When I was a child, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my least favorite of the Narnia Chronicles. The other books were full of excitement (for the most part – I did find the creation sequence in The Magician’s Nephew rather boring). This novel just went on and on to a rather anticlimactic ending.
I reread it one day in college, when I felt like reading for pleasure rather than studying. Pleasure isn’t exactly what I found, as I discovered in it spiritual lessons I had been oblivious to when I was younger. I saw myself in Eustace’s self-centeredness, and longed for the kind of transformation Aslan worked in him when he tore away Eustace’s dragon-skin.
In another chapter is Lucy’s temptation to use a spell to make herself beautiful. That one didn’t particularly bother me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care at all about my appearance – I wanted to lose weight and have clothes fit well on me – but I had never found anything appealing in the idea of being considered especially beautiful.
But the next spell Lucy found was another matter. It enabled her to know what her friends thought of her. While I didn’t worry much about what most people thought of me, I cared very much what the people I admired thought of me. I was very sobered by Aslan’s words to Lucy that she would not be able to forget what she had heard one girl say about her, and (in response to Lucy’s question whether the two girls might have been good friends otherwise) that “no one is ever told what would have happened.”
Those two scenes are among those I remember most clearly from the book. And neither appears in the Michael Apted’s movie adaptation. Eustace is released from his dragon shape by Aslan’s work, but the symbolism of Aslan tearing the dragon skin off is absent. Aslan paws at the ground with his foot, and in response Eustace is raised into the air and seems to turn to fire, then falls to the ground as a boy.
He later speaks briefly of the experience, but one doesn’t get nearly the same sense of being inside Eustace’s head, experiencing how desperately he needs Aslan’s help, that one does in the book. And this review points out another problem with the way the movie depicts the transformation, making Eustace immediately into a hero whose action in setting the seventh sword on the table saves everyone else (rather than just another member of a community who has to work together to accomplish their goals).
The movie makes a big deal out of Lucy’s desire to be beautiful, and the dream(?) sequence probably works at least as well in demonstrating the negative consequences of her desire being fulfilled as what is in the book (destructive wars as men fight over her). But it completely ignores the other temptation, to know what other people think about her. It’s easy enough, I think, to settle for not being the most beautiful woman, since the reality is that most of us aren’t. But the desire to know what others (at least certain others) think of us is one I constantly struggle with.
Because of those two changes from the book, I couldn’t help being disappointed in the movie. Yet this article makes some very good points about accepting the movie on its own terms, recognizing that the contemplative nature of the book (which made it so boring to me as a young girl) makes it necessary for a movie adaptation to take a different approach. The movie shows a growing friendship between Eustace and Reepicheep that the book merely hints at – and frankly, I never found Reepicheep all that appealing until watching this movie.
So I may give the movie another chance at some point. (Tonight I only rented it, using Blockbuster’s 49-cent summer Sunday rental deal.) For now, I’m more inclined to reread the book.