144: Must Religious Leaders Be Human? Caspian’s Friends Pop Up from Narnia!

Today’s story is a perfect transition from our urgent questions this week about religious leadership — and the concern early next week about faith and environment as millions of us think ahead to Earth Day on April 22.
    The fact is that for millions of fans of “The Chronicles of Narnia” — and other spiritual fantasies written by C.S. Lewis and his friends (including J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”) — the role of religious leadership may spring from characters who aren’t even human.

    Here’s a great example: A Facebook fan of C.S. Lewis, a high-school student who is part of the Narnia group on that social-networking site, wrote quite passionately about the heroic little mouse pictured above. His name is Reepicheep and you’ll meet him May 16 when the latest Narnia film debuts in theaters.
    This young woman on Facebook wrote that Reepicheep is “the charmingest, most unyieldingly honorable, and the most memorable” of all the Narnian characters.

    Or, here’s another example: when I invited people within the Facebook Narnia group to share a few words about their love of this fantasy realm, I got an eloquent note from Kevin Gale, a 20-year-old Purdue student studying business and working his way through school as a clerk at a Speedway Super America station in Indiana.
    Kevin said he was attending “a big Christian concert alive fest” back in 2005 and saw advertisements for the first Narnia movie: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
    Now, at that point, Kevin already was a high school student — not a younger child, as many Narnia fans are when they first encounter these stories. He picked up a copy of the Chronicles — but suggests that probably he wouldn’t have gotten around to reading these books.
    “Then something interesting happened,” Kevin wrote to me. “IT RAINED,” and he capitalized those two words to stress that this was a key moment in his life. “While it was raining, I sat down, drank a big glass of iced tea in my Mom’s garage and read the first few chapters of ‘The Magician’s Nephew.’
    “I was hooked. I saw the movie in theaters twice and bought the movie. I keep hearing from people who read the book when they were just little kids; but the funny thing is that I find myself completely mesmerized at 20, reading all the books, watching LWW and eagerly anticipating Prince Caspian to the sad extent that I check the web-sites daily for any news.
    “There isn’t a whole lot of imagination in the world today and I have found a great escape in CON.”
    (Get that? LWW is Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. CON is Chronicles of Narnia.)

    Let me underline that my own life-long love of Narnia — and notes like the one that Kevin sent me — don’t place us in a strange minority as adults. In fact, to back up our impressions, I cruised over to the literary social-networking site, GoodReads, and checked out the collective wisdom on Narnia.
    GoodReads is primarily a site for adults who love literature and Narnia has earned a collective rating of 4.33 out of a possible 5 — which is an average score accumulated from 9,746 GoodReads users who’ve read the Narnian novels (and that site is only 2 years old, so that’s an impressive number of people to coalesce around a single set of books).

    Now, think about this for a moment in terms of leadership — sharing a vision that motivates people, shapes their lives, inspires them — and moves them to action. C.S. Lewis, the Narnia novels and now new movie versions of these tales are doing all of that for millions. And many of the characters in these fantasies aren’t even supposed to be human.

    So, what’s the best stuff out there, if you’re like Kevin and you want to visit “the web sites” and maybe visit bookstores, too, to check out the coolest Narnian stuff?

    HERE’S THE SINGLE BEST TIP that we’re going to share with you today: Buy the complete audio recordings of the Narnia novels done by the leading lights of British film and theater over a number of years. Right now in stores, you’ll find a few audio and multi-media options in the Narnia section and — trust me on this — you’ll never make a better investment than picking up this particular British audio set. Don’t be confused — it’s the one pictured here with this article. Click on the photo to jump to our Narnia page where there’s a direct Amazon link.

    Now, like Kevin, you may want to cruise some of the Narnia Web sites. They’re easy to find, but here are a few helpful tips on Web surfing to Narnia.

     The Harper Collins book site is pretty cool. I took the main trivia quiz on the book site and was honored to find a message from Aslan (apparently it was from the great lion, right?) proclaiming: “You have made Aslan proud of your intelligence.”
    Thank you, Aslan!
    The best recommendation I can make about the Harper Collins site is: Gather your children and go to the Narnia games page within the big site. These games aren’t terribly sophisticated, but they’re fun and they feature — not the slick new movie imagery — but the beloved illustrations from the books themselves.
    Also within the publisher’s site there is a PDF file you can download with some activity sheets for younger children — including a coloring-book page depicting Reepicheep! So, consider coloring your own image of the famous mouse, if you’re a Reep fan. (Yes, some of us veterans occasionally refer to him in this more casual form.)
    If you’re not a long-time fan and you’re just dipping your toes into this realm, I’d also strongly recommend paying a visit to Harper Collins nicely designed interactive Chronology. It’ll help you sort out the various novels and eras and sets of characters with, once again, some nice illustrations from the books.

    The official Disney movie site for Caspian is pretty cool, too. Like most movie sites, its opening screen is animated — zooming visitors into a train station and playing ambient sounds the young heroes might have heard while standing on a train platform. And, like most movie sites, it’s easy to miss things hidden in the gorgeous graphics.
    The Downloads section of this site — which you reach by clicking a little “Downloads” link near the ceiling of the train station — offers a printable movie poster, wallpaper for your computer and AIM Buddy Icons made from movie stills of the Narnian characters.
    I suggest you go directly to the Group Activities section of the site. There are several “PDF” files you can download here. The best is a big file called “GA Onceuponatime,” which is packed with colorful, beautifully designed handouts for children and younger youth. Compared with the HarperCollins’ handouts, these handsome pages feature photos from the movie and lots of other nice visual details. Or, quite simply: They look way cool! (But there’s no coloring page for good ol’ Reep! You missed that trick, Disney staff!)
    Also within this Disney Group Activities area, there’s another interactive trivia quiz. (As you know, we LOVE quizzes here at ReadTheSpirit — and I scored 8 out of 10 on that Disney quiz. Feel free to email me and tell me how you do on the various Narnia quizzes on these sites!)
    And, of course, as most studios are doing these days with any film that’s got a spiritual theme to it — Disney provides information about “group sales” of movie tickets for your group or class or club or congregation. In the site’s Group Sales area, there’s even a very nice full-color poster and a sign-up sheet designed for your church bulletin board to promote the event!

    WORD OF WARNING, though, on the Disney site: I’d steer clear of the link marked, “Narnia Portal,” which hovers near the ceiling of the train station. I may have missed something in the back corners of the “Portal,” but I was lost in there for a good half an hour and found mainly multi-media advertisements for Disney DVDs, games and other products. Very frustrating to jump into something you hope will be waaay cool — and find salespeople lurking in every corner.

    FINALLY, today, in our effort to reach out to readers and invite you to help us shape ReadTheSpirit, we invited some high school students to review a couple of Very Unusual new HarperCollins Narnia books that, even though I’m an adult, I found myself wanting to explore.

    FIRST, we’ve got a review — and a demonstration — of the big new Narnia pop-up book that’s new this year. Click on the Video Screen below to watch one of our teen-aged reviewers show you the book. If there’s no screen visible in your version of this story, then Visit YouTube directly to watch this Narnia book unfold.

    SECOND, we’ve got a review — and a demonstration — of another interactive Narnia book. This one isn’t a pop up book. It’s more of an “activities” book but, once again, it certainly intrigued me as an adult. Click on the Video Screen below to see one of our teen-aged reviewers show you through the book. If there’s no video screen visible, Visit YouTube to watch this second Narnia book review.

    As always, please — tell us what you think. This is not the last you’ll hear about Narnia on ReadTheSpirit. We welcome anything you’d like to tell us about C.S. Lewis, Narnia — or related subjects. How have these books played a role in your life? What are your favorite characters? What other Lewis books have touched your life?
    Click on the “Comment” link at the end of the online version of this story — or, email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.


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