Why We Love to Hate Eustace | Talking Beasts

Eustace Clarence Scrubb–and his unforgettable transformation–is a stand-out in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. And 2020 marks ten years since the character’s big screen debut in Disney/Walden’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In this episode, the podcasters compare Will Poulter’s performance to the book, and explore how Lewis made the loathsome character such a joy to read.

Glumpuddle, Gymfan

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26 Responses

  1. coracle says:

    I’m realising that Eustace in VDT is one of the instances of ‘British view differing from American view’. As I see it, with my British eyes, he is a ‘lonely only child’, who has failed to make friends, perhaps due to his weird parents, but instead worked hard at learning facts and getting good marks at school, seeking to boost his low self-worth by trying to show he is better than others. In company with his cousins he failed socially – bossing didn’t work, making fun of them didn’t work. Suddenly he finds himself on a small sailing ship at sea, where nothing is normal. He cannot cope, and his only response is to deny it’s true, to be angry, and to quote his parents (in the book). Gradually realising he has to survive in this new situation, he tries pleasing himself (swinging Reep, stealing water), and when Reep gives him a small chance to do better in the fight, he sees a glimmer of hope – perhaps he can be part of what they are doing? Some of his dialogue is plaintive, where he tries to be brave but fails immediately, puts on a brave face and voice to Ed as ‘cousin’, and when he pleads not to be left behind. He doesn’t want to be alone – for the first time? (In the book he reaches this after being dragoned)
    The humour is there but it doesn’t cover up, for me, the pathos of a boy way out of his comfort zone, trying to cope with a strange situation without even the normal social tools he ought to have. He is actually a SAD boy, who needs love and acceptance. He has been showing this long before the dragoning.
    I saw this in Poulter’s portrayal of Lee Carter in ‘Son of Rambow’ – the naughty kid who is desperate for attention and love, begins to make and appreciate a real friend, and has a very emotional scene where he has to shout and cry. The parallels are there, and seeing this showed me he could play Eustace well.
    In spite of the overlay of comedy, (and Poulter’s real skill as a comedian in his young years), I believe the true nature of Eustace as written by Lewis is to be found in this film. I’m only sorry that the script writers were so full of a big scary battle that they failed to give him more time to be the book Eustace later in the film.

  2. What advice would I give to Netflix about Eustace?
    I agree with GP and Gymfan that he needs to be painted with depth. That makes it more real. I also hope Netflix includes the details of his parents being weird about his education and their parenting. This gives us context and a bit of humour. In the Walden film, they show Harold as a faceless man behind a newspaper. (By the way,, this is very creatively different than the way the first two films were directed and feels much more childish.) Having a comedic painting of how weak and odd his parents are might be fun.

    Maybe they could show us a scene or two at Experiment House – with Jill? – before his adventure on the Dawn Treader, if they are going for a series/miniseries approach. The execution of this would be key.

    Cast a great young actor for him. I would also say, go different than the Walden movie and keep his undragoning on the same island as his dragoning. We don’t need him to be a dragon for half the movie to get the point of it.
    Thanks for the podcast, guys. It’s a great discussion with thoughtfulness.

  3. Col Klink says:

    You know it’s interesting that many people in the Facebook group, while happy with the actor, said they had problems with the script because I actually can’t think of another Narnian character whom the screenwriters got more details right about than Eustace. (I’m sorry if the following paragraph makes it seem like I’m trying to browbeat anyone into liking Movie Eustace. It’s just that I’m also going to talk about problems with him in some detail so I feel I should devote some space to praising him to be fair.)

    They got that he enjoys annoying Edmund and Lucy when they’re staying with him. (The spitball scene, while pretty stupid, gets this idea across.) They got that he prefers “books of real information” to fantasy and makes fun of Edmund and Lucy for talking about Narnia. They had him freaking out about falling into the picture and meeting a talking animal. They even kept that he wants to see the British Consul and that no one at the slave market wants to buy him. The movie showed Eustace as cowardly, (remember his reaction to seeing the Lone Islanders huddled in fear), as describing everyone else in the most negative terms while himself in the best (in his journal entries) and as being greedy (when he finds the dragon’s treasure.) Eustace still started becoming more helpful after he became a dragon, becoming braver and eventually apologized for his earlier behavior to Edmund.

    That being said, I understand why those fans criticized the script’s portrayal of Eustace. In fact, I was one of them. There were some specific beats in Eustace’s arc that were lost or messed up in the movie. For one thing, they didn’t portray him as trying to swing Reepicheep around by the tail or stealing water during a shortage. (The movie tries to tell us that taking food would be just as bad but it doesn’t explain why very well.) Eustace’s nastiness lost a little edge because of this. To be fair though, the spirit of the water stealing episode from the book would be hard to capture in a different medium. It’s really entertaining in the book because it’s told from Eustace’s ridiculously biased perspective. In an adaptation, as this episode discussed, it could easily come across as unpleasant padding. (The Radio Theatre adaptation probably did the best job of making it funny without being told by Eustace, mostly because of how hilariously annoyed Edmund was about being awakened in the middle of the night.)

    More seriously, they didn’t really convey that Eustace’s ugly appearance as a dragon matches his inner ugliness. While he was upset about his transformation, that transformation was portrayed as more of an ignorant accident than a punishment. (To be fair, it’s also portrayed as being because he’d “read none of the right books” in the book. But there they say the transformation was because of Eustace’s “dragonish thoughts.” In the movie, it’s because of the treasure itself.)

    While I can understand the pacing reasons for having Eustace stay a dragon longer (we don’t want to stay on one island for too long), it had some really unfortunate side effects. Having Eustace be able to keep up with the Dawn Treader (and apparently go for days without food or sleep) made his dragon form less of a hindrance and, as a result, his return to humanity less cathartic. All of his acts of bravery also take place when he’s a dragon which lessens their impact. (It’s much more effective in the book when Eustace stays with his companions on Ramandu’s Island. Lewis specifically says it was worse for him than the others.) Arguably, Eustace laying the last sword on Aslan’s Table was supposed to be an act of bravery but the movie didn’t convey this well IMO.

    All these subtle changes to Eustace’s arc made it less believable that he’d be so much humbler at the end of the story, which is too bad Will Poulter was great at portraying both a Eustace who was full of himself and a Eustace who was humbled. (Usually actors are better at either one or the other.) These character beats are the things I’d encourage new adapters to improve on.

    If you’re wondering why I wrote so much about the script and not the actor, it’s because I don’t think there’s much to be said. Glumpuddle feels he was cartoony. I feel he was human. Neither of us is going to convince the other and there’s no reason we need to do so.

  4. Courtenay says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, so can’t give my own thoughts on the script or Will Poulter’s performance, but I must just say this was another excellent podcast and I really enjoyed it — thanks, Gymfan and Glumpuddle! (And congratulations, Glumpuddle!!!)

    Eustace isn’t my favourite character in the books, but he certainly gets one of the most interesting character arcs of all, and his “dragoning and undragoning” is one of my favourite episodes in the whole of the Chronicles. Like you two say, I think most if not all of us have “dragonish” elements in us that we’ve come to wish we could be free of, and this is one story that quite deliberately hints that there’s something — someOne — that can do that for us… 😉

    I totally agree that both Eustace and Reepicheep are characters that can too easily be played for comic effect, and then we miss the real depth that they need to have if we’re to care about what happens to them (and take them seriously as characters we can learn something deeper from). My biggest hope for the Netflix version of Narnia is that it will be directed / produced / written by people who have read the books over and over and can see the depth of them and find ways to capture that on screen.

    And for once — this doesn’t happen too often — I got the stump question correct! Yay!! 😀

  5. Rebekah Walton says:

    I think Will Poulter did a great job, but, the script was bad.

  6. Just Queen, not High Queen says:

    I don’t mind Eustace being done comedically because I thought it worked overall.

    The fact that we won’t get to see more of Will Poulter as a reformed Eustace in The Silver Chair is the main reason that the series abruptly ending is so tragic and one of the biggest missed opportunities of cinema. It’s one of the reasons why I cry so hard at the end of VDT, especially when Aslan says “Narnia may yet have need of you.” The little he did at the end is so good that I want to see more of it.

    I’m not surprised that Will has a background in comedy, but I am surprised he hasn’t done more comedy since VDT, other than We’re the Millers. Not that he’s bad at drama, it’s just surprising since he’s so good at comedy.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t talk about Eustace’s friendship with Reepicheep since that’s the biggest improvement that the movie has over the book and the one thing they most definitely did right. As someone who loves that film, I think it is the best part of the movie. I did think that they succeeded with Reepicheep overall. He always makes me smile and him going to Aslan’s Country always makes me cry so hard. Always.

  7. Glumpuddle says:

    Very interesting. I feel the Eustace-Reep relationship was very different in the movie. Consider the tail scene.

    In the book, Eustace intentionally grabs Reep’s tail and Reep is indescribably infuriated. He pokes Eustace with his sword and wants a legitimate duel to settle the matter.

    In the movie, Eustace grabs the tail seemingly by accident, and Reep’s reaction seems pretty light and jokey. He pretends to fight him while giving him some tips, and throws out one-liners. Whenever he expresses annoyance about Eustace, it feels sarcastic.

    And then there’s Reep’s lines about how awesome Eustace is for being a dragon, which I strongly felt was exactly the opposite of the book.

  8. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    I think that might’ve been a nod to what Eustace thought of before reaching the others (dragons being nigh indomitable in battle) but even then it still wouldn’t have the same meaning at all.

    Personally, I don’t think Reep was portrayed correctly in either Walden movie, too sarcastic and disrespectful in PC, too jokey and sarcastic in VDT.

  9. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    Experiment house would be pretty cool, it wouldn’t even have to feature much. I’m picturing maybe the last day of school (Jill cameo could pop up?) and basically show his ordinary, unmagical life and some of his less admirable tendencies in action. Then at the dinner table, while eating Plumtree’s Vitaminized Nerve food (made with distilled water of course) Harold and Alberta tell Eustace that his cousins are staying the summer.

  10. Narnia Fangirl says:

    Good idea. Or even better, stick to the book!

  11. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    One of the reasons Eustace is a popular character definitely has to do with peoples “dragons in the closet.” A lot of people went through a cringey/beastly stage and they can’t take it back and feel rather guilty about (I think it’s really realistic when Jill insults Eustace at the beginning of SC about his past behavior, he is actually quite ofended and upset)

    I’m not sure if this falls under “advice” for Netflix, but I would be interested in seeing an adaption of Eustace where we explore his potential as a problem solver. In the books he is quite intelligent, after all, he reads books with *real* information, and he knows a lot about botany. We also know he keeps careful track of his marks (I’m assuming those are grades?), and likes to brag about them.
    Maybe part of his attitude stems from being book smarter than a good chunk of his peers, which isolates him a bit as well as gives him his air of superiority we see in a lot of his diary entries? Then maybe we can see him do things like plan the escape from Harfang or strategize with Tirian and the likes. I don’t think any of this would fundamentally change his character, just give him a little more agency in the narrative.

  12. Narnia Fangirl says:

    Uh, totally unrelated, but there’s a book eight coming out. Yes, an eighth Narnia book.

  13. Courtenay says:

    Hi Narnia Fangirl,

    You sure about that? The only “eighth Narnia book” I’ve heard about is Francis Spufford’s The Stone Table, which was privately printed for his family and friends last year (that apparently fits into a legal loophole, copyright-wise, as long as he doesn’t distribute it publicly or sell it for money). But it hasn’t been authorised by C.S. Lewis’s estate and so it’s highly unlikely that it will be published (if at all) until at least 2034, when Lewis’s copyright expires. It sounds intriguing and I wouldn’t mind reading it myself, but only if it could be published and distributed lawfully. Apart from that, I don’t know that there are any other candidates for “book 8” except for other pieces of fan-fic, since Lewis’s estate and publishers definitely haven’t announced anything of the kind.

  14. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    Spufford’s fanfic is the only thing popping up for me, and apparently there’s like only 75 copies. Which makes sense because I (like you Courtney) immediately thought that Narnia is NOT public domain yet.

    I believe it’s safe to say Stone Table is to Narnia what Cursed Child is to Harry Potter (except maybe even less so because C.S. Lewis isn’t around marketing the heck out of it)

  15. Cleander says:

    First of all, congrats Glumpuddle!
    I liked Will’s Eustace for the most part; I think the final scene at the end could have been a bit deeper though. Maybe he could have said a bit more about how was a bit of a monster before being a dragon, and how he came to realize the people around him weren’t his enemies after all.
    That being said, i think the final scene kept him from feeling like a total cartoon character.

  16. Larry W. says:

    I liked the BBC Narnia’s Eustace too. He was more serious than Will Poulter’s, but he got the character right. It does seem like he was a nastier Eustace, whereas Poulter showed the comedic side. Is it better to have Eustace as a dark villain or just a nasty fool? He was both, but he was not completely clever since he did not read all of the right books. It’s kind of too bad that Poulter will not return as same character in a Silver Chair movie. The BBC version did have the same Eustace come back in the next story, and he was okay. If Netflix finds a good actor for Eustace let’s hope he will also be in The Silver Chair.

  17. Just Queen, not High Queen says:

    What I felt was an improvement over the book in regards to Eustace and Reepicheep was that they expanded on the paragraph of Reepicheep being his most constant companion when he’s a dragon. In the book, it’s only one or two paragraphs (I don’t have the book with me right now to double-check) but in the film, it’s shown over several scenes. Eustace’s reaction to Reepicheep leaving is a lot more emotional as a result, as it’s showing Eustace experiencing the pain that can come with caring about someone for the first time. I haven’t read the book since before the movie came out but I don’t recall much written about Eustace’s reaction to Reep leaving.

  18. Col Klink says:

    I think one of the reasons I enjoy the movie’s portrayal of Eustace more than, say, Glumpuddle did is because we have different takes on the book character. Glumpuddle doesn’t necessarily see him as a caricature. And I see him as a relatively unsuccessful caricature. (I guess I’m the one who needs to avoid rotten tomatoes now.) My reasons for saying this are expressed in this topic https://forum.narniaweb.com/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=8404

    I’d express that criticism less defensively now. On my recent reading of VDT, I’ve been considering the idea that Lewis didn’t intend for Eustace to be a comedic character. I guess I was thrown off the scent by the book’s opening paragraph’s which definitely seem like they’re setting Eustace up to be an over-the-top-love-to-hate-’em character. I’m tempted to say that the movie improved on Eustace’s character from the book by giving him funny dialogue instead of just having the narrator and the other characters snark at him. But no, I won’t say this movie improved on the book in any way! You can’t make me! 😉

    I have always considered Eustace a great character though, just more because of the example he provides of a self absorbed complainer who totally lacks self awareness, and because of his arc, both of which this episode nicely sums up, and not so much because of his comedic value.

  19. J says:

    Forgive me, if new Narnia adaptations are going to stick to what the books have, but little else, what’s the point in adapting them? The books are great on their own and don’t need movies, but I still crave great movie adaptations of Narnia all the same. Maybe it’s because movies are built to last, despite being a shallow medium compared to books. They can be less memorable (or more memorable) than the book, but never the same. Narnia is great, but I’d prefer a flesh-and-blood version of Narnia and its characters, something the Walden films sort-of succeeded in, before flying off the rails into cartoons and non-Lewis material. Narnia is worthy of being adapted well but with imagination.

  20. J says:

    Also, I’d love the idea of bookending a ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ adaptation with Experiment House and Jill Pole, without revealing themselves to being so – like showing Minis Tirith in the ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ movie. Then ‘Silver Chair’ could start and end in London with Jill: In-and-out of prison.
    Experiment House: Sworn Enemy of Gondor. 😉

  21. Impending Doom says:

    You’ve never seen VDT?! What’s the hold-up?

  22. Narnia Fangirl says:

    Good idea

  23. Narnia Fangirl says:

    I thought the same thing, but it popped up on an article alongside with the seven original books. I didn’t do any research. So, I’m glad it isn’t canon, ’cause for me, only C.S. Lewis is canon. In fact, it seems like some highly overrated piece of fanfic. Thank you for taking your time to reply.

  24. Col Klink says:

    I know that a lot of fans, even if they’re critical of the movie in general, regard Reepicheep’s mentorship of Eustace as one of its best parts. But I have to side with Glumpuddle on this. I just don’t find it that moving.

    I think this is mostly because of the dialogue, not the voice actor. Reepicheep gets an unusual number of clunky lines in his interaction with Eustace. Like when he’s teaching him to swordfight and he’s says it’s like a dance. Is that something a real dueling instructor would say? It sounds like such a cliché to me. And then there’s “extraordinary things only happen to extraordinary people.” To be fair, Lewis intended Reepicheep’s encouragement of Eustace in his version of that scene to be deliberately clunky. It was the thoughtfulness behind it which meant a lot to Eustace. But I’d say Book Reepicheep’s advice was still better than Movie Reepicheep’s!

    And I didn’t like that when Reepicheep encouraged Eustace to brave Dark Island he did it on the grounds that he, himself, was braving and he was a mouse while Eustace was a dragon. First of all, Reepicheep would never admit that being a mouse was a grounds for being afraid! (Though maybe some fans feel that makes his character more rounded in the movie.) Second, it feels weird to put so much emphasis on Eustace being brave because he’s a dragon. Does that mean he should go back to being scared when he’s a human again? Then when Eustace is crying because Reepicheep is leaving, he says, “what a magnificent puzzle you are.” I understand what he meant but it sounds like an insult taken out of context. LOL. Couldn’t they have come up with something better than that?

    That being said, I relate to Just Queen’s regret over Poulter’s Eustace not appearing in any more movies. I’m also wistful that we’ll never see who would have been cast as Jill. Walden Media’s Narnia movies were able to cast such great child actors. But to be fair, Arabella Morton as the MLG wasn’t that memorable so maybe VDT would have been the beginning of the end, as far as that goes, anyway.

  25. JFG II says:

    I wonder who would have played Jill too. I guess if the filmmakers had made the Narnia movies QUICKER (2005, 2006, 2008…) and no stalling, they would have gotten a young female star to play Jill in Silver Chair. Saoirse Ronan (born 1994) seems a first choice, since she was a rising child star like Will Poulter (b. 1993), and was sought after by many movie makers. Also was nominated for awards.

  26. Narnia Fangirl says:

    I saw a “poster” (fan made) having Elle Fanning (Princess Aurora in Malificent) listed as Jill Pole. Never watched the Malificent movies, though. So yeah…