I viewed Bridge toTerabithia with my nine-year-old daughter last weekend. This weekend I took her back with her friend, her cousin, and my mom for a second viewing. I’m considering going a third time next weekend. Need I say more? I’ve never read the book, but I now intend to get a copy. Terabithia is not a Narina rip-off as I have read, rather, it is a real life story unlike The Chronicles of Narnia – which is a work of fantasy created to preach Christianity to the uninitiated. Terabithia starts with something real, not fantasy, and generates a story worth telling. It contains the Christian message subtly woven into it's fabric. Perhaps C.S. Lewis should have spent more time with children before he spun his yarn. Terabithia is the salvation of which C.S. Lewis must have been dreaming for with Narnia. Karen Paterson got it right.
Ok, are you ready, because some of this is a little hard to take so I’ll just put it out there for you to consider. Here is why Bridge to Terabithia is magnificent and the greatest story ever told.
There is a chasm between God and us. Call the chasm what you will – this movie uses the analogy of the creek. It has always been difficult to believe in God because we do not really know that he is on the other side. To get to God we have to take a leap of faith. Letting go of our inhibitions and taking that leap of faith is always the first step. Leslie pushes Jesse to take that first step by trusting in the rope and swinging to the other side.
So begins the journey of discovery and faith for Jesse with Leslie acting as the teacher – so that puts her in a significant role – one which I’m quite sure is missed by most Christians because they never see it coming. Leslie has a few powers that seem a little more than ordinary. She is the fastest runner. She knows the true essence of scuba diving having never actually been. She can see right into Jesse’s soul when she says to him, “Take a picture, it will last longer”. She wants to befriend everyone –including the bully. She has a genuine concern for everyone. And almost everything she does takes the form of a lesson she is trying to teach – and in the end she has taught lessons to everyone –including many adults hence the scene with Monster Mouth (Their mean teacher who seems to now soften) and her dialogue with Jesse.
But we realize that her powers are a little more exceptional than making friends and teaching. When they first enter Terabithia Leslie summons the winds – Jesus, of course, calmed the winds but this is just a story and is why it is so subtle. Also, Leslie speaks of freeing the Terabithians from their captor. In this case she speaks of the old fortress that is now dilapidated. The old fortress is the Old Testament and the approaches of the Old Testament to find God is holding it’s believers in bondage. Leslie is now presenting something New. Again she is teaching and she doesn’t stop teaching. It might seem odd that the old God is represented in this context as the Dark Master -- at the end this will be revealed as well. There are many things that happen over the next several scenes – she teaches the children and leads the “Free the Pee” revolt, she places her fingers over the mouth of May Belle when she is mocking Jesse and her, and of most significance, she goes to the Bully -- Janice Avery when she is crying and makes her feel better (She heals the sick and tormented). But remember she also pushes Jesse towards a relationship with Ms Edmunds the music teacher by getting Jesse to help her with her boxes and music equipment. She knows what she is doing and she knows she will be betrayed –although this isn’t explicit –its pretty clear she is pushing Jesse in some way and for some reason.
Now remember through all of this Leslie is being tormented because she is the new kid. She continues to teach and one of the most powerful lessons of all is when Janice sprays her with Ketchup. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the ketchup looks like blood? But what does Leslie do? She washes up at Jesse’s house so that her mother doesn’t call the school and get Janice into trouble. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”. That’s what Jesus said when he was covered in blood.
Leslie continues to teach right up until the end –she catches a sun beam in her purse and finally there is the scene in the pick-up truck where she says the part about God not damning people to hell since he is too busy taking care of this beautiful place. Her teachings are almost complete. I have counted at least two parables - but I need to see the movie again. First, remember Jesse has very little money but still chooses to buy a gift for Leslie – the dog. This is an act of faith since the dog is Jesse's message to Leslie that he believes. The dog is to become their troll hunter. Second is the parable of the women searching for the lost coin. This is envoked when Jesse begins his search for the lost keys which represent a large chunk of change, about $700 by his father's estimation. He retrieves the keys but not without another huge act of faith which takes him out on a limb. But as he falls it is another of Leslie's disciples, the transformed Janice Avery, who must save him. Leslie's powers are at an all time high.
Up until this point it would still be just a nice story with some teachings but they take it further. Jesse betrays Leslie – can there be any doubt he knows he is doing it and of course Leslie dies at the creek. But the lessons continue – Leslie’s father tells Jesse that Leslie loved him – that is not just a message of friendship.
Jesse goes back to the creek and what has occurred with no explanation? A tree has fallen over the creek. The rope swing, which required Leslie’s presence in flesh to lead Jesse across, has been transformed into a bridge. To me, there is no doubt that the fallen log represents the resurrection –this will also be missed and hotly contested by most Christians I’m sure, but the symbolism is there.
The final teaching then occurs – May Belle tries to cross and is unable because she doesn’t know the way yet. Then Jesse feels so guilty the dark master is upon him. Then we discover that the Dark Master has been Jesse’s father all along just as we have misunderstood the Old Testament "God" as our Father incorrectly, the New Testament Father is understood through Jesus. And now Jesse's father explains this through the final teachings. First he let’s Jesse know it is not his fault that Leslie has died, this act forgive Jesse and absolves him of his torment from the sin he believes he has committed. And second he tells Jesse that Leslie has given him something special that will always remain with him and that it is this gift that will always keep Leslie alive. At this point Jesse's own transformation is complete. Then Jesse launches the small raft down the river as a tribute to Leslie. Clearly this scene is not just cathartic for Jesse – it is the ascension of Christ into heaven. What’s left now is for Jesse to take up the ministry where Leslie left off and lead other’s to the Bridge and their own crossing over to God.
Jesus said, “No one gets to the father except through me”. Crossing the bridge requires a leap of faith; on the other side the transformation is complete. The bridge to Terabithia, or more specifically the Bridge, is Christ. Christ provides believers safe passage to the father, heaven, salvation, and your own Terabithia.
So you see this is not a sad story at all. It is the greatest story every told, simply retold. Christ died to save those who believe in him. Leslie’s death, therefore, had to occur in this story. It was inevitable in order for believers to know the truth. There must be a bridge. Without the death of Christ there would be no bridge, no path to the Father, no salvation, and in this case, without Leslie's death, no bridge and no crossing to Terabithia for believers. Again, Magnificent!