I visited Narnia often in my youth, and I had spent many years in Middle Earth before it became part of popular American culture. I love these books. In fact, they pretty much ruined me for fiction. Every time I’d read a book, I’d think, “That’s okay, but its not Narnia or Middle Earth.” I read those books so often I knew them cover to cover. Why would anyone allow their children to reach the age of ten without having had the Chronicles of Narnia read to them?
I suppose I am a Narnian fundamentalist. I want the movie to stick very closely to the book. I was the same way with the Lord of the Rings trilogy that came out a few years ago. They were great books, but as I watched the movies, I found myself saying over and over again, “That’s not in the book.” I wanted Peter Jackson to remain faithful to the (nearly) sacred text and every diversion from that text annoyed me. I would have loved the movies much more if I had never read the book.
I found the same things happening tonight as I watched “Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” with my wife and daughter. This was one of my favorite books in the series (along with “The Silver Chair”) and I was probably a little more judgmental because of that. I wanted the makers of the movie to stick closer to the text of the book than they did. They produced an NIV translation and I wanted something a little more NASB.
But it was a fascinating movie (if I could have controlled my fundamentalist tendencies). The gist of the story was the same; Edmund and Lucy return to Narnia with their obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb (brilliantly casted and played). They are plucked from the sea by Prince Caspian and go on his quest to find and restore the seven lost lords of Narnia. They travel from island to island rescuing the lords or figuring out how they died.
I will have to trust that the constraints of making a movie require that the order of the quest be altered some. And they did take some liberties. They combined some of the story lines and glossed over other details (and I grieved for each one).
But all in all, the movie is well-made, interesting, funny and well worth the investment for a family night. I’m cheap, so we saw it in 2D, but at many theaters 3D is available. Here is the “Miller Analysis” which I know that you were waiting for breathlessly!
It’s a GREAT Movie
In spite of my complaints about how the story varies from the book, I wholeheartedly recommend this movie. It is great family entertainment. I loved it. My wife loved it. My 17-year-old daughter loved it. Three thumbs up! (Six?)
With all the thematic changes to the storyline, this is still the much-beloved story which C.S. Lewis gave to us. If you go in knowing that it varies slightly from the book and can suspend your textual criticism, you will enjoy a couple of hours of powerful, family-friendly, exciting cinema. You disappear into another world for a couple of hours and that is all you can really ask from a movie.
There is no objectionable content, to the best of my memory. I do not think there was a single obscenity in the movie and there was absolutely no sexual content. You can take a child of any age to the movie without embarrassment. There is a little bit of violence and intensity, but it is not nearly as dark as the Tolkien trilogy. It is truly family entertainment – quality family entertainment.
Clear Spiritual Content
I was pleased that the producers of the movie did not excise the spiritual content of the book. There is a poignant scene at the end of the book. Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy that they would not return to Narnia, but that he was known in their world by a different name, a clear reference to Christ. They were told that they were brought to Narnia so that they might know him better in their own world. One might have expected that exchange to be omitted from the movie, but it was not. I appreciated that they did not ignore the spiritual symbolism of the book.
Missing the Point of the Voyage
The part of the movie that I liked least was the introduction of a “bad guy” into the storyline – some sort of evil green mist that attacks the Dawn Treader and its inhabitants throughout the story. Harry Potter had his Voldemort. The Fellowship of the Ring had Sauron and Saruman. I guess the movie makers thought they needed an arch-villain to create intensity during the quest.
I think this misses the entire intent of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
I have a theory about the book – I don’t know if literary experts would validate this or not. C.S. Lewis used to claim that his stories were simple fantasy fiction, and that no allegory was intended. But I find myself wondering if the quest for the seven Narnian lords might also be a representation of the fight against the seven deadly sins – those human frailties that corrupt our existence. It is not too much of a stretch to believe that a medievalist would have woven that concept through his book. At each stop along the way, the Dawn Treader battles a new enemy – not Voldemort or Darth Vader, but their own frailties and failings.
The residents of the Lone Islands were slothful and lazy. The Dark Island represented discouragement and despair. The Dufflepuds were envious of others and needed to be taught to accept who they were. The pond in the cave that turned everything gold represents the seductive power of greed and the boat faced the wrath of the sea monster. Eustace’s sojourn as a dragon, in the book at least, was something of a humbling of his proud and self-centered experience. Lewis never beat us over the head with his deeper meanings, but it seems to me to be a clear theme in the book.
The Dawn Treader was not just seeking seven Narnian lords, but was seeking a path to defeating the sins that defeat us. In other words, the driving force of the story was the battle to overcome human weakness and sin.
The makers of the movie obviously felt that human struggle was not enough, so they had to introduce the magical villain to drive the story. I like the book! That doesn’t mean I don’t like the movie, I just like the book better.
Go see the movie. Its worth it in my humble but correct opinion.
But I have one more question: when did popcorn and a coke get to be nearly $14? I am really getting old! Send your (non) tax-deductible donations to Uncle Davey’s Movie Fund.