Ebert on Narnia: Wrong, and Right

UPDATE: Ebert has corrected his mistake!

Here’s the earlier post…

The vigilant Mark Shea notes Ebert’s big error:

Here’s the first sentence of his review of Narnia:

C. S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia books, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the Ring trilogy, were friends who taught at Oxford at the same time, were pipe smokers, drank in the same pub, took Christianity seriously and hated each other’s fantasy worlds.

Here is Lewis, displaying his hatred of Tolkien’s fantasy:

Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realised. To them a reviewer need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart.

Elsewhere, he enthusiastically declared some of its scenes “as good as anything in Homer”.

Tolkien, it is true, did not return the compliment to Narnia (“too allegorical”). But the Mutual Hatred meme Ebert confidently states as Fact is rather wanting in actuality and warns the informed reader that this review is going be written by a guy with a tin ear for fantasy and, in particular, Christian fantasy (he was weak in his review of The Lord of the Rings too).

But here’s the part of Ebert’s review that made me smile:

This involves Aslan dying for Edmund’s sins, much as Christ died for ours. Aslan’s eventual resurrection leads into an apocalyptic climax that may be inspired by Revelation. Since there are six more books in the Narnia chronicles, however, we reach the end of the movie while still far from the Last Days.

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  • Matt Page

    The link is wrong – although you can work out what it should be. Quite funny, although nothing really went as far as that Passion nail on a chain that was for real.


  • CM

    I have to admit, it was a bizarre little short. I liked it, but it could have been paced a little quicker on a few of the jokes.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Oh look! Ebert has revised his review! He’s corrected the error!

  • Mr. W. Arfarin

    Too his credit, while Ebert gets things wrong, he typically owns up to his mistakes and will accept responsibility. Although I think Ebert has become more of an “easier” critic on films, I still respect and admire him. Perhaps I feel a connection because I am a downstate Illinois boy, too.

  • Neil E. Das

    This involves Aslan dying for Edmund’s sins, much as Christ died for ours.

    I too was struck by this quote when I read it. It is almost as if it were from an earlier time when this was more of a shared cultural assumption, and one could say it even if one did not believe what one was saying. I am not saying that is the case with Ebert. I don’t know. It is just his manner that is remarkable.

    I have not heard of any hating by Lewis vis a vis Tolkien or Middle Earth either. On the contrary, I think Lewis was one of the champions of Middle Earth and a greater encourager that Tolkien ought to publish it.

    Oh, and a couple of posts ago you remarked about us pretentious middle initial users. Well, for short names like mine it simply adds distinction to its look, whereas it would just interfere with yours.

  • mark

    To smoke a pipe, have a good ale or single malt, and discuss great literature; may I live to see the day.

  • Trent

    I can’t see Lewis describing LOTR as “a bold of lightning from a clear sky” being a negative statement on Tolkien’s work, unless he had continued with “…striking me dead would be a better experience than reading these books.”

    But of course, he didn’t. Lewis raved about Tolkien’s work. Raved. He really loved The Hobbit, but he would wet himself when talking about Lord of the Rings. Maybe Lewis said that “Leaf by Niggle” was too banal. But he had nothing bad to say about LOTR. Although maybe in later years, after Tolkien had said things about Narnia, maybe then did Jack start revising his assesment.

    As pointed out, Tolkien was less than upbeat about Narnia. I don’t recall reading anything else him saying anything about any of Jack’s other works.

  • Wasp Jerky

    It bugged me that he used “Ring Trilogy,” too, as the series of books on which Ring and Ring Two are based are also the Ring Trilogy.

  • Adam Walter

    I’ve never come across a single substantiated claim that Lewis had any major beef with the Middle Earth books. Tolkien, now, was a little less generous.

    And isn’t it just shocking how often Ebert gets stuff wrong? He needs a research department to proof his copy.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    If you find any sources for that, I’d be interested. I’ve just finished re-reading “On Stories,” a collection of essays and reviews by Lewis, and he praises Tolkien’s fiction without reservation there.

  • Silus Grok

    I’ve heard elsewhere that Lewis “hated” Tolkiens fiction… but I’m guessing that it stems from (if I recall correctly) Lewis’ wish that Tolkien’s work had been more forthright in its symbolism.