The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) is the third of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, and I reread this (a little late) for #Narniathon21 hosted by Chris at Calmgrove.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader opens with Edmund and Lucy visiting their rather obnoxious cousin Eustace (and likewise obnoxious aunt and uncle Harold and Alberta Scrubb). In the bedroom that Lucy is to sleep in is the picture of a ship—a very Narnian ship—and of course Edmund and Lucy reminisce over Narnia as they look at this. At that moment Eustace comes in and begins to tease them over Narnia and the picture, but when he actually looks at the picture, he is stopped in his tracks for the waves and the ship actually seem to move—and then they can feel the water splashing on them. Before they know it, the three are pulled right into the picture and find themselves in Narnia and aboard that very ship.
The Narnia they (at least Edmund and Lucy) return to is three years after their last visit. Caspian is on the throne and having set things to rights and placed the dwarf Trumpkin on the throne as regent, has set sail on the Dawn Treader, a ship he has had built, in search of the seven lords loyal to his father (and thus himself) whom his wicked uncle Miraz had sent east so that he himself could usurp the Narnian throne. Now that there is peace in Narnia, Caspian wishes to find out what became of the lords. Edmund, Lucy and an unwilling and nasty (at least to start with) Eustace join Caspian, his captain Drinian and their crew, including the mouse Reepicheep, as they sail to new lands in search of adventure and the missing lords, and also in pursuit of the dream of reaching the ‘end of the world’ or the land of Aslan!
Unlike the first two books, this third Narnian adventure, despite the dangers and challenges it involves, is certainly more lighthearted and fun. There is no danger looming large and threatening Narnia and its happiness, the Pevensies have not been summoned to help, but instead they and Caspian are on a journey looking for adventure. And adventure it is they find for each new place they arrive at—some known and some not on the map—throws at them a challenge or a new problem which they must solve before moving on, and which also reveals to them the whereabouts of one of the lords. Alongside is the experience of a journey on the water—with some pleasant days but also storms to be faced, and never quite knowing (especially when they are journeying to new lands) how far ahead land is! (I certainly enjoyed the ‘feel’ of a seafaring adventure this creates).
It was interesting that the lords they go in trace of number 7 which is a number that seems to feature in plenty of quest stories or adventures. One that came to mind was The Adventures of Hatim Tai in which Hatim, the prince of Yemen must solve seven questions. (The purpose seems to vary in different versions of the tale.)
Reading the first Narnia book this time around, some of the allegorical aspects stood out to me more than on previous reads. While this didn’t happen as much in the second book (though use of folklore and mythological elements did), in this third book I felt this was the case once again. We find this in Eustace’s redemption of sorts once he finds himself enchanted and changed into a dragon. To break the spell and with it, some of his less endearing traits, not only must the dragon skin be removed but he must take a dip in water from which he emerges renewed. (Dips in water though are as I realised not confined to one culture or faith). Then of course, we have more directly Aslan appearing to the children in the form of a lamb, and pretty much telling them that he’s known to them in their world by another name!
Even the journey to the end of the world or the land of Aslan, somehow seemed to me paralleling the Pilgrim’s Progress and the search for the land of Beulah. Ramadu’s island that they land at where food is ever available and then the place to the east thereafter where there is no hunger or fatigue, just a sense of peace certainly reminded me of this again.
But of course, unlike those pilgrims, our travellers’ hardships are of a different kind. In fact, rather than hardships they are adventures on which the find themselves facing both magical and real problems—from slave traders to a land where all one’s nightmares become real to more lightly, a magical land inhabited by ‘duffers’. These last rather reminded me of Enid Blyton’s land of the stupids (in one of the Faraway Tree books) where people seem to behave on similar lines. But all of these adventures are fun, requiring not only brawn but also some brain to resolve and sometimes a little help from Aslan. Our travellers are for the most part brave, facing dangers, standing by their friends, and doing right, but sometimes, they too, seem to lack courage but are spurred on by the mightiest of them all—Reepicheep!
But alongside the allegorical elements, and the messages the book delivers about courage, honour (an aspect that I could write more on as well) and right, at heart it is an adventure story, and can very much be enjoyed as such even if one weren’t in the mind to reflect on its other messages.
Needless to say, this was great fun!