One of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, this book tells of the voyage of the young King Caspian towards the uttermost East, through hostile seas and unknown islands.

We met Prince Caspian as he then was in the book of that name, when his tyrannical uncle King Miraz was usurping his throne. The four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, had returned to Narnia to help him. Now in The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader', the younger two, Edmund and Lucy, with their exceptionally nasty cousin Eustace Scrubbs, are called back into Narnia again in mid-sea and hauled upon Caspian's ship, the beautiful little Dawn Treader with its golden dragon prow and crimson sail.

Among their shipboard companions is another old friend, Reepicheep, the most valiant and most courteous of all the talking mice of Narnia.

Eustace is a real rotter, a beastly and selfish little boy, but the voyage is the making of him. After complaining and arguing and feeling sorry for himself constantly, he gets his come-uppance at one of the many perilous isles they encounter. Getting lost and seeing an old dragon die, he crawls into its lair, thinks dragonish thoughts, and finds himself transformed. By the grace of Aslan the Lion he is eventually restored, on the whole a kinder and more thoughtful boy.

Caspian's ostensible purpose now that he is safely established on his throne is to fulfil a quest to find seven lords of Narnia exiled by his uncle Miraz: they are the lords Argoz, Bern, Mavramorn, Octesian, Restimar, Revilian, and Rhoop. But he is also rebuilding from nothing the once great Narnian maritime tradition; and in truth there is some greater quest in the air, the very idea of journeying towards the sunrise, perhaps to Aslan's land itself. It is this that impels Reepicheep.

Gradually they encounter the lords, or their remains, as they explore each island. One is resident on the Lone Islands, once loyal Narnian but now a haunt of slave traders, and he aids King Caspian in retaking them. Another is found to have dived into a stream that turns all to gold. Another was eaten by the dragon Eustace met.

Another, the lord Rhoop, is rescued from a Darkness. Almost mad, almost destroyed by the torture, he tells them this is the land where dreams come true. At first the crew marvel at this and indulge in daydreams, but Rhoop screeches out at them that they are fools: Your dreams come true! -- In about thirty seconds it sinks into each man of the crew what dreams they have had, and what it would be like for them to come true, and they row away as hard as they can, possessed by panic. Only brave Reepicheep is unmoved.

Three more are found asleep at a banquet at the last island of the world, where a star called Ramandu, who once blazed in the night sky, and his daughter beautiful beyond words, reside, and tend them. It is this Ramandu's daughter (never named, in either this or the next book) who is to become Caspian's queen, and mother of Prince Rilian of The Silver Chair. From here, they travel into a world of sweet waters and bright light, close to Aslan's land, and here the company part.

First published by Geoffrey Bles in 1952, with illustrations by Pauline Baynes.

The title is one of those typographically awkward things, like Conrad's The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'. The ship's name Dawn Treader goes in italics, but so does the whole book title: so how do you represent double italics? The conventional solution is to put the inner ones in quotes instead, as I have done in my text. But we can't use italics in node titles, and the quotes aren't really part of the name.

< Prince Caspian -- Chronicles of Narnia -- The Silver Chair >

This book is quite unusual among the Chronicles of Narnia.

It's trippy.

Warning: major spoilers

Voyage of the Dawn Treader retains the allegorical crypto-Christian universe of the other Narnia books, as well as the standard structure: the kids go along on a big adventure, overcoming many dangers with courage, faith, and dinvine intervention, and in the end Aslan tells everyone the moral. However, the other books seem mostly concerned with ethical behavior, self-cultivation, and the transformative/redemptive power of Christ. The difference is that in Voyage, Aslan doesn't come down to help the benighted humans -- the humans go up to him.

This is the mystical tradition in Christianity, the active reaching out towards God. Instead of needing divine assistance with their worldly affairs, the characters turn their backs on the world and directly pursue the sacred in abstract form. They're clawing their way back up the tree of life! (to steal someone else's metaphor). As they move further into the sacred, they become purified -- they have the peace and the far sight that comes with enlightenment. Note that as they become farther from land (i.e., less "grounded") they also become less bound to the material world, subsisting on energy rather than matter. To see other versions of this archetype, compare the ending of A Wizard of Earthsea, or the scenes in Lord of the Rings when the characters are living off lembas.

People familiar with the early psychedelics movement in the 1960s will recognize the clear white light!

The ending can be taken as a rejection of pure hermeticism. Caspian desperately wants to stay in the presence of the divine, but he is given the harder path of integrating his mystical experience with the real world, and working to help create the Kingdom of Heaven. Reepicheep gets to experience the final ascent, but he also dies*. Lewis definitely believed that we have a duty to others -- one which God wants us to fulfill, not shirk through ecstatic navel-gazing.

Of all the Narnia books, this one does the most to recognize the sacred in humanity. God is not something that comes down and saves us; it's something that is within us, something we can directly experience. This is a nice counterpoint to the other stories, which cast Aslan as a bit of a superhero.
* Maiessa points out that Repicheep doesn't so much die as he literally and physically enters Aslan's father's kingdom. I think the point is moot, since it is later confirmed that he has gone into the afterlife, and he's separated from the affairs of the living in the same way that dead people are. However, it is significant in that he does it willingly, and no one acts or feels as if he's died.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I’ve read the series over and over and never failed to enjoy it. So although I have some criticism, please remember that I still like them; reading the chronicles still makes me feel... fuzzy.

Even though Lewis never mentions a church or a god in all of the chronicles, they are clearly a Christian allegory; Narnia’s symbols correspond to those of Christian theology. Dragons represent sins; Aslan the lion is an approximation of Jesus. Similarly, Lewis never directly approaches political issues in the series, but Narnia contains many political and economic reflections. He does not address the issues very directly, but, especially in "The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’", they exist as huge undercurrents.

Take for example the ‘Lone Islands,’ specifically the colony of Doorn. It is a rather distant colony, which prompts Prince Caspian to remark “that no one here can have heard from Narnia for a long time. It’s just possible they may not still acknowledge our over-lordship.” (32). Indeed, a slave trade has appeared in the islands as a result of Narnia’s absence. Caspian finds this despicable. So, after a few gallant adventures with the children, he promptly reasserts Narnian authority and puts everything to right.

But, before accepting this simple case of a moral wrong suffering divine retribution and being put to moral right, the economic echo and theological ideas underlying the incident need to be examined.

The case of the Duffers provides a good example of how these ideas work in Narnia. The Duffers are a race of dwarves which are so incompetent that without the guidance of the magician Coriakin, who was sent by Aslan to govern them, they might not survive. The adventure at hand in "The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader'" follows the desire of the Duffers to be saved from the “uglifying spell” (118) that Coriakin placed on them. When asked why he placed the spell in the first place, the magician replied, “Well, they wouldn’t do as they were told. Their work is to mind the garden and raise food – not for me, as they imagine, but for themselves. They wouldn’t to it at all if I didn’t make them” (139).

The Duffers are incapable of even feeding themselves without guidance, a disability caused by their refusal to accept the authority and wisdom of Coriakin and, through him, Aslan. This corresponds to the Christian concept of original sin, that people are inherently and dramatically flawed, and can only find fulfillment through the moral perfection of the higher authority figure: God. This magician acts as a guide to the ignorant Duffers just as the Church acts as a guiding force to ignorant humanity. People are saved from the follies of evil just as the Duffers are saved from the follies of “planting boiled potatoes to save cooking them when they are dug up” (140).

In Narnia, the economic echo of this concept takes the form of colonialism. The conquering of an island is justified by that island's need for being conquered. Without the guidance, authority, and wisdom that Narnia provides, the island of Doorn is given over to its inherent incompetence and immorality. Like the Duffers mistreating their potatoes, Doorn without guidance falls into the corruption of a slave trade.

The economic echo of this belief in the real world can be seen in the IMF and the forcing of capitalism on other nations. Since followers of other political ideologies are simply too stupid or misguided to see the truth, it is the responsibility of the wiser nation to guide them, or, in the case of C.S. Lewis’s magician, to use “an uglifying spell” (118).

The violence involved in keeping such a colony subverted is also justified. Consider how Caspian casts out the corrupt ruler of Doorn. He "nodded to Bern and then stood aside. Bern and Drinian took a step forward and each seized one end of the table. They lifted it, and flung it on one side of the hall where it fell over, scattering a cascade of letters, dossiers, ink pots, pens, sealing wax and documents.” (45). Additionally, when a corrupt official failed to remove his hat, Bern shouted, “Uncover before Narnia, you dog,” ... and dealt him a rap from his gauntleted hand which sent his hat flying from his head.” (43).

This kind of blatant colonialism is supported and promoted by the allegory of Narnia. It is filled with such references as “we gave those troublesome giants on the frontier such a good beating last summer that they pay us tribute now” (15). This is shown, of course, through the logic of spiritual authority. Since it is Narnia’s responsibility to colonize and “guide” these small barbaric islands to the truth, violence and economic suppression are completely justified.

I mean, hey, it's better than communism right?

Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

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