On the High Seas and
at the Edge of Narnia
(A Book Review of C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
Edmund and Lucy, the young ones in the Pevensie siblings are in for a rotten luck. While their father and mother with their sister Susan are on a trip in America, and their older brother, Peter, busy preparing for his exams, they are to spend the summer break holed up in the house of their uncle and aunt which only means putting up with their insufferable cousin Eustace Clarence Scrub.
Whenever he can the brat Eustace just can’t resist himself from making fun of his cousins, specially the tales they told one another of their adventures in the magical land of Narnia. However, Eustace got served with his own bitter pill when one day, doing what he does best, he and his cousins are sucked in by a discarded painting hanging at a guest room (where Lucy is staying) and they unexpectedly find themselves floating in a strange ocean, a stately vessel coming their way.
Aboard the titular ship Dawn Treader, it turns out that it’s commanded by no less than the now King Caspian (who in the previous book they helped to win the throne and bring peace back to Narnia) on a mission to find and rescue the seven missing Narnian lords, loyal subjects of his father-king, who was sent out to exile by his evil, usurping uncle Miraz. On board, too, is the talking mouse Repicheep in search for Aslan’s country on the far seas of the “Utter East”.
The adventure sets off right away and our heroes together with the ship’s crew stumbles in the thick of things as they set out to put a stop to a far off island’s slave trade, free one-legged creatures from the invisible spell that they thought is the bane of their lives, come across an enchanted lake that turns everything that comes into contact with its water to gold, hopped from island to island and among other things journey into the wonders that await them in the uncharted seas and lands beyond Narnia.
There’s just so many things that I got to enjoy and discover while reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in that for the most part it is a great sea exploration tale in lieu of the epic battles we witnessed during the first and second books. Notice, too, that our heroes are not out there to fight it out with an evil intent to dominate the world and save it. All the same, their journey is underscored by the thrill of adventure and discovery as turning each page of the book it seems I’m one with the characters anticipating what will happen next wherever the wind and tides will take us.
Originally, Lewis planned to end the series with Voyage, yet in a prophetic stroke of fate we are getting a glimpse of a more fully realized world: we got to know the name of oceans, trod on scattered islands and get to know its people and culture all the way venturing to mystical places where no Narnian has gone before and lived to tell the tale.
Fully immersed at the height of his creation, I deem C. S. Lewis is at his imaginative best in here and it almost evidently feels like he’s more “at home” now in his world of fantasy. I revel at Lewis’s level of invention in this one in that it has so many to offer the fan eager to know the further of adventures of the Pevensie siblings, Prince Caspian and a host of both old and new characters that are now prominently figured and fleshed out. In contrast to two previous books, Voyage is structurally different; sure thing, each chapter feels a little episodic (in hindsight), yet I for once haven’t even noticed it for this is where Lewis’s narrative truly excels: you’re in for a free spirited adventure ride and he just pulls you along. The novel caught me in surprise as well for it has its funny moments and humor is integrated in some scenes — no small thanks to Eustace whose droll silliness and subtle ironies, being the obnoxious complainer that he is, made me laughed out loud while reading. Playful, witty and marked with the intricacy of creation, Voyage is that book in the Chronicles that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Lewis is also up and at it again, for he raises the bar where characterization is concerned. As I see it, each book seems to focus on a certain person in the story and Lewis had him/her deal with a particular difficulty, come to terms with and learn a lesson from it.
With the absence of Peter, Edmund and Caspian has more screen time (so to speak) in this book. Each of them has their own struggle and I like that we’re seeing Edmund anew as he deals with his feelings of playing second fiddle to both Peter and Caspian. On the other hand, Caspian is made to face problems that tear him apart: to continue on with the expedition all the way through Aslan’s Country or to go back and do his duty to his people? Of all, Lucy’s predicament is that one that startled me; that underneath her sheen of sweet innocence there lays a dark desire. With this Lewis introduces and makes apparent the important theme of maturity. Yet it is Eustace who steals the scene mid-way in the novel as he finds his own redemption in one of the most believable character transformations I’ve come across with.
In a sudden turn of pace the book begins to be more than just an adventure story near the end. I’m not going to give anything for fear of spoiling the book for you, Gentle Reader, but I can’t help but compare it to a piece of music starting off with the hum and a beat of an onward march then all at once mellows out and I felt a quality of tranquility and of on rushing, unexpected joy. I can’t quite articulate it really, yet there’s something that hits right at you. Maybe, it’s because of the valiant deed that Repicheep does — making him one of the truly remarkable and memorable characters among the talking animals second only to Aslan; maybe it’s because of the power of Aslan’s words — “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,” to quote one of the most meaningful among the bunch and a favorite of mine (that quote for me epitomizes what the whole Chronicles is all about); or maybe it’s given me a glance of the future passage all of us, at one point or another, will do in our lives, for better or for worse.
With daring exploits to match the great travel literature and adventure stories the likes of Odyssey and Gulliver’s Travels and filled with wondrous, humorous and heartfelt moments, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a book about a physical journey transcending to a spiritual one dramatizing the process of baptism, rebirth and pilgrimage.