Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawntreader (2010)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V- 3; L-0 ; S/N- 1 Running time: 1 hour 55 min.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you
who have received the Spirit should restore such a one
in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves
are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this
way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:1-2

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will 2 Timothy 2:24-26

Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, & Eustace with Aslan on the beach.

2010 20th Century Fox

The entrance into Narnia the third time is more traumatic than walking through a wardrobe: it is by means of an over-active painting of an ancient ship. The two younger Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), face the awful prospect of spending their summer vacation with their unpleasant Aunt Alberta and Uncle Harold for the summer. Their parents are taking older sister Susan with them to America where their father is lecturing for sixteen weeks. They cannot afford to take all four children, and the kindly old professor they had lived with last summer has moved from his large old home with its wardrobe into a small cottage. Peter is staying with the professor for tutelage needed for upcoming exams What Lucy and Edmund dread most is putting up with their obnoxiously arrogant cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), who, this being his own home, enjoys lording it over the two guests. Molded by his rationalistic parents, he thinks his cousins’ talk of Narnia is rubbish. He comes into Lucy’s bedroom when she and Edmund are admiring the painting on the wall, one of them remarking that the ship is Narnia-like. They become wide-eyed as they notice the waves are billowing and the ship is moving toward them (no Harry Potter film back then). Alarmed, Eustace grabs the picture off the wall in an attempt to stop the flow beginning to pour into the room. Quickly the torrent becomes a flood, submerging the children. As they struggle to reach the surface, they find that they are at sea with the dragon-headed prow bearing down upon them.

Having spotted them, a man aboard the ship dives in to rescue the children; a platform is lowered, and aided by the man, the three are lifted aboard the ship. The Prevensies are delighted to discover that their old friend Caspian, now “King Caspian,” is in command. He informs them that he is on a mission to the eastern seas to find the seven lords and their swords who had been sent out years before and never heard from. Brother and sister are happy to be back in Narnia, but, of course, not the drenched Eustace whose stomach cannot stand the motion of the ship. He demands to be sent back home at once and threatens reprimands when he sees a British consulate. The little mouse warrior Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) takes an immediate dislike to the boy, later the two even going at each other with swords.

The rest of the film plot diverges from the book at a good many points, sometimes with good results. The opening shot of Spitfire fighters flying over the gothic halls of Cambridge sets the film in the midst of WW 2, and not postwar as in the book, a nice touch that suggests a parallel between the troubles of the nation with that of those sailing aboard the Dawntreader. Sometimes, as in the slave sequence on the Lone Islands, the adventures are shortened, whereas at other times an addition is made that adds depth to the proceedings and the characters.

Best of all the changes is the introduction of the theme of temptation in the episode when the voyagers land on what Lewis called “The Island of Voices” where unseen foes attack the party. Lucy is sent to the mansion to search through the book of incantations to find the one that makes the invisible creatures visible. As she is searching through the huge book she comes across the page bearing a spell that will make one beautiful. Because her older sister Susan had always been considered the beauty of the family, Lucy casts it and sees her face as it will be when she is older, and she is indeed beautiful. She even has a vision in which she is older and fashionably attired. As she emerges from the house to join a lawn party everyone turns toward her as the butler announces her arrival. She saunters amidst the admiring crowd, joining Susan and enjoying lording it over her for once by capturing the limelight.

I do not recall from the book that Aslan warned them that on their voyage they would encounter many temptations for which they must summon up the strength to resist. In addition to Lucy’s we see this theme also with Edmund and Caspian when on the Island of Deathwater Edmund wants to keep some of the objects that the cursed water had turned into gold, and the two of them almost come to blows over authority and power. Also, Edmund is further tempted when on several occasions he sees amidst the mists and clouds the visage of the Snow Queen promising to make him all powerful if he will join her. I wonder if credit for the above is due to co-script writer Richard LaGravanese, he being the author of the complex spirituality of one of my favorite films, The Fisher King.

Christian viewers will appreciate this development of the theme of temptation, as well as the filmmaker’s refusal to dilute the theological significance of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). Case in point of the latter: when at the end everyone must part ways, Lucy says that she wished Aslan could be with them always. The Lion replies that he is with her and Edmund in her world as well. She has to learn the other name that he is known by in her own world.

In regard to time sequence the filmmakers make a major change, Eustace being transformed into a dragon somewhat earlier in the adventure—though there are plenty of scenes beforehand of his carping and criticizing to make the point that he is a thoroughly nasty person. Eustace’s dragon period is both the extreme point of his isolation from his fellow travelers and his time of transformation, what the writer of John’s gospel might call his being born again. Now realizing what a terrible person he had been, he wants to make amends. He accomplishes this during the period when the ship is becalmed by hitching up and hauling the ship as he flies ahead of it. No longer is he useless excess baggage. The quiet scene in which he and Ed reconcile is not as moving as the more detailed one in the book, but still is very effective.

There are plenty of special effects-generated scenes, such as the attack of the sea serpent and Eustace’s transformation into a dragon as a result of his greed, to satisfy the thrill lover, as well as the already mentioned figure of Aslan. A good deal of C.S. Lewis’s wit in his narrative is lost, though some of it remains in the dialogue.

Director Michael Apted rushes through some of the scenes instead of lingering a bit longer for us to get to know the characters better. He pushes the young actor playing Eustache too much: had the boy villain been a man, he would be twirling his mustache and demanding that the others must pay the mortgage or he will take their home. Nonetheless, if fans of the series can accept the changes made in the story, the film should please most viewers.

According to those who write about the finances of the film industry, a lot is riding on this film. Disney studios backed out on this film because of the poor receipts from prince Caspian, so if there i
s to be another Narnia film, this one will have to do well at the box office. Judging by the receipts for the opening weekend, the film grossing $24 ½ million, about $7 ½ more than its closest competitor, The Tourist, a thriller with far bigger stars, Dawntreader’s new backers should be pleased. If this support keeps up, then we might well be seeing in a year or two a film version of The Silver Chair. The film is available in 3-D, but those who balk at paying the outrageous extra charge will find that little is lost in the 2-D version. Save your money.

For reflection/Discussion 1. Who is your favorite character, or with whom do you most identify? How does the introduction of the theme of temptation make the characters more complex, and not just stereotypical “good guys” ?

2. We are supposed to despise Eustace, of course, but what do you think contributed to his meanness? Compare him to Edmund in the first Narnia story. How does Lewis use their stories to illustrate the doctrine of redemption? What does each of them deserve?

3. In what ways do you think that the change of Eustace into a dragon is an appropriate sign of the nature of his character? How could his status be compared to what happened to Jonah when he tried to run away from God’s call?

4. After Aslan saves Eustace, the boy tells his companions, “No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it myself.” In what way is this similar to the Christian understanding that sinners cannot save themselves but need outside help?

5. “To defeat the darkness out there you must first defeat the darkness inside yourself.” Again, how is this a theological statement akin to what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:14-25? What temptations come to the characters—and how is it tailored to each of them? What tempts you at times? What do you do to resist?

6. What theological motif do you see at Aslan’s table in Lilliandil’s invitation to the travelers to eat, that there is enough to feed everyone? If this is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, might the mode of the children’s entrance into Narnia contain a reference to baptism?

7. What do you think of Reepicheep’s laying down his sword just before he passes through the wave? Where is he going?

8. The film shows the children’s last meeting with Aslan, but what detail in the book is left out? What do you think Lewis meant when Aslan first appeared to the children as a lamb inviting them to breakfast? (If stumped, then check out John 21:1-14.) Do you think the filmmakers might have thought this detail was too “Christian” to be included?

9. Why do you think that Aslan tells Lucy that she will be too old to return to Narnia? Relate this to Jesus’ telling his followers that they must become children in order to enter the kingdom of God. Another way of looking at it—as a milestone on the children’s journey toward maturity. Could the desire to return to Narnia be a way of escaping one’s responsibilities to this world?

10. What does Aslan mean when he says that in their world they will have to learn to know him by another name? (In the book it is to Edmund. I’m not sure but that it is Lucy in the film.) What does he say is the purpose for bringing them to Narnia? Do you believe that some of your experiences have helped you to know the Redeemer?