Review: The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” (The Chronicles of Narnia, #3) by C.S. Lewis

February 5, 2014 2014 Read & Review, 2014 Reading Challenge - Series, 4 Stars, Classic Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, omnibus, paperback, Re-Read, YA/MG 0

The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"

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Lucy and Edmund, with their dreadful cousin Eustace, get magically pulled into a painting of a ship at sea. That ship is the Dawn Treader, and on board is Caspian, King of Narnia. He and his companions, including Reepicheep, the valiant warrior mouse, are searching for seven lost lords of Narnia, and their voyage will take them to the edge of the world. Their adventures include being captured by slave traders, a much-too-close encounter with a dragon, and visits to many enchanted islands, including the place where dreams come true.

Note: I love this series to pieces so this is more of my thoughts than a review.

Let’s start with great first lines: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” starts with Edmund and Lucy Pevensie going to stay with their aunt, uncle and their annoying son, Eustace. Eustace…is originally characterized as a snotty little asshole that was training up to become a psychopath. He liked dead bugs. *ew* Eustace also enjoys harassing people, hurting feelings, tattle-telling and embarrassing others. Not. Fun. So when Lucy and Edmund are pulled into Narnia (and to the Dawn Treader), Eustace comes with them – bad qualities included. I wonder, sometimes, about Eustace. What was Eustace’s purpose and why do we [the reader] get him instead of Peter and Susan?

King Caspian has set out on a long voyage after getting Narnia settled nicely. Caspian is (heroically?) searching for seven Lords of his land that his dictator Uncle Miraz sent off to sail the world. I always wondered how a King with no Queen and no progeny could do something this irresponsible but, hey…*shrug*

In reading, I stopped to wonder if the book Bridge to Terabithia (pub 1977) got the inspiration for the name from this book (which was published in the 1950s):

“And we sailed from Galma,” continued Drinian, “and ran into a calm for the best part of two days and had to row, and then had wind again and did not make Terebinthia till the fourth day from Galma. And there their King sent out a warning not to land for there was a sickness in Terebinthia but we doubled the cape and put in at a little creek far from the city and watered.”
–C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 2: “On Board the ‘Dawn Treader’

One of my favorites parts of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is Reepicheep (the leader of the Talking Mice). I love Reepicheep. He has such a big heart to go along with the massive courage that he has. Reepicheep shows his courage (and foolhardiness) on a very regular basis but his kindness is often overlooked. When Eustace takes a turn for the worse and is completely miserable, it is Reepicheep who fights back Eustace’s despair. How strange Eustace must have felt! To have the one person you were disgusted by and that you assaulted become the one person to keep you from sinking into the worse of depressions. What is Lewis trying to say here? Obviously there is something there about forgiveness and turning the other cheek…but what else? Maybe it is caution about despair. When reading Everyman one learns that the one unforgivable sin is that of despair. For some reason, I feel that despair is (at least part) of what was being said – but not the classic definition of despair, the religious one:

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the “deliberate refusal” to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The one who despairs “ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God” (no. 2091). Despair is directly contrary to the theological virtue of hope, which is, in part, a reliance on the grace of the Holy Spirit (Catechism, no. 1817).
–Eric Stoutz, What Is the Unforgivable Sin against the Holy Spirit?

I don’t want to give the wrong impression – Reepicheep has his faults – and they are many. He rushes into situations thinking with his sword and not his brain. Often he is the provoker of fights and he does everything he can to avoid even the appearance of cowardice. With these traits in mind, is it any wonder that Reepicheep is the sole person who clamored for the ship to sail into a huge stationary black cloud-like mass:

“If I were addressing peasants or slaves,” he said, “I might suppose that this suggestion [to not sail into the black cloud] proceeded from cowardice. But I hope it will never be told in Narnia that a company of noble and royal persons in the flower of their age turned tail because they were afraid of the dark.”
“But what manner of use would it be in ploughing through that blackness?” asked Drinian.
“Use?” replied Reepicheep. “Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek out honour and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of our honours.”
Several of the sailors said things under their breath that sounded like “Honour be blowed,” but Caspian said:
“Oh, bother you, Reepicheep. I almost wish we’d left you at home. All right! if you put it that way, I suppose we shall have to go on. Unless Lucy would rather not?”
Lucy felt that she would very much rather not, but what she said out loud was, “I’m game.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter Twelve: “The Dark Island”

During the travels of the Dawn Treader, the ship stops at several different islands. It seems (to me) that each island could be used (or is used) as a representation of sin. I recognized greed and vanity. I also *think* that sloth was represented as well as a baptism reference that also suggests healing.

I think that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the first book that starts to emphasize the idea of and fear of godhood.

“Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: A huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queen thing was that there was no moon last night but there was moonlight where the lion was. SO it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid if it – if you can understand.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 7: “How the Adventure Ended”

Edmund vs. Eustace
Both Edmund and Eustace go through personality changing events in Narnia. Edmund was a traitor who was saved by Aslan sacrificing himself. Eustace becomes a horribly ugly dragon – to reflect the person he was inside? – that Aslan saves by ripping off the dragon skin that was Eustace.

Another thing that I noticed that Edmund and Eustace had in common was their original reaction to Aslan.

Edmund

“At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Chapter 8: “A Day with the Beavers”

For the mention of Aslan gave him a mysterious and horrible feeling just as it gave the others a mysterious and lovely feeling.
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Chapter 9: “In the Witch’s House”

Eustace

“Aslan!” said Eustace. “I’ve heard that name mentioned several times since we joined the Dawn Treader. And I felt – I don’t know what – I hated it.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader,” Chapter 7: “How the Adventure Ended”

Edmund was the first traitor in Narnia. When Edmund became a traitor, his actions actually caused the downfall of the White Witch. He later repented his actions and became one of the saviors and King of Narnia.

Eustace is more of a prat. He seems to get something from being mean to and/or embarrassing others – he enjoys it and gleefully plans for it. Eustace also seems to have a greater sense of his own self-importance, as well. He spends a lot more of the book as an antagonist than a protagonist.

I also wonder about Eustace’s parents and the commentary there. Eustace’s parents are clearly described – with the impression given that these were the “bad” kind of parents: they are described as “very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and tee-totalers” who don’t give Eustace the kind of discipline and knowledge necessary to make him a worthy member of society. I find this strange as Lewis did not really describe the Pevensie parents to this degree.

I find Eustance’s parents even more interesting due to the final comments in the book. Eustace began the book as a horrible little boy but he began to change after going to Narnia and meeting Aslan:

“It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy”. To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There was still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”
–C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader, Chapter 7: “How the Adventure Ended”

At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader it states that when Eustace returned home from Narnia he was such a changed boy that everyone remarked on it. Everyone thought he was a nicer person “everyone except for Aunt Alberta, who said he had become very commonplace and tiresome and it must have been the influence of those Pevensie children.”

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