CINEMA: by Bill Muehlenberg (reviewer)News Weekly
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in 3D (rated PG)
, December 25, 2010
The recently released film, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader", is based on the third in the series of C.S. Lewis's seven Chronicles of Narnia. It introduces the character of young Eustace, a cousin of the Pevensie children, the four siblings who are the heroes of the series.
|Will Poulter as Eustace Clarence Scrubb |
in the film, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"
The very opening line of Lewis's book - one of the better ones in literature - says: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
He is a spoiled brat and detests his four cousins, but finds himself forced to share a voyage with two of them aboard the Narnian sailing-ship, the Dawn Treader
Eustace is a great example of your typical sceptic, rationalist, materialist and non-believer - quite like a Dawkins or a Hitchens, in fact. Because of his "progressive" education he lacks an essential feature of childhood: an imagination. Thus his is an incredibly narrow and limited little world, as is the case with all mere materialists.
They all live in a reductionist world, where the only reality is what they can feel or see or weigh in a test tube. There is little mystery, or wonder, or deeper meaning, since all of life is merely the physical, the natural. There is no metaphysical, no supernatural.
That is part of the reason Eustace is such a pain in the neck. He hates those who claim that there is more to life than just the material realm. Reductionists always end up embittered and angry. They resent - and perhaps secretly envy - those who know that life is far more than what can be empirically tested.
They are very much like a completely colour-blind person who lashes out at those with normal sight, accusing them of being nutters and fruitcakes. "Life is only black, white and grey, so don't try to push all this foolishness of colour onto me. I know what is real!"
There have always been such sceptics, such materialists, such narrow-minded rationalists, who think they have all the answers. The new atheists are simply a more up-to-date version of the Eustaces of the world.
However, the good news is - spoiler alert here! - Eustace eventually sees the error of his ways. Lewis's account of his conversion is one of the more memorable episodes in the Narnia series.
The story goes like this: The selfish, cruel and hardened Eustace finds himself transformed into a fire-breathing dragon.
That seems to be a terrifying fate, but it does him much good, slowly transforming him into a more likeable person. However, he still longs to get out of this strange body. And he cannot do it himself. No matter how hard he tries, like a leopard seeking to change its spots, he cannot un-dragon himself.
But there is hope and help. The great lion Aslan (the Narnian Christ figure) is willing to free him, but it will not be a pleasant experience. In the book, a bit later, Eustace recounts the process. (C.S. Lewis purists, please take note: the film has taken some liberties with the book, so here is the book's version of events).
Eustace tells his story thus: "Then the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - 'You will have to let me undress you'. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off ... and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.
"Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again."
The good news of Christianity is that while we are totally unable to change ourselves, there is a solution. Indeed, it is only when we come to the end of ourselves, and our proud philosophies, be it materialism, or self-improvement, or whatever, and acknowledge that there is far more to reality than just ourselves, that grace can break through.
And when we have reached rock bottom, the wonderful thing is God is there, waiting for us, ready to begin the transformation process. It has nothing to do with pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but everything to do with acknowledging our absolutely hopeless and helpless condition, and allowing him to thoroughly change us.
These are just some of the many clear biblical themes that pervade the Narnia series, and this particular book and film. So please go have a look at the film. If you have not yet read the books, the film should produce a thirst to go back to the original. It will be well worthwhile.Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com