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On an adventure

Looking for conversation starters, Sophie Lister finds relevant themes in popular culture...

The Narnia books are infused with the magic of childhood. For those of us who first encountered them at a young age, they conjure memories of bedtime stories - of hoping against hope that we could really walk through a wardrobe into a snowy wood.

Reading the familiar stories through adult eyes may reveal more clearly the biblical allegories beneath the surface. But perhaps our childhood experiences of CS Lewis' fantastical world have something equally potent to teach us. Perhaps the magic - the sense of wonder, adventure and the unknown - is a precious lesson in itself.

The recent Narnia film adaptations have been somewhat heavier in tone than the books. Clearly influenced by the success of The Lord of the Rings movies, the filmmakers have chosen to aim more at teens than children. This December sees the release of the third Narnia film, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader promises to restore some enchantment to the franchise. Arguably the most beloved (and cinematic) of the series, Dawn Treader is less about epic battles and more about a journey of the imagination.

The story finds Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) returned to Narnia with their sour cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) when they are swept through a magical painting. Fished out of the sea and onto the good ship Dawn Treader, they are reunited with their friend Caspian (Ben Barnes), now a king, then set off on the voyage of a lifetime. Caspian and his crew are sailing eastwards on a quest to find the seven lost lords of Narnia, who were exiled during his usurping uncle's rein.

Seeking adventure

Unlike the previous two stories, this instalment does not find the land of Narnia in dire peril; there is no evil witch to defeat and no throne to reclaim. Instead, King Caspian has chosen to seek adventure for adventure's sake. To the literal-minded Eustace, nothing could be more senseless. Raised without storybooks and more concerned with health and safety than with reaching the end of the world, it takes a drastic transformation to turn Eustace into anything resembling a warrior.

It isn't difficult to identify with Eustace, as we're often far too tied up in the prosaic follies and fashions of our culture. He requires a lesson in humility before he can begin to appreciate the wonders of the voyage with the same childlike excitement as his cousins. In other words, in gaining a childlikeness he loses his childishness.

No longer petty and self-centred, he becomes a useful member of the crew, even taking up a sword when the ship is in peril. It's a striking, subtle portrayal of how we move towards maturity through acknowledging our comparative ignorance and discovering our positions as dependent children of God.

Threats and temptations

It is appropriate, in the light of this, that the Dawn Treader's most courageous crew member is its smallest. Reepicheep the mouse (voiced by Simon Pegg), diminutive though he might be, lacks nothing when it comes to bravery. His love of adventure and willingness to plunge headlong into danger puts the others to shame. Captivated by the thought of reaching Aslan's country at the end of the world, Reepicheep is unperturbed by the threats and temptations that rear their heads along the way.

His faith in his destination is unshakeable, and his desire to reach it overwhelming. The straightforwardness with which he pursues his goal calls to mind Paul's words: "I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us" (Philippians 3.14).

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a reminder that faith itself is an adventure. In the final pages of Lewis' novel, Aslan tells a distraught Lucy and Edmund that they will not be returning to Narnia, but they can get to know him by "another name" in their own world. The implication is that the awe and excitement they have experienced on their voyage is only the beginning.

So the magic that we first sensed when reading Lewis' books in childhood points towards something even more wonderful. As Aslan says, "This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."Sophie Lister

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader opens in cinemas on 10 December.
  • Further discussions of Christian themes in pop culture can be found at: damaris.org

Sophie Lister writes for Culturewatch.org

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