The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
For as long as I can remember—from my school life through my adult working life—I have had some desire to be popular, accepted, respected, important, influential. And while (at least) the desires to be well liked or respected are not inherently wrong, how we respond to them is important. At a most basic level, I am tempted to achieve these desires through deceit: covering up truths about myself that might lower others’ opinions of me. At a deeper level, though one more difficult to pinpoint, I am tempted to be dissatisfied with the person God made me to be.
These are themes central to the recently released film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, adapted from the C.S. Lewis novel and directed by Michael Apted. Fans of the book will be pleased to find the Dawn Treader visit all their favorite islands. We see the slave trade at the Lone Islands; the Dufflepuds make their appearance; Deathwater and Dragon Islands are both present—though merged into one. There is the memorable un-dragoning of Eustace. And we also visit Ramandu’s island and meet his daughter, and go to the Dark Island where nightmares come true.
A small cast results in more individual character development, helping to emphasize one of the film’s important Christian themes: resisting the temptation to be someone different than we are. Georgie Henley, returning in her role as Lucy, is not quite so innocently charming as before. She’s a bit more grown-up. A bit more like Susan. And that’s good for this film, for the very thing she is wrestling with is a desire to be Susan—to be beautiful, and to be noticed for her beauty.
Skandar Keynes also plays Edmund well, wrestling with his desire for greater importance and influence. Newcomer Will Poulter is superb as Eustace: obnoxious enough to make you realize why Edmund (and almost everybody else) despises him, but also quite funny. You really want to like him, and rejoice to see Aslan’s work in his life.
The film is visually appealing from the opening seen. Apted has a great interpretation of the magical picture frame that transports the children into Narnia. The dragon Eustace was smaller than I expected, but appropriately so, leaving the viewer with the sense that even as a dragon, Eustace was small. And the serpent has some rather startling and powerful visual touches.
So what was different in the film than in the book?
In Lewis’ original work, the numerous islands make for a series of separate unrelated adventures. What screenplay writers Markus, McFeely, and Petroni add is a single cohesive evil behind all of the disparate trials. The slave traders on the Lone Islands are not selling slaves to Calormen, but presenting them as human sacrifices to an evil green mist. The mission of the Dawn Treader becomes one of finding the evil, defeating it, and rescuing the slaves, while overcoming not only direct assaults, but also a series of temptations aimed at the heroes.
On one level, this new element introduced by the screenwriters works very well, especially from a Christian perspective. There really is a power of darkness in the world, Scriptures tell us, and we wrestle against it. In the film, that darkness is associated with the White Witch (once again played by Tilda Swinton). By recognizing an overarching battle against this power of darkness, each separate adventure—from the invisibility of the Dufflepuds, to the malicious attack of the sea-serpent, to the numerous temptations—gains new spiritual meaning in the context of temptations or assaults sent by the witch.
Still, the story is not as cohesive as it could be. It isn’t clear how the witch is involved (since she is presumably dead.) There is no explanation of why placing seven swords on Aslan’s table will suddenly defeat evil, so the victory seems to come as much by some inexplicable magic as it does from Aslan himself, or from obedience to Aslan. I was also disturbed by Lucy’s promise to the young girl that she’ll get her mother back. (Lewis himself lost his mother at a young age, and despite many prayers never got her back.)
All in all the film was very enjoyable; all six of the youth (ranging in age from 8 to 17) who went with me loved it. But it was more than merely entertaining. The film ends, as does the book, with a reminder: Aslan lives in our world too, though he has another name here. The very reason Lucy was brought to Narnia, Aslan tells her—and, we might surmise, the reason we also were brought to Narnia—is so we can know Aslan in our world: the Son of God who entered the world and took on bodily form. (A good and true story to remember at Christmas.)
When we see the universality of that Truth, we can also see that we should be content with whom God made us to be, and that our battle against evil is ultimately not fought with swords (or guns or bombs) but by recognizing and resisting temptation. For me personally, it was an encouragement to recognize my own temptations. If I can be reminded of that while enjoying a good film, it’s a worthwhile evening.
Image by Walden Media. Post written by Matthew Dickerson, co-author of Narnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C. S. Lewis.