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Allegory or Fairy Tale?

With release of C. S. Lewis film, interest in Narnia comes back to forefront.

A good story never fades away, as evidenced by the more than $62 million earned last weekend with the release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe."

The story, written by British author C. S. Lewis more than 50 years ago, tells the tale of four children who discover the magical world of Narnia after walking through the back of a wardrobe while playing hide and seek in the home of a professor during World War II.

In the few weeks leading up to the release of the movie, the C. S. Lewis Institute in Springfield has been abuzz with phone calls from people wanting to know more about Narnia and its creator.

"Its been pretty hectic and dizzying to see all the interest," said Art Lindsley, a senior fellow at the Institute. "The attention the movie is getting is pretty amazing."

The Chronicles of Narnia, a seven-book series, were among the most popular books for young readers, along with the Lord of the Rings series, until the birth of Harry Potter, Lindsley said.

Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings series, were friends and met frequently with other British authors during the mid 1930s to discuss and read their current works, he noted.

"Those three series have been the best-selling children's sets ever because they're just great stories," Lindsley said.

Lewis had been collecting ideas for the Narnia series since childhood, Lindsley said, with images of fauns and lions in his dreams since he was young.

The tales of Narnia and the children who come to inherit the four thrones at its enchanted castle did not make Lewis famous, he said.

"During WWII, he was the most well-recognized voice in England, second only to Winston Churchill," Lindsley said. "He was on the cover of Time magazine in 1947, which was before Narnia was published."

Lewis had a deep faith, Lindsley said, which he incorporated in the Narnia storyline. Whether those images — of the lion Aslan sacrificing himself to protect the four children and coming back from the dead to defeat the evil White Witch — are necessarily seen as religious is up to the individual reader or movie-goer.

"C. S. Lewis didn't want to prepare a sermon in these stories, that wasn't his intent," Lindsley said. "He just wanted to let the pictures tell the story."

Readers have been able to enjoy the story with or without the Christian allegory for decades, he said. "If the images are there, that's fine, but if not it's still a great story," Lindsley said.

WORKING FOR the Institute and being an expert on Lewis and Narnia has its perks: Lindsley was among a group of people who saw the movie before its official release.

"It was a very powerful movie, emotionally," he said, which stayed "very faithful" to the book.

"Once all four children are in Narnia, the action really takes off," he said, weaving the story of sibling rivalry while cultivating the characters through the duration of the film.

Admitting his lack of objectivity to the content of the movie, Lindsley said it's "hard to live up to your imagination, but the actors became the characters they were supposed to be as the movie went on."

However, Lindsley said he's not sure C. S. Lewis would be happy to find his characters gracing magazine covers, being condensed into action figures, costumes and video game images.

"I think he would've been shocked and amazed," he said. "It'll be interesting to see what happens after the movie's been out a while and how people respond."

As for the original series of books, Amazon.com had them listed as the top sellers for the week ending Dec. 10, when the move was released.

"There have been 40 new books released recently dealing with the Chronicles of Narnia," he said, including "C.S. Lewis's Taste for Christ," a book Lindsley published this year. "This is the first time Lewis and Narnia have been exposed to an international audience."

The Fairfax County Public Library has more than 55 holds on cassette, large print and regular print copies of "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," said public information officer Lois Kirkpatrick.

"The book has been out for more than 50 years and it just doesn't go out of favor with readers," Kirkpatrick said. "The interest is always strong, but we attribute the spike in holds to the movie."

It is common for the release of a major movie to pique interest in a book, she said, one of three factors that can lead to an increase in reservations for a particular book. The others include the DVD release of a film or a made-for-TV movie, she said.

"We currently have 71 holds for 'Memoirs of a Geisha,' which has been made into a blockbuster film that will be released soon," Kirkpatrick said. When the "Lord of the Ring" movies were released in theaters, she said the only copy she was able to get her hands on was one translated into Korean.

Nothing compares with the demand for Harry Potter books, which tend to become more popular with the release of a book than a movie, she said, which had 1,600 reservations two weeks before the sixth book was released last summer.

Regardless, the allure of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is something she's felt since she was 8.

"A librarian suggested I read it when I was little and I've re-read it every decade since then," Kirkpatrick said. "It's a timeless story with all the elements of great drama: betrayal, great loss, war. I was clapping when I saw the trailer months ago, but the books are better than the movie."

Tom Simmons, executive director of the C. S. Lewis Institute in Springfield, said he isn't sure if the institute's Web site has received more traffic than usual in preparation for the film's release on Dec. 9.

"We focus on four areas of ministry here," said Simmons. "We have a fellows program for people who want to study more about Lewis and Christianity. We also offer a lot of conferences in the area to discuss the relationship between Lewis and Christianity."

One such conference, entitled "Narnia and C.S. Lewis: Imagination, Reason and You" will be at the Institute on Jan. 13 and 14, during which Lindsley will be a presenter, Simmons said.

"I hope people will see the movie and understand that it has a Christian message," Simmons said. "I hope they are impacted by that."