Did you know that renowned short story author Flannery O’Connor loved peacocks? Shortly before her early death at the age of 39, O’Connor owned around 40 birds (Eby 2013). This fact will not come as surprising to those who have read O’Connor’s work, as the peacock is often found in her stories, many times being used as a religious symbol, such as in her short story The Displaced Person (Eby 2013).
Similarly, well-loved author C. S. Lewis’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia takes a turn for the semi-autobiographical when Lewis begins his fantasy stories with children fleeing from war and taking refuge in the mansion of a scholarly old professor. During World War II, Lewis himself took in many refugees, and there is little doubt that much of the beginning of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is inspired by these experiences (Bane 1997).
It is a fact of life that authors, if given the choice, will almost always write upon subjects that matter to them. Lewis and O’Connor were no different, and therefore much of their work, whether they intended it or not, deals with the Christian faith, as both were devout believers in the Christian tradition. Much of their fiction is imbued with religious subtext, but this does not hinder their work in the slightest. However, when such works are converted into movie adaptations, much of this commentary can be lost.
Jeffery Folks, in Telos and Existence, asserts that,“Given the context of philosophical skepticism in which Lewis and O’Connor wrote, it is understandable that they would find it necessary to begin with fundamental matters, such as the ethical implications of the human condition of mortality and the value of the spiritual life over materialism or utilitarianism. ” This fact is evidenced by scenes in O’Connor’s The Displaced Person, where more value is placed on the life of the Polish man than the poverty of Ms. McIntyre (O’Connor, 225-226) as well as the mystical, allegorical nature of Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where humility and self-sacrifice are presented as virtues far more noble than bravery.
Both O’Connor and Lewis wrote upon the topic of the Christian faith; although their work was not always overtly Christian, themes of grace and mercy were often at the core of their writing. To be kind, humble, and full of grace—these were virtues that both O’Connor and Lewis extolled.
While both Lewis and O’Connor maintained a Christian perception of the world, they did not use God as a means to explain away the pain of living, or limit themselves strictly to allegorical writing. Patrick York, in his article entitled “The Glory Of Grace: Mystery In The Works Of C. S. Lewis And Flannery O’Connor” argues, “Though both writers have an essentially Christian identity, these fictional depictions do not operate simply as religious allegories, evangelistic tools, or theological exercises. Instead, they withhold the answers to essential mysteries, much as ‘the Christian mystery’ remained unanswered to both authors.
This openness to keeping some questions unanswered and leaving mysteries to be mysteries is a large part of what makes both authors’ work so accessible to people from all sorts of backgrounds and religions. When I was little I once had a friend who was of the Baha’i tradition; we had little in common, but one thing that both of us could talk about for hours on end was the Chronicles of Narnia series. Neither of us gave much thought to the religious subtext, although there is certainly plenty; on the outside, they are just books.
The existentialism found in them is not much different than the existentialism in other books. Meeting non-Christian people who appreciate the series is not uncommon, and I have many friends who hold to no particular faith and cite Chronicles of Narnia as their absolute favorite books. More than just tools for evangelism, the works of these authors act as ways to think more in depth, to become a little more “intellectual” per se. Of course, where there are well-loved and successful books, there will be movie adaptations, and movies are very different from books.
George Bluestone points this out in his article “The Limits of the Novel and the Limits of the Film”: “between the percept of the visual image and the concept of the mental image lies the root difference between the two media […] differences in form and theme are inseparable from differences in the media (Bluestone 1-2). ” This can indeed be seen in the film adaptation of The Displaced Person, where the dialogue remains much unchanged, but details such as the peacock, an important symbol which defines a lot of characters by the way they interact with it, are not conveyed in a way that translates to film.
Of course, it is hard to not become frustrated with films that do not live up to the expectations of the source material, but ultimately one cannot blame the director for making a bad adaptation, but for making a bad film. My brother, a young man who is very good at science, once wrote a report on a science experiment and made a low grade. He received this grade not because he had performed poorly on the science experiment itself, but rather because he had written a low-quality summary of the experiment. There is no question that the source material was of high quality, but oftentimes adaptations do not reflect this.
Not due to unfaithfulness to the original, but the inability to convey the story in the way the medium requires. The works of C. S. Lewis and Flannery O’Connor may not be for everyone; this is not because of religious subtext in their writing, but rather personal preference. Of course, if one so desires, they can always watch the movie version, in which they will find far less depth. But for those who are so inclined, the mystery and magic of the worlds of Narnia, and some backwater town in southern Georgia, are all for the taking.