The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has (almost) always been not just my favorite book in this series, but among my all-time favorite books. I’m so glad to be able to share it with you.
I believe I first fell in love with this book on my second reading through the series (the first time I was turned off by the lack of plot, because first grade). It has just the right balance of adventure, comic relief, and sheer beauty; I might even venture to say that this book taught me what beauty is.
This book is ruled by Sol (because in the middle ages the Sun was a planet). It’s associated with Apollo (but not quite the same thing), who was associated with trade and wealth, but for the most part, it’s just stuff having to do with the Sun (you’ve got “Dawn” right there in the title, for crying out loud!). More importantly, Sol serves as a clue to another ruling element of this book: The Gospel of John
For those who may not know one Gospel from the next, John’s is far more concerned with conveying truth than facts, which basically amounts to some stories appearing “out of order” and others that don’t appear at all in the other three Gospels. It’s what I like to call the “literary person’s Gospel”, because that book thrives on subtext and imagery, and needless to say, it’s my favorite version (also, the Book of Revelations was written by John, hence why I tend to be skeptical about any attempts at literal interpretations – it’s a metaphor, people!).
Anyhow, the Gospel of John also happens to feature a recurring image/theme of Light vs. Darkness (with the Light being Christ, of course), and throughout Dawn Treader, light (typically sunlight) is a harbinger of good things, while darkness is bad news. Aside from that general rule, Dawn Treader also mirrors the basic structure and narrative of John’s Gospel (which I’ll point out as we go along).
And now, on to the book!
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
BEST OPENING LINE EVER.
Also, I immediately realized what I missed in Prince Caspian: There’s not nearly enough narration. Seriously, Lewis’s narrative voice is extremely distinctive, but for whatever reason, he didn’t seem to use it in the last book (or rather, he used a far more generic voice, with less interjections). But it’s all good now!
As for Eustace, he’s a perfect example of how to create a character that is incredibly annoying within the story, but not actually annoying to the reader. This is accomplished by 1) Having virtually ALL the characters acknowledge how annoying he is (without harping on it constantly) and 2) Showing things from his point of view.
Eustace Clarence disliked his cousins the four Pevensies, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. But he was quite glad when he heard that Edmund and Lucy were coming to stay. For deep down inside him he liked bossing and bullying; and, though he was a puny little person who couldn’t have stood up even to Lucy, let alone Edmund, in a fight, he knew that there are dozens of ways to give people a bad time if you are in your own home and they are only visitors.
He’s puny, doesn’t have any friends, and presumably doesn’t get much in the way of discipline from his parents. He’s used to getting his way. He also brings out Edmund’s snark, which is always entertaining.
“Do you like that picture?” he asked.
“For heaven’s sake don’t let him get started about Art and all that,” said Edmund hurriedly, but Lucy, who was very truthful, had already said, “Yes, I do. I like it very much.”
“It’s a rotten picture,” said Eustace.
“You won’t see it if you step outside,” said Edmund.
To top it all off, you know that Eustace is genuinely miserably when he’s suddenly whisked away to Narnia, and that’s the root of his complaining, which is certainly understandable, if not sympathetic.
So the picture comes to life, Eustace is an idiot, and the three of them get swept out onto (and under) the high seas. This is also the first parallel with the Gospel of John: The first story in Chapter 1 is about John the Baptist “baptizing with water (John 1:26)”, and here the three children get dunked in the ocean as they’re entering Narnia. Notably, the baptism of water is presented as inferior to the “baptism of the Spirit”, more of an outward sign or symbol than an actual (spiritually) transformative process.
Then they meet Caspian on board the Dawn Treader. Also, Reepicheep!
“Ugh, take it away,” wailed Eustace. “I hate mice. And I never could bear performing animals. They’re silly and vulgar and – and sentimental.”
“Am I to understand,” said Reepicheep to Lucy after a long stare at Eustace, “that this singularly discourteous person is under your Majesty’s protection? Because, if not – “
I love this book so much. I never even noticed all the John parallels until I reread it this time! I know I keep gushing about how these books only improve every time I read them, but I was genuinely shocked that Dawn Treader had this much that I had never noticed before. Lewis is a mad genius.
Until next time…
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