Aslan replaces Eustace’s dragon-heart with a heart of flesh.
After he finally gets everyone to understand who he is, Eustace makes the best of his new form – flying around and scouting out the island, hunting, keeping everybody warm on cold nights, and even procuring a pine to replace the Dawn Treader’s mast. But he’s still ashamed of himself, and is acutely aware of the logistical nightmare he represents to the rest of the crew (just keeping a dragon fed would take quite a bit of extra provisions, never mind figuring out how to take him along on the voyage).
The pleasure (quite new to him) of being liked and, still more, of liking other people, was what kept Eustace from despair. For it was very dreary being a dragon. He shuddered whenever he caught sight of his own reflection in a mountain lake. He hated the huge bat-like wings, the saw-edged ridge on his back, and the cruel, curved claws. He was almost afraid to be alone with himself and yet he was ashamed to be with the others.
He’s done his best to change who he is, but unless he can change what he is, it will all be for naught. His fear of rejection is what drives him – until Aslan comes around one night and changes him, body and soul.
There were two things that particularly struck me about this sequence: It’s the first time Aslan has made an appearance so far, and it’s positively brimming with allusions to John. The whole nighttime rendezvous is reminiscent of Jesus’ meeting with the Pharisee Nicodemus (in which he famously discusses the need to be “born again”), while the well-that’s-big-enough-to-be-a-pool simultaneously evokes the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and the Pool of Bethesda, both stories of physically or spiritually “ill” people being healed and born again. But of course, the main point is the baptismal imagery for Eustace.
“I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place […] But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before.”
Eustace tries to “undress” himself three times, but it never ends up being more than skin deep. Finally, he allows the Lion to do it for him.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.”
Eustace could never have “undragoned” himself; even if he had been able to change back on his own power, the change would never have lasted because he would still have a dragon’s heart.
He’s telling all this to Edmund, of course, who has to reassure Eustace that it couldn’t possibly have been a dream, and (naturally) tells him a little about Aslan.
“Aslan!” said Eustace. “I’ve heard that name mentioned several times since we joined the Dawn Treader. And I felt – I don’t know what – I hated it. But I was hating everything then. And by the way, I’d like to apologize. I’m afraid I’ve been pretty beastly.”
“That’s all right,” said Edmund. “Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.”
Full disclosure: I actually didn’t realize the John connection until I got to this chapter (then I started furiously retconning the previous posts…). And now I do my posts with both Narnia and The Gospel of John opened up.
It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of these I shall not notice. The cure had begun.
Until next time…