The Murder of Reepicheep

A Love-Hate Relationship
So we just got our own DVD copy of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and because Tommy's been sick these past few days we've watched it several times. The visuals are fantastic, and I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing how well the filmmakers brought the story to the silver screen. The Dawn Treader itself is a beautiful rendition of Lewis' description, the standing wave bordering Aslan's Country is incredible, and the Dufflepuds just flat-out rocked!

But the film is ill at a deeper level. Beneath the visual appeal and the fun action, Hollywood killed something at the soul of Lewis' story. Hollywood murdered Reepicheep.

No Clue
Here's what I mean. Modern movie-making understands swordfighting, CGI magic effects, and saving the world through heroic acts of individual triumph. Hollywood does these things well. But it doesn't understand - genuinely, it has no blasted clue - how honor, nobility, authority, and selfless sacrifice work. Thus it has no way of understanding what CS Lewis was actually depicting in his novel. This cluelessness is evident everywhere in the film, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the interactions between the honorable mouse-knight Reepicheep and the monstrously irritating Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

Comparing one scene in the film with that of the novel makes this clear. At one point in the movie the selfish Eustace -- a snotty, self-centered brat who is swept into Narnia against his wishes -- steals food from the ship's galley. He's caught in the act by Reepicheep, who makes a casual reference to theft of rations being a capital offense at sea and then challenges Eustace to a duel. But not to worry: none of this is serious in the film. Hollywood's Reepicheep does not have capital punishment in mind, nor is he concerned with honor, or the difference between right and wrong. Rather, Hollywood Reepicheep simply wants to help Eustace learn to swordfight, so that he can eventually become a hero. The "duel" turns out to be nothing of the sort. Instead, it's a one-on-one lesson in swordplay (how this relates back to the stealing of rations is left unexplained).

Compare this scene with the same one in Lewis' book, which begins not with Eustace stealing food but rather with him grabbing Reepicheep's tail and swinging him around just to be mean. Despite being swept off his paws in this most undignified manner, the knight-mouse deftly draws his sword in mid air and manages to deliver two piercing stabs to Eustace's hand in quick succession causing (gasp!) real, actual injuries. Of course this forces the brat to drop the mouse, who then immediately challenges him to a duel to the death. Significantly, Eustace is flabbergasted at this demand and runs away, with the mouse in hot pursuit. When Eustace finally refuses to fight, it is (again significantly) Reepicheep's turn to be stunned. He's shocked that anyone would lack so much honor as to refuse a duel after issuing an insult. So to teach Eustace a lesson about honor, Reepicheep (in front of everyone else on board) turns the flat of his blade on Eustace and beats several welts into his skin, using his sword like a switch. Now Eustace, Lewis is careful to note, has never been spanked by anyone before, either parent or teacher, and in fact has been taught that such things are barbaric, so this is a new experience for him. All the others on board, however, approve of the beating and Eustace is forced to mumble apologies as the scene ends.

Two Completely Different Lessons
Do you see the depth of the difference? It's not just that the scene played out a little differently on screen than it did on page - that happens when books are turned into films and it's no big deal. The difference is one of honor, of authority, of principle. Of worldview. You see, Lewis is showing how Eustace has been transported into a world that operates by a completely different set of rules than those of his world (20th century England). In fact, I said earlier that Hollywood murdered Reepicheep but they actually murdered Eustace as well, because depicting 20th century England is exactly Lewis' purpose for Eustace in this story. Eustace is the ultimate Enlightenment-besotted 20th century secular rationalist: a smug young boy who arrogantly thinks we've outgrown all old superstitions. Consequently he builds his whole life simply on "scientific fact" and is thus "too smart" to believe in old magic tales (in other words, religion). In Lewis' book Eustace reflects the spirit of his (our) day, believing that chivalry is an insult to women, that pacifism is always an enlightened position, and that the Medieval belief in honor and codes of conduct is all hogwash. By bringing Eustace to Narnia, Lewis shows him (and through him, us) just how wrong he is, and how foolish all his "enlightened" modern sensibilities are.

The Transformation Of Eustace
The transformation of Eustace - depicted most clearly in the dragon episode - is one of the main lesson of the book. Eustace goes from a smug secular rationalist to a humble, honor-driven follower of Aslan the True King. And he only accomplishes this with Aslan's help (and a small assist from the flat of Reepicheep's blade). This is totally different than the transformation Eustace experiences in the film. There Eustace becomes "a great warrior" under Reepicheep's tutelage. And the lessons the mouse taught him don't consist of just swordplay, but rather of long-winded babbling about how Eustace is actually "an extraordinary person" deep down inside (despite a total lack of evidence). These drivelings sound like pages right out of a contemporary self-help book, or daytime psycho-therapeutic TV program.

Which of course, they are.

And that's how Hollywood murdered Reepicheep, and Eustace as well. In the film Eustace is a deprived little boy who just doesn't believe enough in himself, while in the book he's an empty modern secularist who, without realizing it, has denied everything that makes life worth living. In the film Reepicheep is a psychologist-tutor who helps Eustace discover all the "amazing potential" locked inside him, but in the book Reepicheep embodies everything modern man has scoffed at: the devoted follower of Aslan who is committed to principle and honor at all costs.

And perhaps most importantly, in the film salvation for Eustace comes through self-actualization under the guidance of a therapist, whereas in the book salvation for Eustace comes from realizing that he is wrong and Reepicheep is right; a lesson that began with the flat of Reepicheep's blade smacking his flesh and only ended when the razor tips of Aslans' own claws ripped into his very heart.



The same fundamental missing of Lewis' point is evident throughout the film at almost every turn. As the credits of the movie roll and I listen to the film's theme song waft through our family room ("We can be the kings and queens of anything if we believe, it's written in the stars above...") I realize that Eustace learned far more from Reepicheep than Hollywood managed to.


23 comments:

Lita said...

Ah...how I love the Chronicles of Narnia and the lessons that go along with them courtesy of C.S. Lewis. I loved listening to the stories as well as reading them to our children who loved them as well. I have not seen this third movie. I have hesitated because I heard of the changes. And I am still not so sure that I will see this one.
Thank you for your insight on this. A very enlightening analysis that I appreciated.

Matt Guerino said...

Thanks Lita! The changes are real, but the film is still very entertaining. The most obvious change was predictable: the book had no overriding theme/quest, but was rather a series of mini-adventures. That doesn't work on screen, so they were going to have to invent a master quest that ties all the island adventures together. Which they did, but if you see that coming it's really not all that bad.

What is bad IMO is the total missing of the point of Narnia. They could have made the same film with the same invented master quest to tie it together while not losing Lewis' world of hierarchy, honor, and faith. But instead they made a film that reflects (post)modern sensibilities and is very self-oriented, rather than Aslan-oriented.

It may be worth seeing just for how well they visually brought the islands and the ship to life. But don't plan to teach your someday-grandkids the same lessons from the film that you taught your kids form the book!

Crown of Beauty said...

I read the Chronicles of Narnia in the 1970s when I was a very young Christian. I read the Trilogy as well. CS Lewis is worth reading several times over.

The truth is that none of the Narnia movies really understand the heart of CS Lewis as expressed in the Chronicles.

I will have to give Hollywood credit though for their ability to capture some of the scenes and turn them into a movie.

Most of those who watched the movies have probably never read the book anyway - so they do not really miss out on anything.

To be true to the spirit of the books, the movies have to be done by people who truly understand the context in which the books were written, as well as the real intention of CS Lewis in using certain characters such as the four children, and the animals.

Especially Repicheep.

After reading your post, I understood the Dawn Treader story even more clearly.

Truth be said, and in fairness to the moviemakers of Narnia, it is next to impossible to turn the CS Lewis Chronicles into movies. The nuances of the conversations and the narratives would be a Herculean task to turn into a script for a two hour movie that will be understood by a PG 13 audience.

But thank you for your well thought out post. I can really always count on you to do that.

Blessings to you, Matt. I am glad to be back on your blog!

Lidj

Matt Guerino said...

And I'm glad to have you back Lidj! Your comments always add value to this blog, so thank you for taking the time to write. I've actually not blogged much lately, but I've just recently made a few changes to my personal schedule and hope to be a bit more present in the blogosphere again.

Blessings friend

Matt

Lita said...

Matt,
I guess that is why I hesitate to see the movie. The Post-Modernism drivel...I get so weary of it. I know it isn't going to go away, but I hate to subject myself to it when I don't have to. I know it's there. I just don't want to choose it as part of my "entertainment". Now...if I had a young man as Tommy....just for the entertainment, as you have done, I probably would. As for Grandkids (Woo hoo! I can't wait, although I am told I have to) I again, would probably choose to read them the books and let their parents decide if they want to see the movie. Of course, I am so "old fashioned" (guess what...we don't even HAVE cable in our house, nor any channels on the tv....our tv's are only used for our entertainment), but old fashioned is where I will stay, without of course, burying my head in the sand. Staying "informed" and judging all things by the scriptures, is, of course, necessary.
Did I understand that they left out the part of Eustace the Dragon and Aslan removing his scales? That would be terribly disappointing to me, as it is one of my favorite parts of the Chronicles of Narnia. My brain and heart have always thought "Ah...how I wish it was that easy for Christ to tear the scales off of me" (which of course it is if I would let Him). But of course I pick up my scales and put them back on each day.
Well....still deciding of course.
Lita

Matt Guerino said...

They sorta' put that scene in there, but they heavily sanitized it. Aslan actually claws the sand, and when he does so a magical fiery claw mark appears on Eustace's dragon hide. Aslan does so a second time and a second mark appears, and the dragon-Eustace levitates in the air and is enveloped in a swirl of fairy-dust-like magic sparkly, and then poof: he's a boy again. Aslan never actually touches Eustace in the film.

So again, they're trying to nod faithfully to the imagery of the book, but they do so in a manner that completely changes its meaning. Theo original scene by Lewis was (deliberately) kinda' gross, and vividly had Aslan ripping painfully into dragon-Eustace's flesh because only he could cut deep enough to truly rip it off. This is a picture of the total heart transformation we undergo when we surrender control to God and how he creates an entirely "new man" to use the Biblical term, but none of that is present in the film. Instead, we get a "I can be a hero" adventure story, and the role Aslan plays in this adventure is that of a cosmic grandpa/spirit guide type.

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

Matt,

A well written argument, as usual. I think I fail to see the harm in the Hollywood production as clearly as you so well describe. I may look at things more broadly and do not read in demons, worldview, and distortions into the Hollywood version. I'd have difficulty, honestly concluding "These drivelings sound like pages right out of a contemporary self-help book, or daytime psycho-therapeutic TV program."

I give people's interpretations wide deference because our biases are so well ingrained. I saw the movie and had my grandchild view it with me and was able to explain Jesus teachings through the Hollywood version. So from my perspective and all respects to CS Lewis as an author, Hollywood was true to the book.

cypherbuzz.blogspot.com

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

PS: Turn-around-is-fair-play. Earlier I commented on my blog about an article in Christianity Today. See cypherbuzz.blogspot.com

Matt Guerino said...

Thanks for your thoughts Taylor. Two thoughts in response.

First, I don't see the basis for equating the idea that 'I can teach Jesus from the movie despite it's changes' with the conclusion that the film is 'true to the book.' Now if you're arguing that the film ISN'T true to the book but you don't think that matters, that's another thing. But you don't seem to be saying that.

Second, I don't recall mentioning demons. Now I did mention drivel, but that isn't exactly the same thing. My main point is that the film version - and specifically the inability of the filmmakers to understand Lewis - says a lot about their worldview, and his. And his point was a bit more sophisticated than just a story starring Jesus. Lewis was saying some things ABOUT not only Jesus, but also about us and the world we live in with respect to Jesus. Hollywood made a visually appealing adventure story based on the locations and character of the book, but they missed the essence of that story either because they didn't see it or because they didn't think it would sell to a modern movie-going audience. That's not a with hunt. That's just film analysis.

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

I was saying that the film ISN'T true to the book but you don't think dampens the teachings of Jesus. I'm glad you saw two options.

Demons drivel don't they? No you didn't mention demons, that was my failed attempt at humor.

The idea that the filmmakers don't understand Lewis seems a little too sweeping to be accurate, unless, that is, you know for a fact or have some evidence that "they" don't understand Lewis. Whether the filmmakers intentionally twisted the story to make a buck or they twisted the story to make a buck and downgrade Jesus' teachings, or didn't believe they could sell a modern audience is a valid, although unsubstantiated, point. Of course, so is my view unsubstantiated as well. If I err, I err on the side of giving filmmakers the benefit of the doubt.

Hurling unsubstantiated stuff is fun, but didn't Saint James (excuse my Catholic roots) suggest we, as teachers, aim a little higher?

Tonight, will be fun listening to the "Christian" Republican candidates hurl their worldviews. My question is how will they present their views on poverty (health care, social security), war, women, etc. in line with their interpretation of the sermon on the mount?

We all have our own worldviews, but are they in line with Jesus' teachings? That's the question I need to keep asking myself, especially when I get into discussion like these.

Matt Guerino said...

You wrote "The idea that the filmmakers don't understand Lewis seems a little too sweeping to be accurate, unless, that is, you know for a fact or have some evidence that 'they' don't understand Lewis"

My evidence is the film. and the book. And the vast differences between the two. :)

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

Interesting, my evidence is the film and the book too. I guess we see things from different perspectives. So what we are discussing is how we personally connect the dots. For all I know you may be right in your assessment.

Matt Guerino said...

I don't think the difference between the values of the film vs. those of the book can be so easily reduced to just perspective; mere variances in dot-connecting. They're real, they're evident, and they're contrast-able.

In the film, individual choice and being "true to self" is what's held up. Not surprisingly, those are the most common values of our day. In the book, Lewis created a magical land (Narnia) that operated by a different set of values, specifically for the purpose of creating a contrast with the values of our day. So far, none of what I've said is mere opinion, it's empirical analysis.

One more example demonstrates this difference. In the book, Caspian gets selfish and wants to enter Aslan's Country, but he is scolded by everyone from Reepicheep to Edmund & Lucy - even by Aslan himself - for rejecting his Aslan-assigned responsibility to care for Narnia as its king. He's scolded, in other words, for putting his desires above those of others. In the film, Caspian wants to enter as well, but this time he's encouraged to do so by Aslan and Edmund. He chooses not to enter but for a completely different reason: his own choice. There is no larger, Aslan-given obligation to others. Caspian's choice is his alone, and it derives it's value through his sheer act of individual will, not through conformity to an outside standard of honor or authority.

To have made Aslan complicit in such an atomistically individual act of self-realization is to have failed to convey Lewis' value system, whether deliberately or innocently. And I daresay it's a tough view of Jesus to reconcile with the Bible.

When I teach at George Fox I always insist that my students comprehend an author first, and then agree/disagree only after they have the message down accurately and can give it back to me. This is just good critical thinking skills stuff, and I find it's new to many of my adult students. I try to practice the same approach myself, and in my original post I analyzed the message - fairly and accurately, I believe - of both the book and the film. If I've mis-read the values of either I will be happy to stand corrected. But while I think my analysis could possibly be inaccurate, I don't believe it's merely a matter of perspective.

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

OK, Matthew, now you've gone and done it—given me a substantive answer with "objective" analysis, a reference to empirical analysis, and all. Love it! To be fair I have to see the movie again and read the book before I respond. In about a month or so, I will respond either on your blog, which is fine with me or I will do my compare and contrast on the blog I have for discussing christianity and secular thought (jesusview.com) In any case, you've given me a homework assignment.

Three general points, then I'll go to my room to study film and book. First, by changing from the values in Hollywood to the values in the film, the focus of conversation becomes more "objective" rather than personalized. The shift in emphasis from what is the intent of the film makers is different from examining the values of the film vs. values of the book, which is fine with me. Second, The way we put our theological dots together is important. Within christendom three are over 35,000 denomenations and growing. I would say at some point there are as many christian interpretations of Christ's teachings as there are christians. Third, I am an empiricist, always have been and always will be. However, I do not confuse my personal brand of empirical research with my scientific brand of empirical research. My personal empiricism allows me to say, "The person with an argument is never at the mercy of a person with an experience." (a little ditty I picked up at Oakland Neighborhood Church when I was 15 and has served me well for a lifetime.) The scientific brand of empirical inquiry calls for a higher standard of verification than personal empirical inquiry. Having said that, I certainly can review the book and the film in a more "objective" less personal way to do a compare and contrast. Of course, we haven't identified our values yet. The values I will look for are those found in Matthew (maybe you too, we will see), the Book of Matthew, Chapter 5, the red-letter words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

OOPS, That's jesusview.net, sorry.

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

Oh, one more thing. I was an adjunct professor at Simpson University. Their ABOUT SIMPSON welcome from the president says:

"In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Narnia creatures trapped in a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas, begin to whisper to one another, “Aslan is on the move.” If you know anything about The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan is a metaphor representing the person of Christ. C.S. Lewis provided a beautiful literary picture of God’s involvement in the world through his Son, Jesus Christ.

We know that “Aslan is on the move” in our day, in our world, and on the campus of Simpson University. He is on the move when our students learn and grow through the outstanding teaching from our faculty. He is on the move in our chapel services when students, faculty, and staff gather to worship. He is on the move when our students participate in intercollegiate athletics, music, theatre, student government, and other co-curricular activities. He is on the move when our students get involved in church ministries and community service opportunities. He is also on the move when our students talk and laugh together in the dining center, coffee shop, or while walking across campus. The Lord is clearly on the move at Simpson University.

I hope our Website gives you a picture of what the Lord is doing at Simpson University. You will find the latest news, program offerings, and access to people who will provide helpful information. Have fun navigating your way through the Simpson University experience. I invite you to follow up your virtual visit with a personal visit to campus.

Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student, in our traditional or non-traditional programs, our dedicated faculty and staff are committed to helping you develop in mind, faith, and character to influence the world through leadership, scholarship and service."

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

Oh, now you really got me. I had to order the disc and the book again because I gave them away and the people past them on! Good literature travels fast.

t

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

Happy Father's Day:

You are an incredible dad. I know you've pleased Judy and Jerry in line with their hopes for you. I'm happy to have been a friend of the family and watch you over the years.

t

Matt Guerino said...

Thanks Taylor, and happy Father's Day to you as well! It must be somewhat surreal to watch a twiggy 8-year-old become 40 and a father himself. :)

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

Yes, surreal and a great privilege to stand on the sidelines and watch. Marie was your best cheerleader. She thought the world of you two. Loved Amy, couldn't say enough about her. So, after she passed, I thought I would take more o of a look-see. I started, as you know, reading your blog. The emphasis you put on family was genuine and right down Marie's ally. You are the age of my children. I think Judy, Jerry, Marie and my grandchildren's generation is as good as they come. I love sitting on the sidelines, watching.

Hermeneutics1 said...

I have re-read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (herein Jack; Furst Harper Trophy Edition, 2000) and re-sat through the movie, Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) and come to the conclusion there is enough play in both the book and the movie to justify a number of valid interpretations. My experience and beliefs are rooted in secular scientific inquiry, humanism and, last but not least, my decision to strive to follow Jesus and his teachings. The fact that Jack was an atheist and turned to Jesus is very appealing to me. In my view, his works ar a unique combination of pagan/atheist thought and the power of Jesus. I do not see sharp polar positions between what is secular and what Jesus taught. So, when Jack, after sitting in a pub with Tolken and his buddies, create fables and moral allegories and fantasies based on literature, mythology, religion and philosophies, I understand and enjoy the totality of their concoctions. I see the movie doing justice to Jack's book and the movie keeping the presence, importance and full affect of Aslan true to Jack's story. So, the question for me is: Did the movie stay true to the book? My answer is yes. Did the movie differ from the book and, if so, did the movie distort the meaning and purpose of Jack's book? My answer is no.

I will send the rest of my response, the specifics, in an email to you, as I do not want to clutter your website.

Matt Guerino said...

Hermeneutics1,

Welcome, and thanks for your comment! I'm most interested in your view that the basic tenet of secularism - that God is not present in the affairs of men - is consistent with the teachings of Jesus - who claimed to be God come down into the affairs of men. I look forward to your e-mail.

Taylor Samuel Lyen said...

You didn't respond to my compare and contrast about Jack's book and Hollywood's movie? You made me do a lot of soul searching?

Now the new topic: Do you want to continue in the comment format on your blog about the murder of Reep and Eustace, which seems a little off topic to me. Or, do you want to start a new topic. Your blog or mine? I'd suggest mine because you seem to want me to clarify my statement about secular thought and Jesus teaching in Jesus' day. Remember, Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. As a rabbi, he saw things differently. I remember taking Hebrew prayer book, there were several atheist Jews in the class, which was a surprise to me.

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