “Hollywood Spirituality,” which aired several years ago on the E! Entertainment channel, Raven Mounauni, a professing witch and owner of an occult paraphernalia store, credited The Craft with inspiring young women to explore the world of witches. “You can always tell when The Craft has been on TV, ’cause we get a big influx of girls looking for supplies,” Mounauni said.

In Leviticus 19:26 we are instructed, “Do not practice divination or sorcery.” There are several warnings in the scriptures, both Old and New, making it clear that we are to avoid witchcraft or anything associated with the occult. This raises the question, if God is instructing us to avoid occult practices, how can we justify using it to entertain ourselves? Can we justify a witch as a center character in the new Narnia film?

In “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” three siblings found a closet that led to a far-off fantastical land called Narnia and filmgoers were quickly caught up in this alternate world laden with adventure and life lessons. Both the C.S. Lewis novel and the Walden/Disney film version were a step above most children’s fables as they were full of evocative analogies and spiritually iconic images. And while adventures, not sermons, took center stage, most churchgoers found that the story — as Lewis intended — served to open a rewarding dialogue between parent and child concerning biblical themes. Chapter two in the movie series, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” stressed action and style over substance and thought, but I’m pleased to inform that “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” gets back to a generous mix of both bustling battles and meditative metaphor. Still cloaked in action/adventure, the whimsical allegory is clear and potent.

There is a witch in the Narnia series — and she’s a nasty piece of work. But the character is symbolic. She’s seductive, able for a while to manipulate and deceive those who should know better. Sound like someone from the Bible?

The argument remains, can sorcery and incantations be used as metaphor without becoming beguiling? Must we avoid any film with any allusion of divination? Well, I’m not going to tell you “witch” movies to avoid (though admittedly, I am rooting for Narnia over Hogwarts). I would submit that it is naïve to think TV programs and movies containing witchcraft are not aiding in the rise of Wicca in our culture. That said, structurally the witch in Dawn Treader serves to caution rather than captivate.

As a Christian film critic, I’ve always been more concerned with getting biblical instruction in the heads of young people than with keeping Hollywood’s infractions out. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the apostle instructs to “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). If His children put on that armor daily, we can see through Hollywood’s messages or agendas.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad,” available on Amazon.com. He also writes about Hollywood for previewonline.org.

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