Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Lion, the Witch, and Bill Melendez

Bill Melendez has died at the age of 91. Known for animating the Charlie Brown, aka Peanuts cartoon specials, I remember Melendez mostly for another reason.

Melendez directed the 1979 television special, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This cartoon served as my first introduction to the works of C.S. Lewis. It would be another 10 years or so before I would actually read the Narnia books that have so inspired me over the years.

By today's standards, the 1979 production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is somewhat lacking at first glance, but when I first watched it on television, I was captivated by all of it. The characters, the colors, the story.

Remaining quite faithful to the book, Melendez was able to communicate the powerful message that is woven into the fabric of the story Lewis wrote. I longed to enter Narnia, to help Aslan and the children, to defeat the White Witch, and to conquer the land always oppressed by winter, but never overjoyed with Christmas.

In this sense, the television adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe instilled in me an early memory of what Lewis variously called joy, longing, and Sehnsucht. It was this pang and longing for something outer and other that ultimately resulted in my conversion to Christianity after wandering through skepticism, atheism, and even pantheism.

The work Melendez did on this nearly 30 year old cartoon also inspired me in reference to appreciating the art of storytelling and wanting to tell stories myself. Fortunately, in Conversations with C.S. Lewis, I had the pleasure of bringing a little bit of Narnia to life in a chapter on reason and imagination. (If you ever wondered what happened to those feasting woodland creatures turned to stone by the White Witch, read my book to find out!)

One area where I find myself in agreement with certain strands of postmodernism is in the fact that stories are indeed powerful. Through them, as Lewis wrote, we see through other eyes. We also experience other ideas not only in our time, but if we read "old" books, we encounter the ideas of centuries past.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis communicated Christian truths, not overtly and not in a preachy sense, but through a story that was a supposal. Suppose Christ had to die for another world? Suppose this world were populated by talking animals? What would that look like?

For me, Bill Melendez brought that story to life for the first time. After watching it, I would never be quite the same again.

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