Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB (A-II) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb Listing -
CNS/USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert's Review -

I’m really happy to say that with the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third installment of the Chronicles of Narnia series based on C.S. Lewis’ books by the same name, that I believe I’ve finally found my footing in the series, grasp and appreciate (IMHO) much better what C.S. Lewis was trying to accomplish in this children’s series and, as a result, liked it very, very much ;-).

I say this because after generally liking the first installment, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I didn’t particularly like the second, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. And I write this as something of a life-long C.S. Lewis fan, who’s read a rather wide variety of his works from his adult parables, The Screwtape Letters / The Great Divorce, to his great apologetic work Mere Christianity to his autobiographical reflections, Surprised by Joy / A Grief Observed. However until the first Narnia movie had come out, I had not even realized that he _also_ wrote childrens’ books (what an unbelievable talent!).

As a result, I do confess that I approached the Narnia series rather skeptically. And I do believe that if you’ve ever read Mere Christianity, an excellent, well argued defense of Christianity, you’d understand my skepticism. It’s just so hard to imagine that someone could write so well in one way or even several ways to be able to write well in another. After all, Oxford and Cambridge philosophers, lay speculative fiction readers and 10 year old children are all very different audiences!

So I approached even the first installment of the Narnia series unconvinced that he could really pull it off. And as is often the case, if one approaches anything skeptically, one does find flaws. For instance I thought the extended battle sequence at the end of the first installment (an installment that I generally liked) was either needlessly long or somewhat dated. I was able to excuse it (somewhat) because I realize that C.S. Lewis was writing the Narnia series in the years immediately following World War II and that there was a need at the time for both society in general and for kids who grew up in that violence to process or come to terms with the traumatic events that had just happened all around them. However, 60 years later, I thought that the extended battle sequence could actually invite young viewers and their sincere Christian parents to look for conflicts around them (or story-telling remedies to them) that may be misplaced.

In the case of the second installment, I found the harping on the story’s younger brother Edmund’s jealousy of his older brother Peter to probably not be worth an entire episode. And I found the symbolism to be, at times, rather heavy-handed, even if somewhat “pro-Catholic” ;-). Edmund, the younger, is a very English name, Peter the older brother evokes the Papacy and Rome ;-). Symbolism of this kind is ever present throughout C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. At times, it is even surprisingly “pro-our side,” though, _to me_ expressed in a somewhat dated, heavy-handed manner. However, be that as it may, after the introductory episode, one simply needs to appreciate that each subsequent installment is simply part of a greater whole. Further kids are the primary audience, parents reading to their kids (or watching with their kids) are the secondary audience, and so one has to let C.S. Lewis “play” while weaving his tale.

C.S. Lewis’ clear focus on the kids in the story endears me more to the story with each episode. And I confess that one of the things I enjoy most about the Narnia series are the creative ways that C.S. Lewis invented for transporting the children from their world (of World War II torn England) into the world of Narnia. In the first installment, that gateway to Narnia was found through walking though a closet (a wardrobe). In this third installment, the gateway is between the two worlds is equally creative and endearing ;-).

Then the messages for child viewers are also good. Yes, there is good and evil (the primary point of the first installment), jealousy can get you into all kinds of trouble (the primary point of the second installment) and temptation can come in many unexpected forms (possibly the primary point of this third installment). These are all good lessons, especially when tempered in positive language. Lucy is briefly tempted in the third installment to be jealous again of her older sister and she’s told by Aslan, the lion, “Don’t be jealous of your older sister. Instead, just focus on becoming what you’re supposed to be.” What a lovely message! And in a line it expresses what the entire 2 hour previous episode was largely about :-).

But then, in this line is expressed the grandeur of the Narnia project. It is a series of books (films) which “talk to each other” and together express a whole. The books are already available. The movies will be coming out in episodes. Together, they give a nice Christian family with small kids much to talk about and look forward to.

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