The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This chapter has always struck me as simultaneously the most terrifying thing in the series, and the most comforting. Part of the reason it’s so frightening is really because it’s never explained. All you ever know is that it’s an evil thing that has existed for no less than a decade, and quite possibly ages.
For a few feet in front of their bows they could see the swell of the bright greenish-blue water. Beyond that, they could see water looking pale and gray as it would look late in the evening. But beyond that again, utter blackness as if they had come to the edge of moonless and starless night.
Caspian, Edmund, and literally everyone else on the boat want to turn back, but of course Reepicheep butts in, pointing out that they’re all “just scared of the dark” and that, while investigating the “Island” might not serve any material purpose, the voyage was never meant for simple material gain, but for adventure and for honor. Faced with Reepicheep’s unyielding and irrefutable logic, they all reluctantly agree to plunge into the darkness.
Suddenly, from somewhere – no one’s sense of direction was very clear by now – there came a cry, either of some inhuman voice or else a voice of one in such extremity of terror that he had almost lost his humanity.
Can I just say that Lewis is something of a master of suspense? Even after I’ve read this book so many times before and know “how it ends”, this sequence still keeps me on the edge of my seat. And then, after the person they pick up tells them the name of the island (“the Island where Dreams come true”) all hell breaks loose.
“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams – dreams, do you understand? – come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”
There was about a half minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armor, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before […]. For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had – dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again – and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.
There’s a distinct emphasis on inhuman vs. human in this chapter. Fear is a very human thing – and Reepicheep is the only one unmoved by this revelation.
“You can say what you like, Reepicheep. There are some things no man can face.”
“It is, then, my good fortune not to be a man,” replied Reepicheep with a very stiff bow.
And then the men start hearing their dreams in the silence around the ship – each one hearing something different. This, combined with the fact that nothing actually happens to them (not to mention that they only start hearing things after they’ve heard what the island is supposed to be) seems to imply that it really is all in their heads. Perhaps the complete darkness just makes men insane, and in their insanity, they end up hurting and killing each other. Either way, the danger is very real.
Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better.
And Aslan does send help – the implication, in fact, is that Aslan himself comes to their aid in the form of a seabird (and of Light). He leads the Dawn Treader out of the Darkness, and once they’re out, the Island vanishes.
And all at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.
I wonder if the Dark Island is supposed to represent death – after all, death is compared to a shadow numerous times throughout Scripture (Lewis uses that image explicitly in later books), it’s one of mankind’s greatest collective fears (whereas Reepicheep has evidently overcome his fear of death), and they’re all rescued from it by Aslan. Also, they’re well on their way to Aslan’s Country at this point, which is clearly the Narnian version of Heaven. At any rate, from this point on there really aren’t anymore dangers (spoilers, I guess), only the glories of the edge of the world.
Until next time…