Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia (Publication Order) #3) by C.S. Lewis

Uff da... this novel inspired my best friend and I to get into our worst mischief yet as nine-year-olds. We wanted a Narnia ship so we chiseled a porthole out of the six-paneled wood door in her basement. Next, we collected picnic table benches and a card table with chairs to echo Prince Caspian's cabin and set about eating our lunch that consisted of a slab of very orangy Velveeta Cheese, stale crackers, and fishy-smelling clam chowder. We used a stool to look out the card-sized porthole and transformed the room according to the different adventures that happened in the book. In some ways, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," reminds me of The Odyssey, by Homer, where the main character is stuck on a long voyage where he meets monsters and gods with life-endangering adventures. The Dawn Treader involves a long voyage with dangers and monsters, except rather than Greek gods dealing with the fate of the main character, it is the wise lion Aslan, modeled after Jesus of Nazareth in Christianity, dealing with the fates of Prince Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace. Both stories have characters traveling to the ends of the earth. (Gilgamesh does too if you want an even earlier work in literature.) However unlike Odysseus who travels to the ends of the earth and finds the underworld, Prince Caspian's crew travels to the ends of the world and finds heaven. Except this isn't Prince Caspian's quest, instead he is searching for seven lost lords that were banished under King Miraz's reign. Count on Lewis to create his own fairy-tale-myth-theology smoothie. Drink up this fun tale with its nonstop action and terrific descriptions.

Edmund and Lucy are staying with their cousin, Eustace Scrub, admiring a painting of a Narnia ship when it comes to life. The wind whips their hair in the room and water sloshes out of the painting spraying them. Frightened, Eustace tries to toss the painting off the wall only to shrink onto the frame and get tossed into the churning seawater. Lucy and Edmund jump in after him where they are picked up by the crew of the ship, the Dawn Treader. Prince Caspian an adult now, is aboard and looking for the seven Telemarine lords that were friends of his father that his uncle exiled after usurping the throne. The voyage leads them on adventures where they become slaves, discover water that turns any item to gold, meet invisible monopods, and rescue a lord on an island where dreams (and nightmares) come true. The best adventure involves the nasty Eustace turning into a dragon and being transformed by the incident. The last adventure involves a sacrifice to free the lords from a spell at an island called, "The World's End." There are plenty of heroes, but only one will cross into Aslan's world, never to return to Narnia.

The series uses a similar plot strategy found in most of the other books where the children time travel from England to Narnia. The character development usually has one person who makes poor choices resulting in unintended consequences. Aslan appears and the person must learn to take responsibility for his or her actions and become a better person. Eustace is the character that changes in this book. He is selfish and self-righteous with no thought for others. He steals, lies, and bullies others so as to build himself up. While everyone is working on ship repairs he sneaks off to nap. He gets lost and ends up in a dragon's lair where magic is at work. If a person sleeps on a dragon's hoard with a greedy heart they will turn into a dragon. Lewis captures Eustace's loneliness and he slowly changes when he learns to help and make friends with other people. It isn't until Eustace becomes a dragon that he reflects on the type of person he is toward others and makes the effort to change into a person of character.

The mix of Christian symbolism, fables, and myths are many. Some of the oldest texts in literature, such as Beowolf and Gilgamesh, mention the mythical dragon as Lewis uses in his tale with Eustace. When Aslan peels off Eustace's dragon skin and tosses him into the water it is similar to a Christian baptism, a sign of purification and rebirth in Christ. Eustace is transformed by the incident and will work toward being a good person which will allow him to live in peace with others and be happy. Lewis consistently shows that characters that serve their own purposes are miserable and cause strife in their interactions with other people. Lucy mentions the fable "Androcles and the lion" when she sees the bracelet on Eustace's arm when he is a dragon. The talking Narnian Reepicheep, the valiant mouse, also echoes the fable and tries to cheer Eustace with tales of heroes who had fallen on hard circumstances only to recover and learn from the experience. The mouse made it clear in the story's beginning that he does not like Eustace, but he sets his feelings aside and makes an effort to be friends with him after he becomes a dragon and appears to want to change.

The character, Ramandu, is another mix of Christian imagery and fantasy. He is a living star that has an aura that made me think he was an angel when first introduced. Then I thought of the story, "Stardust" by Neil Gaiman, that has a star fall to earth. I wonder if he got his idea from this story? Coriakin is a magician but we find out he is also a fallen star. Actually, there is so much symbolism, I can't touch on it all. The albatross made me think of Coleridge's, "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," and the white birds that speak in different tongues made me think of the Holy Spirit. The live coal placed in the mouth of the old man by a bird is similar to Isaiah's vision where a hot coal touched his lips as a symbol of taking away his sins. When Eustace tells Ramandu the scientific definition of a fallen star, Ramandu gives the spiritual explanation. The Biblical references make for a unique mish-mash of theology and fantasy that I find fascinating to read.

As a kid, I loved the adventures in this book. As an adult I like the literary and theological references. I can't tell you how many books I kept thinking of while reading "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." I mentioned "Stardust" but thought of the plethora of books I've read where the characters portal to another world through a picture or the notion of pictures being "alive." James Mayhew's picture books have the character, Katie, jumping into museum artworks. J.K. Rowling's talking portraits at Hogwarts is another along with Jenny Nimmo's moving photos in the Charlie Bone series, and Jaqueline West's "The Books of Elsewhere" series that has the character, Olive, crawling into the paintings in their house. Then there's Tolkien's books. I'll "draw a line in the sand" there. Just kidding.

I read this as book #5 in chronological order. I read the publication order as a kid so I'm trying it a different way. I prefer the chronological order. I remember forgetting
5 Smileys

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