There’s great news for all of us C.S. Lewis lovers: Disney recently announced that it will produce movies based on the remaining six books in the Chronicles of Narnia (click here to read an article about the announcement in Christainity Today). In May of 2008, we can expect the next installment Prince Caspian, and if Disney is sticks to schedule, we’ll have a new movie each year from then on. Even though I have great affection for the books, I am excited to see these stories played out on the big screen. I’m no purist who thinks that books should remain books. Good stories can translate well across many different media, and Narnia will thrive in theaters as well as on video game consoles (click here to see a preview of the Prince Caspian video game).
That said, I’d heard a disturbing rumor that made me hold off on the celebrations. My sources told me that local schools were getting rid of their copies of Harry Potter books because once the movies came out, kids were no longer interested in reading the books anymore. I asked the first school librarian I encountered if she would verify this. She told me that the books gathered dust, so they simply made room for others.
This bothered me. I’d been under the impression that movies often sent kids back to books, not away from them. I became worried that movies based on beloved books would lead to the books’ eventual demise.
Fortunately, not everyone agrees that movies kill books. In a recent article in a Philadelphia newspaper, The Bulletin, a reporter interviewed local librarians about children’s interest in the Harry Potter books after watching the movies. The librarians overwhelmingly indicated that the books grew in esteem after the movie’s release (indicating that children must be somehow different in Seattle and Philly, or maybe I just need to do some more fact checking here):
“According to these librarians, the release of the movies has not hampered children’s interest in reading the books. “We don’t see kids viewing the movies as a shortcut or a substitute,” claimed DuBois.
Many times, people will watch the movie and then come into the library to check out the book. They like to find out for themselves that the books reveal more about this world,” added Wright.
The movies and books seem to work hand-in-hand rather than fight each other, as evidenced by the unprecedented excitement surrounding the release of both the fifth movie and seventh book within 10 days of each other this summer. “Whenever one of the movies comes out, the books become best-sellers again,” Sodano pointed out” (Zauzmer 7/27/07).
Award winning journalist and educator, Jim Trelease, cites impressive statistics that indicate that children and adults alike continue to read books after their movie adaptations are released:
“In December 2001, six months before the movie debut of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” book sales began to rise for the 65-year-old classic. By the time the film opened, four of the J. R. R. Tolkien books were on the bestseller lists. Even more remarkable was the attendant rise of The Hobbit, a precursor to the Ring trilogy. As a result of movie interest, The Hobbit had its best sales year since its debut in 1937 and increased its annual sales by 500 percent” (http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/harry_movie.html#elvismitchell).
Trelease has also compiled an impressive list of beloved books that have survived movies, sometimes multiple versions. Among them are such beloved books as To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Charlotte’s Web, and A Christmas Carol.
One book has been adapted more times than most and stands far above them all: The Bible. Yes, how could we forget that this one book has been turned into movies great and small, from triumphs of motion picture achievement (The 10 Commandments) to flops of epic proportions (just about anything with Noah in it). Yet, somehow, even though we’ve seen it hundreds of times, we keep reading it.
Although movies can amplify our experience of biblical stories (for example, Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea and Mel Gibson’s depiction of Jesus’ suffering), no movie will ever substitute for reading the Bible. God’s Word is “living and active,” and we need those powerful words to penetrate the heart and divide the soul and spirit (Heb 4:12).
What about the Narnia books? Are they, along with the Bible, safe from annihilation by movie adaptation? So far, they’ve survived a few movies, and at least one radio drama. Plus, they have the hidden staying power of God’s Word, nestled lovingly within their pages. I predict a long shelf life for these books.