Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Son Begins to Reign, Demands Obedience (Chronicles of Narnia #3)

“But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.”

  “Are – are you there too, Sir?” “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (VDT)is the most episodic of the chronicles, a fabulous sea journey through uncharted lands and mysterious islands undertaken by Prince Caspian and his crew, who are searching for the seven lost lords of Narnia” Markos introduces.  Only the younger Edmund and Lucy return, as Peter and Susan are now too old for Narnia; the unfortunately named Eustace Scrubb, “a spoiled brat with no imagination or courage raised by modern, free-thinking patents” accompanies them.  The voyagers enter Narnia through a painting of The Dawn Treader, joining Prince Caspian’s crew and Reepicheep, a talking mouse from LWW, and one of Lewis’s favorite characters.

Reepicheep has joined the crew in hopes the ship will sail to the end of the world, where he will find Aslan’s country. This desire of Reepicheep’s “adds a mystical aura to the journey” as “indeed, Aslan’s country is heaven: a beautiful land with doors that open out to all the worlds.” While the children wish to stay, Aslan instructs them, “in the most overt Christian reference in The Chronicles” that they must instead return home, and learn to know him by another name (Christ).

The process of repentance and change is illustrated by an adventure involving dragons, a deserted island and Eustace Scrubb. Eustace, “whose modern education has left him ignorant of magic and myth” finds a dying dragon, and subsequently enters the dragon’s cave. Unaware of how dragons are formed, he falls asleep on top of the dragon’s hidden treasure, then wakes the next morning to find himself a dragon. The dragon persona actually helps Eustace to overcome his selfish, egocentric ways, as he finds ways to help the crew of the ship while thus endragoned. After several weeks as a dragon, Aslan visits and instructs Eustace to undress, as it were.  Obediently (thar’s progress raht thar!) Eustace pulls off his scaly skin, only to find a second, deeper layer of scaly skin. After several attempts on his own, Aslan lends a paw, ripping the scales with his deep, painful but penetrating wounds. Humbly undertaken, Eustace finds the undragoning leaves him feeling clean and refreshed, a spiritual rebirth as it were; it is followed by a (literal) baptism and cleansing in the river, with Aslan himself re-dressing the once and future human, Eustace Scrubb.

In a second episode, Lewis provides unique insights on the fulness of obedience. The crew has landed on an island inhabited by strange creatures who have been made invisible by a magician’s curse.  The strange creatures threaten to kill the crew unless Lucy can find the magic book and cast the spell to make them visible again.  Bravely ascending the magician’s castle, Lucy finds the book, but first runs into a spell that will make her so beautiful that men will fight wars for her hand (as for Helen of Troy). Aslan’s face appears in the book to help thwart Lucy’s temptation to vanity, but she succumbs shortly after to a spell that allow her to eavesdrop on her friends back home. Lucy watches silently as one of her friends teases her, egged on by a bully. Finally, Lucy gets her spells right, thus making all that is invisible visible, including Aslan, who authored the laws of magic in the first place. When Lucy sees Aslan, her own face is made just as beautiful as the beauty spell would have made her. Aslan does, however, scold Lucy for eavesdropping, and states how her friendship will never be quite the same.  Lucy is then consoled by Aslan’s promise to one day sing to her a wonderful story she read in the magic book but could no longer remember.

Notable Quotes

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

“Adventures are never fun while you’re having them.”

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

“But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”

“One of the most cowardly things ordinary people do is to shut their eyes to facts.”

“But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.”

Aslan states: “In your world, I have another name. You should know me by it.”

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Lewis’s description of Aslan’s country is inspiring, at the end of the book:

What they saw- eastward, beyond the sun – was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world.  For any mountains even a quarter of a twentieth of that height ought to have ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so, but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterward. Lucy could only say “It would break your heart.” “Why,” said I, “was it so sad?” “Sad!! No,” said Lucy.

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No one in that boat doubted that they were seeing beyond the End of the World into Aslan’s country.  At that moment, with a crunch, the boat ran aground. The water was too shallow for it. “This,” said Reepicheep, “is where I go on alone.”  They did not even try to stop him …

Then he bade them good-bye, trying to be sad for their sakes; but he was quivering with happiness. Lucy, for the first and last time, did what she had always wanted to do, taking him in her arms and caressing him. Then hastily he got into his coracle and took his paddle, and the current caught it and away he went, very black against the lilies. But no lilies grew on the wave; it was a smooth green slope. The coracle went more and more quickly, and beautifully it rushed up on the wave’s side. For one split second they saw its shape and Reepicheep’s on the very top. Then it vanished and since that moment no one can truly claim to have seen Reepicheep the Mouse.

As the sun rose the sight of those mountains outside the world faded away. The wave remained but there was only blue sky behind it.

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The Children got out of the boat and waded … and held hands as they waded through the lilies. They never felt tired. The water was warm and all the time it got shallower. At last they were on dry sand, and then on grass – a huge plain of very fine short grass, almost level with the Silver Sea and spreading in every direction without so much as a molehill.  And of course, as it always does in a perfectly flat place without trees, it looked as if the sky came down to meet the grass in front of them. But as they went on, they got the strangest impression that here at last the sky did really come down and join the earth – a blue wall, very bright, but real and solid: more like glass than anything else. And soon they were quite sure of it. It was very near now.

But between them and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the green grass that even with their eagles’ eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a lamb. “Come and have breakfast,” said the Lamb in it s sweet milky voice. Then they noticed for the first time that there was a fire lit on the grass and fish roasting on it. They sat down and ate the fish, hungry now for the first time for many days. And it was the most delicious food they had ever tasted.

 “Please, Lamb,” said Lucy “is this the way to Aslan’s country?”

“Not for you,” said the Lamb. “For you the door into Aslan’s country is from your own world.”

            “What!” said Edmund. “Is there a way into Aslan’s country from our world too?”

            “There is a way into my country from all the worlds,” said the Lamb; but as he spoke his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.

            “Oh Aslan,” said Lucy. “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?”

            “I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan. “But I will not tell you how long or how short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder. And now come; I will open the door in the sky and send you to your own land.”

            “It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you (we will miss). We shan’t meet you there.  And how can we live, never meeting you?”

            “But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

            “Are – are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

            “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

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Planet: Sol / the Sun

With the sun as the thematic nature of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis is able to use its presumed penchant for alchemy to demonstrate God’s redemptive actions.  The thematic nature of the sun is undeniable with the waters of what came to be named Goldwater Island turning items into gold, the description of Aslan as a sort of Louis XIV Sun King figure, and more than that as the “sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), and the sun’s effects helping to slay the dragons, with a nod to Homer’s Hymn to Apollo as the Greek sun god Apollo was known for killing reptiles.  The dawn arises as Eustace becomes un-dragoned, and Lewis’s mention in the poem The Planets of the sun hurting and healing is played out as Aslan tears off Eustace’s dragon skin. The wisdom-giving nature of the sun is also included as Reepicheep attains a level of practical wisdom in directing the ship to push rather than fight the Great Sea Serpent, ensuring its survival. The most vivid Aslan-sun image comes as the end, as the dawn Treader reaches the sunlit shores of the End of the World, as the children see a blindingly white lamb, which then invites them to breakfast and then turns into a golden Lion of Aslan Himself.

The Planets: Sol

Far beyond her
The heaven’s highway hums and trembles,
Drums and dindles, to the driv’n thunder
Of SOL’s chariot, whose sword of light
Hurts and humbles; beheld only
Of eagle’s eye. When his arrow glances
Through mortal mind, mists are parted
And mild as morning the mellow wisdom
Breathes o’er the breast, broadening eastward
Clear and cloudless. In a clos’d garden
(Unbound her burden) his beams foster
Soul in secret, where the soil puts forth
Paradisal palm, and pure fountains
Turn and re-temper, touching coolly
The uncomely common to cordial gold;
Whose ore also, in earth’s matrix,
Is print and pressure of his proud signet
On the wax of the world.

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