On books turning to movies turning to books

One of the last things I did in 2010 was say goodbye to son and daughter-in-law as they headed across 600 miles back to their world of work and play. One of the next-to-last things I did in 2010 was go to see “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” with them.

I am always a bit skeptical about a beloved book (in this case, published by C.S. Lewis in 1952, a very good year, I might add) being portrayed on the cinema screen. After living with my own mental pictures of the Dawn Treader and Reepicheep for years–no, for decades–I hesitated to entrust myself to someone else’s imagination. I am wary of the shortening, the rearranging, the conflating and the rewriting that must happen in order to make a story accessible for an audience eating popcorn in a theatre.

But this is what I especially loved about the movie. The images of the sailing Dawn Treader and the rolling wave at the end of the world; the affection that grows between the ornery Eustace and the courageous talking mouse, Reepicheep, (emphasized to great effect in the movie); the way the ship’s crew is helped and even rescued by the Eustace-turned-dragon in a number of ways (movie liberties taken). Yes, I will purchase the movie and watch it many times.

But there is something in the book that I missed in the movie…missed so much that I re-read Voyage yesterday and today to check my memory. Thus it has become my first read book of 2011 🙂

I missed Aslan taking the dragon skin off of Eustace. I missed Aslan throwing the tender, newly peeled Eustace into the pool to heal and become a boy again. That was without doubt my favorite part in the whole book. So when it didn’t appear in the movie, I had to re-read the book again, a bit indignantly, to find out how the movie could have possibly ignored it.

What I discovered on the re-read is that the book never did have the reader “see” how Aslan changed Eustace from a dragon into a boy again. The book only has Eustace telling one of his companions what Aslan had done to him. In the book the conversation is several paragraphs; in the movie it is just a few sentences. Unfortunately the sentences that are left out in the movie are what had captured my imagination the most.

Eustace is a totally self-centered, obnoxious and greedy kid…a picture of any of us on an especially bad day. It gets him changed into a dragon. (By the way, if you want to know the details of how boy Eustace became a dragon you’ll have to watch the movie or read the book yourself…both versions are great.) But life as a dragon, when you were created to be a boy, is very lonely. As Eustace tells it, Aslan, the lion king from the east, shows up at Eustace’s most desperate moment and indicates that Eustace needs to have the dragon skin peeled off of himself. Eustace tries peeling the reptile skin off three times, and underneath there is only a new younger dragon skin. Then Aslan (a lion has claws) goes to work on Eustace, pulling deeper and harder and more painfully than Eustace ever dared. It works. With the disgusting skin lying on the ground (think ‘sin’ and ‘old nature’), Aslan throws Eustace into a pool of healing water (think ‘baptism’). Eustace is changed back into a boy. But more importantly, Eustace is freed, not perfectly, but considerably, from his ornery self-centeredness. Everyone on the Dawn Treader notices the difference.

And that’s the part, my favorite part, that I missed in the movie.

Go see the movie. But don’t forget to read the book and praise God that Christ can peel off our dragon skins.

Comments

  1. Saw the movie on Christmas eve and loved it! Never read the book but you got me inquisitive…will look for it!
    Thank you for the kind words on my blog Elaine.