The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
by C.S. Lewis
I absolutely love C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is full of fantastically magical creatures and exciting adventures for Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace. Although this is not the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia, the reader, whether returning or new to the series, is immediately drawn into the story by the first three paragraphs which describe Eustace, a new and quite unlikable character. As I read, I gradually realized the strong influence of classical literature in this book. The sailing from one unforgettable place to another, sometimes with an escape necessary, is reminiscent of Homer’s The Odyssey, although these interesting characters are clearly Lewis’ own ingenious creations. Royal mermaids and mermen hold a hunt for fish like one might hunt small game in England, but with a trained hawk. The Dawn Treader, belonging to King Caspian and carrying the children and a full crew, is attacked by a sea serpent capable of crushing the ship. There are invisible creatures, the Dufflepuds, who move by jumping wildly from one place to another. With another nod to classical literature, there is a Chief Voice among the Invisibles; his followers echo and affirm him just like a Greek chorus. C.S. Lewis’ literary background and expertise shine brightly in this book.
Woven into the recounting of their escapades, the book has serious themes that are addressed in a distinctly unpreachy way. A major one is greed as Eustace becomes like a dragon hoarding his treasure. Later the group finds pond with water that turns everything it contacts into gold. It also brings out bad character traits, and in the end they all disassociate themselves from the location which they name Deathwater Island. Not surprisingly, greed is also an important theme in The Odyssey.
Although there is not one to one symbolism comparisons between people and ideas found in Christianity and characters and concepts in The Chronicles of Narnia, there are certainly important similar themes. When the travelers need to make important choices, they often find that Aslan has appeared and is staring at them just as Jesus gives his followers wisdom when needed. Chapter 12, “The Dark Island,” is a metaphor for God rescuing us when we are going through dark times. In the last chapter, there is a depiction of going to Aslan’s country (i.e. heaven) and references to the Lion and the Lamb, important symbols in Christianity. These passages are so beautiful; I don’t want to spoil the experience with my own words. You need to read it for yourself as only C.S. Lewis, the inimitable storyteller, can convey the meaning and the feeling with his exquisite word pictures.
Category: Christian, Fantasy
Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.
Publication: 1952—Harper Trophy (Harper Collins)
Up went the ring, flashing in the sunlight, and caught, and hung, as neatly as a well-thrown quoit, on a little projection on the rock. No one could climb up to get it from below and no one could climb down to get it from above. And there, for all I know, it is hanging still and may hang till that world ends.
“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 honor and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”
“I might as well have behaved decently for all the good I did with my temper and swagger.”