To millions The Chronicles of Narnia are a childhood tale of wonder and triumph now made into a film that could inspire millions of children to read. To others, including the celebrated fantasy author Philip Pullman, they are stories of racism and thinly veiled religious propaganda that will corrupt children rather than inspiring them.
Either way, one thing is certain: this Christmas, and perhaps the next six, depending on sequels, everyone will be talking about Narnia. Disney is already in the middle of one of the biggest marketing campaigns in recent cinematic history. It is trying to lure both mainstream filmgoers and evangelical Christians, who will respond to CS Lewis's parallels between his characters and the Bible. HarperCollins is set to publish 170 Lewis-related books in more than 60 countries, many of them Christian-themed works. Disney has hired Christian marketing groups to handle the film.
For Pullman, who is an avowed atheist and a critic of Lewis, that is bad news. 'If the Disney Corporation wants to market this film as a great Christian story, they'll just have to tell lies about it,' Pullman told The Observer
Pullman believes that Lewis's books portray a version of Christianity that relies on martial combat, outdated fears of sexuality and women, and also portrays a religion that looks a lot like Islam in unashamedly racist terms.
'It's not the presence of Christian doctrine I object to so much as the absence of Christian virtue. The highest virtue, we have on the authority of the New Testament itself, is love, and yet you find not a trace of that in the books,' he said.
The Narnia books, Pullman said, contained '...a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice; but of love, of Christian charity, [there is] not a trace'.
Certainly that is not the view of Disney. Film executives are eagerly anticipating repeating the success last year of Mel Gibson's Jesus biopic The Passion of The Christ, which was shunned by mainstream studios and then picked up by the evangelical churches. The movie then stunned the film world by raking in hundreds of millions of dollars by tapping into the previously ignored Christian market.