As a successful lawyer and part owner of a film company, Chip Flaherty can pretty much do whatever he wants to do with his life.
He could represent high profile clients in court, live the bad boy life and produce films that would make most grandmothers’ blush – all the while raking in the dough.
Instead, Flaherty, 46, vice-president of Walden Media, wanted to follow God’s path, so about 10 years ago, he got together with his younger brother, Michael, and his Tufts University roommate, producer Cary Granat, to develop movies that would not only appeal to families, but encourage kids to read.
In addition to producing quality books for children and pre-teens, Walden Media produced family friendly films such as “Ramona,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” and “Charlotte’s Web.” However, the company is probably most recognized for the C.S Lewis “Chronicles of Narnia” series.
Earlier this month, the third movie, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” was released. Flaherty hopes it will be as popular as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and “Prince Caspian.”
The father of Maggie, 13, Bridget, 12, Abby, 9 and Francis Xavier III (nicknamed Trey), 4, he wants to leave a legacy that is not only suitable for his children, but pleasing to God. This mission keeps Flaherty living in the same community in which he was raised and attending the same parish in which his mom grew up, he was baptized, and later married his wife, Leslie.
“You know when I was a kid going to St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, Mass., I always looked forward to great homilies and enjoyed reading the Bible,” he said. “I have always been grateful for what we had growing up and wanted to thank the Lord that we were so fortunate. Every March we prayed the St. Francis Xavier novena and I always remember the priest’s homilies on St. Francis’ teachings on how God writes straight with crooked lines. I knew God was calling me to do something different with my life.”
As he studied the life of St. Francis Xavier, Flaherty developed a sense of peace and even temperament when it came to facing adversities. Whether it was something as simple as a flat tire or much more harrowing, Flaherty kept the novena in his mind and knew that something good would come from the situation.
“This message of God writing straight with crooked lines is a message we tried to aspire to in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” he explained during a Dec. 9 phone interview with your Catholic Herald. “For example, there were two miracles in the movie. When Eustace (became) a dragon, he had to re-evaluate the way he lived his life. Then when he was undragoned by Aslan and becomes a boy again, he had to learn his purpose; and once he understood the purpose, the results were providential.”
Like Eustace, Flaherty believes people should be thankful for the opportunities to be tested and come through refined and changed by God.
“I am reminded (of) a quote by C.S. Lewis,” he said, “’God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’”
Working with the film’s director, Doug Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis could be intimidating, but Flaherty insisted that the man and their relationship are
“He is the world’s foremost expert on C.S. Lewis and has the unique experience of having grown up and been raised by the man he calls ‘Jack,’” said Flaherty. “The other thing is, he made ‘Narnia’ his life’s work and is the greatest living Lewis resource in the world. Throughout the entire process, he collaborated with us and was such a wonderful source of creativity.”
Much of the enthusiasm for bringing Narnia to life lies with Flaherty who remembers being introduced to the books as a fourth grade student in public grammar school.
“I went to Catholic high school, but surprisingly was introduced to these very Christian books in public grade school,” he explained. “My teacher took 30 minutes at the end of the day to slow us down and calm us by reading the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and that’s when I fell in love with the books and C.S. Lewis.”
The movie retains the message and many of the same lines C.S. Lewis penned. Without spoiling the ending, Flaherty noted that Aslan’s lines at the end of the book are the same at the end of the movie and he is proud of their faithful adaptation of Lewis’ work.
The character of Aslan the lion represents Jesus, and is portrayed by the voice of actor Liam Neeson. The Irish actor ignited a controversy when just before the film’s release he said Aslan represents God or Christ, but he prefers to think of the lion as a mentor and guardian and based on non-Christian “spiritual leaders.”
He told reporters at London’s Daily Mail that “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure, but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha, and all the great prophets and spiritual leaders over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.”
Despite the politically correct rhetoric ascribed to by Neeson, C.S. Lewis, a former atheist turned Catholic, created Aslan to represent Christ and that is not debatable, assured Flaherty.
“Liam Neeson has God-given gifts. He is a great actor and I can’t imagine a different actor playing Aslan,” he said. “He is at the top of his game in filmmaking, but that said, I don’t think he is about to get a doctorate from any theological seminary course. From an actor, all we ask is to bring the best of his or her craft and that fantastic voice for reading lines that Lewis wrote. Liam has a God given-gift of a beautiful voice, but – well, he is out of depth, vocationally.”
Walden Media holds the film rights to all seven books in the Narnia series but producing them will depend on how well the public receives “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
“We have been blessed to safeguard the C.S. Lewis legacy and we hope this film will be successful,” said Flaherty. “I like to say ‘Man supposes, God disposes,’ but at the end of the day, if we do well and if the audience supports the movie, we plan to make all of them. It’s the same as if I owned a bakery and made special cupcakes for Christmas. If someone asked me if I was going to make them again, I would tell them that I have to see if these sell first before I make that commitment. Movies are a similar marketplace.”