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For the uninitiated, Narnia is a magical world populated by talking animals and mythical creatures such as centaurs, dwarves and fauns.
The story, published in 1950, tells of four English siblings - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - sent to live in an old country house to escape the London bombings during World War II. They stumble into Narnia through a walk-in wardrobe and help overthrow a tyrannical white witch, whose spells have turned innocent victims to stone and frozen the landscape in perpetual winter.
The seven-part Narnia series has enthralled generations of young readers; nearly 100 million books have been sold.
As adventure stories, their appeal is universal. But many regard them as Christian allegories and the heroic lion, Aslan, as a symbol of Jesus. Some commentators have speculated that Hollywood would water down the religious themes. Others fear the film will veer the other way, becoming a proselytizing tool offensive to non-Christians.
Gresham, wanting no part of America's culture wars, says some characters and events could be interpreted as Christians symbols. But Lewis didn't regard "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" as a Christian book, though his beliefs influenced the story - as they did everything he wrote.
Viewers can draw their own conclusions, Gresham says, but he promises the PG-rated film - financed by Disney and Walden Media - will provide wholesome entertainment.
"If you really want to approach this thing properly, don't go into the theater looking for symbolism. Let the magic of Narnia work itself on you. Look at yourself in relation to what's happening on the screen. If you were one of the characters, which one would you be? When we do that honestly, we usually find that we don't measure up very well."
Aside from the Narnia chronicles, Lewis is best known for spiritual works such as "Mere Christianity" and "The Screwtape Letters," the latter depicting an imaginary dialogue between a wily senior devil and his demon apprentice.
An atheist in his youth, Lewis became an Anglican after his conversion. But he cared little for denominational creeds, focusing on beliefs he considered common to all Christians.
"The real message of 'Mere Christianity' is let's put all these divisions, dissentions and factions aside and get back to what Jesus taught," Gresham says in an interview, his deep voice tinged with the accent of Australia, where he lived for 25 years after Lewis' death.
- Narnia film preserves author's values, says stepson of C.S. Lewis, AP, via AZCentral.com, USA, Nov. 15, 2005
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