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Reflection 24: The Chronicles of Narnia 1

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Reaction Paper

Movie Flick – The Chronicles of Narnia 1

 

“I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again.”

 

  1. What is the Theology, Philosophy, and Logic in The Chronicles of Narnia

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The Chronicles of Narnia are a series of children’s books written by C. S. Lewis. Each book contains the story of a time Narnia was in trouble and how Aslan – whether overtly or behind the scenes – delivered Narnia. It is generally not considered a secret that there are Christian elements written into these stories. This paper seeks to sample and analyze elements of theology, philosophy, and logic (with a particular emphasis on theology) used in each of volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia.

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

 

There is an interesting scene in chapter five where Peter and Susan decide to go to Professor Kirke about Lucy and her stories of another world in the wardrobe. To their surprise the Professor does not immediately brush Lucy’s story aside as nonsense. In fact he talks the two through the options, and when they do not understand the following occurs:

 

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic in these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.” (Lewis, The Lion 52)

 

There are a couple of philosophical/theological elements at play in the previous quote.

 

First it is important to consider what logic is. Logic can be defined as “the study of the methods and principles used to distinguish correct reasoning from incorrect reasoning” (Cohen and Copi 3). Given this definition one can see that it is not logical to say that a place like Narnia does not exist because it is logically impossible. In the same way one cannot say that Christ’s resurrection is fictional or legendary because it is logically impossible. The argument can be defeated by simply insisting that the one making the argument answer the question, “why?” The truth is that there is no logical reason not to believe in the resurrection; it is merely that in human experience the dead do not rise back to life.

 

Second there is the apologetics argument that resembles this scene. Basically the argument is that there are three possible explanations for why Jesus made some of the claims he did: he was crazy, or he was lying, or he was telling the truth. This is often summarized by saying that the Jesus of the Bible is either a liar, or a lunatic, or Lord. In Mere Christianity Lewis says:

 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. (52)

 

The scene at the stone table is theologically important because it is basically an allegory of Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross. “Chapter 14: The Triumph of the Witch” records Aslan being killed in Edmund’s place on the stone table. In the same way Aslan gave his life a ransom for Edmund the traitor, Jesus “gave His life a ransom for many” on the cross (New King James Version, Matt 20:28). Another element that alludes to scripture is the fact that “the Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end” (Lewis, The Lion 177). This seems to remind of Matthew 27:51: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (See also Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45). Then when Aslan is seen alive again this alludes to the resurrection accounts of Christ in all four gospels.

 

In chapter sixteen Aslan breathes on the “statues” of the people/creatures that the Witch turned to stone to give them new life. After he had revived some he said, “Now inside of this house! … Look alive, everyone. Up stairs and down stairs and in my lady’s chamber! Leave no corner unsearched. You never know where some poor prisoner may be concealed” (Lewis, The Lion 187). This may well allude to John 20:22 when the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples and “He breathed on them, and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Holy Spirit brings new life, much like the breath of Aslan, and believers are sent into every corner of the world to bring good news just like Aslan sent those he restored to search every corner of the house to find more prisoners to be made alive.

 

 

The Last Battle

 

One of the most interesting quotes from The Last Battle is:

 

Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That’s why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash. (Lewis,40)

 

This is a belief that is growing stronger in modern American society, or else that because there are so many religions making claims on truth one can never know which one is right. Frequently used is an analogy of a mountain with God at the top:

 

God resides on the top of a steep mountain. At the base of the mountain are individuals who try to get up to him by taking different paths. Some paths are winding, while others take a more direct route. Eventually all converge at the same location – God. (Moreland and Muehlhoff 47)

The mountain argues the same point that the Ape argues in the quote from The Last Battle, that all gods are the same and to say that someone else is wrong is silly. Later in the book Lewis makes it clear that Tash and Aslan are not the same: “Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false” (Last Battle 205).

 

Conclusion

 

Though The Chronicles of Narnia are a series of children’s books, Lewis included various theological and philosophical issues in the stories. This is a great strength of the series, at least in this author’s opinion. For the adult reading these stories can aid in visualizing some of the issues that Lewis brings into the stories, thus making them more concrete. For children these stories can serve as an introduction to some of these heavy issues that are sometimes difficult for even scholars to understand – or agree upon for that matter. As a parent one can use The Chronicles of Narnia as a teaching tool to help their children understand and visualize some of theology. Basically Lewis took something he loved – imagination – and turned it into a tool that helps us know Jesus (Aslan) better, as in the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“Are – are you there too, sir?” said Edmund

 

“I am,” said Aslan. “but there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” (Lewis 270)

2. What is your reaction to the film?

 

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”

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“There are a thousand stories in the land of Narnia… The first is about to be told.”

 

Finally, the long awaited, much anticipated adaptation of the beloved children’s story from The Chronicles of Narnia come to the big screen. This second of seven books from the series authored by C.S. Lewis over fifty years ago creates the substance with which this film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe mystifies, mesmerizes, enlightens and entertains anyone who is willing to embrace it. Doors to your imagination will unavoidably be opened—as might a door to your very heart and soul.

 

A wonderful adventure. An illustrious biblical metaphor. A beautiful Christmas story. A captivating fantasy. From the very heart of renowned Christian apologetic C.S. Lewis is the story of four children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) who discover a world they would have never thought possible. It’s World War II and these siblings are sent away for safe keeping into the English countryside to stay with a delightful old professor (Jim Broadbent) until danger subsides at their home in London. But after an unexpected discovery in the back of a coat closet, Lucy introduces her brothers and sister to a realm of make-believe that is more fun than any fantasy and more real than life and death. It is a world that provides friends and enemies, battles and betrayals, family unity and sacrifice, and a promise to become a king or queen.

 

But is the film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe like the book? Director Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”, “Shrek II”) says that what you get from the book is what you will get from the movie. This does not mean Adamson did not make changes, however. But this movie has been made by all kinds of different people and companies, from all different backgrounds and walks of life and various worldviews. Did not some things have to change in order for a movie like this to be released into the mainstream media? Yes, there are changes, but ardent fans that have cherished these books for decades can rest assured knowing that these filmmakers remain faithful to its origins. The characters, storyline, themes and creativity all remain intact from the original charming children’s story.

 

For those who have not read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe there may be questions as to what kind of children’s story this is exactly, involving battles and betrayals, a White Witch and “deep magic.” Is this just more Harry Potter? No, it is not, and it is definitely a story for kids (perhaps no younger than 7)—as well as for anyone who is willing to become like a child and enjoy it. Like so many great stories, this one is not about glorifying what is evil, but instead showing the triumph of what is good. There is the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), but there is also the great Lion and King of Narnia, Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), whom Swinton describes as the “epitome of all good.”

 

One of the producing companies for this film is Disney, and as with so many of their children’s stories there is a noble effort to filter violence and curtail any incident that could be harmful or disturbing for younger kids. For instance, on different occasions when someone is killed, the incident is inferred rather than being gratuitously depicted. There are depictions of wounds being incurred during the furious battle scene, but there is no recollection of any blood being shown. The moments go by quick and should not be too overwhelming. The most frightening moment, however, is when Aslan goes to the stone table and passes through a host of scary creatures.

 

So what is it with this story that believers in Christ are so eager to connect? Is there a deeper meaning? Is the “deep magic” a reference to something else? Producer Mark Johnson (“Rain Man”, “Avalon”, “The Rookie”, “The Notebook”) says that so many of them read these books as kids and only thought of it as a good children’s story. But, Johnson says, C.S. Lewis was obviously a Christian, as well as a Christian writer, and states, “If you want to find all kinds of Christian symbolism in it, it’s certainly there.” Without going through the entire movie and interpreting point for point what those parallels are, suffice it to say that significant metaphors resound throughout this story, namely having the faith of a child, the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, as well as His resurrection from the dead, resulting in salvation for sinners.

 

Is the goal then for making The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to produce a “Christian” movie? Perhaps for some, but, as Johnson also points out, C.S. Lewis himself said that his book was not a “Christian” book. If you are a believer in Christ, you will most likely see the parallels to Jesus and the Gospel, but this movie can certainly be enjoyed by anyone who watches it.

 

If you are not familiar with the Gospel, but are somehow intrigued or interested, this story is a very delightful way to open up your heart and mind to it in an indirect way and cause you to consider the Good News as you may never have before.

 

Further, in light of the Gospel, it is highly appropriate that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a children’s story, because as Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, NIV). Lucy is the youngest of the four children, and also the first to discover Narnia. When I asked actress Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy, what she liked best about her character, she said, “I loved her because she is so pure; very, very pure—and I think that is a gorgeous quality to have.”

 

This movie is a faithful adaptation and provides high quality, wholesome entertainment. You may not get everything from the movie that you get from the book, but the essence is there. It feels like there is more heart that comes through in the book, but while watching the film there is still the feeling of a grandfather divulging a significant tale to his grandchildren. Fans of the book should not be disappointed, and when considering a movie for the family at Christmas time, this one will refresh and delight like the first fall of winter snow.

3. What is the deeper truth of Chronicles of Narnia?

 

“Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia. But don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it. And don’t talk too much about it even among yourselves. And don’t mention it to anyone else unless you find that they’ve had adventures of the same sort themselves. What’s that? How will you know? Oh, you’ll know all right. Odd things, they say-even their looks-will let the secret out. Keep your eyes open. Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools.”
-The Professor”

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The Chronicles of Narnia series was written by C. S. Lewis in the 1950s, when he was a high-powered Oxford professor and perhaps the 20th Century’s most famous convert to Christianity. An atheist from boyhood, he converted at age 33 to Christianity and devoted much of the rest of his life to writing about faith.

 

  1. S. Lewis was the great Christian apologist of the 20th Century. His radio programs reached millions and galvanized a new revival in the 1940s in the United Kingdom during World War II. His books includingThe Chronicles of Narniahave been read by 100 million people, many of whom have seen a deeper truth in them.

 

It is in one of Lewis’ last letters (March 5, 1961) to an older child, Anne, that Lewis most fully explains his intentions for The Chronicles of Narnia. Anne seems to have written Lewis about a scene from Chapter XVI, ‘The Healing of Harms,’ in The Silver Chair. Aslan, Eustace, and Jill are in Aslan’s Country and they have just witnessed the restoration of the dead King Caspian to full life and youthful vigor. Jill cannot understand what she has just seen, so Aslan explains that Caspian had died and so had he.

 

 

As C. S. Lewis wrote:

 

“What Aslan meant when he said he had died is, in one sense plain enough. Read the earlier book in this series called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and you will find the full story of how he was killed by the White Witch and came to life again. When you have read that, I think you will probably see that there is a deeper meaning behind it. The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I asked myself ‘Supposing that there really was a world like Narnia and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours), what might have happened?’ The stories are my answers. Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called ‘The Lion of Judah’ in the Bible; (c) I’d been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the work. The whole series works out like this.

 

The Magician’s Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Prince Caspian restoration of the true religion after corruption.

The Horse and His Boy the calling and conversion of a heathen.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep).

The Silver Chair the continuing war with the powers of darkness.

The Last Battle the coming of the Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world and the Last Judgment.”

 

“Not Just a Good Yarn. . .”

 

Needless to say, on the other side of the church-state-secular-world-divide, some people do not want the movie identified with a Christian message. They are trying to reach a broad audience and are trying to pretend that the whole story is just a good yarn. Frankly, we are happy that these people have made the movie, but we have also noticed that they have taken a hard stance against the real story of Aslan. It’s up to the People of God; up to the believers, to help people go deeper or as C.S. Lewis would say through his character, Reepicheep, ‘Go further in and go further up.’ We are happy that the people are producing the movie, but we don’t want what the real message behind the story to be lost. After all, C.S. Lewis once said, ‘Watered down Christianity is nothing at all.’ We need to use this opportunity, whatever the secular world says, to present the truth of Jesus Christ.

 

As a complement to the movie series, I have written Narnia Beckons, an in-depth glimpse of the life and ideas of the man behind the beloved children’s book series. The book is full of profound, enlightening, inspiring, and discerning information and stories about the book from which the movie has been drawn. Also included in Narnia Beckons is information about previous television adaptations of Lewis’s masterpiece as well as interviews with some of the key players producing the movie and leading Lewis scholars. There are also rare photographs of his English childhood haunts and profiles of family and friends.

4. What is the Christmastime reflections on the Narnia movie?

 

“To the glistening eastern sea, I give you Queen Lucy the Valiant. To the great western woods, King Edmund the Just. To the radiant southern sun, Queen Susan the Gentle. And to the clear northern skies, I give you King Peter the Magnificent. Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia. May your wisdom grace us until the stars rain down from the heavens.”

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This is not meant to be a review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe so much as a collection of personal reflections.  I saw the movie on Friday afternoon with my son. In general, we both liked it very much. If we were playing Ebert and Roper, we’d give it two thumbs up. The film did an excellent job overall portraying the essential story, thus helping Narnia come to life through the magic of computer graphics and the otherworldly countryside of New Zealand.

 

As I watched the film, I was reminded that the story was, indeed, originally meant for children. Thus the movie, because it was faithful to the book, is also best for children (not very young ones, however, because of the violent battle scenes). Though enjoying the film, I found myself at points missing the layered intricacies of The Lord of the Rings saga. Yet the child in me loved watching talking beavers and didn’t miss the sometimes confusing subtleties of the Rings tale. The movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is, like the book on which it was based, much simpler in storyline than Tolkien’s weighty masterpiece.

 

Though faithfully depicting the essence of Lewis’s original story, the movie adds and subtracts elements, as indeed any film adaptation of a book must do. It isn’t a slavish reproduction, but an inspired retelling of the Narnia story. I can understand why the filmmakers added some action that wasn’t in the book (like the chase by the sleigh and the river crossing) because the first half of the movie, like the book, meanders slowly along.

 

I found myself disappointed and surprised by one bit of the book that didn’t make it into the movie. For me, it’s one of the most moving and enticing parts of the novel. I’m referring to the dialogue between the children and the beavers, in which they discover who Aslan is, that he’s not a man, but a lion. Susan asks, “Is he – quite safe?” Mr. Beaver responds, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” A new revised standard version of this line made it into the film, but only at the end. I wish the original dialogue had been left intact and in place.

 

The film’s depiction of Aslan will, no doubt, engender lots of conversation. For those of us who love The Chronicles of Narnia in general , and Aslan in particular, I can’t imagine any portrayal of Aslan that would fully meet our expectations. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the ordinariness of Aslan. He didn’t seem to be much bigger than a real lion. His voice, which at first I kept hearing as that of Qui-Gon Jinn or Oskar Schindler, is far less basso and daunting than I would have imagined. Maybe I missed James Earl Jones’s Mufasa. If anything, I found that the film portrayed the White Witch as more awesome than the book’s character, and Aslan as less awesome.

 

My personal jury is still out concerning whether or not I prefer this portrayal of Aslan. I did miss the majestic King of the Chronicles, yet, at the same time, I think the film’s depiction gives Aslan a different sort of power, not so much physical strength as moral character and, in the end, love.

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Here’s where I make a lion-sized leap to a reflection upon Aslan as a Christ figure. I expect most of my readers will now that C. S. Lewis intended Aslan to be a Christ-like figure in the fictional world of Narnia, some I’m not reading into the text here. Christians believe that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human, the veritable Word of God in the flesh. It’s very hard, however, for us to keep the two natures of Jesus together. We tend either to make Him a powerful God who is barely human, or a genuine human who is hardly God. The Aslan of the Narnia movie represents a Christ who is very human, though still the King. For those of us who tend to make Aslan and Jesus bigger than life, this may be a good corrective. And it may be especially appropriate as we draw near to Christmas.

 

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God in human form, the Creator becoming part of the creation. Jesus was really born as a vulnerable human being. He really cried, really felt hunger, really felt pain, and, ultimately, really died. He wasn’t God pretending to be human, but God who became fully human. Thus, when I see Aslan pictured more as a real lion than a super-lion, I’m reminded of who Jesus really was as God’s Son, not in the magic land of Narnia, but in our world.

 

No depiction of Jesus, in film or books, in art or song, in poetry or theology, will ever fully capture the truth of who He really is. Every human effort will fall short of that truth. Every portrayal will miss the perfect balance of the Incarnation. Yet when the portrayal gets many things right, as does Lewis’s Aslan, both in book and in film, then it has the power to challenge us to know the real Jesus better.

 

I went to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe expecting to be moved by the parts of the story that have brought me to a deeper experience of the cross and resurrection of Christ. And, indeed, I was so moved. But, unexpectedly, I came away from the film reflecting on the humanity on Christ, and on the wonder of His birth. Thus, for me, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has enriched my preparation for Christmas.

5. How to you talk about Narnia? What is your communication strategy?

 

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

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As many of you know, I sometimes blog on two others sites.  Once in a while, if themes overlap, I’ll double-post, putting the same material up on two websites. As it turns out, today is one of those days.

 

OneTrueGodBlog is moderated by Hugh Hewitt. He has gathered a panel of five popular theologians from a variety of Christian traditions. Hugh’s job is to ask challenging questions. Our job is to answer them.

 

Today, Hugh posted a question related to the new Narnia movie. My answer to his question fits nicely in my current discussion on markdroberts.com of this movie. Hence the double post. Though I’m the first to answer Hugh’s question at OneTrueGodBlog, I’d encourage you to check back when the others weigh in. It’s always a fascinating dialogue.

 

Hugh’s question:

Imagine that you encounter an individual leaving The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This individual is not only not a Christian, he or she has never been exposed to scripture and has no concept of basic Judeo Christian theology. The movie-goer looks at you and says, “What was that all about?” How do you respond?

 

My answer:

Hugh’s timing is good. I saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe last Friday. I put up some personal reflections on my website yesterday. Now Hugh is stretching me to think of how a conversation about the film might become an opportunity to talk, not just about Narnia, but about God. (I’m assuming that Hugh envisions a longer conversation than one might have while walking from the theatre to the car, perhaps an hour’s chat over coffee, or something like that.)

 

First, let me talk about communication strategy before I get into content. If a person unfamiliar with Christianity, or familiar but uninterested, were to ask me about the Narnia film, I would not rush to talk theology. I’ve found that this approach generally pushes people away. They think to themselves, “Religious fanatic! Watch out!” and that’s the end of a two-way dialogue. If I want a real conversation with someone, and not simply an impromptu sermon with an unwilling congregation, I’ve found that asking questions is almost always more effective than giving speeches. So, if someone were to ask “What was that all about?” I’d be inclined to say something like, “Now that was one heck of a movie. What did you think about it?” Where I’d go from here in the conversation would depend on what my partner said.

 

I want to add a word of caution here. I’ve observed conversations like this where the Christian seems to be interested in what the other person says, when in fact the believer is simply looking for an opportunity to talk about Christ. I don’t think it’s wrong to seek such an opportunity, but it must come in the context of genuine interest in the opinions of the other person. Most people can figure out when they’re being set up for some agenda-driven conversation, and they don’t like it.

As the conversation progressed, I’d be most interested in what this person thought about Aslan. Was Aslan an appealing character? What did he or she think about Aslan’s sacrifice? At some point I’d probably ask something like: “Did you know that C.S. Lewis intentionally created Aslan as a kind of Christ figure?” This might become a segue to conversation about Lewis, or even about Christ himself. But I wouldn’t force the conversation in an evangelistic direction unless it was flowing that way naturally (or by the Spirit).

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The Narnia film allows people to peer into the kingdom of God without even knowing it.

 

When it came time for me to share my own thoughts about Aslan and his representation of Christ, I’d avoid preachiness at all costs. (I’ll admit this isn’t always easy for me because I am, after all, a preacher.) Nevertheless, I’d tend to share my personal responses to Aslan rather than treating the conversation as a Theology 101 class. For example, I might admit that I felt uncertain about whether I liked the “ordinariness” of Aslan or not.  If my conversation partner was attentive, this might well lead into a conversation about the nature of Christ as fully God and fully human. It would allow me to share some deep theology while, at the same time, admitting that this mystery exceeds my grasp at many points.

 

In my experience, what many people today find offensive about Christians is our tendency to pretend as if we have all the answers, and to insinuate that we’re better than others for this reason. We do believe we have some wonderfully true answers to life’s questions. Yet we surely we don’t have all of them, and what we know we know “as through a glass darkly.” Moreover, whatever we know about God depends, not on our personal excellence, but upon God’s mercy.

 

Now that I’ve said a few things about how we might converse about the Narnia film with someone who has no Judeo-Christian background, my next post will deal with the content of that conversation.

6. Can you talk about Narnia in a world view 101 style?

 

“If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.”

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In my last post I began responding to a question posed by Hugh Hewit: Hugh asked:

 

Imagine that you encounter an individual leaving The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This individual is not only not a Christian, he or she has never been exposed to scripture and has no concept of basic Judeo Christian theology. The movie-goer looks at you and says, “What was that all about?” How do you respond?

 

Last time I talked about how one ought to approach such a conversation. In a nutshell, I made an appeal for genuine dialogue rather than preachiness. In this post I’ll begin to talk about how a conversation about the Narnia movie might lead into a broader dialogue about religion and philosophy, and ultimately about the good news of Jesus Christ.

 

Though we might want to go immediately for the Christological Jugular Vein, and talk about the ways in which Aslan is like Christ, in actuality The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe presents the opportunity to discuss a wide range of philosophical and theological issues.

 

For example, I might start by asking my conversation partner something like this: In the Narnia movie, there’s a dualistic worldview, with good on one side and evil on the other. One must choose one side or the other, without much if any space in between. What do you think about this? Is our world like Narnia? Do you think there’s good and evil, or is everything a combination of both? In the exchange following these questions, I’d share my conviction that our world is indeed very much like that of Narnia, though I think the battle lines are often not so clearly drawn. I’d talk about how Christian dualism is not ontological (a matter of being), with good and evil evenly matched. In the end, our world, like Narnia, is the creation of a good creator. Aslan and the White Witch are not equals. Likewise with God and Satan. Yet because God is often hidden, and because Satan is a deceiver, we sometimes face a difficult challenge in trying to decide how to be on the side of good and not evil.

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Finding God in the Land of Narnia, by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, is a very readable and surprisingly profound treatment of the Christian implications of the Narnia story.

 

Another question that emerges from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has to do with prophecy. I might ask: Do you think there are prophecies in our world like the one in Narnia that predicted the defeat of evil and the enthronement of the four children? Where do these prophecies come from? Do they mean that all human behavior is ultimately predetermined?The whole notion of prophecy gets into the conversation about the nature of reality and the nature of freedom. If this seems too narrowly Judeo-Christian, remember that many popular tales involve prophecies: The Matrix movies, Harry PotterLord of the Rings, etc.

 

Closely linked to this question would be: Do you think all people have predetermined destinies? Even as Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy had a task to accomplish that was assigned to them without their choice, is this true for us as well? If so, how do you know what you destiny is? This line of questioning leads to a consideration of one’s purpose in life. It would allow me to talk about my own sense of calling, which is an obvious implication of my Christian faith.

 

Another line of questions suggested by the Narnia tale has to do with fundamental ethical/spiritual truths: Is there something like “deep magic” in our world? Are there certain basic truths that govern our lives, from which we cannot escape? Or do we get to make up reality as we go? These questions lead quickly into the questions of what makes right right, and wrong wrong. They also allow us to talk about sin as something that violates the “deep magic” of God’s nature, if you will. Ultimately, this helps to account for why God cannot simply forgive sin without any sacrifice on the part of a savior.

 

One of the toughest challenges Christians face today when talking about our faith is that so many people do not share our basic worldview. They do not believe in a creator, or in a personal creator, at any rate. Or they do not believe in a strict dichotomy between good and evil. Or they do not believe that there is such a thing as sin. Many people are not prepared to receive the Christian gospel as good news because they simply don’t accept the presuppositions (good creation; reality of sin; holiness of God; etc.).

 

One of the greatest things about The Chronicles of Narnia is that its worldview is so essentially Christian, even though the actual world of Narnia is so fanciful. In Narnia there’s a Creator; there’s good and evil; there’s profound meaning to life; good and evil are in conflict; the Creator is ultimately in charge; etc. etc. Thus exposure to the Narnia film allows one who is not a Christian to catch a glimpse of what may seem like a very foreign worldview. But this worldview must be grasped if one is going to talk meaningfully about Aslan, which I will try to do in my next post.

7. What is your response to Aslan?

 

“None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning–either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in it’s inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of Summer.”

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I’m continuing to respond to the question posed by Hugh Hewitt:

 

Imagine that you encounter an individual leaving The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This individual is not only not a Christian, he or she has never been exposed to scripture and has no concept of basic Judeo Christian theology. The movie-goer looks at you and says, “What was that all about?” How do you respond?

 

I began by laying out my basic communication strategy for talking with such a person. My next post focused on the broader worldview issues raised by exposure to the fictional world of Narnia. In this post I want to focus on Aslan.

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Once again, if I were talking with someone who wasn’t familiar with Christianity, I would not immediately begin by lecturing that person on how Aslan is like Jesus. Rather, I’d ask lots of questions. I’d do this, in part, to look for a convenient opening for talking about Jesus. But also I’d do this out of genuine curiosity about what someone else thinks and why. I’m always fascinated to listen to how people from non-Christian backgrounds understand things Christian, and Aslan certain fits into the “things Christian” category.

 

I’d probably start with something easy and obvious like: So what did you think of Aslan? No doubt any answer to this question, other than “Dunno,” could lead in fruitful directions.

 

One direction might focus on Aslan’s understanding of “Deep Magic” and his ultimate sacrifice in light of that understanding. Questions might include: Why did Aslan seem bound by the “Deep Magic”?Is there anything comparable to this in our world?

 

Then there’s a question that seems to undermine the pain of Aslan’s sacrifice: If Aslan knew that there was “Deeper Magic,” and if he knew the ultimate outcome of his sacrifice, does this minimize the horror of what he endured? I’ve heard folks say this about Jesus. “He knew He was dying for the sin of the world. He knew He would be resurrected soon. So, yes, He felt terrible pain, but surely His suffering wasn’t all that terrible on an emotional level, because He knew why He was suffering and that it would soon be all over.” I don’t believe this to be true of Jesus, for several reasons, but the case of Aslan certainly opens up this debate. It allows us to talk about why the death of Jesus was horrible beyond the physical pain. (If you’re looking for more discussion of this topic, I’ve discussed it in three blog series: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross; Why Did Jesus Have to Die?; and a meditation on “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

 

Then there’s the whole issue of the price to be paid for Edmund’s treachery. The rationale given in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for a life to be sacrificed is fascinating. According to the White Witch, the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea put Deep Magic into Narnia before the dawn of time. This Magic determined that any traitor belongs to the Witch, and she has the right to kill him or her. Aslan agrees with the Witch’s summary of the Deep Magic. Within the world of Narnia, we might wonder, does this make sense? Why does one act of treachery lead necessarily to death? Is this a fair price to be demanded of a traitor? I expect that many people today would consider the penalty to be far too strong, especially if Edmund “felt sorry” or if his behavior could be explained as a result of Peter’s meanness.

 

If we think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kind of allegory, though not a strict one, the Deep Magic issue helps to raise the question of why Christ had to die for us? Was His death somehow a payment to the Devil? This is one classic understanding of the rationale for the crucifixion, though it may not be the best one, or even a correct one. Nevertheless, the case of Aslan can lead into a discussion of Christ’s death, both its cause and purpose.

 

On a much more personal note, I’d be interested to see if a non-Christian moviegoer felt emotionally drawn to Aslan. It’s so easy for Christians, who feel the Aslan-Christ connection, to fall in love with Aslan. Our hearts and minds fill in many blanks left open in the book and movie. In truth, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe doesn’t give us much to go on when it comes to Aslan. He appears fairly late in the story, and we don’t get more than a few small windows into his character. So I’d want to ask: Did you feel drawn to Aslan? Did you feel an attraction to him as a character? In turn I’d be able to share my own feelings for Aslan, which are quite strong because they’re influenced so much by my love for Jesus.

 

Finally, I’d be curious to learn what a non-Christian moviegoer thought of Aslan’s strength and majesty. In my personal reflections on the movie, I shared that I was surprised at how relatively ordinary Aslan was. I didn’t mean this as a criticism, necessarily, though I’m not sure to movie version of the character accurately represented what we find in the book. Be that as it may, I might ask my conversation partner: Do you have any idea what it is about Aslan that Christians find to be so much like Jesus? Then I’d share my own observations, including the mystery of Jesus’s nature as fully divine and fully human.

 

I’m not quite done answering Hugh’s question. There is something else I’d want to talk with my non-Christian friend about, something that gets to the very heart of my personal response to the Narnia movie. It’s something which, I believe, takes down barriers between people and allows folks to peer into the heart of grace. I’ll blog about this tomorrow.

8. What is your place in the story of Narnia?

 

“And so for a time it looked as if all the adventures were coming to and end; but that was not to be.”

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I’m finishing up my response to the question posed by Hugh Hewitt:

 

Imagine that you encounter an individual leaving The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This individual is not only not a Christian, he or she has never been exposed to scripture and has no concept of basic Judeo Christian theology. The movie-goer looks at you and says, “What was that all about?” How do you respond?

 

I began by laying out my basic communication strategy for talking with such a person. My next postfocused on the broader worldview issues raised by exposure to the fictional world of Narnia. Then I wrote about how I might talk about Aslan and Christ. Today I want to conclude this series by discussing how I become personally engaged in the Narnia story, and how my conversation partner might also become so engaged.

 

One of the commonest ways for people to “get into” a movie or novel is by identifying with one character (or sometimes more). Usually we share of some of this character’s qualities, though not necessarily obvious ones (like sex, race, or even being human). For example, I have always felt a deep connection between me and Ebenezer Scrooge. Yes, I know that sounds bad, but it’s true. Now I don’t hate Christmas. And I don’t despise the poor. But I do know what it’s like to find my heart growing hard, and then to have it softened by grace. So when I read A Christmas Carol, as I do each year at this time, I find myself standing inside the shoes of Ebenezer Scrooge. (Note: I did some blogging on Scrooge last year, and plan to do some more this year after Christmas day.)

 

So, if I were having a conversation about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, among my key questions would be: Did you relate personally to any of the characters in the film? If so, why? What about that character grabbed onto your heart? As I’ve said before, I go with the flow here, with my chief purpose at first being to get a better understanding of my conversation partner.

At some point I’d ask: So, which character do you think I relate to personally? Of course I’d be bummed if my partner said, “The White Witch.” My guess is that a person who didn’t know me well might think that, because I’m a pastor, I’d relate to Peter, or that because I’m a professor, I’d relate to the Professor. These would be good guesses, but they’d be wrong. The character I relate to most profoundly is Edmund.

 

Now you may be inclined to think poorly of me, since I have confessed to feeling an emotional connection with Ebenezer Scrooge and Edmund Pevensie, not exactly the sort of people you want to hang around with, at least in their “before” rather than “after” existence. But I’m telling the truth about my link with Edmund. Please allow me to explain.

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Pecan Turkish Delight. Any takers?

 

First, Turkish Delight. I have a weakness for Turkish Delight. No, I’m not talking about the real candy, which I have tried and don’t need to try every again. I’m talking about what Turkish Delight represents in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s the temptation that delights and then betrays. It’s that which seems to fill us only to leave us empty. It’s that which draws us away from what is good to embrace evil. In a nutshell, Turkish Delight is sin. But it isn’t sin in the raw sense. It’s sin as temptation, as deception, as emptiness.

 

I am not going to share with you all of my personal “Turkish Delight” sins, but there are plenty. One is the need to control that which belongs in God’s hands alone. I seem to think sometimes that I can do a better job than Almighty running things. I’m lured into a kind of autocracy, and it feels powerful. But, inevitably, my wisdom fails and my personal resources run out. I realize that what I found so enticing was taking me further and further away from what my heart most desires and what I most need: life under God’s sovereignty.

 

So when Edmund wants more and more Turkish Delight, and when he even comes to betray his siblings partly because of this obsession, I can relate. And I can also relate to the shocking devastation when he comes to realize what his passion for Turkish Delight has done to him and those he loves.

 

I know I’m not alone in my weakness for Turkish Delight. As a pastor, I meet with many who share this frailty. People throw away their families for the Turkish Delight of financial success, or for the momentary pleasures of adultery. They sacrifice their souls for accomplishments that never satisfy. This happens all the time, even to “good Christian folk.”

 

Yet I also relate to Edmund as one who has been graciously delivered from the fate I deserved. You see, I do believe that, though I have not been a traitor in many obvious ways, I have indeed betrayed my Creator through my sin. And I do believe that such a betrayal deserves death. Thus, apart from a Savior, I am on death row, right where I should be.

 

Like Edmund, however, I have a Savior. He has Aslan; I have Jesus. Like Edmund, I have been set free from the Deep Magic (the wages of sin is death) by the substitutionary sacrifice of my Savior. As it says in the New Testament, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT).

 

One of the most wonderful things about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, whether in writing or in film, is its portrayal of what theologians call “substitutionary atonement.” Aslan willingly substitutes himself for Edmund, dying in Edmund’s place. The result is that Edmund is redeemed. So it is with Christ and his death for me (and you.)

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One of my favorite scenes from the book and movie, though we don’t know what Aslan said to Edmund, we know this encounter changed Edmund forever.

 

Of course The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe doesn’t end with Edmund’s salvation, if you will. It also shows a glimpse of the new Edmund, the redeemed Edmund, the Edmund who is forever changed by his relationship with Aslan. I also relate to this Edmund, the “after” Edmund who follows the “before” Edmund. Though I continue to struggle with a deep-seated desire for Turkish Delight, nevertheless Christ uses me for His purposes and helps me to become more and more free from the power of sin. I’m not done yet, to be sure. But, with profound gratitude, I can see ways that I’m different because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

Of course The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe doesn’t end with Edmund’s salvation, if you will. It also shows a glimpse of the new Edmund, the redeemed Edmund, the Edmund who is forever changed by his relationship with Aslan. I also relate to this Edmund, the “after” Edmund who follows the “before” Edmund. Though I continue to struggle with a deep-seated desire for Turkish Delight, nevertheless Christ uses me for His purposes and helps me to become more and more free from the power of sin. I’m not done yet, to be sure. But, with profound gratitude, I can see ways that I’m different because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Talking about Edmund would help me, not only to explain some core Christian theology in fairly available terms, but also to share my own experience of being saved by the grace of Christ. This may sound preachy, but it’s not. I couldn’t truly talk about my own response to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe without sharing my connection to Edmund, which requires that I describe my encounter with the Aslan of this world.

9. What are 16 facts about “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”?

 

“And Peter became a tall and deep-chested man and a great warrior, and he was called King Peter the Magnificent. And Susan grew into a tall and gracious woman with black hair that fell almost to her feet and the kings of the countries beyond the sea began to send ambassadors asking for her hand in marriage. And she was called Queen Susan the Gentle. Edmund was a graver and quieter man than Peter, and great in council and judgment. he was called King Edmund the Just. But as for Lucy, she was always gay and golden-haired, and all princes in those parts desired her to be their Queen, and her own people called her Queen Lucy the Valiant.”

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In the 1940s, Oxford University professor C.S. Lewis struggled and fought to complete The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Little did he know that his novel would become a best seller, lead to six sequels, and still be widely read decades later. Here are some things you may not know about this long-lived children’s classic.

 

1. THE STORY WAS INSPIRED BY AN IMAGE OF A FAUN.

From age 16 onward, Lewis often found himself imagining “a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” According to his short essay It All Began With A Picture, the image continued to come to him until, at age 40, he said to himself, “Let’s try to make a story about it.”

2. THE BOOK WAS ALSO INSPIRED BY THREE GIRLS WHO LIVED WITH LEWIS DURING WORLD WAR II.

 

In 1939, three girls, Margaret, Mary, and Katherine, were evacuated from London because of anticipated bombings and sent to live with Lewis in the countryside for a short time. This situation seems to be the inspiration for the four children—Susan, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy—being sent to live with the old Professor in the book.

 

3. THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE TOOK 10 YEARS TO WRITE.

 

Lewis started in 1939 and finished in 1949. The novel was published in 1950.

4. THE STORY WAS FLOUNDERING UNTIL LEWIS INVENTED ASLAN THE LION.

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Lewis wasn’t sure what to do with the book until “Aslan came bounding into it.” He’d been having dreams of lions, and found that putting Aslan in “pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.”

Incidentally, Aslan means “lion” in Turkish.

 

5. LEWIS AND J.R.R. TOLKIEN WERE IN A WRITING GROUP CALLED THE INKLINGS.

 

While both writers were working on fantasy novels—Lewis on Narnia and Tolkien on The Lord of the Rings—they met every Monday morning to talk about writing. Others started to join them, and soon the group swelled to 19 men, so they started meeting on Thursday evenings to share and discuss their work.

6. LEWIS DESTROYED THE FIRST VERSION OF THE BOOK BECAUSE HIS FRIENDS DIDN’T LIKE IT.

 

Before 1947, Lewis wrote a draft of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with four children named Ann, Martin, Rose, and Peter. The reaction of his friends to the story was discouraging, to say the least. He said in a letter, “It was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it.”

 

7. LUCY IS A REAL PERSON.

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Lucy is based on Lucy Barfield, Lewis’s goddaughter, and the daughter of Owen Barfield. She was 4 years old when he started the book and 14 when he finished it.

 

In the dedication to Lucy, he said, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it.”

 

8. THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE IS A “MAGICAL DOORWAY” STORY.

 

As the term suggests, this is a story where a door or other opening allows a character to leave the real world and enter a magical world. Other magical doorways include the rabbit hole that Alice falls down in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter series.

 

1.      THE BOOK IS ALSO A CHRISTIAN ALLEGORY—OR IS IT?

The Christian themes in the story are overt. Aslan, as a stand-in for Christ, allows himself to be sacrificed by the evil White Witch and is then resurrected, which brings salvation to Narnia. This follows Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.

 

But in a 1962 letter, Lewis said the book was not an allegory so much as a “supposal,” as in: “Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?”

 

10. LEWIS JUMBLED ALL KINDS OF MYTHOLOGY INTO THE BOOK.

 

Narnia draws on Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, Irish and British fairy tales, Germanic folklore, and Arthurian romance, just to name a few. Even Santa Claus makes an appearance.

 

11. THE WHITE WITCH IS BASED ON THE SNOW QUEEN BY HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN.

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Like the Snow Queen, the White Witch is a tall woman dressed in white who is capable of freezing people—the Snow Queen turns their hearts to ice and the White Witch turns people to stone. Both women bring a boy onto a sled and destroy him emotionally through evil magic.

12. THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE IS CHRONOLOGICALLY THE SECOND BOOK IN THE NARNIA SERIES.

 

While The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written first, The Magician’s Nephew is chronologically where the story starts. Many people read The Magician’s Nephew first so they can go from the earliest to the latest point in the series.

13. PROFESSOR KIRKE WAS BASED ON LEWIS’S HIGH SCHOOL TUTOR.

 

The Professor, whose name is Digory Kirke, is based on William T. Kirkpatrick, who tutored Lewis when he was a teenager. Along with appearing in the first book, the Professor is the protagonist of The Magician’s Nephew and also appears in The Last Battle.

14. TOLKIEN DIDN’T LIKE THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE.

 

In 1949, Lewis read a completed manuscript of the book to Tolkien and was surprised by his negative reaction. There’s much speculation as to why he disliked the book so much. Some say it’s because Tolkien didn’t like how Lewis mixed different mythologies together. Another theory is that Tolkien was threatened by the speed with which Lewis assembled his world, when Tolkien was so meticulous in his invention of Middle-earth.

The truth is, we may never know the details. Tolkien said in a letter: “It is sad that ‘Narnia’ and all that part of C.S.L.’s work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his.” Which tells us almost nothing.

15. IT’S ONE OF THE BEST-SELLING BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

 

It’s difficult to rank all-time best-selling books, but when people try, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is usually on the list.

 

In any case, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is ridiculously successful. It has been translated to 47 languages and adapted for TV, stage, radio, and the silver screen. In 2005, it was made into a big-budget movie starring Tilda Swinton and James McAvoy.

 

16. TURKISH DELIGHT IS REAL CANDY YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF.

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The White Witch gives Edmund magical Turkish delight that he can’t stop eating. “Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.” You can whip up a batch yourself (minus the magic, of course) with the recipe.

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This entry was posted on December 18, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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