Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The box office results do not bode well for a continuation of this fine series: we may never get to see THE SILVER CHAIR. To avert that unwelcome fate, let me do my small part by urging my friends to go see the film.

VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is based on the beloved childrens’ book of CS Lewis of the same name, and follows the main outline of the story somewhat faithfully. We are not talking about some abomination where the two have nothing in common but the name, such as the flick STARSHIP TROOPERS, which was made for the sole purpose of insulting the fans of the novel. Nonetheless, purists like me will register at least a slight disappointment at the addition of an overarching quest plot not present in the book, and something of a flatness or “saltlessness” which comes from leaving out certain beloved scenes, lines, or themes.

The plot is that Edmund and Lucy return to the world of Narnia along with their frightfully selfish and priggish cousin Eustace Scrubb, a boy who almost deserves the name. They fall through a magic picture into the uncharted seas East of Narnia, to be rescued by Prince Caspian in his fair ship the Dawn Treader, seeking the edge of the world at the uttermost east, beyond which Aslan’s country is said to rest.

They seek also to discover the fate of the seven lords of Telmar, exiles by the usurper Miraz in days long past. The odyssey carries them from the Lone Islands, where slavers are, to island cursed by gold, by dragons, haunted by unseen one-legged antipodeans, wizards,bad dreams and exiled stars, to the seas where the water is fresh.

The movie, needing a more coherent plot, introduces an evil greenish fog that seeks to tempt and beguile our young heroes, consuming ships and people, and which can only be halted by collecting the seven magical swords to Aslan’s table at the world’s edge. The cure of the curse that befalls Eustace is moved to the end of this plot arc; the island of dreams is made the source of the mist and the evil; and every character is presented with a temptation that, in the movie script, is clearly coming from the island of darkness. Lucy’s temptation is to vanity, is it is set up nicely and is made convincingly chilling; the temptation of Edmund is something we have already seen in overcome, and dramatically, in the previous film, and so is not convincing. The cure of Eustace is too short, but is nevertheless moving. At least one extraneous character is introduced, the daughter of Rhince, in my opinion, to no real purpose. One character I rather liked, the star Rhamandu, was excised from the film version.

The one addition I thought was truly bad was the change from the Island of Dreams to the Island of Green Evil.

In the book, the discovery that the only dreams that come true are BAD dreams is a horror, and the crew are all are terrified into despair in the dark, each man remembering his bad dreams, and hearing something slowly approach, until Lucy sees an albatross, Aslan is disguise, who leads them to light again.

In the movie, the Island is the source and home of all evil, and whatever you think of there turns into the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man and comes forth to destroy you. This was used to introduce a dramatic set-piece action scene at the climax. The Albatross appears in one shot, but does not lead them out, and no one is oppressed by any night terrors except for the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man, in this case a sea serpent.

However, I will say that the scene of the sunlight breaking through and dispersing the evil green fog was breathtaking.

As a purist, what I missed most was the medieval flavor that Lewis did so well. Moderns don’t seem to understand dignity and hierarchy. There is no scene where Caspian with drawn sword on his knees overthrows the bureaucrat of the Lone Islands, appoints a Duke and establishes justice. Queen Lucy, while the Narnians properly bow to her, smiles and tells her subject to call her “Luce!” The Captain at one point chides King Edmund for exceeding his authority: I was trying to imagine if any captain aboard a ship carrying, say, King William, would interrupt the resurrected King Arthur and tell him not to give orders. 

Having Edmund regret his lost kingship seems (to me, at least) to miss the point and the greatness of Lewis’s conceit: his idea is that by being in king for a time in fairyland, you become more noble here, not more peevish.

The medieval courtesy offered by the daughter of the star at Aslan’s table is absent; the dignity of the mouse Reepicheep being willing to eat of doubtful food for courtesy’s sake when all the humans are afraid was sorely missed.

The point of the scene with the Dufflepuds is lost: in the movie version, they were turned invisible merely to protect them from the green fog.

However, which the film got right, it got nicely right. The house of the magician where Lucy reads the magic book was evocative and eerie. The sea serpent was appropriately terrifying, perhaps too much so; the dragon looked just as dragons should; Reepicheep was properly brave and noble (even though not as grim and Norse as in the original), and his departure in his coracle over the edge of the world was properly magical. Aslan does not show his lamb shape as he does in the book, but he does say the line, which I expected to hear never in a modern Hollywood production, that on Earth  “… I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

I did miss the scene where Caspian wants to travel to the world’s edge but must turn back, and also I missed the “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” where Caspian encourages his disheartened crew by commanding them not to go.

As adaptions go, the changes made were understandable, but I think the adaptation of PRINCE CASPIAN, which was less faithful to the book, made for a better movie.

All in all, I rather liked it. I saw it in 2D, which I recommend. There are so many indecent films, and so many anti-Christian films, we really ought to “vote with our dollars” and encourage films like this.

And I will most likely see it again.

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