Novel: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [Chronicles of Narnia #5]

140227Author: C. S. Lewis, 1952
Genre: Fantasy, Children’s Literature
Format: Ebook, 109 pages

Why is that I enjoy books like Magician’s Nephew or The Horse and His Boy, but can’t stand The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – a conventional favourite? Maybe it’s Aslan’s preachiness. Maybe it’s the annoying Lucy… Maybe I have other issues, because both are present in The Voyage of Dawn Treader and I still like it very much.

The story begins with Lucy and Edmund living with their insipid cousin Eustace, because Peter is now applying for university and Susan is traveling across America with their parents. Obviously the eldest kids are plain too old to come back to Narnia, so it is up to Lucy and Edmund to carry on the narrative. One day, while talking about their adventures in the magic land, the two kids are confronted by Eustace who thinks everyone actually cares about his opinion on the subject. In the heat of the argument the trio notices that an old picture portraying a ship begins to move. When attempting to investigate Lucy, Edmund and Eustace get sucked into the painting and end up on board of the ship and face to face with Prince Caspian. It turns out that the current ruler of Narnia is set on a journey to find seven missing lords and invites the children to join him.

I loved most of the book. Traveling from one mysterious island to another and learning their secrets was exciting. Deathwater and Dark Islands were very inventive, but I wish they were explored more. The company quickly found out the purpose of the misleading pool  of water located on the first island, and had no trouble escaping the dangers of the second one unscathed. That was a bit of a downer. The dragon island contained the best presented moral lesson. Upon lying down on the vast gold treasure, Eustace’s draconian thoughts of greed and wealth turn him literally into a beast – which I found was a clever way to teach kids about dangers of selfishness. The biggest confusion for me was in the Burnt Island, whose purpose and history I still cannot figure out. Am I missing something?

Lewis also created nice little adventures at sea, introducing a monstrous Sea Serpent bent on destroying every ship in sight and treacherous merpeople – classic foes of any sailor. Those added a little variety to the otherwise straightforward island hopping.

Now on to the things that bothered me. And it seems that every book of C.S. Lewis has lots of things that bother me. I do not understand the author’s insistence on creating a villain that is evil for no particular reason. Take Eustace for example. Why was he such a terrible boy, obsessed with making everyone around him miserable? Same goes for many other characters in children’s novels, like J.K Rowling’s Dursley family or the rich kids in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They are greedy and rude, and spoiled, and stupid, but why? What purpose do they serve outside of making the protagonist look like an ideal child or ending up as a comic relief throughout the story? I understand that these books are oriented towards young kids who need a simple kind of conflict to follow and relate to, but this kind of black and white division between characters drives me absolutely bonkers. Fortunately Eustace’s shenanigans didn’t bother me as much as the unjustified treachery of Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Selling out your own flesh and blood for some Turkish Delight, anyone?!

Then there is the unavoidable, in-your-face Christianity of Lewis that is being forced upon the reader every time Aslan shows up. The great lion is not just some metaphor for Jesus, but as Lewis himself insisted is Jesus in a form he chooses to present to Narnians. I find that a little unnecessary for a children’s book, but then I have my own views on religious education, so it might be just my opinion. I could do away without Reepicheep going into the unknown to find the sacred land of Aslan, or Eustace subjected to a poorly disguised baptism to shed his “draconian” nature.

Overall I found The Voyage of the Down Treader a pretty good, engaging tale of wonder, even though it had a few drawbacks. And now I have only two more books to go before I finish the Chronicles of Narnia! Personally, I would love to finish the series this year, so please expect The Silver Chair and The Last Battle soon. Whether you agree with my opinion on the book or think I’m crazy, please let me know in the comments below.

5 comments

  1. Hm, I don’t know of a big obvious symbol for Burnt Island. Lewis may have been thinking about Vikings, though? Some of the other islands–Dark Island in particular–hark back to old legends.

    If you’re not a big fan of the Christianity….well, Narnia may not be your thing then. 🙂 I’m not sure Lewis *could* write a non-religious fantasy story if he wanted to, which he certainly would not. Have you read Planet Narnia, though? It analyzes Lewis’ fiction according to the old system of planets. I think Planet Narnia is fantastic, the author is bang on and it would give you a different element to focus on. It’s quite long and rather academic, but the author wrote a lighter version called The Narnia Code too (a terrible title, but it does make the point).

    You will probably laugh, but I did not figure out all the Christianity in the Narnia books till I was in college and a (Jewish) bf pointed it out. Note that I grew up on those stories and my mom is a CSL fanatic, but she didn’t mention it. I’m not all that good at literary analysis I guess…

  2. A true classic!

  3. Hi Jean! I have Planet Narnia on my wishlist, so I would love to read it when I’m done with the series. I really wish I read the books when I was a kid though, because I am obviously lacking the feeling of magic and sentimentalism when reading it now as an adult. I actually envy people that have fond memories connected with Lewis’s works! Unfortunately it’s impossible to turn time backwards.

  4. @Kev. It sure is!

  5. 🙂

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