Friday, July 08, 2005

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


One criticism of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia that would be almost impossible to defend is that he repeats himself. Each of the seven books has its own character, its own unique flavor and style. In one sense, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader “picks up” the story line of Prince Caspian, giving us a glimpse of Caspian’s reign as King of Narnia. And while it’s also true that Caspian’s character is only here fully realized, Voyage is still no retread of the earlier books. In this story, we go to sea and are entertained in the fashion of classic tales like The Odyssey and Gulliver’s Travels. We haven’t seen the likes of this in Narnia before.

Paul McCusker, writer and director of the Chronicles of Narnia Radio Theatre production, has pointed out the problems of adapting the books in a different order than that in which they were published. To a certain extent, he says, Voyage works best when taken as the third book in the series, as originally published. But McCusker also points out that Voyage has the advantage of being the most literarily “mature” of the original three stories—and that Lewis further invested the story with a certain narrative weight since he conceived it as the “final” book in the series.

So in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we find Lewis at the peak of his story-telling game, and we also find compelling and moving themes. This month, George Rosok brings us our story synopsis, and Kathy Bledsoe entertains us with a review of the literary themes of the story in an imaginative fashion consistent with the creativity of Lewis’ tale. Finally, Jenn Wright uses Lewis’ imagery of the episode at the Dark Island as a jumping-off point for a meditation on how the spirituality of the novel has interlaced with her own life.


Story Synopsis: Sailing the Pevensies

As a new summer begins, the Pevensie children have been split up. While Peter and Susan are away, Edmund and Lucy go to stay with their cousin, Eustace Scrubb. Eustace doesn’t like his cousins very much and the feeling is mutual. Eustace is an annoying child who likes to bully and generally be a royal pain, unlike Lucy and Edmund—who are just royal.

One day Lucy and Edmund reminisce about Narnia while looking at a painting. Eustace teases them about Narnia, which he believes is made-up nonsense, and criticizes the picture. Lucy says she likes it because it looks like the ship is really moving. Eustace moves toward the picture wanting to smash it. Edmund springs after him because he knows magic is at work. Lucy grabs at Edmund and they all fall into the picture and then into the sea.

They are quickly rescued and when they are on the ship, the Dawn Treader, they find their rescuer is their friend Caspian, the King of Narnia. Edmund and Lucy are overjoyed, but Eustace is cranky and wants to go home, especially after he sees Lucy and Edmund’s other friend Reepicheep, the valiant mouse. Eustace hates mice.

Caspian explains that the purpose of his voyage is to search for the seven lords who had been sent by his late uncle Miraz to explore the unknown Eastern Seas. Caspian swore an oath to Aslan that he would find them or learn of their deaths and avenge them. Reepicheep has an even higher hope—to find Aslan’s country at the eastern end of the world. Cranky Eustace’s goal is to stay in his cabin and be seasick, but Lucy cures him of his seasickness with a drop from her diamond flask, which Caspian has brought along. Eustace thanks them by demanding to be dropped off at the first port where he intends to “lodge a disposition” with the British consul.

Their first port is Felimath of the Lone Islands, where there is no British consul—but there are slave traders, which they find out when they walk across the island and are captured by them. Fortunately for Caspian he is quickly sold to an honest-looking man who turns out to be the first of the Seven, Lord Bern. Caspian reveals his true identity to Bern, who swears allegiance to Caspian.

Bern and Caspian rejoin the Dawn Treader on the other side of Felimath and plan to deal with the slave traders and the governor at Narrowhaven on the neighboring island of Doorn. The ship’s company arrives impressively wearing armor and they confront the corrupt governor, who is removed by Caspian and replaced by Bern. Their next act is to go to the slave market and free all the slaves including Edmund, Lucy, Reepicheep who were sold—and Eustace, whom no one would have even for free.

After refitting the ship they set sail for unknown waters. They have fair sailing for a few days, but one evening clouds build in the west. A storm comes up behind them very fast and lasts for days, badly damaging the ship. Now in a dead sea, they are forced to ration water. Eustace feels he is being badly treated and also feels he should get more water because he feels ill, not being willing to realize that everyone is ill for lack of water. One night Eustace is desperate enough to try to steal some water, but Reepicheep, who is guarding the water supply, catches him. Eustace has to apologize and Caspian warns that anyone else caught trying to steal water will get “two dozen”—and he doesn’t mean Krispy Kremes.

The wind comes up again and after a few days they reach an island of tall mountains. The ship’s company goes ashore and after refreshing themselves start the work of repairing and replenishing the ship. Eustace decides he deserves some rest and sneaks off into the woods. He goes up a slope looking for a cool place in the mountains, but soon clouds close in and he lies down and tries to get comfortable.

Unusually, he feels lonely. He leaps up and begins a descent, but he chooses the wrong way and finds himself in an unknown valley. To make matters worse, he discovers he is sharing the valley with a dragon—albeit a tired, old-looking dragon. In fact, the oblivious dragon rolls over and dies in a pool of water. This relieves Eustace, but then it begins to rain and he dashes to the dragon’s cave. There he finds the dragon’s treasure, including a jewelled band that he pushes onto his arm. He lies down on a pile of coins and goes to asleep.

When he wakes up he is afraid another dragon is in the cave in with him because he sees whiffs of smoke and two dragon arms. He races out of the cave, and when he gets to the pool he sees his reflection in the moonlight. He has become a dragon! He feels a terrible loneliness. He decides he will climb out of the valley and when he attempts a jump he finds himself flying. Meanwhile, all the others are worried that Eustace is missing and they mount a search party. They became even more worried when they spot a dragon flying over the trees above them.

The dragon lands on the beach, and in the morning Caspian and company approach expecting a battle, but find the dragon has no desire to fight. In fact, it is in pain from the armband that is now very tight on its big dragon arm. Caspian sees by its markings that the armband belonged to Lord Octesian, another of the missing Seven. They wonder if the tearful dragon is Lord Octesian. They discover the dragon can understand what they are saying and after many questions determine the dragon is actually Eustace.

Eustace is very sorry for how he had behaved before. As a dragon he becomes very helpful, hunting wild goats and locating a new mast. He can even keep everyone warm by starting a fire or letting everyone sit next to him. He is happy being liked, but he is not happy being a dragon and often leaves the group to lie by himself.

Early one morning Edmund wakes and sees a figure walking near the woods. When he confronts it, he is surprised to see it is Eustace restored. Eustace explains that during the night a great lion appeared and led him to a garden at the top of a mountain. There was a wide well in the garden and Eustace wanted to get into the well to bathe and, hopefully, relieve some of the pain in his arm. But the lion said he must undress first. Eustace removed a layer of his scaly skin, then another, and another, but each time he still had the same rough scaly dragon skin underneath. Then the lion told him that he must have help. The lion cut deep and tore off all the dragon skin, which hurt more than anything Eustace had ever felt. Then when Eustace got into the well he discovered he was no longer a dragon. The lion dressed him, and Eustace found himself back at the edge of the wood.

Edmund explains that Eustace has seen Aslan. From that point forward Eustace begins to be a better boy. He still has lapses, but his healing has begun.

They soon set sail from what they come to call Dragon Island. After many days—and a narrow escape from an enchanted spring which had turned one of the missing lords into solid gold—they come to an island that appears to be inhabited. The lawns and gardens are obviously tended and they find a path that leads to a quiet-looking house. Lucy falls behind to get a rock out of her shoe and hears a loud thumping approach her. Then she hears voices around her, but she can’t see anyone. The Thumpers are invisible. The voices say they are going to attack the company from the Dawn Treader. Then the thumping moves toward the ship. Lucy goes to warn the others and they all go back to the ship to risk whatever waits there. They are confronted by the invisible people at the beach and find out that they had made themselves invisible because the magician that lives in the house has put an “uglifying” spell on them. Now they want Lucy to read a spell to take off the invisibleness.

Her companions advise against it, but Lucy agrees, as she sees no other way out of the predicament. The next morning Lucy goes upstairs in the house to a room where she finds the Magic Book. After nearly becoming enchanted herself, she finds the spell and makes everyone visible again—including Aslan. Lucy is very happy to see the lion, who introduces her to the magician. He takes her out to meet the Duffers who sent her to read the spell. At first she thinks there are many odd-looking large mushrooms on the lawn, but when the clock chimes three they roll over and stand up. It is the Duffers. They are “monopods,” with one thick leg and an enormous foot—and they jump to move thumpingly about.

Lucy likes them very much and eventually the rather stupid Duffers are convinced they are not ugly. The Duffers even like the name Monopods, but they keep getting it wrong and eventually call themselves Dufflepuds.

After more sailing—and an episode in which another of the missing Seven is picked up at sea off shore of a mysterious Dark Island—the party comes to another island where they find a large oblong space flagged with smooth stones and surrounded by tall gray pillars. A long table runs from end to end within it and on the table is laid an amazing feast. They find at one end of the table three men asleep and overgrown with their own hair. Eeww! They also discover that these are the remaining missing lords. The party decides the feast must be enchanted, but Reepicheep, Caspian, Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace decide to stay all night with the sleepers.

During the night a tall, beautiful girl comes out of a doorway in the hillside. She is carrying a candle that she sets on the table near a cruel-looking stone knife. She asks them why they do not eat from Aslan’s table, and they explain their hesitancy. She tells them the sleep was caused when the men were quarrelling and one of the men threateningly picked up the stone knife—which was the very one the White Witch used to kill Aslan at the Stone Table.

Reepicheep has Caspian pour him some wine, and he drinks to the lady and dines. The others soon follow suit. Presently an old man who seems to glow also walks out of the the hillside. He comes to the table opposite his daughter and they begin to sing beautifully. Soon the gray clouds in the east lift and the sun rises. Then out of the sun many large white, singing birds fly to them and land on everything, even the travelers. The birds get busy around the table and when they rise the feast is consumed. Finally the old man turn to the travelers and welcomes them.

Caspian asks him how they can remove the enchanted sleep from the lords. The man, whose name is Ramandu, tells them they will have to sail to the world’s end then come back after leaving at least one of their company behind. That one must go to the utter east and never return into the world. Reepicheep tells Ramandu that is his heart’s desire.

Once they leave Ramandu’s island they begin to feel different. They do not need to sleep or eat much and there is so much light. The sun is much larger here. The sea water is also very clear and potable—“drinkable light.” Although they are already eating little, from then on they consume little else but the water. They also discover that although there is no wind they continue to move eastward at a steady clip. Lucy sees a race of sea-people who dwell on the ocean floor.

One day they see a whiteness stretched along the horizon. When they come upon it, rowers turn the ship broadside and row along it a short way. Doing this they discover that the current they moved in is only forty feet wide. They send out a small boat and when the party returns they bring lily blossoms. That is what the whiteness is—lilies as far as the eye can see. They row back into the current and go on for several days through the lilies.

The water becomes shallower until they must row out of the current and carefully find their way so they do not go aground. Eventually they can go no more. Caspian calls everyone on deck and declares that their mission is at an end, and since Reepicheep has vowed not to return they will find the sleeping lords awake when they return to Ramandu’s island. But then he surprises everyone by saying he is going to accompany Reepicheep. Edmund and Reepicheep tell him he must not, that it would be breaking faith with his loyal subjects if he did that. Caspian is quite upset by this and goes to his cabin after a bit of a tantrum.

When the others go in later, they find Caspian very unhappy because Aslan appeared and told him that he is to go back at once and that Reepicheep, Edmund, Lucy and Eustace are to go on by themselves. There is a grievous parting. A boat with the final four travelers is let down. Then the Dawn Treader turns and begins rowing west. The four do not have to row their boat because it drifts east by itself with the current. As a third day dawns they see the sun rising through a stationary wave. Beyond the wave and the sun is a huge range of mountains that they believe must be Aslan’s country.

Reepicheep says this is where he goes on alone. He takes off his sword, which he says he will need no more, and tosses it across the lilied sea and it sticks upright with its hilt above the surface. He bids the others goodbye, gets into a coracle, and paddles into the current where he is taken up and over the wave. Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy begin wading south along the wave and the water gradually becomes shallower until there is sand and then a flat lawn. They walk until they meet a lamb. The lamb invites them to a breakfast of fish and they sit to eat and it is the most delicious food they ever had.

Then the lamb becomes the lion Aslan. They are all very happy to see him, but not so happy when he tells Edmund and Lucy that they will not be coming back to Narnia again. He promises they will see him again, though. He will not tell Lucy whether Eustace will be coming back. Then Aslan opens a door in the sky and they find themselves at long last back in the bedroom at Cambridge. Eustace is a changed boy.

Imagination ÷ Creativity = 1

This month I am just thrilled to present an exclusive interview that I was able to score with the characters of C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Recently, I spent a delightful afternoon discussing this wonderful sea tale with Kings Caspian and Edmund, Queen Lucy, Eustace Scrubb and Reepicheep the brave and chivalrous mouse. Speaking with them personally opened up new vistas of understanding regarding this terrific children’s fantasy—and the fertile imagination of Mr. Lewis, which created the plot and this ensemble of characters...

First of all, welcome! I am so excited to spend time with you and am truly blessed to have such an amazing opportunity. I hope that your journey here was easy and eventless. You don’t look any worse for the wear...

Lucy Pevensie: Thank you, Kathy. This is quite an occasion. I daresay that Caspian and Reep may be a bit shaken since they have not had a lot of experience traveling between worlds, but speaking for myself, time travel is becoming rather a commonplace occurrence.

Edmund Pevensie: Yes, and tele-transportation is infinitely to be desired over being dumped into a frigid sea. Walking through a wardrobe, while strange, is a much drier proposition!

King Caspian: [Staring around as though completely befuddled] This is amazing. I’ve known Edmund, Lucy, Susan, and Peter... well, and Eustace... to come and go without warning, but I’ve always written it off as their being a bit daft (though in a good sort of way) and never really worried myself about it. Wait until Drinian and Rhince hear about this!

Eustace Scrubb: Is that a computer?! I never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to see one so small. There aren’t any wires. How does it work?

It’s called a “laptop.” I’d be glad to show it to you after the interview...

Reepicheep the Mouse: Far be it from me to sound rude, but I was called from a place that I really had no desire to leave and would like to return as soon as I possibly can. Could we please proceed with our purpose?

LP: Dear, dear Reep, always calling us back to focus. What would we do without him?

Yes, but point well taken, Reepicheep. Let us proceed with the task at hand. I know that you all have pressing matters to return to in your own realities.

One of the initial things that I noticed in this story that is quite different from the others (except to a certain extent in The Horse and His Boy) is that Lewis spends much more time describing his characters. For instance, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we received one-liners here and there about the characters that, yes, did reveal traits, but we mostly learned who the characters were by their actions and often had to discover their true identities by how they interacted with other characters. We learn more about Eustace Scrubb in the first few pages of chapter one of Voyage than we did about many of you in the reading of entire books prior to this one.

ES: [Wryly] And dash it all... he insisted on including my middle name! Eustace is bad enough, but Eustace Clarence is only what my parents called me. I was quite the rotter, wasn’t I? But when one thinks about it, Lewis had to really be careful and develop his characters fully or the entire story would have gone nowhere. During the course of this tale, I undergo a complete turnabout of who I am. If the reader did not know me well, the impact of the change would have been completely buried and lost or seem really contrived. I think Lewis was so exacting and detailed because the lessons of this book were somehow more important than ever to him and he didn’t want obscurity to cloud the message.

RM: Quite, quite, but I believe that there is something more profound going on with Mr. Lewis in this book. I believe that he was maturing as a writer of children’s fantasy fiction. After all, Mr. Lewis had the examples of great imaginations like George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll and John Bunyan to guide him. He respected their contributions and considered Mr. MacDonald to be a mentor and guide for his own development as a children’s author. Moreover, both Mr. Lewis and Mr. MacDonald passionately believed that a children’s book could not be great unless it was equally enjoyed by any person (or mouse) of any age. An adult will see right through a poorly-developed story with one-dimensional characters and never pick it up again. Prince Caspian is a close call! (No offense, I hope, sire.)

EP: Yes. Yes... and I recently read an interesting article by Trevor Hart in Christian History & Biography where he explained that George MacDonald believed that since we are made in God’s image, imagination must be a part of that image and that our imaginations are “nothing other than a direct reflection of God’s own creativity.”

KC: Hear, hear, Edmund! Well read, indeed! [Evokes laughter from the group and Edmund blushes.]

LP: Careful, Caspian... you’re sounding like a Dufflepud! [More laughter]

Okay, okay, we are beginning to drift. Reepicheep, I’d like to go back to something you were saying about the writer’s maturity. Your character also becomes more “fleshed out” in this book. How do you account for that?

RM: Again, learned miss [Kathy now blushes], I believe it was due to maturity. Prince Caspian (the book) was a great disappointment for me. I was like a caricature—the very type of rodent [said with complete disdain] found in your modern day cartoons rather than the symbol of courage and chivalry that I truly am. Aslan recognized those traits and to some extent so did the children, but it was like Mr. Lewis just didn’t take me seriously even though my fellow mice had been given a very important role at Aslan’s sacrifice. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader I am finally a fully-exposed character. And, instead of “popping” in and out of the action, I am made the carrier of the greatest quest and allowed to sacrifice myself for that purpose. I am also the compass that keeps the quest alive and reminds the other characters to stay focused.

KC: [Nudging Edmund] Bet that was hard to do when Eustace had you swinging around by your tail, Reep!

RM: I will not dignify that remark with a response. If I had not tossed my rapier into the sea of lilies, you would taste the flat of it now for sure! Mr. Lewis did have his fun with all of us in this book and, upon his arrival in Aslan’s country, I was able to speak to him about that. He is most contrite!

ES: Will everyone just forget that happened? I was different then!

RM: While I forgive you, sir, I will never be able to forget such an indignity...

LP: Gentlemen, gentlemen. You’ve had your fun, but even you, Reep, are losing focus. I think that maturity of the writer is a valid point, but there is also something more profound happening in this book. Mr. Lewis falls in love with his characters.

EP: Lucy, have you gone bonkers?

KC: Leave it to a girl to go off on a romanticizing expedition!

RM: Lady Fair has a right to her opinion and though skeptical, I will hear it.

Yes, I’m intrigued. Please Lucy, elucidate. [Get it? E-luci-date?]

LP: What I mean by falling in love is that Lewis seems to have real affection for his characters. It is as if he has made friends with every one of us. We are more real and believable characters. Our interaction with each other is true-to-life and typical of people familiar with each other. The reader gets a sense that Lewis really liked this book. He is more playful with his dialogue, pays more attention to detail, clarifies points throughout the story, and paints wonderful word pictures that stir the reader’s imagination. Long before Lewis wrote the Narnia books, he penned a very good book entitled The Four Loves...

Oh, yes, I’ve read that and I think I know where you are going with this. Please continue.

LP: In The Four Loves, Lewis speaks of storge [two syllables, “hard” g], or affectionate love, as a paradox of need and gift-love.

EP: How’s that?

LP: Affection needs to give but it also needs to be needed and so seeks the gift of being loved. Lewis gives us meaningful life and in the process experiences deep affection for each of us that is demonstrated in all the points I have just made. Just look at the diversity among the characters of this book. How could a human carbuncle like Eustace Scrubb...

ES: I am rather jewel-like, aren’t I?

EP: I think she means the other carbuncle, Scrubbsie!

ES: Hey!

LP: Sorry, Eustace, you just make such a good object! How could a Eustace Scrubb become a member of such a band of close friends? How could Reepicheep or even Caspian accept him into their circle? Why would Edmund and I not just isolate him and forget about him and go on with the task at hand? Why does Lewis even have to bring Eustace into the story? Because of what Lewis calls the “glory of Affection,” which “can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other.” Lewis is the “fate” who brings about the miracle of affection amongst this ensemble and, I believe, in the process finds himself loving not only the work of writing the story but is surprised by the joy (sorry, couldn’t resist) of truly enjoying his characters. So he, too, receives a gift—satisfaction and peace.

EP: I agree, and one really telling proof of this is that Lewis, for the first time in the Chronicles, makes great use of the first person. He interjects himself constantly into the book and really becomes an additional character. The reader learns a great deal about Lewis, especially his sense of humor, and is made to feel like a participant in the journey. This book makes a great read-aloud because it just literally shouts to be shared. You find yourself wanting to say, “Just listen to this,” or “This is so good, can I read you this part?” It’s fun being a part of that.

I agree with what you are all saying, but let me throw a wrench into the works here.

KC: I say, what’s a wrench?

LP: I believe it’s just an Americanism, but I’m not sure. These Yanks do have a strange way of speaking sometimes.

ES: She means “spanner.”

EP: They have totally destroyed the language, Lewis would say.

Sorry... what I meant was, allow me to bring up something that seems to contradict this character development that we’ve been praising. Lucy, Edmund, and Caspian almost seem like they aren’t needed at all or are just along for the ride. What do you think Lewis was doing with your characters?

KC: That’s pretty easy as far as I’m concerned. I am a bridge character, as are Lucy and Edmund. We share a common history—our adventures in Prince Caspian. Lewis would have had to have spent a lot of time explaining how Eustace came to be in Narnia (as he did with Shasta and Aravis in The Horse and His Boy) if he didn’t provide a bridge.

EP: Quite. If the reader has been paying attention to (and has read) prior books in the series, he understands that no one who has come from “our” world stays in Narnia forever. Susan and Peter have already been sent back “to come close to their own world and know Aslan better there.” You just know that Edmund and Lucy are not going to be spared the same “growing up.” Lu and I become the bridge that brings Eustace from one land to the other. The focus is mainly upon him because Aslan has chosen this story and this time for him to begin “knowing him for a little.” That is why Lewis is so careful to describe who Eustace is. Otherwise, his eventual change would be meaningless.

LP: Also, remember that the four of us—Susan, Peter, Edmund and I—were pretty insignificant characters in The Horse and His Boy, too, but were necessary to keep the book believable as one of the Chronicles. It was a departure by Lewis not to include any mention of or action out of “our” world, but it was still a rollicking good tale (I believe a Ms. Wright covered that topic elsewhere) that made the world of Narnia believable with its own history and culture.

Excellent! I see that more clearly now. Very interesting... Let’s change directions and talk about the complexity of this book. I would like to know what each of you perceives as the central theme of this story. Reepicheep, would you like to begin?

RM: Most graciously, fair lady. [Kathy blushes again but is completely taken in by the mouse’s manners.] This story is about my quest to fulfill the prophecy spoken over me by a Dryad when I was in my cradle. I am allowed to go on a crusade to find Aslan’s country or the end of the world. I am the bravest because I sail fearlessly and doggedly (mousedly?) into the unknown. I am the picture of God’s weakest thing making strong things foolish...

EP: Careful there, Reep, your pride is beginning to bulge again.

KC: I beg to differ, Reep. This is the story of my quest. Aslan allowed me to swear an oath on my coronation day. I promised that if I was able to establish peace again in Narnia that I would sail away in pursuit of my father’s friends and either find them or avenge them. I provided the transportation for Reepicheep and the rest of you just crashed my party!

ES: You’re all wrong! This story is about how I went from being a perfect blighter to being a decent, kind, and loving human being, worthy of Aslan’s desire to use me further in Narnia.

LP: And, what about me? I learned some very interesting things about myself during this trip and was the instrument Aslan used to free the Dufflepuds from invisibility. Just as they couldn’t see themselves, I couldn’t see things about myself that needed to be corrected before I could “know Aslan better” in our world.

[Everyone begins talking at once in defense of his or her individual stand and I am forced to restore order.]

Everyone, everyone, can we not agree that you are all correct? I believe you have discovered yet another of Lewis’ devices in this book—the story within a story within a story. [All nod in agreement.] As Aslan has said in previous books, each person’s story is his or her own and so of most importance to that individual. Lewis has written an amazing book that integrates each of your individual stories, uniting them into a complete and balanced scheme that thoroughly delights and instructs.

Alas, our time is drawing to a close, but I must ask this final question of Lucy and Edmund. Voyage is where we say good-by to you both until The Last Battle. It will next be Eustace Scrubb’s and Jill Pole’s turn to visit Narnia. What was it like to hear Aslan say that you wouldn’t be coming back to Narnia?

LP: I, as you read, was completely bereft. I wasn’t so upset that I would be leaving a fantasy world, but that I would never see Aslan again.

EP: That was my concern, too. How were we to continue on without Aslan in a world such as this?

LP: Of course, Aslan provided the answer as He usually does, courtesy of Mr. Lewis. We have learned to know Him here as one “by another name” who loved us, guided us, and prepared us for the time when we finally came to be reunited. And that’s not just something artificially tacked on to the story. It’s integral.

EP: Still, Lucy, you could not resist asking if Eustace was coming back!

LP: I know... [looking around they all catch each other’s eye and say in unison] “not my story!”

[The entire group dissolves into happy laughter and eventually grows quiet.]

Thank you all so much for your time, your candor, your obvious love for the work you have been a part of, and for your dedication to C.S. Lewis’ vision of Narnia. I loved you all when I discovered these books and read them to my son. I have fallen in love with you again as I have read and reread these stories as an adult. Edmund, Lucy... Voyage is a great book to “go out” on; farewell.

LP: Thank you for having us back.

EP: The pleasure has been mine.

Reepicheep, Caspian... with pleasure I send you back to Aslan’s country.

RM: [Bows] I am forever at your service, good lady.

KC: [Not to be usurped by a mouse…] And, I, too, am at your service.

Eustace... I look forward to seeing more of you soon, and so this is not good-by, but ta-ta for now!

ES: Righto! Now, could I take a look at that computer before I go?

The Dark Island in My Soul

Light… and Darkness

There is something about the basic concept of light vs. darkness that nearly always stops me in my tracks. Perhaps my pupils just have extra difficulty constricting, but it goes much deeper than that.

I spent twelve years (half of a lifetime to that point) in a darkness so bleak and devastating that I could not remember what light looked like. Just recently, due to a severe medication reaction, I spent a few weeks back in that dungeon—in agitation, panic, utter darkness.

Having corrected the medication crisis, I am once again thrust into light—and the purest enjoyment of light one can possibly imagine.

So when I read of the unfortunate man who was picked up off of the Dark Island by the Dawn Treader, my soul paid attention. Only a mere few hours removed from my own mental night, I could empathize with the madness, the wild-wide-eyed trauma-ridden expression on his face as he desperately clung to the light and equally desperately abandoned the darkness. Likewise, my thirst for the light seems to steadily increase the further I get from the darkness. But why? What it is about the nature of light and darkness that can simultaneously elicit fear and relief? Light and darkness are paradoxically and inextricably related in a way that few extreme opposites can be. One simply cannot exist without the other—darkness is the absence of light; light cannot exist in darkness; thus if you have the one, the other must be somewhere in proximity for the comparison to occur. A marriage of opposites—and, at length, a long separation.

Sailing On

On the verge of light—almost daybreak—awaiting the sunrise… “It’s always darkest before the dawn…” That’s where The Voyage of the Dawn Treader dares to bring the reader (along with the characters)—to the edge of Dawn.

I think the name of His Majesty’s ship (and thus the book) offers significant insight into what comes throughout the story—the quest for Light, treading ever so closely to the Dawn, and yet never quite experiencing the awesome sunrise. On the brink of Dawn—the ultimate Dawn, as it is described—with just a taste of its powerful light.

The stated quest, of course, for King Caspian and his men, is to find the seven men who reluctantly sailed from Narnia years ago to escape the wrath of the usurper Miraz. And in their travels, the crew of the Dawn Treader do find the Seven, or at least evidence of their presence. But they are also driven toward adventure—the truest adventure—of finding the edge of the (flat) world, and in this they are equally successful.

But light—the essence of it, its function, and especially the experience of it—is addressed by Lewis in perceptive detail, leaving enough to the reader’s imagination to perhaps spark a renewed desire for The Light: that is, the Light of Christ.

The Pagan View

The Venerable Bede, a monk from the 7th century, and credited to be the most learned man of his time, described the pagan view of life as a sort of light between two darknesses:

You are sitting feasting with your aldermen and thanes in winter time; the fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging—and a sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. It enters in at one door and quickly flies out the other. For the few moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm, it flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm and into it again.
Rather a bleak picture, though one I am certain captures the persuasion of many people. Since we do not know what happens prior to our coming into existence on this earth, and since we have not yet experienced what comes after our leaving this earth, it is perhaps the easiest way to describe the progression of life—the Unknown being darkness, the Known being light.

But while it may be the easiest description, and the most readily accepted, there is a strong possibility that it is flat-out wrong. After all, since we do not know the precise details of what goes on before birth or after death, how can we possibly assume that both are places of darkness? Is it not equally easy to imagine that the light, warm comfort of the feast is actually a regression of sorts, and that the sparrow continues its flight out the other side because there is an innate knowledge (or at least hope) that there is something even better outside the door?

Otherwise, if the sparrow is exiting into darkness, and the feast is so pleasant and warm, why should he not alight on a rafter, soak in the heat, and nip a few crumbs from the table, rather than return to the wintry storm?

The Christian View

In Voyage, Lewis explores a different fulfillment of the coming to the edge of the world, beautifully describing the Christian’s journey out of darkness, sitting at the feast, and then entering the fulfillment of light.

The approach toward the Dark Island reaches an intensity unmatched to this point in the Chronicles. We are drawn to the darkness, wanting to know what it is, yet we, like the sailors, fear its oppression. Is it necessary to experience the darkness? Why does Lewis place the darkness here? From my perspective, from the time the Dawn Treader leaves the Dufflepuds and the Magician, the story could be interpreted as Lewis’ description of a journey toward Christ—and starkly in contrast to the flight of Bede’s pagan sparrow.

The approach of the Darkness is, indeed, frightening, but until they experience the darkness itself, the sailors have no way of knowing how deep is the darkness, how all-encompassing, how difficult to navigate, how dangerous to the psyche. They have known light and they have known darkness, but the definition of true darkness is about to be revealed to them.

Naturally, Caspian questions the sensibility of this—should we dare to enter the darkness? Should we voluntarily sail into complete and utter unknown? It is the question every person must ask himself—do I want to know what lies in the darkness—in my own darkness? It is a wise question to ask oneself, and I heartily agree, in matters of salvation, with Reepicheep’s astute observation that, in such matters, it is a creature’s “good fortune not to be a man.”

In choosing to venture forward, they lose themselves in the black. Their worst fears are confirmed by Lord Rhoop’s rescue, as he rants and raves maniacally in a futile attempt to convince them to turn around. Soon direction is lost, hope is lost, fear nearly takes over as they realize they cannot navigate their own way out of the gloom. Yet just as panic and despair threaten to sink the sailors’ psyches, Lucy utters the simplest plea—the first words spoken to Aslan without His visible presence.

And Aslan the Great answers.

Now, it must be noted that just as the plea is the first of its kind, the answer is of a different form from any seen yet. An albatross—a sailor’s good omen of deliverance—circles, Aslan in new form, whispering three words into the hopeless darkness surrounding Lucy and the Dawn Treader: Courage, dear heart. In an instant her heart is strengthened, the black fades to deep grey, then finally they enter the light again, all with a new appreciation for the blue sky and warm sun and simply the ability to see clearly.

Such is the nature of Light.

The End of the World

Throughout the rest of the story, light is a captive theme. When the sailors drink the water (see John chapter 4), their desire for food and water diminish, and their ability to tolerate the growing light increases in parallel with the brightness of the light itself. Likewise, the more “living water” we take in, the more of God’s radiance we can not only bear, but appreciate, enjoy, experience fully.

Finally, at the end of the world, the beginning of that Great Light, we know that there is more to the end of this life than darkness. Naturally, Caspian is devastated to learn that he cannot pass through with the Pevensies, as are we who must only imagine what Aslan’s land truly holds. But there is certainly a Hope, a palpable sense of excitement, rather than dread at what comes beyond.

I think Lewis counterpoints the Venerable Bede’s sparrow image beautifully here—bringing light to the end of the world, rather than the sparrow’s unfortunate flight back into the cold and desolation. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes:

The question was no longer to find the one simply true religion among a thousand religions simply false. It was rather, 'Where has religion reached its true maturity? Where, if anywhere, have the hints of all Paganism been fulfilled?'... Paganism had been only the childhood of religion, or only a prophetic dream.
I believe that the vision of light at the end, rather than a flitting comfort bounded by darkness on both ends, is most certainly a more Christ-centered view. We who love this life will lose it (see John 12:25), while those who pursue that greater light—at the cost of leaving this world as the Pevensies (and Reepicheep) did—shall find something greater than they have already experienced, not a regression from their earthly experiences.

The journey of the Dawn Treader, I believe, is a picture of the pre-Christian’s walk through the recognition of his own sin; the recognition of his need for light; the frantic returning to the light (with a much greater appreciation for it); a thirst which makes increasingly brighter light (and subsequently increasing awareness of the darkness lurking in our humanity); and ultimately reaching Aslan’s land in the brightest light possible, where all is exposed, and none is afraid.
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (II Corinthians 4:4-6)


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Chapter 1
  • Tee-totaller. One who, like my parents (but not me), abstains completely from the consumption of alcoholic beverages of any type. The term apparently originated with the British “temperance” movement. (And that’s another definition we won’t get into here.)
  • Clothes. Now, I have to admit that the first two times I read this book, I thought the point Lewis was making was that the Scrubbs were very neat and tidy people—who, you know, unlike me, didn’t leave a bunch of laundry scattered all over the room, including on the bed. But what Lewis means by “very few clothes on the beds” is that the Scrubbs believed in sleeping more cold than warm; that is, the beds didn’t have many blankets on them. Am I a little slow in the uptake, or what?
  • Grain Elevators. I presume that this will be confusing for some people. Maybe not. But these are silos (tall, usually cylindrical structures used to store grain) that are outfitted with some automated means of getting the grain in and out. You really can’t ride a grain elevator. Much.
  • Stern. This is used as a noun here, not an adjective, so there’s no missing word. The stern is the rear portion of a ship (synonymous, more or less, with ‘aft’ or sometimes ‘poop,’ as in ‘the poop deck’—and I actually think Lewis uses this latter term far more frequently in this book than is proper for an adult).
Chapter 2
  • Catches. As the American Heritage Dictionary would have it, these are “canonic, often rhythmically intricate compositions for three or more voices, popular especially in the 17th and 18th centuries.” I’ll just have to take their word for it.
  • Lodge a Disposition. Sounds kind of like fancy language for “get something stuck in your throat.” It’s actually fancy language for “make a complaint.”
  • Boatswain. The crew member in charge of keeping the boat’s deck ship-shape. Heh heh. In much of sea-going jargon, this is shortened to “bosun.”
  • Cogs. Single-masted trading ships; typical in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries of our world.
  • Dromonds. Speedy Byzantine sailing galleys, specifically designed for war.
  • Carracks. Square-rigged, multi-masted ocean-going vessels. Magellan circumnavigated the earth in a carrack.
  • Below the Belt. A term from the days when “being a good sport” meant something. The idea here is that it used to be considered poor sportsmanship to hit a man in his private parts. It hurts.
  • Poltroon. A salt’s term for “coward.”
Chapter 4
  • Postern. Most fortified cities naturally had large gates. That’s how you’d get big things in, like Trojan horses and such. Sort of. But cities (and castles) also had small, stout doors just big enough for people to get in and out of. A postern figures prominently in the battle at Helm’s Deep in Tolkien’s The Two Towers.
Chapter 5
  • Battened. When I pretended to be on a storm-tossed sea as a child, I had no idea what I meant when I shouted, “Batten down the hatches!” You just did it. But the idea is that “battening” would be used to seal the hatches so that seawater would not flood the lower decks.
  • Reef. To bring in the sails and lash them down. A severe wind could shred the canvas, which would be very very bad.
  • Yard. The cross-piece on the mast, from which a square sail would be hung.
Chapter 7
  • Billy-oh. Archaic British slang for “a whole bunch.”
Chapter 8
  • Baccy. That’s tobacco. Remember, Tolkien put tobacco in Middle-earth, too, though he later tried to get away with calling it “pipe-weed.” Nicotine and lung cancer are apparently common to all worlds.
Chapter 10
  • Curds. Now, this is really strange, but in societies of the past, curdled dairy product was a delicacy. And while cottage cheese is still with us, it’s hardly considered the food of royalty.
  • Examination. A test, not a medical inspection, or anything of that sort.
  • Bottom. This is a reference to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which featured a fool named Bottom.
Chapter 11
  • Chaplet. A wreath worn on the head.
  • Girdle. A wide sash worn around the waist. Used to “gird up the loins,” so to speak, if you’ve ever read the King James version of the Old Testament. I think this was probably done to prevent hernias during heavy exertion!
  • Lemon-squash. The British version lemonade. But it’s really not much like lemonade. I think they must crush the rind, too. But then, I’ve only had the bottled stuff. Not terribly pleasant, I must say.
Chapter 12
  • Boon. A granted request.
Chapter 13
  • Devices. Symbols. Heraldry was the art of conveying, in “devices” upon shields, banners and so on, a knight’s heritage.
Chapter 14
  • Quay. A weird term for “wharf.” Pronounced “key.” Useful in Scrabble.
Chapter 15
  • Coronets. Light crowns, mere circlets almost. My dad played a cornet, incidentally. Not only spelled differently, it's like a trumpet and doesn't fit very comfortably on one's head. Not that I ever tried, mind you.