“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” This, the opening line of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has been called one of the best opening lines in the history of books and it almost deserves it. Most people don’t realize that not all books even have opening lines. For instance, James Joyce’s Ulysses actually manages to go the whole book without ever starting. Chronologically speaking Dawn Treader is the fifth book in The Chronic-what-cles of Narnia, however C.S. Lewis actually wrote it third after Wardrobe and Caspian.
One of the great elements of the Narnia series is that one never arrives at the fantastical realm in the same way twice. This time out Lucy and Edmond and their annoying cousin Eustace arrive because a painting of a ship comes to life and floods the whole room. The captain of the ship is none other than Prince Caspian, the leader of Narnia that the kids helped in the previous book. It is now ten years later and Prince Caspian is sailing the lonely islands of Narnia looking for its 7 lost lords. And while in the book it is ten years later, in the film it is only three. Either way is long enough it seems for Ben Barnes to have grown a beard and shaved off his horrible accent from the previous film.
You probably don’t know this but Dawn Treader belongs to a subset of the adventure genre called “immram” which is irish for voyage. Thus it is called Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The genre refers to an Irish myth where monks would pilgrimage to lonely isle to lonely isle seeking isolation or enlightment, often sailing off into the “otherworld.” Apparently they made a lot of these types of stories in Ancient Ireland. Similar to the way Hollywood does a lot of movies about Aliens or Volcanoes. The only problem is that in the immram stories, the monks travel west. The Dawn Treader travels east, hence its name. If it traveled west, it should have to be called Voyage of the Dusk Treader. Immram is very old and very irish so don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard about it until now.
Dawn Treader is also notable for being a tad more heavy-handed with the Christian imagery than Prince Caspian. Aslan, the lion, first shows up as a lamb and states that in our world you must get to know him “by another name.” Aslan is the Turkish word for lion and he is the son of the Emperor-over-the-sea. Aslan is also the only character to appear in all seven books in the Narnia series, with that said he is still not the greatest creation in the Narnia series. No. That distinction belongs to a mouse by the name of Reepicheep, one of the greatest swashbucklers ever and a great character. His rodent ancestors were the ones that gnawed through Aslan’s ropes in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and as a reward they became talking mice.
The 2010 film adaptation from Walden media strays a little bit from the book, but it is fairly accurate. Both of them feature a great little twist concerning the horrible cousin Eustace, which I will not spoil here. In fact though, the portrayal of Eustace by Will Poulter in the film is one of the things that recommends it. The film made 403 million dollars though most of it was overseas. That makes it the 12th top grossing film of 2010 which is a dubious distinction considering that it was post-converted to 3D so that theaters could charge more for admission. Either way it seems clear that Disney dropped the franchise at the wrong time. Walden Media seems pleased as they’re moving ahead with the next film. In a surprising stroke of genius however they are not going to do The Silver Chair which is next in the series as Lewis wrote them but instead going back to The Magician’s Nephew which is the first story of Narnia chronologically, and acts as a sort of prequel to The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe which is the most famous.
Next up … 65!