October 5, 2005


'Narnia' books getting a boost from film (David Mehegan, October 5, 2005, Boston Globe)

Hollywood has been turning best-selling novels into movies for decades, as far back as ''Gone With the Wind." But publishers have usually had nothing to do with it. They watched and hoped the movie would drive up sales of the book. Sometimes it did, but just as often it didn't.

That whole disconnect is disappearing. The best new example is the Dec. 9 release of the movie ''The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," based on the C.S. Lewis children's classic. Far from sitting back and watching, publisher HarperCollins is working closely with filmmaker Walden Media, unleashing a massive worldwide marketing drive for the books, timed to coincide with the film -- and not only for ''The Chronicles of Narnia," but most of Lewis's other books as well. [...]

However well planned, it's doubtful such a sprawling program could work with anyone but Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), who published more than 100 books. An Oxford don and medievalist, his uniquely diverse output makes him, if such a thing is possible, a potentially bigger literary phenomenon than his Oxford friend and colleague, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the ''Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Unlike Tolkien, Lewis wrote for a wider range of readers, both children and adults, including a science fiction trilogy and an agonized memoir of the death of his wife, ''A Grief Observed." (That love story has already been made into a movie, 1993's ''Shadowlands," with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.)

Lewis's Christian writing makes him uniquely marketable. In addition to general booksellers like Barnes & Noble, national Christian book chains such as Parable Christian Stores and Family Christian Stores are also heavily promoting the movie tie-in editions of ''The Chronicles of Narnia." The ''Narnia" books are a Christian allegory, but not so overt that most kids would notice or that non-Christian parents would mind. Children can enjoy the story just for the drama and fantasy.

Fortunately for HarperCollins, Lewis was not a sectarian, cleric, or theologian, therefore not readily identifiable with any particular Christian group. ''He is incredibly widely accepted," said Mark Tauber, deputy publisher of HarperSanFrancisco. ''Catholics like him, and evangelicals, and even the Mormons use 'Mere Christianity' in their Sunday school. He's probably the most important Christian writer in English of the 20th century."

''The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is not the first coordinated publisher/filmmaker effort. Boston-based Houghton Mifflin -- US publisher of J.R.R. Tolkien -- worked closely with New Line Cinema on the three blockbuster movies based on ''The Lord of the Rings" cycle. Houghton began to see a huge bump in sales as soon as the first movie trailer was released in 2001.

''A great movie can have a phenomenal impact," said Bridget Marmion, director of marketing for Houghton Mifflin's trade and reference division. ''Tolkien's books have sold about 80 million copies, going back to 'The Hobbit' in 1938. About 25 million of those were sold between 2001 and 2003, when the three movies were released."

While the commercialization would surely have balked them, Tolkien and Lewis would be immensely gratified at the size and scope of the audience their fairy stories are reaching and ecstatic that their Christianity is what makes them so salable.

'The Lion, the Witch,' the faithful: "This is a huge roll of the dice for Disney and Walden," said "Narnia" producer Mark Johnson. "But the payoff could be enormous." (Elaine Dutka, October 5, 2005, LA Times)

Walt Disney Studios is hoping that the same kind of church-based campaign that helped turn "The Passion of the Christ" into a blockbuster will convert C.S. Lewis' children's classic "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" into a big-screen franchise — with "Lion King"-sized profits.

Directed by Andrew Adamson ("Shrek"), the $150-million mix of computer-generated imagery and live action is due out Dec. 9 from Disney and Walden Media. Based on the first installment in a book series that has sold a combined 90 million copies over 55 years, the project seems tailor-made for the faith and family market.

Still, says Dennis Rice, Disney's senior vice president of publicity, the initiative is "only one arrow in a large quiver of arrows" as the studio prepares to unveil one of the largest marketing campaigns it has ever mounted. Among the companies with tie-ins: McDonald's, General Mills, Virgin Atlantic, Oral-B, Kodak and Taubman Centers, at whose shopping malls this season's holiday festivities will be "Narnia"-themed. More than 50 licensees are manufacturing items such as board games, porcelain dolls, trading cards and photo albums; HarperCollins is publishing more than 140 editions of "Narnia," including six box sets and 31 audio versions, and a video game is due in November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 5, 2005 8:37 AM

David Mehegan sure has an interesting idea of "overt". Granted, Narnia might not suggest Christianity to someone who had never heard of it, but that's about all...

Posted by: Kirk Parker at October 5, 2005 1:33 PM

I bought the series just the other day.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at October 6, 2005 2:31 AM