Epic Analyses of the Dawn Treader: Part 1

"All storytelling is revolution."
~ Kathy Acker

So, I went to see the Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader yesterday. Actually, I'd arranged to go and see it with friends on opening week, but failed to take into account that the first few weeks of the holidays are not an especially clever time to schedule waking up before noon. I'll never be allowed to forget waking up at quarter past twelve, to an all-caps text from my best friend. “WHERE ARE YOU?”

Turned out that I was still in bed and the movie started in fifteen minutes. A half-hour bus trip into town (curse you, lack of licence!) got me a sum total of nowhere, and so I gracefully decided that I didn't really feel like watching a movie today, anyway. I listened to rave reviews from my more punctual friends with total contentment and not even the barest speck of envy or irritation. And resolved to see the film ASAP so I could help them make people jealous of our rockin' Narnia knowledge.

Two weeks later, and here we are. Fair warning: I've been a total Narnia nerd since the time I first read the books in fourth grade. Unrepentantly. And my absolute favourite of the seven is the fifth book; incidentally, the one they just made a movie of. Can we see where this is heading, boys and girls? That's right! It's time for a no-holds-barred throwdown between those two most ancient of frenemies: The Book versus The Movie. This one's going to be a full-blown epic, dear readers, so for your convenience, I've broken it up into sections. Oh, and if you haven't already gathered, this contains major spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Part One: The Lone Islands

Alright, so Edmund, Lucy and Eustace manage to make their way into Narnia in a way that's faithful to the source material (though hands up who found the three adolescents wrestling with a painting just a bit ridiculous). They have a jolly old time, annoying me with their disregard for such luxuries as 'character development' and 'believeable dialogue', and eventually reach land. This is an unspecified one of the three Lone Islands, and the place where we see the first major divergence from Lewis' plot. In the book, they sight Felimath, and while it's noted that this island is a largely uninhabited grazing ground, the heroes elect to form a landing party and take a stroll over it to reach the more populous Doorn. Lewis writes,

“Lucy was, of course, barefoot, having kicked off her shoes while swimming, but that is no hardship if one is going to walk on downy turf. It was delightful to be ashore again and to smell the earth and grass, even if at first the ground seemed to be pitching up and down like a ship, as it usually does for a while if one has been at sea. It was much warmer here than it had been on board and Lucy found the sand pleasant to her feet as they crossed it. There was a lark singing.”

The art in this paragraph is astonishing. The descriptions, the soft atmosphere, the tranquil wildness of the island – it hearkens back to a sweeter, more innocent time, when Narnia was a place of discovery rather than horror. By very direct contrast, the movie has them land at (presumably) Doorn straight away, and they happen upon what could very well pass for the set of a horror movie. Seriously. This strange city is deserted. Still. Silent. The heroes are watched by who-knows-what as they progress through the eerie quiet, weapons at the ready. And why did the crew decide that the only ones who should scout the creepy city were their monarchs (and cousin)? There is no logic in this! In the book, they were at least accompanied on their innocent stroll by Reepicheep and Drinian, but here? Oooh, no, let them walk into the obvious trap by themselves.

Corgis have a better sense of self-preservation than these guys.

Predictably, they're caught, in a violent and bloody battle that costs the lives of many men – probably family men, men only in the business of capturing and selling people to support their five starving kids and ailing mother-in-law. Compare this to the book, where they sit and drink with the slavers before being grabbed and safely disarmed. Admittedly, this is probably not the outcome our heroes were hoping for, but it beats the film's gratuitous violence hands down. The narrative is then free to develop the slavers as characters, actually making them – if not sympathetic – then at least interesting and funny. The film leaves them as heartless bastards who enjoy kidnapping, selling and murdering women and children. You tell me which one is better.

The one with capes. Obviously.

Something else that bugs me is the difference in Caspian's characterisation. In the book, he is still young and fairly inexperienced, but you can see that he is learning and taking up the mantle of his new authority. When they first see the slavers, he instructs his companions not to tell them wjo he is, because he realises that if the Lone Islands no longer recognise Narnian leaders, he must use trickery and bluff them into accepting him as their king. All of this nuance and subtlety is lost in the film, where he impetuously and ineffectually shouts at his captors, “I am your King!”

Lucy and Eustace are chained in the slave-yard, while Caspian and Edmund are thrown in prison. Because that's good slaving business. They don't need to show or auction the merchandise or anything. While incarcerated, the dynamic duo discover an elderly man in a dark corner of their cell. He turns out to be the Lord Bern, the first of the missing lords that Caspian is searching for, and a helpful voice to explain away the frickin' smoke-monster from Lost's Narnian cousin as it eats a few dozen people.

This green mist-beast thing is entirely inexplicable. It doesn't mesh with the original story, it came out of nowhere, it's been done before and it makes no sense!

"Hey, cuz, see you at the family BBQ next week."

This seems to be part of a larger plot on the filmmaker's side of things; a sick little plan to turn this charming tale into a mess of mystery, made-for-Hollywood generic adventure, and hate. Don't hate on the Lewis, Michael Apted. Just because the story is quaint and beautiful and doesn't quite fit the typical adventure movie mould is no reason to rip it to pieces and heartlessly stomp on its poor bleeding corpse!

In this section we also come across the swords. Oh, those swords. There is no mention of them in the book, and you know why? Lewis believed that mystical swords wouldn't add anything to his story. He was right.

So they all escape dramatically and Bern presents his magical sword to Caspian, who immediately pawns it off on Edmund.

"Here, take my sword in this awkward moment that absolutely isn't Apted's Freudian attempt at poorly-disguised homoeroticism!"

They finally plan to leave the Lone Islands; despite only a day having passed; and not having addressed numerous issues like the probable continuation of the slave trade after their departure; or paid anywhere near enough attention to things like the appointment of a new Duke of the Lone Islands (Bern, in case you blinked and missed it). Just before they set sail once more, the husband of one of the Green Mist's victims pleads to be allowed to accompany them on their sudden quest to destroy it. This man's name is Rhince; and in the book, he is the first mate – introduced in Chapter Two, a full chapter before they even see the Lone Islands. For some reason, they also feel the need to insert his daughter, Gael, who doesn't even appear in the book. Her entire role in the film seems to be “small girl sharing a bunk with Lucy (?) whose existence is regularly forgotten by the audience”. This child is totally superfluous and I'm forced to assume that her role was contrived just so that Michael Apted's kid could be in a movie.

Daddy's little girl?

The Dawn Treader sails away into the sunrise and concludes Part One of this Narnia special. Join us next time when we discuss Dufflepuds, Dragons and Deathwater.


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