Movie's release means `Narnia' push is on at Christian stores

Friday, December 2nd 2005, 1:28 pm
By: News On 6

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ With Friday's release of the film version of ``The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,'' the marketing push to promote the sale of Narnia books and other related merchandise is reaching a crescendo _ and nowhere more so than in Christian retail stores.

Christian allusions can be found throughout the best-selling fantasy novel, which follows the adventures of four young siblings during World War II who discover a world of fauns, centaurs, unicorns and talking animals inside an armoire.

The heroic lion Aslan, a symbol of Jesus Christ, battles the White Witch, who is seen by some to represent a servant of Satan if not the devil himself. The residents of Narnia refer to a human boy as ``a Son of Adam'' and to a girl as ``a Daughter of Eve.''

The movie, which is expected to be a hit, already has boosted sales of the seven-title Narnia series published by HarperCollins.

While the publishing company is distributing the C.S. Lewis books and other related merchandise to general retailers, its Zondervan division, a Grand Rapids-based publisher of Bibles and other religious books, is responsible for getting Narnia items into Christian bookstores and gift shops.

Large, elaborate in-store displays at many stores depict wardrobes, lions, lampposts, knights and other Narnia items and characters. Besides the original books, Christian retailers are stocking their shelves with a variety of movie tie-in products, from music CDs to figurines.

Doug Lockhart, Zondervan's president and chief executive officer, said sales at Christian stores are going through the roof, though he declined to release figures.

``It has been a very stable franchise but with the exposure that has been associated with this upcoming movie release, the sales have taken a dramatic increase, multiple times,'' Lockhart said.

Nancy Guthrie, a spokeswoman for CBA International, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based trade association that represents about 2,300 Christian retailers, agreed the movie has been having a positive effect on store sales of an already popular and steadily selling book series.

``It's giving them the opportunity to not only offer new books about C.S. Lewis and Narnia but certainly to feature these classic children's books, as well as, really, the broad list of titles available by C.S. Lewis.''

Rhonda Barnett, owner of the Blessings to You shop in Three Rivers, said Thursday that few of her customers had been buying the Narnia books until recently.

``There's never been too much interest, but within the past month, it's really increased with the release of the movie coming up,'' she said.

An atheist in his youth, Lewis, a professor at Oxford, became an Anglican convert as he grew older. Aside from his Narnia books, he is best known for such spiritual works as ``A Grief Observed,'' in which he reflects on God and life following the death of his wife, Joy Gresham, from cancer, and ``Mere Christianity,'' in which he uses logical arguments to make a case for orthodox Christianity.

``The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'' was first published in 1950 and has remained a favorite among generations of young readers. Nearly 100 million Narnia books have been sold.

The HarperCollins imprint is counting on parents and grandparents who enjoyed the Narnia series as children to take their own children and grandchildren to the movie, then buy them the books and tie-in products.

However, not all the Narnia books and merchandise available through Zondervan are aimed at children, Lockhart said.

``The core target audience is in the 5-12 range, but the audience for `The Chronicles of Narnia' is of all ages,'' he said.

Among the offerings for nostalgic grown-ups is a hardcover set of the series and a softcover guide to Narnia.

The last time a movie's release had this kind of an impact on sales at Christian retail stores was when ``The Passion of the Christ'' came out early last year, said Kirk Blank, chief operating officer of Munce Group, an Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.-based marketing group that represents 610 independently owned Christian retailers.

While a huge commercial success, the film's graphic depiction of Jesus being tortured and crucified earned it an R rating. There will be more marketing opportunities with the family friendly, PG-rated ``The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.''

``We're hitting a much bigger audience,'' Blank said.

The life cycle of movie tie-ins tends to last much longer in Christian stores than at other retailers, he said, because of the ``personal commitment to the story and the content'' often experienced by their shoppers.

``In the Christian market, in fact, some of the `Passion' items are still very good-selling products,'' Blank said.

To encourage member stores to stock up on Narnia books and merchandise, Munce is holding a contest to see which ones can come up with the best displays. Ten winning stores will be chosen later this month, with each retailer receiving two $500 prize packages _ one for store personnel, one for a customer _ of Narnia books and CDs provided by Zondervan and other companies.

Some Christian stores are renting out movie theaters and giving away tickets to private showings of ``The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,'' Blank said.

When the DVD of the movie is released, probably sometime next year, Munce will be ready, he said.

``When that happens, we'll have another significant push for that for consumers.''