NOTE: I wrote these reflections a few summers ago after I had re-read “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I thought that they would possibly make a decent blog post, so now that I actually have a blog I decided that I would share with y’all. Edits and additions have been made. Hope you enjoy these ramblings/informal book report from a bookworm! 😉
I feel like the older I become the better I can appreciate C.S. Lewis’ genius, his societal commentary, and the very spiritual Christian insights he incorporated into his writings. He is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite authors. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book published in the Chronicles of Narnia series but the fourth in Narnia chronology), like all of the Narnia books, is simple, beautiful, profound, and enjoyable for both children and adults.
During the first chapter, it struck me how much pointed humor his series contains. When I was younger, I could not appreciate it as much, but now some comments stand out to me that were previously less conspicuous. An example is Lewis’ description of Eustace’s family: “They were very modern and up-to-date people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and tee-totalers.” This is not intended as a compliment. Eustace is obnoxious, bratty, and arrogant. He has no imagination, believing solely in science and rational facts. He and his family have abandoned the timeless truths and principles of wonder, respect, and belief in a Higher Power. They are politically correct, but they are insufferable. It’s not that being a vegetarian, a non-smoker, or a tee-totaler was necessarily wrong. The problem is more that they have no permanent foundation of beliefs for their lives. Instead, they go along with the latest trends, whatever is in vogue at the moment.
Eustace ridicules Lucy and Edmund for their belief in Narnia. Even when Eustace experiences the wonder of Narnia firsthand, having entered this other world through an enchanted picture frame, he seemingly cannot give his assent to the substantiality and rationality of this fantastic realm.
Eustace continually tries to hold Narnia to the limited standards of his legitimate but incomplete world of science-only. A world of chivalry and monarchy where a girl is given deference over men when it comes to living quarters is unfathomable to him. (Lucy was given the use of King Caspian’s room while Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace bunked below the Dawn Treader’s deck.) Eustace tries to tell King Caspian that this is demeans girls, not seeing how this simple distinction does not diminish femininity but actually shows respect for Lucy.
How often do we behave in a way similar to Eustace? We measure God by our own limited, finite vision, experience and life. Often we are blind to His work in our lives even when it is right in front of our eyes, like Eustace when he first enters Narnia.
We must strive to adopt the attitude of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who not only continually pondered and spoke of Narnia, but also always hoped and expected to experience it once more. Their faith was rewarded, and, thankfully, Eustace was pulled along with them for the adventure of a lifetime.
The crucial moment that begins Eustace’s journey of conversion is when he is transformed into a dragon. Having wandered away from his traveling companions during a respite on an island, Eustace stumbles onto a dragon’s lair and falls asleep upon a mound of enchanted treasure. During his sleep, he undergoes a metamorphosis into a dragon: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” His outside now reflected his interior disposition.
However, Eustace’s time as a dragon is a bit of an epiphany for him. He recognizes how beastly he has been behaving and for the first time experiences true loneliness and a longing for companionship. Once he is able to communicate who he is to the others, he becomes most helpful, bringing them food and a massive tree from which to fashion a new mast for the Dawn Treader. He also offers his services (the fire in his belly) as a source of warmth on cold nights.
Eventually, Eustace is transformed back into a boy, and the process by which this is wrought is filled with Christian symbolism. Aslan, the mighty lion and Christ figure, appears to Eustace and tells him to “Follow me.” Aslan leads him to a well that is filled with water and directs him to bathe in it after undressing first, meaning after removing his dragon skin. Eustace tries three times to scratch away his skin on his own, only to find that there is more underneath. At last, Aslan says that Eustace must be undressed by him. When recounting the encounter to Edmund, Eustace explained that this process hurt, but it was a good pain: “And when he [Aslan] began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” Aslan then tossed him into the well water, which also smarted and hurt at first but then became “delicious.”
One can easily compare this scene to repentance and Baptism. We must first shed the “dragon-ish” parts of ourselves, namely, our sins and shortcomings through repentance. However, we cannot remove them ourselves. If we try, we are only frustrated by our failure. We must let Jesus and His grace work the transformation in us, a process that can be painful sometimes but that ultimately brings joy and peace. We are ready to accept God’s forgiveness and be made clean in the waters of Baptism, which we will ultimately find “delicious.”
Eustace is frequently described by Lewis as a “beginner.” Baptism is meant for Christians at the beginning of their faith journeys, either as infants or as adult converts. In fact, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation. Lewis says that Eustace was mostly a completely changed person after his encounter with Aslan, but he still had slip-ups and it would be more accurate to say that he was becoming a better person. When we first make a commitment to Christ and to the faith, we often do have setbacks and slip-ups but we are now striving and improving and have hope rather than remaining in our mess. Indeed throughout our whole lives and faith journeys, we must continuously strive for conversion and re-commit ourselves to Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity.
Lastly, Eustace’s conversion was prompted first by being immersed in a world of believers, by being immersed in the world of Narnia. Lewis mentions that the good effects of Narnia began to work on Eustace without him even realizing it; case in point, when he is struggling to climb a mountain, he perseveres to the end instead of giving up like he would have been wont to do before experiencing Narnia. This small event exemplifies both the importance of evangelization as well as the reality that both our chosen companions and environment have an affect on our attitude and ways of thinking. Secondly, his conversion was motivated mainly by an experience of hardship, that is, becoming a dragon. Eustace’s suffering impelled him to make an examination of conscience, so to speak. He realized his nastiness and wanted to be reconciled and be friends with his companions once more. So often in the real world, it is suffering and trials that drive people to conversion or to a re-awakening of faith. We take a hard long look at ourselves and our lives and realize where we have fouled up and who we have wronged, and we desire to make amends.
These musings only cover a small portion of the insights contained in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as the whole Narnia series. If you have never read these books or if it’s been a while since you’ve read them, pick them up again and discover the beauty that C.S. Lewis has to offer!
Images taken from the Chronicles of Narnia page on Facebook.