One criticism of the new Narnia movie I’ve run across in several different venues is that it presents the ransom theory of the atonement rather than penal substitution.
I’ve not seen the movie, and it’s been years since I read the book, but it seems to me that this particular criticism is deeply confused.
It’s true that Lewis had a subscriptural theory of the atonement. But the death and resurrection of Aslan is an allegory of the atonement, not a theory of the atonement. This is symbolic picture-language. And at an allegorical level, the depiction of his death, as I recall it from the book, which, to judge by the movie reviews, is faithfully reproduced in the cinematic adaptation, is perfectly consistent with penal substitution.
To be sure, Lewis denied that his Christian fiction was allegorical. But he seems to have been operating with a very narrow definition of allegory. His fiction doesn’t set up a point-by-point correspondence between the narrative and extranarrative levels, as we have in Dante or Bunyan, where nearly everything stands for something else.
But there’s a lot of calculated Christian symbolism in his fiction, so they are allegorical in both broad and specific ways without being allegorical through-and-through. And the death and resurrection of Aslan is quite clearly allegorical.
Indeed, the very objection to this depiction takes it to be an allegory of the atonement. But, in that event, we need to distinguish between the allegorical and the literal level. On an allegorical plane it symbolizes the atonement, but at a literal level it is not a theory of the atonement. It is simply an imaginative emblem of the atonement.
Another problem with this criticism is the tacit assumption that Lewis began with an idea of the atonement, and then figured out how to translate that idea into word-pictures. And maybe that’s how it happened.
But it’s at least as likely that he began, not with an idea of the atonement, but an image of the atonement, a mental image derived from Christian iconography, from cross, and crucifixion, and innumerable paintings of the Crucifixion, and translated that artistic tradition into an allegorical counterpart.
So both in terms of the creative process as well as the distinction between the allegorical narrative and its extranarrative referent, this objection strikes me a fundamentally ill-conceived.