Christian symbolism in “Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” reveals perverse truth of religious faith

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Narnia, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a Christian movie. Although we all know CS Lewis is a Christian apologist and that the Narnia series does, in a sense, reflect his theology, Voyage of the Dawn treader is specifically and totally about a journey of faith and establishing a belief in Jesus Christ.

When I finally got around to watching it, however, I noticed something interesting that I wasn’t expecting. Despite all the Christian symbolism, not-too-thinly veiled references to hope and belief in Jesus, poor acting and miserable plot development, there was a secret and different truth being revealed – the truth that the Christian religion is not really based on the event of Christ’s Resurrection, but upon generating the belief in Christ through new converts to Christianity, which is perversely the secret fuel that keeps the machine of Christendom burning.

The plot of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader is basically that some dark, mysterious, green, smoky, snakelike evil (evil in its true sense, rather than an actual foe) is taking over the world and selling people into slavery (ie “sin”). The Narnians have to collect and gather seven magical swords and place them at Aslan’s table to break the power of evil. (This in itself is no different from Harry Potter’s quest for the 7 horcruxes or the 7 seals of Revelations, and reflects the mystical beliefs in the seven chakras that have to be unlocked). They are warned (by a magician – like most of Narnia, Lewis clearly distinguishes between good magic and bad magic):

Until you law down the 7th sword, evil has the upper hand. It will do everything in its power to tempt you. Be strong. Don’t fold to temptation. To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness in yourself.

So, everybody needs to overcome their temptations in order to triumph over evil (not especially exciting, and the movie does a piss-poor job of depicting the temptations: a lot of gold/a dead ice-queen). Lucy is the one most tempted – the novel sets her up early as a pre-teen jealous of her sister’s beauty, and she casts a magical spell which nicely gives her a glimpse of the consequences without anything actually happening. Aslan just appears to admonish her, and nothing else changes. She instantly learns her lesson: self-appreciation.

What have you done, child. But you chose it Lucy. You wished yourself away, and much more. You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.

Aslan shows up throughout the movie to help those who have faith in him (although, he never actually does anything to help them, except give them advice). Aslan, of course, is Jesus, and there are some overtly pious reflections on life and afterlife through him.

I miss my mommy. I miss mine too. Don’t worry you’ll see her again. How do you know? You just have to have faith about this things. Aslan will help us. But Aslan couldn’t stop her from being taken. We’ll find her, I promise.

But the true hero of the story, the actual center of everything, is the skeptical English boy Eustace Scrubb (played by Will Poulter). Eustace is a nauseatingly annoying little asshole, who prizes his “intelligence” and reason, and doesn’t want to believe in all the “silly stories” about Narnia. While most of the players protect but in general ignore or mock him, he is taken under the wing of Reepicheep the rat (Simon Pegg’s voice). Reepicheep is the Christian Priest of the story. Completely free of selfish desires or personal interests, he has nothing better to do than care for (with love, devotion, kindness and patience) the stupid, annoying Englishboy who gets turned into a dragon.

While most people would just ignore the little shit (or maybe tell him to get lost, or beat him up) the rat tells him he is extraordinary (extraordinary things happen to extraordinary people) and forms a close personal bond with him; the perfect model of Christian virtue. Yet, if the mouse were a real man (zealous and full of life in God) staying up late telling the boy stories, always by his side, his true companion, we would probably ask what the hell was going on between the two. Why is this adult male spending so much time and effort developing this relationship, rather than having other adult friends? Why does he focus on the boy who no one likes, the lonely, self-pitying misfit, rather than the cool, normal kids? (I’m thinking of the movie “Doubt”).

We soon find the answer. Near the end of the world are two islands: one Evil, one Good. The ship will need to go into ‘Hell’ to find seventh sword. All of their worst fears are made real; so Edward accidentally thinks of a giant sea serpent, and soon one appears to crush them. “Aslan, please help us” Lucy prays, and (wow!) a magical seagull appears and leads them out of the darkness.

But where is Aslan? During this epic battle, Eustace (encouraged into battle by the brave rat) gets injured (with the needed 7 sword) and flies back to the Good Island. Aslan appears to him and saves him, turning him back into a real boy. Eustace, the skeptic, the disbeliever, saves everybody by putting the final 7th sword back on the table.

Now this might appear, on the surface, kind of stupid. Why did Aslan appear and use his powers to save the one, shitty little asshole, at the very moment that his most loyal followers were being eaten and destroyed by a monster sea-serpent? What does it all mean??

It was all about the boy, always. This is the truth of the story: none of the battle is real. The entire thing, the battle between good and evil, is a giant production, a myth, a story. There is no truth, nor solution to solve the evils of the world. Jesus/Aslan does not come ot vindicate or stop evil, he is powerless against it. The power of Jesus is precisely the magical moment that converts a non-believer to a believer – Jesus is the meaning-producing faith that constitutes and supports the boy’s belief that the battle is real, and that he must struggle to fight and be a hero for the cause. Jesus does not care about his followers that already believe in him; he spends all of his time chasing down and loving the people who don’t. Jesus knows that the boy, turning from a skeptic into a believer, is the entire purpose of the whole production – and by his one conversion, the entire myth is justified and strengthened. When everybody else is in doubt and it seems like evil will win, it is the fresh conversion and energy of a new witness that revitalizes the whole enterprise.

Later, when asked what it was like when Aslan saved him, Eustace says (in homoerotic terms that could describe a first sexual encounter):

“No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it myself. Then he came towards me. It sort of hurt, but it was a good pain. Like pulling a thorn from your foot”.

Finally, everybody arrives at the land of Aslan. Aslan tells them “Welcome children. you have done well. Very well indeed. My country lies beyond. But if you continue, there is no return.” Only Reepicheep is ready to move on: he gets rewarded, because he alone saw the value of the non-believer and focused on developing the new convert. In a sense, he was Eustace’s “handler”, encouraging him to risk his own life and (like terrorists) die bravely for the faith.

Wanting to be absolutely clear, Aslan tells them:

I shall be watching you always. How? In your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by it. That was the very reason you were brought to Narnia; that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.

Aha! So the purpose of Narnia is to engage children in an interesting and fanciful story which can later be used to expound Christian doctrine. Fabulous! And, luckily, a critical viewing of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader also allows us to see the twisted core of religious faith, revealed in its emphasis on conversion from skepticism to belief:

1. Jesus cares more about finding new initiates than about taking care of his followers.

2. Jesus offer hope, inspiration and consolation but won’t actually do anything to help you fight your battles.

3. Jesus comes to the weak, stupid and poor in spirit personally, on a 1-to-1 basis, and this experience of him is used to justify the truth of the entire edifice of the Christian myth.