I have loved C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles since boyhood, and my favorite has always been "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." It may be because my family spent a long time on cross-country car rides when I was a boy, and I adore the process of travel, the idea of journey, the ability to discover.
Reepicheep: don't mess with the tail.
So when Walden Media decided to produce the Narnia books in a properly funded, properly imagined series of movies, I wondered above all what they would do with this story. "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" does not possess a typical fantasy novel plot: no one is trying to destroy the world, there's no evil magician, there's no climactic battle scene. It's just a good book about a trip that some folks took together.
This weekend I saw the new film. Predictably, they added an evil force trying to destroy the world, and they also added a climactic battle scene. That's understandable. They want to make back the money they had to spend on the incredible CGI, and there are not enough tickets among us purists to do that.
But I'm not here to review the movie as much as to report on what it made me think about. And that thing is Christianity, and what first attracted me to it when I was a young man.
Christianity the faith is problematic in a number of ways, but deep down I have always considered it to be pretty simple in its attractiveness. Lewis' books embody that simplicity, and the movie, I think, caught that spirit.
Foremost, Christianity always struck me as attractive because it is true. I know for a lot of people that doesn't compute, but I have always wanted to know the secrets of the universe and the meaning of life, and Christianity makes no bones about it. This is the way it is. In the movie, the character Eustace Scrubb is an atheist who doesn't believe Narnia is real even after he has been dunked in its ocean and knocked down by a talking mouse. No one makes apologies to Eustace for the reality of Narnia; they just live in it.
I have always appreciated the wonderful older Christians in my life who quietly are at peace with the truth of Christianity, the ones who smiled and nodded when I discovered what they already knew about God and daily life as a Christian. Among these folk there is no wrangling over theology, no anger about people who don't believe, and no attempt to feel superior or push people out of the club. There is plenty of passion, but no impatience.
Fun was something else that drew me to Christianity. In VDT, there is a great emphasis on fearless adventuring, going forward to meet what is going to be there, meeting your destiny, being brave. In other words, having fun. Fun for me is defined as that sense of living life fearlessly and enjoying it all because you know you're going to be delighted, and anything difficult that comes along is going to end up positive, because you have this great God who is pulling for you. For many, Christianity seems to be the opposite of fun because it's just church, singing boring songs, having to be nice to people, not getting to whoop it up with drinking and rolling in the hay with Betty Sue.
Or worse, being a Christian actually results in hurts being dealt to you by other Christians.
As for whooping it up, I never had all that much fun with traditional fun-having. I like worship and it has always been a great and worthy challenge to me to treat people the way I like to be treated. Along the way, I have seen great wonders, known many inspiring people, and have loved intensely. For me, at least, doing that without faith in Christ seems like no fun at all. In fact, the truth of Christianity is what helps me to be fearless-- as much as I can be-- about following what I think God wants.
And as for what Christians can do to each other, yes, I know. I wish it were otherwise.
Finally, Christianity is romantic. I don't mean romantic as in sappy. Romance is above all about story. "Story" is the actual original definition of "romance." In French, "roman" means novel. And in medieval times, any long story was called a romance because it came from the Roman (Italian, Latin language) tradition of long love stories about two people separated who need to get back together.
Good stories for me are about transformation, and "VDT" is definitively about transformation, about the change of the soul from less Christlike to more Christlike. The Eustace character shows this best, but in the movie almost everyone grows in some way through their adventures. In Christianity, you are supposed to grow. You are supposed to live your life as a story where you begin at such-and-such a point, and you end at your goal, with the help of Jesus. You're not living a random life, tossed about like a dust mote in the sunbeam of the universe; you are significant and you can direct yourself in significant directions.
I am under no illusion that people do change. We are a pretty stubborn lot, and life throws a lot of rotten tomatoes our way that hinder us from stepping out and stepping up . But I believe in transformation, and I think it's worthy to believe in even if it doesn't exist.
I am nourished by the simplicity of these adjectives: true, fun, and romantic. I think they encompass what matters, and the rest can be focused on and sweated over too much.
VDT the movie wasn't the book. I got a different pleasure from it than from the book. In some ways the movie is a real anomaly. It's very naïve in a way, very sweet in some ways, very un-postmodern, really, without being saccharine and patronizing. I hope it's a movie that kids like. It's not perfect, but it brought an appreciative tear to the eye of this aging C.S. Lewis fan. And that was fun.