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Television Reviews : C. S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles’ Lives in World of Fantasy

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A lion king, a cruel witch, fauns, dwarfs, dryads, centaurs, werewolves and children caught up in a life-and-death battle between good and evil: If anyone thinks children’s books are tame, they haven’t read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis.

Part 1 of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the first book in Lewis’ classic, seven-volume “Chronicles,” airs as a “Wonderworks” presentation tonight at 7 on Channels 28 and 50 and at 8 on Channel 15.

It is a rare treat, indeed.

Four children--two girls, two boys--are sent to the English countryside to escape the bombing of London during World War II. During their stay at the castle home of an eccentric professor, they discover that an old carved wardrobe is a doorway to Narnia, a world where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.”

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Narnia is under the spell of the White Witch (Barbara Kellermann). Peter, Susan and little Lucy (Richard Dempsey, Sophie Cook and the delightful Sophie Wilcox) fight to defeat her; their brother Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott), greedy and spiteful, betrays them. Doom is certain without the help of the kind and powerful Lion King, Aslan.

Lewis’ tale exists as marvelous fantasy, but its roots are in the rich loam of Christian symbolism: the conflict between good and evil, sacrifice and the death and resurrection of a Christ-figure--in this case, a noble lion. It is all in the eye of the beholder, however. Alan Seymour’s delightful dramatization, directed by Marilyn Fox, works on both levels.

Over a three-year period, the British Broadcasting Corp. will spend $13.5 million to bring “Chronicles” to the small screen. So far, the money has been well and lovingly spent.

Viewers must wait to see “Wardrobe’s” remaining Parts 2 and 3. Each one-hour episode will be shown on consecutive Saturdays. The wait will be longer for the other Narnia books: They won’t be seen until 1990 and 1991.

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