A Defense of Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Da...

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Well, this was supposed to be written and posted last week’s Monday, but things happened and it didn’t get done. So we can all pretend like this is last week, alright?

I watched the Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie with my mom and the other two of the 3Literati (Patrick and Juliet: we are the oldest three siblings). I went with this mindset: this is a movie, not a book. Thus, it isn’t the same as the Voyage of the Dawn Treader book, never will be, and shouldn’t be. So I sat back for a good movie.

And was utterly blown away by how similar it was to the book, and by how much biblical morals they were able to include from the original book. In fact, from what I have seen from the reactions of different people, a lot of people have actually missed a lot of the lessons in the books that were brought out in the movie.

I find that a lot of people complain mostly about the plot changes from the book. A few people complain about the plot itself (i.e., the mist was clichΓ©, and etc.), but there always will be that small group of people who say that about practically every piece of media that is ever created. And besides, those kinds of things are more matters of opinion than anything else (I, personally, thought the plot was brilliantly done). So I will focus in the first part of this review on the changes of the plot from the book, and in the second part on the content itself as a movie for Christians to watch.

In the old days, people published books. And they way they went about it was quite different from the way they do it now. And the interests of the people who read books back then were possibly even more different. Actually, most likely more different. And so different things got published.

In fact, if you tried to publish practically any of the old classics now… it just wouldn’t happen. And even if you did, veeery few people would actually read it. The whole style and expected content was different. The way you structure plot, the way you developed characters, the way you set up scenes, the way you described things, the stuff you included, everything was different. Nowadays, books are a lot more like movies in a lot of ways. Now, I am not saying that either way is bad: in fact both are perfectly legitimate ways of writing books, and I enjoy both styles.


The old way of doing book writing simply does not work nowadays, especially on screen. And if you put over a hundred million dollars into producing something, which is required for epic movies to be done well (though that price is lowering), you want to get something out of it. You need to rely on selling to a powerful enough market to support your venture.

So in the process of making an old book into a new movie, changes will have to be made simply to make it vendible. This is not a bad thing. This is actually a good thing. Sure, eventually, prices will lower and people will be buying movies like they buy ebooks (by the gross), and then you will be able to get away with more stuff and sell to niche markets, and that will also be a good thing. But at the moment, you can’t rely on the tiny portion of the world who actually is watching the movie because they read the books and who also actually want the movie to be exactly like the book.

It doesn’t need to be exactly like the book. It shouldn’t be exactly like the book. And with a book like Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is a prime example of old-style structure, changes have to be made to make it able to be made into a movie. No changes, no movie. Pretty simple.

And if you think about the changes that they actually made… they were pretty small.

* listens to the shouts of consternation and gasps of unbelief *

Right. You heard me right. πŸ˜€

They weren’t all that big. Think about it, what did you expect? That they would drop an island or two (they dropped only one, unless you count Felimath and Doorn), and that they would merge others (which they did). They did this quite masterfully, and retained a ton of detail from the book.

What else would you expect for them to change? I expected them to add a more obvious plot arc that tied everything together: the book was very episodic in nature. And they did. And they did a great job of it too, tying together the events from the book by their common elements and elaborating on those. They also added on several bits of plot without removing any of the original. And in the case of the morals, they actually made the original morals much easier to see (judging by how many people missed them completely).

No, I am not giving any spoilers, haha, in case you haven’t watched it yet. But my advice to you is this: watch the movie as a movie, without expecting it to copy everything exactly from the book. And then you will absolutely love it. Especially the ending.

Now for the content. This should be pretty simple: it was great. πŸ˜€

For an epic fantasy, in which there is generally somewhere some kind of immodesty in the female portion of the cast, it was incredibly perfect. There was no immodesty at all, which is awesome. As far as language, it was clean: no words you wouldn’t want to repeat. Gore was innocuous (non-existent in the cases of humans, and vanishing into green smoke in the cases of monsters). And in truth, the book was more ‘gory’ than the movie, especially when Eustace had to be un-dragoned. The movie handles this absolutely splendidly.

There was only one element that I would advise caution for younger viewers on: the sea serpent is pretty intense and… freaky. Totally freaky. Awesomely sends-chills-down-your-spine kind of freaky. I loved it to pieces, personally, but little members of the audience might have to close their eyes a bit. πŸ˜‰

If you have questions about specific pieces of the plot, asking for justifications for changes they made, I would be more than willing to answer with my views on the matter. I wanted to keep this spoiler-free, but I will lift that ban on the comments section. πŸ™‚

So have at it. On guard.


14 Responses

  1. Jay! FANTASTIC post! You nicely summed up exactly my thoughts after seeing the movie.

    – Leighton

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jay Lauser, Aubrey Hansen. Aubrey Hansen said: Great defense of the technicalities for screenwriting RT @sir_emeth: A Defense of Voyage of the Dawn Treader http://wp.me/pthKx-eG […]

  3. I’m very glad to see I’m not the only one :D. Very nice job of explaining your view point.

  4. My wholehearted thanks to you, Jay, for a very apt defense of a very skillfully made film. It makes me sad to see people dismissing any of the Narnia films for not being just like the books. The films remain true in spirit, and as films they are all superb. Here’s hoping The Silver Chair won’t be long in coming…

  5. Yes, exactly! Only you said it five times as well as I did. πŸ˜‰ It wasn’t perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film.
    My main frustration with most is that they change the characters, but the things they added enhanced Lewis’s characters, not changed them as happened in the first 2 movies.

    And yes, the sea serpent was creepy. I almost wanted a crocheted blanket to peer through…

    • I agree, there were ‘changes’ but they were simply like magnifying glasses held to things that were already there. More or less.

      * chuckles * I’ve never done that before… Haha. πŸ˜‰

  6. […] – This review is my thoughts exactly. Only better said. So does this one. from → movies, Reviews ← Refreshement for Body and Soul All I Want → […]

  7. Good post, Jay! As a Narnia fan (not a nut…just a fan) I was tempted to have low/negative expectations for Dawn Treader after the big flop that was Prince Caspian (I did and do think that was truly a poor movie) but convinced myself to give it a fair shot. Once I did that, I was able to appreciate it, and I appreciated it much.

    I think a lot of Dawn Treader’s detractors tend to over criticize it due to the fact that it’s not really a β€œwow” movie. It was not without exciting portions but not like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which had some serious wow moments and was a great movie (in my opinion). To those that want a LOTR-esque wow factor to the Narnia stories – I would point out that the majority of the Narnia books don’t have that “wow” effect – even if they are all still very good stories. The Prince Caspian book really didn’t have a wow factor at all (it was the most boring of the books for me) and the movie makers rightly tried to spice it up. Unfortunately, they ended up choosing some lame spices and the lesson they seemed to take away and apply to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was that they needed to stick more closely to the book and trust that the soundness of the story would provide a more sure foundation for excitement and storytelling than extreme deviations from the original story.

    Anyway…I agree with your analysis. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was a very good movie with great moments; I just think there was a disappointment hangover for many fans from Prince Caspian and a thirst for more and greater awe inspiring moments than was reasonable. πŸ™‚

    • * nods * I agree there. Especially about your analysis of the Wow Factors in the movies and books.

      The thing about LWW was that its swordfighting stunk seriously bad, and there was one crescendo in the epic music that they missed, and both of those annoy me to ridiculousness. When the two lines of battle crash, they have been setting you up for practically the whole movie for a super epic surge of battle music, and all you get are these pathetic growls from the cats. Bleacgh.

      VotDT kills it ten times over in the swordfighting sector. Compare Caspian and Edmund’s sparring match with the White Witch and Peter’s “fight to the death” and all you can do is laugh. ‘Nuff said. πŸ˜‰

  8. True, but in regards to the sword fighting, keep in mind that the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Ever were younger in TLWW than in the subsequent stories, and it’s just hard to keep a sword fighting believable when it involves children unschooled in the art of sword or war leading the battle and fighting to the death against lethal opponents. That’s symbolic of our helplessness and childlikeness in the eyes of God and in opposition to our opponent though, so I appreciate it in Narnia. πŸ™‚

    • In the books there was a distinct aura about Narnia, however (“in the air” as Lewis said), that gave them the ability to do those things. And the White Witch’s fighting was just as bad. πŸ™‚

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