I’m going to make a bold statement here. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the best of the Narnia series. After another re-read of the very copy my parents bought me for 15p from the local library (and an emergency glue repair) I decided it was time to put forward the case.
The tale of the Dawn Treader is a simple enough one. While staying with their aunt and uncle in Cambridge, Edmund and Lucy (along with their cousin Eustace) are whisked away to Narnia to aid King Caspian (previously Prince Caspian of book 4) on his quest to find his father’s 7 loyal lords, in the east, beyond the Lone Islands.
Before I talk about some of the specific characters that make the Voyage of the Dawn Treader what it is, I want to draw your attention to something that I only really noticed reading the Narnia series as an adult. The Narrator has clearly been TOLD the tale of the Treader by Edmund, Lucy and Eustace and is recounting it, using phrases like ‘she could never remember’ and ‘he stopped writing a diary for a while’ and ‘as they told me’, which is a beautiful way of making the reader think that The Narrator is part of their world and not just an all seeing eye.
When I was young, before even Philosopher’s Stone had been conceived (imagine!), if you had asked me, I would have said I desired nothing more than to be Lucy Pevensie.
Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie children, is perhaps known best for her role in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the second in the Narnia series.* However, saying this, I feel that Lucy is at her very best in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy, queen of Narnia, is in the thick of every adventure that the Dawn Treader encounters. Lucy is older, wiser and more in-tune with the magic and mysteries that are happening around her. For example, in the chapter ‘The Magicians Book’ Lucy is put to the test. She must find a spell that will make the inhabitants of the Island of Voices visible again, but also resisting the other spells, such as one to make her infinitely beautiful. Lucy’s courage and down-right-nice-person-ness is apparent more than ever in this tale.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader introduces the Pevensies’ cousin Eustace and of course the famous first line ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.’
Eustace has a brilliant story arc – he starts off as the world’s most annoying boy, whose “progressive” parents have presented him with books not about fantasy lands but about technology and botany. However, after work-shy Eustace has an unfortunate instance in which he gets turned into a dragon he is much changed. Eustace begins to embrace the journey and earns the respect of his cousins and of the Narnian crew, including one of my all time favourite Narnians…
Reepicheep (or Reep) is a mouse. The CHIEF mouse. Reepicheep encompasses everything Narnian – he is gallant, loyal and …a talking animal. Reepicheep is on a mission of his own: to sail to the end of the world and find Aslan’s Country. Which brings us nicely too…
It’s no secret that the Narnia series is a metaphor for Christianity. Aslan represents Jesus/God and Lucy, the biggest believer of all, sees him the most. ‘Aslan’s Country’, we can presume is Heaven. The characters are tested, and their faith holds strong in times of need and peril. This imagery doesn’t take away from the tale – in fact it adds to the strong feeling that there is more behind Narnia than just the imagination.
A Children’s Epic
The last thing I will say about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is how wonderfully epic it is. The tale is no short of a Children’s Epic – a novel to be read and re-read again and again, finding new and exciting meanings every time. If you’re looking for a novel for avid fantasy readers – the Song of Fire and Ice readers of tomorrow – look no further.
* NB: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is, indeed, the second in the Narnia series, if you order them chronologically and not by which C.S.Lewis wrote first. The Magicians Nephew, which explains how the wardrobe became a portal to Narnia, is actually the first in the series.