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BY Steven D. Greydanus
Slated for theatrical release this December, the third Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is already overshadowed by reports that it may drift further from C. S. Lewis’s guiding vision than either of the first two films, and specifically may water down Lewis’s religious vision even more than the last film, Prince Caspian.
Washington Times writer Julia Duin recently commented:
Considering some of the weird remarks uttered by directors and producers of the first two films: “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in 2005 and “Prince Caspian” in 2008, one wonders whether the will and determination exist to finish the seven-part Narnia series.
Duin cited comments from a recent interview with C. S. Lewis’s stepson and literary executor Douglas Gresham transcribed on NarniaWeb as well as remarks from director Michael Apted, who has replaced two-time Narnia director Andrew Adamson.
Gresham’s remarks suggest that while he has been supportive of cinematic license taken in the first two films, he is ambivalent about changes introduced by the makers of the third film. Gresham commented:
The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe was very close to the original book because the book was written in such a way that lent itself to being transcribed into the film medium. [With] Prince Caspian we had to make some fairly major changes because the book isn’t written that way. In this movie there are a lot of differences … I’m ambivalent as to whether they’re necessary or not, I don’t really think so. But that’s the way they wanted to do it, and it was either that or not make a movie, so I said, “Well, go ahead and do it.” It will be very interesting to see the audience’s reactions.
Some observers had hoped that Apted — who previously directed Amazing Grace, a biopic about Christian abolitionist William Wilberforce — might be more open to Lewis’s Christian themes than outgoing director Adamson had been. But Duin cited a radio interview in which Apted spoke bafflingly of the project as
a challenge for me to put the material out there in an evenhanded and interesting way; and not to be, in a sense, narrow-minded about it—either narrow-minded in a faith way or narrow-minded in an agnostic way. I have to open my heart to what the stories are about.
Sources with ties to the production have noted that certain specifically Christian elements in Lewis’s book have been targeted for excision. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which retained perhaps two-thirds of the book’s main thematic freight, was successful with critics and audiences; the less successful 2008 follow-up, Prince Caspian, largely gutted the book’s meaning.
Still, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader represents a far more significant test: Unlike Prince Caspian, the book is among the most beloved of the series, as well as one of the most mythically potent. The fate of the franchise may well hang in the balance. As Duin noted, “The makers of the Narnia movies can’t afford any more ‘drift’ if they wish to keep their religious fan base happy.”