The voyage of the Dawn Treader
- I went to see the film of The voyage of the Dawn Treader last night, and
today finished reading the book for the fifth time, and noted some of the
differences between the film and the book.
I hadn't seen the previous two Narnia films in the current series, perhaps
for the same reason as I never saw (and don't want to see) the films of Lord
of the Rings, because I don't want the film to interfere with the pictures in
my head when I read the books. But The voyage of the Dawn Treader is
different. It isn't set in Narnia itself, and is more like a series of short
In the prepublicity leading up the the film release there was some talk of
the film removing all the "Christian" elements of the book, and interviews
with the producers in various publications, in which they said that they
weren't Christian, and so hadn't handled it as a Christian story.
Well, I don't think C.S. Lewis himself regarded it as a specifically
Christian story, though it is, of course, informed by his Christian
worldview. The most overtly Christian thing about it is at the end, where
Aslan says that he is known in our world by another name, and the children
returning to our world need to learn to know him by that name, and that was
retained in the film. What disappeared in the film was a lot of the
theological nuances, and as it was written as a children's story, they
wouldn't be apparent to most children on a first reading either. Perhaps
seeing the film might encourage childrent to read the book.
One of the things that stood out for me was that Reepicheep came across as a
much more sympathetic character in the film than in the book. The first
couple of times I read it I found him rather tiresome, and sympathised with
Caspian, when Reepicheep said to him, 'Your Majesty promised to be a good
lord to the Talking Beasts of Narnia.'
'Talking beasts, yes,' said Caspian. 'I said nothing about beasts that never
And perhaps something of the film lingered when I reread the book, because I
saw Reepicheep in a new light.
The film handled Eustace Scrubb fairly well, and showed his change from an
unpleasant character to a somewhat improved character fairly well, though
some of this was lost because in the film most of the changes took place in
his dragon form, and not his boy form. Edmund and Lucy, however, appeared
much older in the film than they do in the book. Perhaps it was difficult to
handle their appearing to be older while in Narnia and reverting to the
chronology of this world on their return.
One of the things I found interesting was the things that the film added to
the book, and those that it removed, or emphasised less.
One of the first additions was people from the Lone Islands disappearing into
the mist, and a girl from the Lone Islands stowing away on the Dawn Treader
and becoming a kind of companion to Lucy, though her role is not clear, and
it is not helped by her somewhat wooden-faced performance.
What gets lost in that part of the story, partly because of the changes and
spurious additions, is the point that comes out strongly in Lewis's narrative
-- that bureaucrats who pay more attention to statistics and economic trends
than to people tend to lose sight of justice, and are unworthy of their
office. I can't help wondering if this was perhaps a bow to political
correctness on the part of the film's producers, in a time when governments
keep telling us that cuts in spending have to be made because of the
statistics, regardless of the effect that they might have on people.
The order of events is also changed somewhat. In one sense this does not
matter very much, since each episode on the voyage, each island or
archipelago visited is independent of the others. But in the book there is a
progression. At the first stop, at the Lone Islands, the voyagers are faced
by mainly human evil - slave traders and a corrupt bureaucracy.
In the book the next stop is at the dragon island, where Eustace is briefly
transformed into a dragon, and there, of course, magic enters the picture,
certainly in the actual transformation. But it is also human evil, in that it
is linked to Eustace's dragonish thoughts. The actual transformation is
handled quite well in the film. Where it is different, and not improved, is
that while in the book Eustace is transformed back into a boy before they
leave the island, in the film it is moved much later, and Eustace stays in
dragon form for longer, I suspect because the film producers wanted him to
fight the sea-serpent in his dragon form rather than his human form.
The sea-serpent episode is also moved closer to the end of the film, and
that, to me, is one of its greatest weaknesses. It tends to turn the film
into a B-movie like Anaconda, and I got the impression that the producers
simply could not resist the temptation to play with Anaconda-like special
effects in 3D, with close-ups of the lunging head that kept snapping but
never seemed to actually do any significant damage. In the book it is the boy
Eustace, rather than the dragon, who attacks the sea-serpent, his first
significant (though ineffectual) act of bravery in the story.
The other significant addition in the film is the quest to collect the swords
of the seven missing lords, and to bring them together on Aslan's table, and
the change in Eustace is marked by him being the one to put the last sword
there, which is supposed to make everything right.
What is missing from the film is Ramandu.
Ramandu's daughter makes an appearance, and she is a star, and goes back to
being one, instead of marrying Caspian (though the film does show the
attraction he feels towards her). But Ramandu, though mentioned, does not
appear at all, and this is where some of the theological nuances get lost in
'In our world,' said Eustace, 'a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.'
'Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it
is made of. And in this world you have already met a star; for I think you
have been with Koriakin.'
'Is he a retired star, too?' said Lucy.
'Well, not quite the same,' said Ramandu. 'It was not quite as a rest
that he was set to govern the Duffers. You might call it a punishment. He
might have shone for thousands of years more in the southern winter sky if
all had gone well.'
'What did he do, Sir?' asked Caspian.
'My son,' said Ramandu, 'it is not for you, a son of Adam, to know what
faults a star can commit.'
And so Lewis hints, briefly, at the possibility of the repentance of fallen
angels. And while the Bible, and other books, like the Book of Enoch, speaks
of the sons of gods marrying the daughters of men, Lewis has a son of Adam
marrying a daughter of the gods. But the film skips this episode.
I suppose one of my disappointments, with both the film and the books, is the
sea-serpant episode. In the film the sea-serpent is reduced to a lunging,
snapping, special-effects reptile, with no real significance for the story.
But in the book, while the sea-serpent could have had some Rahab-like
characteristics (cf Isaiah 55:9-11), Lewis makes it merely dim-witted.
See also: http://su.pr/2qwWRH