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REVIEW: Voyage of the Dawn Treader: An odyssey in faith

December 14, 2010 2 Comments

by Mathew Block
In what is perhaps the best of the three Narnia films, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader brings to life all the adventure of the novel while maintaining the sense of religious significance which pervades C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s series. With excellent casting and brilliant effects, the film draws movie-goers into the great sea voyage ending on the far shores of “Aslan’s Country.”

One year has passed since the Pevensie children have returned from the events of Prince Caspian. Edmund and Lucy are staying with their rather unpleasant cousin Eustace Scrubb when all three are suddenly swept into Narnia. Landing in the middle of a sea, Caspian saves them and brings them aboard his ship The Dawn Treader. In Narnia, three years have passed since Caspian became king. Now, assured things are under control at home, he has set off on a quest to find the seven missing lords of Narnia, displaced when Caspian’s uncle sat on the throne.

They soon land at the Lone Islands where, they find the first missing lord, but discover a mysterious mist terrorizing the citizens. In addition to finding the missing lords, Caspian and the crew now look to save those taken by the mist – a feat they can accomplish only by locating the seven swords of the seven missing lords and laying them at Aslan’s table.

Anyone who has read the book will find elements of the above summary a surprise. Expect changes. While most of film’s events are drawn from the story, the way in which the screenwriter weaves them together to fit the film’s two-hour run-time differs in many respects from the book. Fans of the series will know there is a lot of plot squeezed into this book, so alterations for the big-screen were no doubt unavoidable.

That said, a fair bit of the story makes it into the film, but even this has drawbacks. The audience begins to feel Lucy, Edmund and the gang have barely arrived at one part of their adventure before they are plunged head-long into the next. In the same way, some of the dialogue feels compressed; characters sometimes come to the point a too quickly, without the gradual development of thought that would make them more believable.

All people, no matter how valiant, need the help of someone greater than them

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Yet, despite these flaws, the film is a joy to watch. The excitement of enchantments, dragons and swordplay balances well with the deeper truths explored in the story, primary among them the truth that people cannot, by their own strength, overcome trials and temptations. All people, no matter how valiant, need the help of someone greater than them. Lucy struggles with her self-worth, Edmund thirsts for power, and Eustace is greedy for material gain. Without the intervention of Aslan, any of these temptations would spell disaster for the children individually and the quest collectively.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader marks Lucy and Edmund’s final childhood visit to Narnia (their siblings Peter and Susan had their last foray in Prince Caspian). Aslan explains this is because the Pevensie children have grown up. But this does not mean Aslan will no longer be part of their lives. In what is perhaps the most overtly Christian scene in the film, Aslan addresses Lucy’s fears that she will never see him again: “In your world,” he explains, “I have another name. You must learn to know me by it.”

On hearing these words, the audience is pulled suddenly out of the story and, if only for a moment, asks themselves what that “other name” is. For the uninformed movie-goer, it is a mystery – one that will hopefully follow them home. For the fan who knows Lewis’ works well, however, the answer is obvious: the “other name” is Jesus Christ. Aslan is a fictional representation of Jesus—an exploration, in C.S. Lewis’ own words, of what “Christ [might] become like if there really were a world like Narnia.”

I recall vividly the day I learned what that “other name” was. Still a child, I was reading though the series (yet again) when my pastor mentioned the series was written by the most popular Christian writer of the early 20th century. The novels, he said, deliberately incorporated Christian symbolism. To be honest, I felt cheated—like an unnecessarily adult, churchly seriousness was encroaching on my childhood joys. Later, I began seeing how the knowledge of Aslan’s “other name” did not diminish the stories but rather made them richer than I had ever realized. It increased childlike joy rather than replaced it.

The Aslan who cared so deeply for Narnia reflects a very real Saviour

The stories of Narnia were no longer just stories. They were not simply fictional adventures enjoyed by fictional characters. They were shadows of real events, glimpses of real truths. The Aslan who cared so deeply for Narnia reflected a very real Saviour who cared just as deeply for me; a Saviour who truly died to save the world, truly rose again and truly journeys with his people until they come at the last to the real “Aslan’s Country.”

The film adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is well worth seeing whether you are still a child, are entering your second childhood, or (like me) never really grew up! It is an adventure story any one can appreciate, Christian or not. But for the faithful, echoes of the “Deep Magic” of Narnia are sure to make the film much more enjoyable and much more meaningful.

Mathew Block is a freelance writer in Regina, Saskatchewan and a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. He blogs at www.captainthin.net