C.S. Lewis on Superman and being “Christ-ey”

I will only quote Lewis towards the end, so bear with me.

As I read through the negative reviews on Man of Steel from the “Christian Art Realm”, I’m left scratching my head. I wonder two things; one, have any of these folks ever read a Superman comic book and two, what’s with barely disguised hatred of super hero movies?

Allow me to explain my questions.

Arty Christian reviewers are  bashing the obvious Christ analogies in the movie. In doing so, they critique that which they don’t understand. Superman from his original inception has always been a bit “Christ-ey”. If not “Christ-ey”, then certainly grounded in Judeo-Christian in influence. The original creators were two Jewish kids from Cleveland.

Superman has gone through numerous writers and incarnations through out his history. Many of them have chosen to play up the “Christ-ey” element in their version of Superman. I’ll grant that Nolan and Snyder over do it in Man of Steel, but they are still well within the Superman mythos. When I hear Christian reviewers going off on Man of Steel for putting in the “Christey” element, it just shows their ignorance of the comic’s history. It makes me cringe.

Have marketing people taken advantage of this element? Sure, but that is beside the point. Superman was never intended to be Jesus proper, but rather more “Christ-ey”.

Lewis himself realized this about all his pagan gods and it is one of the points that led him to Christ. All his favorites were a bit “Christ-ey” and that is what drew him to the real Lord. The complaint seems more than overstated. Its just plain wrong.

And, if we know our our Old Testament, we know that “Christ-ey” types are all over it. It’s called “Covenant Theology”. Moses, David, Gideon, Solomon, and Father Abraham are all considered to be “Christ types”. Are they perfect Christ types? Not at all. But, again, that misses the point. They are “shadows” of the light to come.

Further, the attitude from Christian Art Reviewers seems to demonstrate a weird, deep seeded hatred of comic books and superheros. One reviewer called super heroes “inherently silly” and not worth serious discussion. Some critiques of Man of Steel revolve around the supposed silliness of a “man shooting fire out of his eyes”.

Because, you know, the beasts surrounding the throne of God aren’t weird at all.

I really am mystified by this attitude. If folks would like to explain it to me, I’m all ears.

Arty Christian types are committing the mistake that C.S. Lewis addresses in his essay, “On Science Fiction”.

“Many reviews are useless because, while purporting to condemn the book, they only reveal the reviewer’s dislike of the kind to which it belongs. Let bad tragedies be censured by those who love tragedy, and bad detective stories by those who love the detective story. Otherwise we shall find epics blamed for not being novels, farces for not being high comedies, novels by James for lacking the swift action of Smollett.”

Here is the thing. I would NEVER say everyone must enjoy comics or superheros. They aren’t for everyone. What I want to see is less of a dismissive and snotty attitude when it comes to the comic realm. I want to see serious engagement and serious discussion. I want to see less ignorance pretending to be knowledge.

As Lewis said it best in the same essay, ““Who wants to hear a particular claret abused by a fanatical teetotaler?”

This is an invitation to an open and honest invitation to discuss this issue. Even if you disagree, I want to hear your opinion. No comments will be erased or moderated as long as they are respectful.

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About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015

  • katherinecoble

    I can’t leave a comment there for whatever reason–I suspect my own general ineptitude.

    But I’m of the impression that most of the “Christian Art Realm” (herein after CAR) is just talking about Superman to drive traffic to their websites. That’s how it always is with these tent pole movies. 9×10 the slant is
    “Look at this popular thing and how the world clearly hungers for Christ but gets it all wrong.”

    This bothers me because it’s like the fellow who shows up at a party and says “let’s talk about me” or the woman who goes to a baby shower and spends the whole time wanting to talk about HER pregnancy experience in the dim distant past.

    The movie isn’t evaluated on its own merits as a film or as an adaptation of a type of source material.

    A couple of years ago there was even a Christian blog that analyzed a popular book-turned-movie. The blogger had neither seen the film nor had they read the book. But it was a hot topic that could inflate numbers.

    So yes, what you’re saying is true. True, but far from afflicting just poor Superman.

  • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

    Haven’t seen the film yet, but am generally familiar with Superman’s mythology. Who isn’t?

    I think more critics need to go to TV Tropes. Here is their entry on “Messianic Archetypes.” http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MessianicArchetype

    It’s a *very* common thing in fiction… even people who don’t know or particularly like Christianity (or religion in general) *can and do* create “Messiah” type characters, simply because they make for good heroes and interesting storytelling. (Occasionally, they even make good villains – in the “Dark Messiah” type, i.e. characters who are trying to save the world via very nasty means).

    It’s really a very common literary type… and everyone who knows the basic mythology on Supes knows that he’s an alien come down from “heaven” to save us all… so why are people squawking now?

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Your guess is as good as mine. I find it even more odd that Christians are doing the loudest squawking. It’s a bit of a mystery, to be honest.

      • Cynewulf

        I suspect it’s their way of looking more “artsy.”

  • S P Dudley

    My own criticisms of the “superhero” genre are of a more general feeling that the genre itself has turned into a sort-of “geek elitism,” which is most expressed by the popularity of The X-Men. The story of X-Men is that there’s mutants (i.e. genetically superior) who are fighting each other as well as other villains while determining if they’re going to either “help” humanity or rule over it. As presented often in the comics and most often by the films, the villains often turn out to be the ‘normals’ especially from the Usual Suspects (US Military, Social Conservatives, Big Corporations, etc.) and who come off worse than “evil” mutants such as Magneto.

    The troubling thing with X-Men, and in fact the origins of most of the characters within the Marvel universe, is that what makes one super is either from birth or by genetic modification of some kind. That “difference” gives the X-Men and other superheroes a mentality of superiority over normal humans and allows them to put themselves over regular people who would certainly be understandably frightened by the appearance of persons who have such highly developed abilities. I have the same trouble with the Harry Potter series as well, as the Wizarding World is made up of those with a genetic gift that allows some segment of society to set itself aside as superior yet with some sort of a moral burden to protect their hapless, ignorant lessers (“the Muggles”) from the more cynical in the Wizarding World.

    The DC World, by much contrast, presents superheroes who are quite different from Marvel’s universe. Many of the characters are outliers of some kind, either aliens (such as Superman), eccentric rogues (Batman), or para-humans (Aquaman, Wonderwoman, etc) originating from separate but parallel environments. The DC heroes were more honorable in my view, trying much harder to work within our society to protect it, and did not think of themselves (with some exceptions) as being superior. There was a level of humility within the DC heroes that you didn’t see in the Marvel world, and they’re not given the credit of being much more interesting characters.

    With the entire genre however I have one major complaint and that is generally “superheroes” are not characters that one can aspire to. A young child can admire Superman’s strength or Spiderman’s agility, or all of these heroes determination to fight crime and other threats. But you can’t grow up to be Superman or Spiderman. If you have the wealth and intelligence of Bill Gates and reinforced with sufficient motivation through suffering, you might achieve Batman, but otherwise these characters are inaccessible. They represent ideals that allow us to escape and say “what if?” but they don’t give us much in the way of ideals that we can fulfill.

    What’s wrong with us that we can’t show actual heroes, real human beings who exemplify some or all of these good traits and that we can then express to children and the rest of us something that we can aspire to? Do we have real heroes today? Politicians and entertainers, mostly, and that’s a pathetic lot. It’s telling that we turn to such things instead of finding and highlighting what works in the world versus just escaping to a made-up world of superficial conflicts?

    There were two films in 2012 that showed teams of “superheroes” with special abilities who banded together and defeated evil. One was The Avengers, cost $250 million to make and features primped-up Hollywood stars with lots and lots of CGI fighting some sort of alien invasion when they weren’t picking fights with themselves. The other film cost $12 million and featured actual human beings who had seen actual combat and fought enemies that were actually familiar to us and defeated them, sometimes at the cost of their lives. That was Act of Valor, and despite lower production value and amateur actors it’s actually the better work of the two.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Good post and a lot of great points for discussion. I’ll give them some thought and come up with some responses in the coming weeks.

  • Banner

    In full disclosure I am a comic book fan that goes back to the early days of Marvel (silver age). I’m a reader of science fiction. Even to this day I am impressed by the spiritual content in these genre. While it is not always positive, much of it is. I don’t read comics or sci-fi to get my theology. But it is a great medium for discourse with folks of different world views.
    If Jesus is the Son of Man (and I believe he is) then it seems only natural that our literature reflects his nature.

    Anyway I appreciate your article and hope it will get some of the naysayers to think before being harsh to an industry that was paying us a complement.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Couldn’t have said it better. Lewis believed that all of human history would be Christ haunted if Jesus was true.

      Sadly, its only in genre fiction (murder mysteries) that discussions of God or worship can be found. This is why I can’t stand the whole idea that so called literary fiction (a real misnomer) is raised up as “realistic”. It isn’t.

      • Matt Brown

        Jonathan, is there a particular quote you have in mind that refers to all of history being “Christ-haunted”? I love that and want to find it if so.

        • Author Jonathan Ryan

          Its a quote from Flannery O’Connor and I used it to describe Lewis’ ideas. In her specific context, she was talking about the South being “Christ-Haunted” if no longer “Christ-Centered”.