The film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s third Narnia tale, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, will be in theaters on December 10th. Last June I was lucky enough to get some of the “inside scoop” on the film.
I was attending a conference on C. S. Lewis at Taylor University in Indiana. One session I looked forward to was held by Devin Brown, a professor at Asbury University in Kentucky. Brown is an author of several books about Narnia, and Lewis expert/consultant to Michael Flaherty of Walden Media, the producer for the Dawn Treader film.
Since the release of Prince Caspian, Narnia fans who were disappointed by the second film’s straying so much from the book have waited to see if, released from Disney’s influence and given a new director, Walden Media would return to a practice of faithful adaptation with Dawn Treader. But even Lewis fans die hard enough to attend a conference were quick to set aside our concerns and watch with enthusiasm the six minutes of never before seen Narnia footage which came into Dr. Brown’s possession only one day before the conference began.
The opening shot is a medieval tower at Cambridge University, but the gargoyles are replaced by lions’ heads. Voice overs include phrases like, “You have returned for a reason,” and “Not everything is as it seems.” Lucy (an older Georgie Henley) is looking in a mirror (perhaps wondering already if she is as pretty as her sister Susan). She and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) look at a painting on a wall. The ship and the sea in the painting begin to move. Rather than falling into the painting, as in the book, the children along with their cousin Eustace are doused with water from the painting. Despite Eustace’s attempt to tear the painting from the wall, the room is flooded till the children are swimming to the surface of a Narnian sea, there to be picked up by the Dawn Treader. In King Caspian’s cabin (Ben Barnes) returns as Caspian but speaks without a Spanish accent), the children wonder what danger has brought them to Narnia this time.
Some humor is introduced: Eustace talking to a sea gull (thinking that all animals in Narnia can speak); a minotaur snickers to a fellow sailor: “He’s talking to birds.” Next Lucy is in the magical house on the island of the Dufflepuds, slowly stepping up toward the book of magic. The mixed up letters on the book rearrange, the book flies open, and snow begins to fill the room—the look of wonder on Lucy’s face is priceless (Georgie is mimicking her eight year old self’s expression upon first entering Narnia through the wardrobe). Then another voice over: “You are all about to be tested.” A large, dark map, the size of a carpet is unrolled on a floor. The voice over speaks of a dark island where something “seeks to corrupt all goodness” and “steal the light from this world.” They are told, “You must follow the blue star” and “To defeat the darkness out there you must defeat the darkness within yourself.” We see scenes not in the original book. I’m a little worried.
Even more so when we see a little girl, younger than Lucy. She says, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.” Lucy replies, “When you grow up, you should be just like you.” Lying beside Lucy at a campfire, the little girl says, “I miss my mummie.” Lucy answers, “You have to have faith about these things. Aslan will help us.” This little girl is not in the Dawn Treader book. Another voice over mentions an “extraordinary destiny.” In a dark wood at a grand table where a feast has been laid out in the night sky, a brilliant blue light coalesces into a beautiful woman in blue (perhaps the blue star?) who tells our heroes, “The food is for you.”
A series of titles appear mixed in with the next several scenes: “Return to Wonder.” A man becomes visible back in the house with the magic book. “Return to Narnia.” Looking at the book, Lucy sees a spell to make herself beautiful: a picture of herself in the book morphs into a picture of her sister Susan. At the world’s end, Aslan tells the children, “In your world I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name.” We see the Dawn Treader sailing through the sea of lilies at the world’s end. Someone says, “Think of the lost souls we’re here to save.” A man throws a white, feathery substance towards Eustace and shouts, “Be gone!” A startled Eustace looks to his right and left for invisible presences (probably Dufflepuds). Lucy asks, “What was that.” The man replies, “Lint. But don’t tell them.” The shadow of a dragon flies across a cliff. The film ends with the main title: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
The Deviation Explained
According to Dr. Brown, the major difference between the movie and book will be the addition of a more sinister element to the central plot. The film makers see the primary climax of the book as an internal one—the spiritual growth of various characters—something difficult to transfer to the screen. The quest of the book, to find the seven exiled lords of Narnia, is achieved but rather anticlimactically. And so the film makers added a new plot element: the heroes of the Dawn Treader must find the seven lords and their seven swords in order to lift a curse from an island whose inhabitants have all disappeared, all except for the little girl over whom Lucy is watching. Her name is Gael. Her parents are among the missing.
I get the film makers’ logic—their reasons for making this change. I don’t know if it will work, but I do know that I want it to. Several additions were made to the first Narnia film all of which were to good effect. So long as the new film doesn’t veer too far off course, I think it could be okay, and, again, I really want it to because the images I saw were wonderful, magical, breathtaking. Now that I know a little of what I’m in for, I am really looking forward to seeing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
PLEASE NOTE: This article was written by Dr. Starr for his column in "Lookout" Magazine. Republished with his express permission.