The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: More thoughtful

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review C.S. Lewis The Voyage of the Dawn Treader The Chronicles of NarniaThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

The third book in The Chronicles of Narnia (or the fifth if you’re reading them in chronological order), is a rather unusual book within the context of the series, considering the good-against-evil theme that permeates the other six books in the series is largely absent here. Of course there are dangers and trials, as well as personal conflict that need to be resolved, but because there is no central villain nor any fundamental evil that needs to be defeated, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is more thoughtful, more carefully paced, more obviously spiritual and more episodic than any of the other books.

Likewise is the role that the children from our world play within the story. Sadly, Peter and Susan are too old to return to Narnia, and so the adventure belongs to Edmund and Lucy, as well as their horrible cousin Eustace Scrubb who are sucked through a painting in a spare bedroom into Narnia. However, unlike in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, in which they had clear and important roles to play in the unfolding of Narnia’s well-being, they are pulled aboard the ship the Dawn Treader in order to…well, just tag along really. Indeed, the children do not even set foot in Narnia throughout the course of the story — but crucially important words are spoken by Aslan at the conclusion of the tale that sheds a whole new light on the meaning behind the children’s presence in Narnia: “In your world I have another name. This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you may know me better there.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After Lucy, Edmund and the odious Eustace are aboard the Dawn Treader they discover that their rescuer is Caspian, the boy crowned King at the conclusion of Prince Caspian. But because of the time difference that exists between Narnia our own world, several years have passed in which Caspian has grown into a young man, whereas Edmund and Lucy remain children. Caspian is on a sea voyage to discover the fates of seven lords who were banished by his evil uncle Miraz; and map the uncharted seas of the East. Also on board is the talking mouse Reepicheep (also introduced in Prince Caspian) who is on a quest of his own: to find Aslan’s Country, said to exist at the eastern end of the world’s oceans.

Edmund and Lucy (who are still considered monarchs in Narnia) quickly settle in to the routine of the ship, which is more than can be said for Eustace who seems only capable of making a nuisance of himself in his desire to return to more civilised lands. As the ship sets off into ever more dangerous waters and stopping at islands that become steadily stranger, Eustace eventually must come to find redemption in the discovery of the leonine Aslan — but I won’t give away the details of his spiritual transformation, you’ll have to read and find out for yourself! It is perhaps Eustace’s development that makes up the main plot-thread of the book considering the book opens and closes on his character, though it is certainly not centered around him — Caspian, Edmund, Reepicheep and Lucy all get their chance to shine.

Furthermore, Lewis treats us an imaginative scope of adventure and mystery that is perhaps not matched by any other book in the series in regard to its variety and quantity. Since the fun of reading a book like this is in the discovery of each new marvel presented, it would be wrong of me to list them all — but of course it will come as no surprise to readers that Aslan’s presence heavily surrounds the ship and its purpose. Some of Lewis’s most overtly Christian connotations are found within The Voyage — yet as always, they are not so obtrusive that they become preachy or alienate readers who are not particularly interested in the subtext. Toward the end of the novel in particular, the christological references of the story are beautifully incorporated into the narrative of the story…and again, I have to resist temptation to go into detail!

As always, Lewis fills his books with little touches of intrigue and enigma, for example: the bracelet of a missing lord, which now hangs on a stone outcropping till the world ends, the unspoken sin of a star that was banished to earth, and the friendship that is formed between Lucy and a mermaid in the moment that they both meet and part. Lewis was a master at making small, thought-provoking events that didn’t mean much to the overall continuation of the plot, but existed simply for their own sake in enriching and enlivening the story.

For many, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the best book in the series; not to mention their favourite. To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on such a question, but I do know that it is an unusual (in a good way!) inclusion in the Chronicles, and in many ways a turning point for the series. This is the last book in which Pevensie children play a major part in the action; as Eustace takes over in the next book The Silver Chair as protagonist. As such, there is a bittersweet quality to it, which is well in keeping to the nature and purpose of Narnia itself.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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