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The Uses of Fantasy
Only a few years after the phenomenal success of the film trilogy based upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books are off to an equally promising start on the silver screen. Worldwide receipts for Disney/Walden Media’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe surpassed a half a billion dollars within three months of the film’s release, putting it on pace to become Disney’s highest grossing live-action film ever (Variety, January 16, 2006).
Although these high-profile cinematic adaptations have revived interest in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s fantasy books published half a century ago, the film versions have also revived familiar criticisms about fantasy writing as a lightweight genre, best suited for children—or for adults who wish they had never grown up. In his review of The Fellowship of the Ring, Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times (December 19, 2001) condescendingly described Tolkien’s classic work as “the most intimidating nerd/academic fantasy classic ever.” Mitchell’s words seem to echo those of critic Edmund Wilson, who dismissed Tolkien’s massive tale as “essentially a children’s book which has somehow gotten out of hand” (The Nation, April 14, 1956). . .
David C. Downing
David C. Downing, Author, is the Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois. He earned his PhD from UCLA and has written four scholarly books on C.S. Lewis: Planets in Peril (1992), The Most Reluctant Convert (2002), Into the Wardrobe (2005), and Into the Region of Awe (2005.) Downing also provided a critical introduction and over 400 explanatory notes to the new edition of C.S. Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress, originally published in 1933 and reissued by Eerdmans in the Wade Center Annotated Edition (2014). Downing is a consulting reader on C.S. Lewis for the Publications of the Modern Languages Association (PMLA), as well as Christian Scholars Review and Religion and Literature.