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New Books Tie Into Disney's Narnia Movie

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The offerings seem endless:

Finding God in the Land of Narnia'';The World According to Narnia: Christian Meaning in C.S. Lewis's Beloved Chronicles''; `A Family Guide to Narnia: Biblical Truths in C.S. Lewis'sThe Chronicles of Narnia.'''

From Southern Baptists to Lutherans to Catholics, religious-text publishers are scrambling to cash in on Disney's new release. And, in the process, both Christian and commercial houses also appear to be battling for theological custody of ``The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'' and of Narnia's author, C.S. Lewis.

"There are 45 to 50 books trying to ride the coattails of the movie opening," says Lynn Garrett, religion editor of Publishers Weekly. "In sheer numbers, that is unmatched."

Once worried that the story's religious content might be diluted, many Christians now see the film's opening as a tremendous evangelical opportunity, the modern equivalent of a foot in the door.

"For evangelicals, Narnia as a highly successful film event offers significant mission opportunities," says Phyllis Tickle, author of numerous books on Christian spirituality, and former religion editor for Publishers Weekly.

"Lewis and his work come bearing gifts - including the cachet of enormous intellectual credibility, high critical regard and unquestioned academic standing," she says.

Charisma and Christianity Today magazines, the Time and Newsweek of the evangelical world, have Narnia-related covers this month. Even the current New Yorker features an essay on Lewis.

"Evangelicals are used to getting beaten up by the intellectual elite," says Jonathan Rogers, author of ``The World According to Narnia: Christian Meaning in C.S. Lewis's Beloved Chronicles,'' and himself an evangelical.

"Lewis is a guy who's on our side," Rogers says. "He expresses truth of Christianity in a cogent, forceful, powerful way that appeals to us. He understood the power of a well-turned phrase and a well-drawn image."

Sophisticated Christians - and those familiar with Lewis' theological writings, Mere Christianity in particular - instantly recognize the redemption and Resurrection motifs in ``The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.'' But the "unchurched" and the non-Christians might not. For them it may simply be a charming tale, as much magical and mythological as religious. So publishers from various denominations are rushing in to provide explanations and interpretations.

If the first installment of The Chronicles'' is a box-office success, a cinematic franchise may emerge. After all, there are six more books in the originalChronicles of Narnia.'' More movies mean more books, which mean more opportunities for media-assisted soul-saving, and the buzz already has begun.

Evangelicals have not waited for the movie's opening to use the animated and live-action film to spread their faith. Their publishing houses have released or re-released more than a dozen "spiritual guides," study courses, biographies and religion-rated books in anticipation of the opening. Some of the authors are drawn from the faculties of evangelical citadels such as Wheaton College (where Lewis' papers are collected) and Hope College, as well as from the world of Christian broadcasting.

Broadman & Holman, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, has four books pegged to the movie. InterVarsity Press, a division of student group InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, also is publishing four new Narnia-related books to complement its existing titles on the subjects.

One of the new titles, ``C.S. Lewis's Case for Christ: Insights from Reason, Imagination and Faith,'' was chosen "because it is directly meant to present Lewis' evangelical take," says Al Hsu, associate editor at the press.

"It looks at how all of Lewis' body of work, fiction and nonfiction, points to God," says Hsu, adding that the book has been distributed to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's staff of 1,000.

Baker Books, Tyndale, Crossways and Time Warner Books' Faith imprint - all of which produce evangelical books - are releasing additional titles.

A former atheist, Lewis smoked, drank and, according to a definitive biography, had an unconventional sex life. And even though he did not believe in biblical inerrancy, the literal truth of Scripture, Christianity Today once dubbed him the evangelicals' "patron saint."

"Evangelicals are hanging on to Lewis as one of their own for dear life," says Publishers Weekly's Garrett. "It's not just a marketing ploy - it's a signal for them that they are in the mainstream."

Martin Marty, emeritus professor of religious history at the University of Chicago, agrees.

"There's no mischief there," he says, of the evangelical rush to capitalize on Narnia. "If they erode the line between commerce and faith, so does everybody."

But some are disturbed by this trend.

Lewis could be in danger of being "kidnapped by the Evangelical Right," according to the Rev. Clair McPherson of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in New York City.

Lewis "can certainly appeal to more conservative, even fundamentalist Christians," says McPherson, who leads seminars on the writer. "It's fine for him to appeal to them, for them to quote him. The only thing they shouldn't do is to claim him. Because he is just as valid for more progressive Christians."

Lewis was careful to keep his own affiliation in the background of his writing, McPherson says.

"If any denomination had a claim on him, it was the Episcopal Church, the worldwide Anglican Communion," says McPherson. "He was a very centrist member of the Church of England. Lewis really wanted to belong to everybody, not one specific party or any exclusive denomination. He wanted to represent the central theological tradition of the Christian church worldwide."

Despite Lewis' background, mainline and mainstream religious publishers are so far trailing the more conservative houses.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Augsburg Fortress Press has one title, The Magic Never Ends: The Life and Work of C.S. Lewis.'' Harper/San Francisco, a division of HarperCollins, hasThe Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis.''

Several Roman Catholic presses and seminaries have joined the fray.

Ignatius Press has just released Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him,'' the latest in a large number of titles. Ascension Press is featuringA Guide to Narnia: 100 Questions About The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.''

Groups such as Catholic Exchange and Catholic Outreach have produced study guides, based on the movie, for young people.

But some authors are steering clear of explicit evangelism.

"I went a different way," says David C. Downing, author of ``Into The Wardobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles.''

"Lewis said he wanted his stories to sneak by the `watchful dragons' of Sunday school lessons and stained-glass windows," according to Downing, a professor of English at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster, Pa.

"I'm afraid that some of these explicit Christian interpretations may waken those watchful dragons," says Downing, also the author of `Into the Regions of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis.'' "He wanted tobaptize the imaginations' of his readers. That's different from evangelizing or proselytizing."


(c) 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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