American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
C. S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia books, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the Ring trilogy, were friends who taught at Oxford at the same time, were pipe-smokers, drank in the same pub, took Christianity seriously, but although Lewis loved Tolkein’s universe, the affection was not returned. Well, no wonder. When you’ve created your own universe, how do you feel when, in the words of a poem by e. e. cummings:: "Listen: there's a hell/of a good universe next door; let's go."
Tolkien's universe was in unspecified Middle Earth, but Lewis' really was next door. In the opening scenes of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," two brothers and two sisters from the Pevensie family are evacuated from London and sent to live in a vast country house where they will be safe from the nightly Nazi air raids. Playing hide-and-seek, Lucy, the youngest, ventures into a wardrobe that opens directly onto a snowy landscape where before long Mr. Tumnus is explaining to her that he is a faun.
Fauns, like leprechauns, are creatures in the public domain, unlike Hobbits, who are under copyright. There are mythological creatures in Narnia, but most of the speaking roles go to humans like the White Witch (if indeed she is human) and animals who would be right at home in the zoo (if indeed they are animals). The kids are from a tradition which requires that British children be polite and well-spoken, no doubt because Lewis preferred them that way. What is remarkable is that this bookish bachelor who did not marry until he was nearly 60 would create four children so filled with life and pluck.
That's the charm of the Narnia stories: They contain magic and myth, but their mysteries are resolved not by the kinds of rabbits that Tolkien pulls out of his hat, but by the determination and resolve of the Pevensie kids -- who have a good deal of help, to be sure, from Aslan the Lion. For those who read the Lewis books as a Christian parable, Aslan fills the role of Christ because he is resurrected from the dead. I don't know if that makes the White Witch into Satan, but Tilda Swinton plays the role as if she has not ruled out the possibility.