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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Marketing Aslan or Selling the Lion Behind the Lion

E.J. Park has written a fine article for the latest issue of Christianity Today called A Tale of Two Kitties. Now, I love this article for so many reasons. First, because I have two kitty cats and anything with the above title is going to make me say, “Awww.” But seriously, the article touches on two fictional cats that mean a lot to me, for vastly different reasons. The article’s subtitle sums it up: “Lovers of Aslan should heed the warnings of the creator of Hobbes.”

Bill Watterson is the creator of the much-loved comic strip (retired in 1996) Calvin and Hobbes. As fans know, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger toy for the impish Calvin and who comes alive – in Calvin’s imagination? – when they are alone. Hobbes is Calvin’s conscience, the better angel of his nature.

Even though there are countless millions to be made, Watterson has not permitted his comic strip to be used for merchandise. You won't see Calvin wishing you a happy birthday on the front of a Hallmark card. You won't find comic strip panels on coffee mugs or T-shirts. According to Watterson, it would ruin the characters he has created to pull them from the comics and put them into another medium. Giving voices to an animated Calvin & Hobbes Halloween special, for instance, would change them in some fundamental way. Or so Watterson believes.

I have been a huge fan of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books since my youth. I was delighted when I learned that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was being made into a film. And over all, I was happy with it. But now, I'm thinking hard about what Bill Watterson has to say about his characters and the CT article by E.J. Park.

Transforming Aslan from the medium of text to film was always a risky idea. Aslan is a Christ-figure and generations of readers have deeply felt attachments to him as an image of the Savior. Since in my opinion, the film does a fair job, I have given it a pass. But now, seeing Hasbro Aslan action figures and Aslan t-shirts, and Aslan plushy dolls, that changes things. There is something troubling, maybe even sacreligious, about playing with an Aslan toy amidst the Barbie dolls and army men. Or is there? It's just a lion. No, it's an imaginative portrait of Jesus that is being marketed, commercialized and profited from. As Parks says, "Of course, this article is not really about Aslan at all. It is about the Lion behind the lion. For it is one thing to commercialize fictitious kitties; it is quite another to commercialize the way of God."

Is the medium the message? To some extent, I think so. Parks writes: "The fact is, the spirit of a work always differs between forms, because every form has its own characteristics and limitations. ... The story and character might be similar in two works, but they are distinctly shaped by each work's form. Reading a book is never the same experience as watching a movie, which is never the same experience as playing a video game, which is never the same experience as wearing a T-shirt."

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Darrell said...

There is something troubling, maybe even sacreligious, about playing with an Aslan toy amidst the Barbie dolls and army men.

This is EXACTLY how I feel, although I think Wendy might think I'm crazy. We were browsing through toys at K-Mart this morning while my car was being inspected, and I noticed the Aslan action figures. It really bugged me. Aslan should remain in the imagination of children. To that degree, even making the movie might have been a bad idea. There's just no way that anyone else's "version" of Aslan can live up to each person's own personal image. Especially a plastic one. It cheapens the connection between the Narnia reader and the lion... between the Narnia reader and The Conquering Lion.

Snider said...

I agree with yo9u wholeheartedly about Aslan and ripping him from the books pages but at the same time I go, People need not look toward a fictional character if they want the true Christ. First thing that popped into my head was the WWJD bracelets. and the Christian ICTHUS fish on the car. These symbolize Christ and how he lead his life etc. BUT at the same time, EVERYONE and there move used to war the bracelets and everyone still has the fish on their cars. Do they truley drive a car like Jesus would? I guess what I am saying is, is that by bringing Aslan to the screen shouldn't rock your faith or your view on the book.
I also liken it to the DaVinci code. It is a awesome book in my mind and never made me waver in my faith , BUT I have serval people in my life that wont read it. I think there comes a time on ones life, as a child or adult, that you need to seperate yourself from stuff like this. Its a book and its a movie. Yes I agree it takes away from its orginal form, BUT it is what it is.

Just my two cents, if anyone wants to finish, add or yell at me about it , head on over.

God Bless

Dr.John said...

I loved the book. I loved the movie. I won't buy the toys. But the Holy Spirit acts in funny ways and I'm sure can even use an Aslan doll to bring someone back to Christ.

Momma Cassie said...

Yesterday, my son made finger puppets of the disciples in the boat as part of his Bible lesson about Jesus walking on water. After playing with them for some time, he asked if he could make some crafts on his own and I allowed him to do so. He soon brought me a picture partially drawn and partially cut from paper of the story. Children learn best by playing.

I understand the fears and dangers of commercialization, but I wonder just how things would be different if the hottest action figure was Jesus and the most valuable trading cards featured the disciples. Children put so much value on toys and sports figures. Perhaps a little commercialization of the idea of Christ will inspire understanding of the core values of Christianity for those families on the fringe or some that had not taken to heart what they heard.

The more people who learn of C.S. Lewis, the more people learn of his faith and love for Christ. Some people simply will not be reached through books. I admit I have mixed feelings about the toys, but I do believe they have their purpose.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't St.Paul say somewhere: "The
important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached."

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that my 8 year old son received a couple sets of Lw&w action sets for Christmas from his aunt. At first I was a bit leary. I was way off base. He loves them. He reenacts the story over and over. He has done some research on the different figures. He checks their parts in the books. They have brought him countless hours of fun and education. I am delighted. Do I think this applies to all of the LW&W toys out there. Absolutely not.

Anonymous said...

Are you people insane or something? For goodness sakes, nothing warms my heart more than watching my 4 year old son hold his stuffed ASLAN close to his heart. I myself love ASLAN, and am proud to display my statue on my desk at school.

What a shame that wackos like you make these kinds of comments, becaue its people like you and your foolish hang ups that drive people away from religion. Stop being so judgemental and high and mighty.

No wonder people are obssessed with that Davinci Code garbage. Anything is better than trying to make people like you happy. Its a no win situation. I guess I should just let my kids watch those violent anime toons and collect those figures so he can pretend to maliciously kill. Would that make you feel better?

Would you please do us a favor and just stop with your dumb opinion!

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous calls me "insane," a "wacko," "foolish," "judgmental," and "dumb." Perhaps instead of worrying about the damage my opinions might have upon his children, he'd do well to switch to decaf.

Anonymous said...

HMMM....I don't recall saying anything about my children being "damaged" by your stupidity.
Just like fanatics, when they come face to face with their foolishness, they have to make something up to counter.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

What I want to know is what kind of a person calls another person insane, wacko, foolish, dumb, etc. and does so anonymously? You seem like a really nice person.

Do you know what an ad hominem attack is? What about the straw man fallacy? Give this some thought and then write something intelligent. Anyone can name call.

What you fail to do is respond to my ideas.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Further, it is ordinarily my policy not to publish ad hominem attacks. Occasionally I will break my own rule because the commenter is so outrageous (or as in this case, vicious) that I feel it helps my argument more than hurts it.

So, for the record, a thoughtful response of ideas will be published. But another infantile blast will not be.

DANNY said...

I apologize Pastor. Now that I have reread things I believe I was unfair and really not acting like a Christian. My wife is also none to pleased with me.

I am sorry for my tome previous tone, I guess I get frustrated at times with religion because I truly am thankful that ASLAN has been given such a stage, and I would never want that taken away.

I was thinking about marketing in general and I do really think that Disney has been respectful about not overmarketing ALSAN. As far as I know, I think there is 3 actual peices of merchandise. An action figure, a mini figure, and the stuffed animal. There is also a nice statue.

When you compare that to other merchadising machines like Star Wars and Spiderman and such, Disney has kept their merch minimal.

For example, I also really like Yoda, and there must be nearly 50 different figures of him alone. Much more than the 3 Aslans.

I think that we need to be very thankful that the film stayed true to the religous passion of the book. I think we can all admit we were nervous that Disney would stray from that.

BTW, I have seen SUPERMAN RETURNS four times already and have been very moved by the Christ like depictions. I think many are angry about that, but I am just so happy to see that no one is afraid to express their feeling about our savior in film any more.

Did you see it yet, and if you didnt, please do. It really is a beautiful film in most respects. I have to run. Agin, please forgive me for my previous blogs. That really isnt like me at all.


Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Thanks for writing. All if forgiven. And please forgive me also. I too need to express myself more clearly at times. I understand now where you are coming from. And I also rejoice at the opportunity for Aslan to become known. God be with you!

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