Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—Movie Versus Book

It’s no secret that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is not at all a cinematic book. There’s no real antagonist and everything happens in generally self-contained episodes. That makes great reading, but not-so-great viewing.

Because of that, it should come as no surprise that something had to be changed to make things flow a little better as a movie. The key here, of course, is if the changes are so vast that the movie is no longer The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Please note that this review will contain spoilers, so stop reading now if you want to go into the film completely spoiler-free.

The Plot

Although the film starts out almost exactly like the book with a quest to find the seven lost lords that Caspian’s usurping uncle Miraz banished, it quickly settles down into a totally tacked-on plot involving a people-eating evil green mist.

Once the crew lands on the Lone Islands, Caspian and Edmund are shown a boat of islanders being taken by the green mist. Lord Bern tells them that the mist is threatening Narnia and that the other six lords had set out to destroy it. They never returned.

So, of course, Caspian decides to do find out what happened to them and stop the mist.

Once the boat gets to stop number two, Magician’s Island, our heroes learn that this evil mist comes from Dark Island and can only be stopped by laying seven swords (conveniently carried by the seven lords) at Aslan’s Table.

So, of course, Caspian jumps on his ship and sets off to do just that.

Now, I agree fully with the filmmakers that the movie needed something to tie it together. And, cheesy as it sounds when I write it down, this evil mist does work. For the most part. More on that later.

The Characters

This is the reason the movie is worth seeing. All of the main characters (that’d be Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Reepicheep, and Caspian) are very true to the book. Though the story has been changed, the characters are still very much intact.

Eustace, in particular, is completely, absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt right smack bang on perfect. Just like the book, he struts around all self-important, being bratty to everybody. And he gets what he deserves in exactly the surprising way he does in the book.

Plus, the filmmakers left in what I thought would be cut: Eustace’s diary. Yes, it’s there! And it provides some of the more hilarious parts of the movie.

Reepicheep has been recast and put back together into his book self. A very welcome change from Prince Caspian. This Reep is truly noble and no longer wishes that everyone would shut up.

When we get to the two lords with actual parts (Bern and Rhoop), it’s a mixed bag. Bern has been changed to a cowering old prisoner, which is a complete turnaround from his book self. Rhoop is the raving maniac straight from the pages of the book.

Coriakin the magician has sadly been turned into an exposition machine. He has one good line that feels like his book self, but other than that, all he’s there for is to tell the crew of the Dawn Treader all about the evil mist.

Aslan has his dialogue lifted right out of the book at a very important part at the end. You can’t get much closer than that.

And no review of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader would be complete without mentioning the Dufflepuds. They are pretty much right. Though, sadly, they never said, “You never said a truer word, Chief!”

The Two Problems

Out of an entire movie full of changes from the book, I basically have two major complaints.

Number one: The movie is very fast-paced, sometimes to its detriment. Especially during the first half of the film (covering the Lone Islands and Magician’s Island), it would have been nice if there had been an extra five or ten minutes of scenes to connect the dots.

Both of the islands I mentioned above just plain feel rushed. Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided not to linger on the revolt at the Lone Islands, the funny Dufflepuds, or Lucy’s creepy journey through the magician’s mansion. A few extra scenes would have improved the film greatly.

Number two: In the book, C. S. Lewis subtly weaves a theme of resisting temptation throughout the story. For whatever reason, the filmmakers decided to bring this theme out of the subtext and into full-scale THIS IS THE THEME mode.

Rather than letting the intelligent audience figure out when temptation is occurring, the film resorts to hitting them over the head with the theme whenever a character is tempted.

Coriakin warns our heroes that they will be tempted by the green mist. So every time someone is being tempted, we see evil green mist creeping around in the scene somewhere.

And then there’s the dialogue about temptation. At one point, we’re given a groan-inducing line from Lucy as Edmund and Caspian prepare to go at it hammer and tongs over a gold-transforming pool. “Stop! The mist is tempting you! This is exactly what we were warned about!”

That’s being hit on the head with a theme. Luckily, it doesn’t last long anywhere and the movie quickly goes back to the story.


I walked out of the theater grinning over my third voyage to Narnia. Were there disappointments? Yes. Was it still fun? Absolutely.

And that’s the thing. The book, really, is C. S. Lewis having fun with his characters sailing around and having adventures on strange islands. As long as the movie stuck with that idea (which was often) and just had fun, it was good. When it started taking itself a little too seriously and loses the fun, it suffers.

If you’re going to be a book purist, you will probably enjoy the first and last twenty minutes of the movie. The rest, well… You’ll have to pick and choose. I will say, though, that when the movie is good, it is good.

But if you can live with the changes and just enjoy the ride, this is a journey to Narnia you won’t want to miss. It looks fantastic, is funny, and hits the mark a lot (see above).

(By the way, book fans should stick around for the credits. They are a treat!)

Hopefully, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will do well enough that the filmmakers can do the other four, much-more-cinematic Narnia books. I want to see them, especially after the fun I had with this third Narnia movie.

5 Responses to “Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—Movie Versus Book”

  1. […] wrote a review comparing the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to the movie on […]

  2. I had the whole Narnia series read to me as a child, and loved all the books dearly. I was however dismayed at the quite numerous blunt departures from the original books when they were adapted as films. I did not notice as many differences in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but with the latest film there are many, many, unnecessary changes in plot that are in no way required. I feel an injustice has been done to the books, I could not even enjoy the film most time because I was too busy laughing at the outrageous changes in storyline.

  3. As a big Lord of the Rings fan, these kinds of movies appeal to me. Probably the greatest challenge in adapting a book for film is deciding how to keep the action moving. Book purists will almost certainly be disappointed with something.

    The Lord of the Rings left tons out from the books for the sake of pace, yet still felt slow and drawn out. I remember the film adaptation of Eragon. That was too far the other way. They cut so much out that the movie felt like a dead sprint to the showdown at the end.

    I think Dawn Treader was a little more dead sprint than plodding narrative but for the times they quickly moved on from a story, I can understand given the last 40 minutes or so. Still, I would not have been upset had this movie lasted 2 1/2 hours vs just 2.

  4. I have read the books before, but I haven’t seen The Voyage of the Dawn Treader yet, It comes out on DVD and Blueray April 8th, so I will definitely check it out!

  5. I am so looking forward to THe Magician’s Nephew, my favorite of the series.

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