Posted by Curtis Westman on December 5, 2010
Well, gee, I feel a little vindicated.
Everyone told me that studying both English Literature and Comparative Religion would get me nowhere. They told me that outside of the classroom, I would never use both disciplines simultaneously. People told me how dumb I looked reading Portrait of a Lady in a kurta. Dear doubters: everyone looks dumb reading Henry James. That’s what Henry James is.
I admit, I believed some of the jibes and jeers, some of the rude spitting and cursing. I think I truly started to doubt myself the day some of the faceless goons that punctuate the tale of woe that is my schooling began screaming a repetitive swell of “stop ruminating upon yourself” while hitting me with my books. It was tragic, really. I told them that technically they were using a mantra and subsequently blacked out for three days. I woke up tied to a flag pole with my underpants missing and discovered, written in lipstick, the words “ATHEIST APOSTACY” on my chest and “I <3 CHUCK PALAHNIUK” on my back. Palahniuk! It was humiliating.
But it’s my turn to shine. You see, Liam Neeson has made a claim that a lot of people are taking issue with. The Daily Mail, out of the UK, is reporting that fans of Narnia are furious after he said, “Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.”
I haven’t read Narnia in years, since I was its pre-teen target audience and the whole concept of religion was off my radar. When I read the books, I was completely unaware of any allegory. I hadn’t been raised Christian and even the basics were lost on me. In a way, I envy that younger me, because I got to enjoy the Narnia books for something simpler – a wild adventure in a fantasy world. To be honest, I think Narnia kindled in me a love for fantasy in general, which, of course, was soon murdered by discovering that my beloved twenty-six Xanth novels were written by a pederast and that even at the age of 10, I was a bit of a pederast for having read them.
Here’s the problem: C.S Lewis, the author of the Narnia series had, in his lifetime, specifically said that the series was about Christ. Lewis, of course, must be rolling in his grave at Neeson’s remarks, right?
Well, here’s my honest opinion as a literary scholar: Who cares what C.S. Lewis would think? He’s dead! All that remains of him are his novels, his writings about his novels, and his billionaire estate that can get offended when somebody uses the I-word in juxtaposition with their meal ticket. The very fact of the matter is that if you’ve written a work of fiction and published it, its interpretation no longer belongs to you. Everyone is free to interpret it as they like. That’s the whole fun of literary criticism.
Even though, in this case, we’re surprisingly privy to the author’s intention, that doesn’t mean a thing. The author’s intention is moot. A body of work whether it is written for children (C.S. Lewis) or adults (Virginia Woolf), about Christians (C.S. Lewis) or Muslims (Salman Rushdie) or for the intended consumption by human beings (C.S. Lewis) or large rocks (Stephanie Meyer), it is published into the world to be read and interpreted by that world. The only thing that belongs to the author is accreditation and accolade.
What’s worse is that all the outrage really ignores an important part of Neeson’s quotation: that sticky little situation where he says, “…he also symbolises for me…”
Neeson isn’t claiming ownership of anything. He’s not taking your cross out from around your neck and replacing it with a crescent moon. He’s talking about his own interpretation of a character. To argue otherwise is pointless.
Finally, and I’m sure this is going too far in some peoples’ eyes, but being outraged over comparisons of the Christ to the Buddha to Mohammed is a waste of breath. The amount of similar iconography in all the world’s religious traditions is astounding, but of course people focus solely on their differences. That Neeson was inspired by the character as an analog of every religious tradition isn’t just some P.C. blather, it’s pretty strong stuff, contextually. Just because the Christ is the only one who was sacrificed and resurrected doesn’t mean that the values embodied by Aslan aren’t universal in the interwoven history of religious thought.
I mean, heck, I sure embody them. (Taking donations to build a church.)
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