Narnia is only one of the countries…

…in the land behind the wardrobe. Barbara Nicolosi, whom I can’t decide whether or not to envy in her status as the Catholic emissary to Hollywood, saw the rough cut of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and found it good. But if this one’s a hit – and I think it will be – then there’s going to be a powerful temptation to remake the rest of the Chronicles, and that’s where things are going to get sticky, particularly when it comes to The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle. Those books both feature the Calormenes as villains, wise and cruel, bereft of poetry and full of proverbs. And it seems pretty clear that the Calormenes are based on Arab Muslims. The Hollywood folks are going to have a lot to think about as they set to rejiggering…


  1. AnotherCoward says

    Powerful tempation? I thought it had been planned from the outset to make 5 movies encompassing all 7 books.

    The review makes me even more excited to see this.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    I’m sure you know more than I do about such things…
    Yeah, I’m excited too.

  3. A concern, but I’d always wondered why there was no outcry about Arab/African-resembling Haradrim from Lord of the Rings, which were portrayed pretty faithfully in the film. They didn’t seem to shy away from the allusions then.

  4. Matthew Lickona says

    Oh, there was some outcry in the English press – Tolkein as a racist in love with the Nordic peoples and down on the ignorant dark-skinned folk. But the Haradrim were just merceneries – every race has its wicked men who can be bought. The Calormenes are presented as an entire culture – their government (the wicked Tisroc), their religion (the monstrous Tash), their customs (Susan is destined for forced marriage, if memory serves). It’s a much more searing indictment.

  5. AnotherCoward says

    But there’s always Emeth … and where there is one, there are more, and thus no real all encompassing indictment against the Calormenes/Arabs.

    Plus, look at the rest of the Chronicles. Narnia was full of its own wickedness and bad religion, and we have six other books that go into a good amount of detail about this. The Chronicles are not about the Calormenes except for when they interact with Narnia. As such, the story would seem a little one sided, but that’s only fair for the purpose of story telling.

    So, sure, some people are going to complain. They need to get over themselves and look at the whole point, not just some of the fanciful details.

  6. Matthew Lickona says

    I dunno – in The Last Battle, Tash is revealed to be at best a false god, and at worst a demon. At any rate, he ain’t Aslan, and he ain’ t good. And he is the god of the Calormenes, the one they are always invoking.

  7. AnotherCoward says

    Emeth chased after Tash — or so he thought. And when Emeth encounters Aslan, he fully expects that he’ll be destroyed. Therein lies the whole point:

    Salvation isn’t as simple as name affiliation or national identity, otherwise we’re pretty much right back to circumcised vs uncircumcised. Salvation is a matter of the heart that accepts and lives by God’s grace.

    “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
    CCC 847, Lumen Gentium 16

    That’s the story of Emeth, right there, even if he was chasing after a God he thought was named Tash. That’s what makes the rulers of the Calormenes no different to those in the service of the White Witch or Prince Caspian’s uncle evil. But just because those people are wicked does not make the whole of the Narnians or Calormenes evil.

  8. Matthew Lickona says

    I’m right with you on Emeth. But I’m still sticking to my point that yes, Caspian’s uncle is evil, and yes, the White Witch is evil. Caspian’s uncle scoffs at religion. The White Witch sets herself up as her own god. But with the Calormenes, it’s different. There, Lewis portrays an entire culture built on wicked practices and false religion.
    Put another way – in Lewis’ world, Allah and God are not names for the same being. Tash is not Aslan – the ape pays dearly for telling precisely this lie. Tash is a false god. Tash is, by all appearances, a devil – still under the authority of God, but not His good servant. And the Calormenes – Emeth excluded – worship Tash, and not by accident. He is the god that fits their character – again, Emeth excluded. He is presented as the exception.

  9. AnotherCoward says

    You can’t exclude Emeth. He worshipped Tash; he just never bought into what the Ape was selling as Tash. Emeth is a representative of the exception; a way of making an important part of a story easier to tell; I honestly don’t think he’s suppose to be thought of as the only possible exception ever.

    Emeth explicitly said he was always looking for Tash until he met Aslan. Emeth explicityly says he did all things in the name of Tash. There is a divide here in Lewis’s theology between something like the substance of religion and the accidents of religion. Emeth in substance was seeking Aslan. In accidents and as far as he was aware until the Truth be made known to him, he was seeking Tash.

    I don’t deny, though, that Lewis does mean us to understand a great many Calormenes worshipped Tash in substance and in accidents. I balk at the idea though that we’re suppose to take away that all Calormenes except Emeth were destined for damnation. Of course, my memory is a bit incomplete of the plot, so I could just be forgetting something that has you decided otherwise.

    I understand the sensitivity that some will have in the presentation of the Calormenes, but I think it’s possible by making Emeth the focus (and possibly alluding to other Calormenes after his heart if the director is allowed such liberties) that it wouldn’t be so painful.

    Otherwise, it’s like saying all Muslims are jihadists. That’s simply not true; there are many who are Truth seekers but are limited or kept back from learning the Truth. We all know that. Lewis knew that. Otherwise there would have been no Emeth. And where there is one exception, why can’t there be more?

  10. Matthew Lickona says

    There can be more like Emeth – I never said otherwise. Nor did I say that all other Calormenes were destined for damnation. I’m saying that the general culture of the Calormenes – which we see better in The Horse and His Boy than in The Last Battle (where we actually meet Emeth and Tash) – fits pretty well with “Tash in substance and accident.” Caspian’s Uncle is presented as a degeneration of true Narnian culture; but the Tisroc and company are not presented as degenerations, but as the status quo. The story of The Horse and His Boy is the story of escape from a barbaric culture. I’m not sure we disagree as much as you seem to think.

  11. Deep Furrows says

    Tash: “It had a vulture’s head and four arms. Its beak was open and its eyes blazed. A croaking voice came from its beak.”

    Sure, Calormenes have a definite resemblence to Arabs, but this description of Tash has much more in common with the ancient Egyptian or Hindu pantheons than with Islam (a certain Orientalism is at work here!). Remember also, that the Horse and His Boy is told entirely from the perspective of a slave boy, and CS Lewis was brilliant at presenting point of view.

  12. Plato's Stepchild says

    Imams seem to be distracted getting piglet, porky pig and Miss Piggy banned in the UK. So says Mark Steyn. I think they ignore film portrayals because the more radical elements are uncomfortable with the implication that they are on the losing side in these portrayals.

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