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By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

As the third installment of C.S. Lewis’s children’s series “The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” hits theaters, it is worth mentioning that the first volume published, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” was acted on the stage in 1985, 20 years before that first Disney Narnia film was released.

There is a local connection. When Dramatic Publishing Co. purchased the stage rights from the Lewis estate, they turned to Gwynedd-Mercy College drama professor (now emeritus) Jules Tasca to write the libretto, the stage equivalent of a screen play, and because it was to be a musical, Thomas Tierney to write the music and Ted Drachman to write the lyrics. {{more}}

Tasca is a prolific Barrymore Award-winning writer of plays long and short, and readily agreed to do this, although his previous experience with C.S. Lewis was limited to reading the “Screwtape Letters” while in college.

While it may sound easy to turn an existing book into a play, it isn’t, Tasca said.

“The author may say they fought a battle, on the stage they have to fight a battle,” he said. Also, the book may have many characters but on the stage numbers are limited.

In the end, Tasca and his collaborators came up with not one but three versions of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in three different lengths: three hours, an hour and a half and one hour, depending on the wish of the group performing it.

Now 25 years later it is still being staged. Tasca came upon a performance during a vacation in Hawaii. Typically, there is a traveling five-member cast, with a van and a stage manager.

“It is a very popular play around Christmas time,” Tasca said. “A lot of Christian organizations book it. But I explain you don’t have to be Christian to enjoy it.”

For those not familiar with the Chronicles, which were ostensibly written for children, Narnia is located on another planet, although earth children from England participate in the story. A central character is Aslan, a great lion, who is a Christ figure.

The first published volume, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” presents not very subtle parallels to the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The sixth volume, “The Magician’s Nephew,” which is really a prequel, parallels the Genesis story. The final book, “The Last Battle,” has an apocalyptic world’s ending followed by paradise.

The other four books of the seven-volume series are not so obviously Christian-themed, but it is there. On the final page of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” an English child asks Aslan if he is also on earth.

“I am, child,” Aslan replies. “But there I have another name. This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

If for no other reason, that is why exposing children to Lewis’s “fairy tales” might be encouraged.

The Christian message so apparent in Lewis’s fiction was perhaps best expressed by Joseph Pearce, a biographer of Lewis’s friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Referring to “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Tolkien said, it is “the furthest thing from a religious tract, yet it proclaims a clear and winning gospel. In my narrow experience I had never before encountered such a thing.”

Let’s hope we eventually see all seven volumes on film and even on stage.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.