Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter eleven. The Duffplepuds made happy.

Synopsis:  Lucy meets the Magician. Aslan leaves. Lucy sees the Duffers for the first time. The others meet the Magician. The Dawn Treader leaves the island.

Coriakin wears a ‘chaplet of oak leaves’. Chaplet is a medieval word for a garland worn on the head, which also appears in heraldry (for example in the Irish name O’Hara’s crest). It is also a type of prayer which uses prayer beads. A chaplet of oak is also known as a civic crown, which was worn in Roman times. It was a distinguished military decoration which entitled the wearer to a place in the senate.

Why is Coriakin’s house ‘the least’ of Aslan’s ‘houses’? Where are his other houses? What’s the hierarchy?

Coriakin talks about ‘rough magic’. These words are taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I’m not overly familiar with this particular play, but this link gives further detail:

Aslan tells Lucy that he calls ‘all times soon’. This fits in with Lewis’ discussion of God existing outside ‘time’ as we understand it. (He mentions this in Mere Christianity in order to try to explain how God could listen to multiple prayers at once.)

Coriakin reminds us of something we’ve known since LWW – Aslan is not a ‘tame lion’.

How does Coriakin know about British food? What else does he know about our world? Do other stars know these things?

Once my re-read of the Chronicles is complete, one of the other projects I’m hoping to begin is cooking and eating all the meals described in the books. The magician’s food here sounds like it would make a very pleasant lunch. The Magician only has bread and wine – is this a nod to Holy Communion?

The Magician’s instruments fall into two categories. Some are based on real things. An astrolabe is a navigational aid used in ancient and medieval times. An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system (they also feature in the Harry Potter films and books). A chronoscope is an instrument to precisely measure small intervals of time. The other instruments are slightly different. The theodolind sounds like a theodolite (a surveying instrmuent) but may be named after a Lombard Queen of the Sixth Century. A choriambus sounds like a real machine, but is in fact a type of Greek poetic meter, and David Downing suggests in his book ‘Into the Wardrobe’ that a poisemeter is another play on words, being a fictitious machine for measuring poetic rhythms. Lewis seems to have enjoyed putting this list together.

When I was young I found the Duffers hilarious, particularly when they were mistaken for large mushrooms by Lucy. Now I’m less amused by this section, but I suspect that’s just down to my age! Why did the Magician make them only have one leg? What was the purpose of it?

Monopods (literal meaning: one foot) are not inventions of Lewis himself. Also known as skiapods (shadow foot), these mythical humanoids have been described and discussed in literature from Ancient Greece and Rome (including Pliny). This continued into the Middle Ages, with references in works by St Augustine – who wondered whether they were descended from Adam – and in the Hereford Mappa Mundi. They were always said to live somewhere far away, such as India.

Only Reepicheep could address the cowardly and spectacularly idiotic Dufflepuds as ‘worthy and intelligent’.

The magic used to create the map of the voyage so far sounds beautiful. I would love a copy of that map! We are told it now hangs in the Chamber of Instruments at Cair Paravel. This raises two questions for me. Firstly, what other treasures and interesting items are in there? Secondly, when we are told that Caspian lives at Cair Paravel, exactly what does this mean? Last time we saw Cair Paravel it was a deserted, overgrown ruin on a small island. Has it been rebuilt? Is it still on the island? Or has a new castle been created nearby which is called Cair Paravel?

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter ten. The Magician’s Book.

Synopsis: The invisible people host dinner. The next day, Lucy goes upstairs and finds the Magician’s book. She reads various spells, including the one which makes hidden things visible. Aslan appears.

Once again, a full table of tempting food is described. The book itself was written when rationing was still in place in Britain (it continued until 1954) so Lewis must have really missed hearty meals like the one mentioned here.

It must have been odd for Edmund, watching his sister going upstairs into the unknown. I’m not sure that it is ever explained why Lucy has to be alone to do this. Why couldn’t someone go with her? Would the magic not work then?

Do items like the mirror, with the false beard and hair, actually exist? Is it based on something or did Lewis invent the idea?

I think the Magician’s library is the only one we visit in the Chronicles. The room, and the long, quiet corridor with the magical room at the very end, remind me of Little Lea, Lewis’ childhood home, with the shelves full of books and the ‘little end room’. (This place and its significance in Lewis’ childhood and his imagination is discussed in ‘Surprised by Joy’ and in A. N. Wilson’s excellent biography.)

We learn that the Chief has no idea about searching for information in a book – again, a lack of knowledge of books and reading is shown as a real flaw.

For someone like me who loves books (and can’t seem to stop buying them) the Magician’s book sounds wonderful. It is a work of art, hand crafted and made with care. It even smells good. Of all the magical items in the stories, this is probably the one I’d most want to have – although Lucy’s diamond cordial bottle would come a close second.

The book includes a cure for warts: washing hands in a silver basin by moonlight. This cure was not invented by Lewis. Traditional wart ‘cures’ often involved moonlight or a specific phase of the moon. Romantic poet Robert Southey refers specifically to moonlight and a silver basin in his work ‘The Doctor’.

Very useful spells are contained elsewhere in the book – particularly those to help you either remember or forget things. Giving someone a donkey head would be less practical. (How many children have read this reference to ‘poor Bottom’ with absolutely no idea that it refers to Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’?)

Lucy’s temptation – the spell to make someone ‘beautiful beyond the lot of mortals’ – follows the pattern of different characters being tested in different places throughout the journey, rather than facing an external enemy. We see Lucy’s insecurities laid bare. She sees a vision where she is the cause of war because of her beauty (in similar fashion to Helen of Troy’s face ‘launching a thousand ships’) but the main thing that seems to appeal to her is that Susan would no longer be seen as the ‘beauty’ of the family.

The ‘spell for the refreshment of the spirit’ in the book is described as being the most wonderful story Lucy has ever read. The only fragments she can remember are a cup, a sword a tree and a green hill. When I was younger I thought it might be an adventure story. However, I have since been made aware of the Christian symbolism this could represent instead. (Colbert discusses this in ‘The Magical Worlds of Narnia’.) The cup is the holy grail, the tree is the cross, the sword pierces Christ’s side and the green hill is Calvary. Lewis believed that the story of the resurrection was the ‘one true myth’ which all other stories predicted or echoed. This idea sits comfortably with Lucy’s reaction to the story. After all, ‘what Lucy means by a good story is a story which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book’. Afterwards, Aslan promises to tell Lucy this ‘story of stories’ for ‘years and years’.

At this point I have to mention Laura Miller’s excellent book, which is actually named after this chapter, ‘The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia’. She is a literary critic who explains in the book how her early love of and immersion in the Narnian world informed her future relationship with all other books, just as the spell informed Lucy’s future understanding of stories.  It is a very readable book, and, along with Lev Grossman’s Magician series, gave me more strongly than anything else I’ve encountered the sense that other people somewhere in the world felt about Narnia the way that I did. I found this thought comforting in some way. Miller articulated things I had felt about Narnia in ways I hadn’t been able to.

I love that Lucy’s joy at seeing Aslan transforms her so that she is utterly beautiful.

Does Aslan insisting that he must follow his own rules relate to the idea of God becoming physically human?

We are reminded of something Aslan has mentioned in other books – we can never know what would have happened, just as we are never told other people’s stories.

The Magician’s Book sees key ideas of the Chronicles converge: Christian religious symbolism, the moral choices of the individual, the joy and wonder of reading, medievalism, quests, Aslan. It is a memorable passage which remains with the reader.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter nine. The Island of the Voices.

Synopsis:  The Dawn Treader lands at a new island. They find a house and garden. Lucy overhears some invisible people talking. She warns the others. They are then threatened by the invisible people, who insist that Lucy finds the Magician’s book and reverses the invisibility spell which has been cast on them.

In Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’, he proposes the theory that every book in the Narniad relates to a different planet or star, with the Voyage of the Dawn Treader corresponding with the sun. When you read the book with this in mind, his point seems convincing. The idea and language of sun and light are referred to throughout, as at the start of this chapter.

It seems strange that such an ‘English’ place (in appearance, anyway) should be found in such a remote location. But throughout the Chronicles, Lewis adds very ‘British’ (or Irish) details and images to his Narnian world: tricks of speech, plants and animals and so forth. This is most unlike Tolkien’s meticulous world-building, where the climate, flora and fauna of Middle Earth were carefully designed to give a coherent natural world. (See also references to this in earlier posts on LWW.) Lewis tended to make use of familiar scenes and ideas unless he had a reason to create something new to serve a narrative or symbolic purpose.

I think – although it is hard to remember with absolute clarity – that when I was a child I found the Chief and his followers funny. As an adult, I found their (intended) lack of intelligence, and constant repetition of obvious statements, somewhat wearing. Why this has changed I don’t know.

Why is the island so still and quiet? Even if all life there had been made invisible, it would still make a noise. Or are there no birds, insects etc.? And if not, why not?

We are shown that Eustace is not completely different from the ‘old’ Eustace; here he thinks he sees some machinery, and expresses his relief at coming to a ‘civilised country at last’.

Peter is the only Pevensie whose first name is never shortened. Maybe high kings don’t like nick-names.

Here, Caspian refers to the invisible, unknown enemy as ‘gentry’. This term is one of many traditionally used to refer to the ‘fairie folk’, in order to avoid insulting them. The power in names and naming is a very old idea, more recently written about in Rowling’s Harry Potter series, where Voldemort’s name is shown as having a power of its own. For a brilliant, detailed and very funny take on this subject, I recommend Terry Pratchett’s ‘Lords and Ladies’. (The title is another euphemistic name for the ‘folk’.) It explores the power of names and words throughout.

Another favourite Reepicheep line is in this chapter: ‘If it is anything against her Majesty’s honour or safety … you will wonder to see how many we can kill before we die.’

The chief’s inability to tell a story ‘straight’, or to explain anything clearly or succinctly, is presented as a real fault, just as it was when Eustace couldn’t tell a story in Chapter Seven. (See previous post on this chapter.)

I can’t find any particular reason why the Chief’s daughter is called Clipsie.

Reepicheep’s support for Lucy’s idea shows that he isn’t just about fighting and glory. He really is a chivalrous knight – a lady’s safety  and honour must be prioritised over all else.

Lucy is less afraid of the invisible people than the others. Is this because she is more intuitive, or more trusting, or for some other reason?

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter eight. Two narrow escapes.

Synopsis: The Dawn Treader leaves Dragon Island. It visits Burnt Island. It is attacked by a sea serpent. The crew come to an island. They discover the remains of a Narnian lord, next to a stream which turns any item which touches the water into gold. They argue, then return to the ship.

Burnt Island shows signs of recent habitation, but we never discover who it was who lived there.

Reepicheep finds a coracle. As so often happened with the Narniad, I learned what this word meant solely from reading these stories, and didn’t encounter it in a different context for years.

Edmund, in a bad mood, says he wishes he’d visited America instead of Narnia. We are reminded of his similarities to Eustace, as this is much more like something Eustace would have said earlier in the journey.

I’d forgotten about the sea serpent until my re-read, but encounters with mysterious sea creatures are generally features of sea voyage stories. In Lewis’ beloved Norse myths, a sea serpent encircles Midgard. They feature in the works of Virgil and Aristotle. A sea serpent is mentioned in the Bible.  In later stories, Saint Olaf was said to have killed one.

The arrows glancing off the serpent’s side remind me of Smaug the dragon being impervious to the arrows of bowmen in Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’.

Lucy is the only one to see the sea serpent’s face as they leave it behind. She is often privy to sights, or signs from Aslan, which others are not.

Lewis mentions tiresome drivers who don’t listen to directions. Lewis never passed his driving test, so would have plenty of experience being the passenger.

We discover that Narnian currency includes ‘lions’ and ‘trees’. As befits Narnia, the coins are named after natural things. It’s good to see familiar names such as Beruna and Beaversdam mentioned in passing, as little nods to the earlier books.

Once again, reading fiction comes to the character’s rescue. Edmund’s familiarity with detective stories helps him to piece clues together about the fate of the man whose armour and sword they have found.

I wonder what happened to the golden sprig of heather. It sounds so beautiful. Did it survive as a souvenir, or did Caspian not show it to anyone in case they were tempted to visit the island themselves? The text doesn’t mention the story of King Midas but it does spring to mind when you read about items being magically turned into gold, with unpleasant consequences. Interestingly, this story features in Ovid’s metamorphoses (Eustace undergoes a metamorphosis of his own in a previous chapter) along with Silenus, who appears elsewhere in the Chronicles of Narnia. (See earlier post on PC chapter 11.)

What is the strange enchantment which causes them all to start arguing? Are such things naturally occurring in the Narnian world, or would they be spells cast by someone or something? (I don’t think I even realised fully that this was an enchantment when I first read the book, and wondered why everyone was so uncharacteristically grumpy all of a sudden.)

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter seven. How the adventure ended.

Synopsis: The others realise that the dragon is Eustace. Eustace’s personality begins to change and he tries to be helpful. The others are concerned about what will happen to him when they set sail. Edmund wakes one morning to find Eustace has been restored to human form. Eustace explains that Aslan did this.

I wondered if the hammer and star symbol of Lord Octesian’s house reflected a real-world symbol of some sort. However, the only symbol I could find which used a star and hammer was the flag of the Soviet Union. I’m certain that Lewis did not find inspiration in this, as his political views are well known, and certainly not pro-Communism!

Again we are told that Eustace is hindered by having never read the ‘right books’. (See previous post on VDT chapter 6.) This time it means that he is unable to tell his story clearly- a skill which Lewis naturally prized.

I can’t help but love dragon-Eustace. After being hilariously odious for six chapters, his transformation into someone the reader can actually like is quite rapid. I think, were he just to have become a ‘nice’ human, it would have been harder to warm to him. But his vulnerability (despite being physically intimidating) and attempts to help are very touching, particularly when, ‘flying slowly and wearily but in great triumph, he bore back to camp a great tall pine tree…which could be made into a capital mast’. And who wouldn’t enjoy warming themselves on a chilly beach by resting against a dragon’s side?

The description of Eustace being ‘afraid to be alone with himself and yet… ashamed to be with the others’ describes his misery in a way which I feel could just as easily be used to describe emotions felt by some people experiencing depression.

Reepicheep comforts Eustace with tales of ‘Fortune’s wheel’. Also known as ‘rota fortunae’, Fortune’s wheel is a concept which appears in ancient and medieval philosophy. It demonstrates how fate is random, and people can experience great fortune – or misfortune – at any time. The image of a wheel is linked to the zodiac, which was believed to govern the fortunes of people on Earth. This image would have appealed to Lewis. This is partly due to his interest in the medieval view of the ‘heavens’ and what the ‘celestial spheres’ were in both reality and in symbolism. (This is of course the major focus of Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’.) It would also have appealed due to its popularity in medieval literature as an allegory – a subject which Lewis wrote about extensively, notably in his book, ‘The Allegory of Love’.

Eustace’s shame at his past behaviour eats away at him, just as the bracelet pains him physically. His outside and inside again reflect each other.

Edmund is, of course, the perfect person for Eustace to relate his ‘un-dragoning’ to. We are told about it by Eustace himself, not the narrator. We know immediately, from his geniune laughter and his disregard for the gold, that this Eustace is very different to his former self.

Eustace explains that Aslan took him to a mountaintop with a garden and well. Is this Aslan’s country? Is it the same place Eustace and Jill visit in The Silver Chair? Or somewhere else entirely?

The symbolism of Eustace being thrown into water and emerging as a new, improved person is clearly intended as a reflection of baptism. I know this now, but when young I simply believed that Aslan had a magic well – why wouldn’t he? Reading about Eustace shedding the layers and layers of scaly skin is somehow very satisfying. His years of selfishness have generated many layers which need to be removed. He can start this, but only Aslan can complete it – again this reflects the Christian view that God’s help is required to truly transform yourself.

Eustace admits hating the sound of Aslan’s name until this point – just as Edmund did in LWW. Here, Edmund tells Eustace how much worse he was on his first visit to Narnia. Edmund always ranked highly in my childhood lists of favourite Narnian characters, and I think this was partly due to the fact that he hadn’t always been ‘good’ – just like I hadn’t.

‘Who is Aslan? Do you know him?’ Eustace asks. ‘Well – he knows me.’ Lines like this totally passed my by as a child, but now when I read this book I find the Christian symbolism very clear – more so than in LWW and Prince Caspian.

Again the ‘last bright star’ of the morning is mentioned. (See earlier post on LWW chapter 15 for a discussion of its possible symbolism.)

I’m so pleased that Eustace still has ‘relapses’ into his old ways  – he is much more human for doing so.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter six. The adventures of Eustace.

Synopsis: Eustace watches a dragon die. He falls asleep on its hoard. He awakes to find he has become a dragon himself. He makes his way to the others.

This chapter stands out in my memory particularly clearly. I’m sure this will be the case for other readers too.

Are there wines in our world which are so strong they have to be watered down?

Here, Lewis restates on more than one occasion his belief that reading the ‘right sort’ of books is important in knowing how to deal with problems in reality. Eustace must have been raised in an entirely fiction-free world to be completely ignorant of the existence and appearance of dragons. (I suppose, with Harold and Alberta as parents, this is not impossible!) In Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he describes his childhood home as being filled with books, which he read voraciously. I imagine that he would have found the idea of someone never experiencing the thrill of a good story quite alien. He formed friendships throughout his life with others who shared his passion for myths, stories, fantasy and language. His work was based on reading and analysing the written word. C. S. Lewis without books is not C. S. Lewis. This is made plainer by the narrator in this story than in any other Narnian tale.

The dragon’s death is quite an unpleasant scene, and the valley in which it takes place echoes this mood, with its ‘grim peaks and horns’.

Reepicheep shows his unwavering courtly manners when Rhince makes a joke at Eustace’s expense. Despite having been insulted – and swung around – by the boy, Reepicheep upbraids Rhince.

There is something satisfying to the reader about knowing, before Eustace himself does, that he has become a dragon. I did assume, after reading this chapter as a child, that that was exactly what would happen to anyone who was foolish enough to sleep on a dragon’s hoard. His outward appearance had come to match his character. A dragon sleeping on its hoard is a central image in Tolkien’s the Hobbit, which Lewis had read – and enjoyed – some years before he began the Chronicles. There is also an Icelandic myth which tells of Fafnir falling asleep on a golden hoard and waking as a dragon. Fafnir has a magic ring, rather than a bracelet, and his story ends less happily than Eustace’s, but the similarity is there. Wagner features this tale in the Ring Cycle, where Seigfried is shown to kill Fafnir. (Lewis loved Wagner, with its ‘Northern-ness’, and references it in his writing.)

I like the fact that Eustace eats the other dragon. It isn’t a necessary detail, but it really stayed with me after reading for some reason.

When facing the dragon, Lewis says that, ‘Everyone felt fonder of everyone else than at ordinary times’. Maybe he had experienced a similar emotion during his wartime experiences.

Lucy mentions ‘Androcles and the Lion’. This folk tale is hundreds of years old, and is sometimes attributed to Aesop. A lion with a thorn in its paw is an image which Lewis also uses in The Silver Chair. There is also the association with Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter five. The storm and what came of it.

A storm hits the ship. We see Eustace’s diary again. After the storm, the Dawn Treader  stops on an unknown island to repair and restock. Eustace sneaks away from the others.

Lucy is, at this point, thoroughly enjoying herself. This is quite a different situation to the majority of previous books in the Narniad. The visit feels less fraught and urgent than the children’s desperate attempts to meet with Prince Caspian, or their race to get to Aslan before Jadis catches them. The journey generally feels more leisurely, with frequent stops of days or weeks mentioned. Of course, there is also the lack of a specific, defined ‘enemy’ such as Miraz or Jadis. The things that the children must face on this adventure are their own faults and mistakes, more than external enemies. This fits with the religious theme of the story.

The description of a sea which was a ‘drab or yellowish colour like dirty canvas’ brings back memories of my childhood growing on the British coasts.

When Lewis writes about the practicalities of life on a ship, I wonder where he took inspiration. Did he have any real life experience or was his information learned from other books? I know he didn’t travel extensively (he left the British isles only during the war, and once more on a holiday to Greece later in life) but I don’t know if he spent much time on the water. I’ve only thought about this recently – until then I took for granted the narrator’s expertise on everything discussed.

I longed to be on the Dawn Treader as a young reader, but now I’m reading as an adult, the practicalities seem less appealing. Trying desperately not to be washed overboard while the ship is tossed on massive waves, far from land, would be terrifying. This never put me off as a child, but it would make me think twice now.

I’m always delighted to reach Eustace’s diary entries.. They are so clever. His use of italics to be sarcastic in a diary which nobody was supposed to read is so very ‘Eustace-ish’. And his phrase ‘fiends in human form’ particularly appealed to me when young, although I have no idea why. It still makes me laugh now.

Eustace’s complaint about the others’ ‘wishful thinking’ is Lewis again showing us his opinion on spiritual matters. He knows that people often argue that belief in God is wishful thinking. Here he wants to suggest that it is actually hope, and better than the alternative. His build-up to trying to sneak extra water rations is a perfect example of the self-justification Lewis discussed elsewhere, for example in the Great Divorce. Nobody reading it is left in the slightest doubt about Eustace and the others’ true actions and intentions.Lewis returns to this idea again and again throughout the Chronicles. He shows in his writing how cleverly we can try to deceive ourselves and others. I’ve certainly felt a pang of recognition in such passages!

Eustace is clearly intelligent, but puts his intelligence to poor use: sneaking away without being noticed in order to avoid work.

Just as in Prince Caspian, the ‘air’ of the Narnian world is shown to be beneficial to visitors from our world. Eustace is becoming stronger and fitter. (See also the discussion of this, in posts on PC.)

Eustace begins his ‘transformation’ in a small way, even before the events in the next chapter. He feels lonely. This most un-Eustace-ish sentiment is a little foreshadowing of what is to come.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter four. What Caspian did there.

Caspian and Bern arrive in Narrowhaven. They meet Gumpas, and replace him with Bern. They save the others from the slavers.

Bern’s plan is a clever one. Human nature can be relied upon – if there is a commotion, with cheering, ringing bells and a parade of ‘handsome’ soldiers, with royalty among them, then people can be guaranteed to stop what they are doing and come to watch. Many will also join in, even if they aren’t fully aware of what is going on. (I was surprised to read that Drinian was handsome. For some reason, in my head, he was more of a grizzled old sea-dog than a Narnian dreamboat.)

Governor Gumpas reminds me of the film version of the Master of Laketown, from Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. Both are officious, corrupt, greedy men who lose their position upon the return of a rightful ruler. The word ‘gump’ is an old-fashioned term for a foolish or stupid person.

Here, as in other places in the Narniad, courtly, medieval sounding speech coexists with some sort of faux cockney slang speech. ‘Uncover before Narnia, you dog,’ is given the reply: ”Ere? Wot’s it all about?’ I’m not sure that I noticed this when young, but now I find it a little incongruous. I think I’d prefer it without the faux cockney touches. Maybe this is because in my head, Narnia is a consistently medieval place, with all that that entails in terms of social structure, language and culture. (I suppose it could be argued that King Frank and Queen Helen introduced such speech at the beginning of the world itself, but it still doesn’t fully work for me.)

Lewis doesn’t seem to worry about using words which younger readers may not understand, such as postern, bilious and ingratiating. I’ve been surprised at some words when I’ve encountered them on the re-read. I must have skimmed past them as a child, without worrying about understanding them.

Lewis portrays monarchy as the ideal system in the Narniad. Kings and Queens are the right, and rightful, rulers for a country. Narnia is not a democracy. People govern because of their title, not their ability. The removal of Governor Gumpas and his replacement with a Duke, appointed by a King, is portrayed as the best possible solution to the problems in the Lone Islands. The Chronicles often show people ‘knowing their place’ or filling particular roles. I intend to devote a full post to this subject once the re-read is complete.

Bern and Drinian overturn Gumpas’ table, perhaps in an echo of the Bible story of the moneylenders’ tables being overturned in the Temple. The corruption of the Lone Islands is to be cleansed, as the Temple was.

Caspian speaks here words which perfectly reflect the author’s view of the world. When asked, ‘Have you no idea of progress, of development?’ he replies, “I have seen them both in an egg… We call it ‘going bad’ in Narnia.’ In other works such Lewis warns against progress for progress’ sake, and rails against the idea that old things and ideas automatically have less worth than their modern equivalents.

We are given our first view of Calormen and its inhabitants in this book. We learn that the currency is Crescents (with forty Minims to a Crescent). The portrayal of the Calormenes themselves is probably the most contentious and problematic aspect of the Chronicles. It warrants a dedicated post so I will attempt to do that once the re-read is finished, rather than discussing it here.

The tales told by sailors of ‘islands inhabited by headless men, floating islands, waterspouts, and a fire that burned along the water,’ are reminiscent of medieval cartography, and the travel tales of people such as Joh Mandeville. Travellers told of islands inhabited by dog-headed people, people with no heads but faces on their torsos and other strange creatures. Islands with unique inhabitants remained popular in all kinds of stories, with modern tales such as The Island of Dr Moreau continuing the tradition.

Bern forsees war with Calormen over the closing of the slave market, but we never learn if this actually happens or not.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter three. The Lone Islands.

The Dawn Treader reaches the Lone Islands. Caspian, Reepicheep and the children are captured by slavers. Caspian is bought by the Lord Bern. They make plans.

Rhince and Drinian are both really likeable characters, with a humourous side which is evident through their speech.

Lewis tells us that if he ever hears how the Lone Islands came to belong to Narnia, he’ll put it in another book. This never happened, but Lewis positively encouraged readers to fill in the gaps in Narnian history, so maybe someone somewhere has. Jadis styled herself ‘Empress of the Lone Islands’ in LWW, so they have been part of Narnia for many years.

Avra means ‘breeze’ in Greek, which may be the reason for Lewis choosing that name for a wild, windswept place. I can’t find any meaningful origin for Felimath or Doorn. (Doorn is Dutch for ‘thorn’ and the name of a town, but I imagine this is just coincidence.)

As is so often the case throughout the Chronicles, we are given a taste of the wistful bittersweetness that meant so much to Lewis in his experience of ‘sehnsucht’. (See earlier posts on LWW and PC.) Lucy describes a ‘nice kind of loneliness’ when remembering Felimath.

When Eustace boasts that ships in his world are so large ‘you wouldn’t know you were at sea,’ Caspian retorts with the excellent point that, ‘In that case you might just as well stay ashore’. Again it is clear where Lewis’ preferences lie.

Before beginning my Narniad re-read, I really believed that every part of every story was so familiar I remembered all the scenes in the books. However, when I came to this point, I realised I had completely forgotten the entire slaver story. Maybe this is because I didn’t particularly enjoy it (although Reepicheep’s reaction is – unsurprisingly – very readable).

Pug the slaver’s name brings various things to mind: pugnacious (argumentative), pugilist (boxer) and pug dogs.

Katherine Paterson’s popular story ‘Bridge to Terebithia’ owes its name to the Narnian island of Terebinthia;  the author subconsciously used the name and only realised later where she had got it from.

Like other characters from Narnia, Pug dresses up his evil actions by giving justifications and pretty words. Lewis doesn’t allow the reader to be swayed by this, as Lord Bern speaks against him, and his treatment of characters we know and respect such as Lucy and Reepicheep demonstrate his real character.

I’d love to know what Reepicheep said to the slaver as he was being carried. It must be worse than ‘poltroon’ at the very least.

We see how much Caspian has changed since the last book. He is able to speak in a kingly fashion. He is prepared for combat if necessary. He takes counsel from those who are wise, such as Bern, but is not afraid to lead and act. He is not yet the ‘finished article’, but none of the others, with the possible exception of Reepicheep, are either. We see their faults and flaws throughout the story, but know that they are trying to do right. This fits with the story’s religious themes – the quest for God, the religious life, becoming a better person.

Why doesn’t Bern tell Caspian his plans for the next day? It seems strange for him not to do so.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter two. On board the Dawn Treader.

Caspian and the Pevensies catch up. He explains the reasons for the voyage and shows them over the ship. Edmund is seasick and complains. We are shown an extract from his diary. Eustace and Reepicheep have a disagreement.

Here we learn of the seven lords Caspian is seeking. Argoz’ name reminds the reader of the famous mythical ship, the Argos (as in Jason and the Argonauts) but so far I’ve not been able to identify a particular reason for the other lords’ names.

Reepicheep shares the rhyme which was said to him as an infant. We’ve seen prophesies in rhyme before, in LWW, and they all came true. This suggests Reepicheep may well be successful in finding the utter east of the world. (Flat worlds such as this one, and Pratchett’s Discworld, which have a physical ‘end’, have always been appealing.)

Caspian rejected a potential bride due to her squint and freckles. This has been discussed as an example of Lewis’ attitude to women. This topic warrants its own post, which I’ll be writing once my re-read is finished.

We are given tantalising glimpses of the islands already visited: jousting and tournaments on Galma, escaping pirates near the Seven Isles. As an Irishman who also lived in England, Lewis was raised and lived on islands. A famous Irish saint, St Brendan, also probably influenced this story. Brendan the Navigator (Caspian would go on to be known as Caspian the Navigator) was known for completing a legendary quest, where he set sail in search of the Garden of Eden, or Isle of Paradise. On his travels he encountered strange islands, drinks which sent you to sleep and sea monsters. All of these sound familiar to Narnia readers.

Again I am reminded of how much I coveted Lucy’s diamond cordial bottle.

Lev Grossman’s ‘The Magician King’, which is heavily influenced by VDT (Grossman is a lifelong Narnia fan, and the Magicians trilogy is based around a world called Fillory, which any reader will recognise as a reflection of Narnia. The description of hams and onions hanging from the roof below deck reminded me of Abigail the Sloth in The Magician King.

In my childish imagination, the Dawn Treader seemed quite large, but on re-reading as an adult, I was aware of how compact it is.

Eustace once again demonstrates his general odiousness with his complaints and demands, and his habit of repeating ideas he has heard from his parents which he doesn’t fully understand.

The Scrubbs are from Cambridge. Lewis, of course, worked in both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

The design of the ship delighted me as a young reader. It still does. A favourite touch is the ability to man the lookout post by staring through the dragon’s head.

The ships of Narnia’s Golden Age are mentioned: oak-built cogs (used for trade and warfare); dromonds (these also feature in G.R.R. Martin’s Westeros world); carracks (sailing ships with three masts) and galleons (also generally three-masted.

One of the passages which immediately come to mind when I think of this book is: ‘She was a beauty of her kind, a “lady” as sailors say, her lines perfect, her colours pure,and every spar and rope a pin lovingly made.’ This made me absolutely sure that if I ever had to choose a Narnian ship, mine would be like the Dawn Treader, not some huge galleon. We are invited to compare this beautiful ship, hand-crafted from natural materials, with Eustace’s preferred liners and submarines. As ever, Lewis prefers the old-fashioned option.

Lucy is described as ‘almost too happy to speak’. This specific sensation occurs at other times throughout the Chronicles, fitting with the idea that solemnity and joy are not mutually exclusive, and that emotions we don’t always ‘put together’, such as fear and happiness, can co-exist.

Eustace’s diary is one of the most amusing sections of any of the Chronicles. Even young readers instinctively understand the unreliability of Eustace as a narrator and see through his excuses and lies to the truth of the events described. Lewis wrote elsewhere about how people deceive themselves in order to justify their actions – notably in The Screwtape Letters – and this is the perfect illustration of how it happens. It is also very funny. His disgust at the ship, its crew and everything around him only makes them sound more wonderful and Eustace more ridiculous and spoiled.

Of course Eustace, the spiteful, self-centred beetle collector would be the sort of boy who hurt animals. It is most satisfying to see the animal fight back on this occasion, especially as he calls Eustace a ‘poltroon’, a word which is woefully underused. Mouse or not, had they really had a duel, the sensible money would have been on Reepicheep.



Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter one. The picture in the bedroom.

Synopsis:  Edmund and Lucy are staying with their unpleasant cousin, Eustace. They are drawn into Narnia through a magical painting of a ship. When they are brought aboard it, they are reunited with Caspian and Reepicheep.

This book starts really  well for me. I love a map (especially a fictional one) and here we are given one for the first part of the journey. Next, we are given one of my very favourite Pauline Baynes illustrations: a cutaway diagram of the Dawn Treader itself. I like this image just as much now as I did when I first saw it. (Although I can now look at the label for the ‘poop deck’ without laughing.) The map and diagram make the book feel immediately more real. As if all this wasn’t enough, the story itself begins with (in my opinion, anyway) one of the best ever opening lines of a novel. For me, it’s up there with Orwell’s 1984, Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.’  Its wit reminds me of Wilde. Lewis knew about unfortunate names – he himself refused from a young age to be called by his own name (Clive Staples Lewis) and instead referred to himself as Jack. His family came to do the same.

Lewis sets his stall out quite clearly here on the subject of ‘modern’ life. We are left in no doubt as to his opinion on vegetarianism, tee-totallers and non-smokers etc., as he introduces Harold and Alberta. We never meet them, but hear about them via the narrator and Eustace himself, and it is suggested to us that their ‘modern’ ideas are foolish. Lewis was of course self-consciously old-fashioned, and enjoyed smoking and drinking among other things. To the 21st Century reader, however, making fun of people for these things feels strange – especially in a children’s book.

I always wondered what the special underclothes were.

We are shown what sort of child Eustace is through his approach to nature – he likes animals which are dead and collectible. This doesn’t bode well. We also see that he reads non-fiction books. Throughout the Chronicles Lewis repeatedly highlights the usefulness of reading the ‘right sort’ of books (i.e. fantasy and adventure). These are shown as preparing visitors to Narnia for what they encounter there. Eustace is not prepared at all.

A rare mention is made of the Pevensie parents here. We discover that the father’s job involves lecturing.

Peter’s summer of studying, living with Professor Kirke, is of course an echo of Lewis’ own time living and studying with ‘the old knock’, Kirkpatrick. (See also posts on LWW.)

I remember feeling sad that Kirke had lost the old house, with all its secrets and mysteries.

Susan is dismissed as being ‘no good at school work’ and we are told that she is old for her age. (This is not intended as a compliment.) She is also the ‘pretty one of the family’. Which discourteous relative said this in front of the children?

Lewis mentions the fact that many people have their own country, but Lucy and Edmund’s conutry is of course real. For me, and for lots of other children, Narnia was our own special country too. Never actually getting there made no difference to this.

Something I always wondered was how a picture of a real Narnian ship – in a scene which actually happened – came to be given as a wedding present to the Scrubbs. Was it sent there magically by Aslan? Who painted it?

Lewis writes about Eustace with the same dry wit he employs in The Screwtape Letters. Everything he does shows us how unpleasant he is: he listens at doors, he bullies, he teases, he shows off, he outstays his welcome…

Edmund avoids discussing assonances and ‘Art’  – both things which Lewis could and did discuss in his own work.

When Eustace insults the painting, Edmund’s response is perfect: ‘You won’t see it if you step outside.’ (In certain corners of the internet, much is made of ‘sassy Edmund’.)

As ever, Lewis brings to life a scene through different senses: the wind whips Lucy’s hair about her face, she smells the briny sea. Lewis acknowledges the unlikely, surprising nature of the painting coming to life, then sidesteps it by explaining that this reaction was the same for the characters it was actually happening to.

Eustace complains bitterly about being in the Narnian world – the very thing most readers wish they were. His behaviour from the outset is rude, immature and self-centred. We see this, but also see the other characters tolerating it and being reasonable. Caspian simply chuckles as his hospitality is insulted.

Lewis tells us he hopes that King Arthur returns to England, as the legend tells us he will. Of course, Lewis loved Arthurian legends.

Who wouldn’t enjoy a steaming flagon of spiced wine after being unexpectedly drenched? Eustace of course.

I must confess to stealing Reepicheep’s mention of someone being ‘singularly discourteous’. I’ve shoe-horned that phrase into many (work-based) conversations.

‘To the convenience of a lady, even a question of honour must give way,’ Reepicheep announces. His manners, as ever, are impeccable.

Lucy falls in love with the cabin – as do we when it is described to us. Like most places we are shown in the Chronicles which we are intended to think of positively, it is ‘cosy’ and welcoming.


Narnia Re-read. Finishing Prince Caspian.

As a child, Prince Caspian was probably my favourite Narnia story. I absolutely loved it. So I was really looking forward to the re-read. What I actually found was not quite what I expected.

When I re-read LWW I felt that my reactions throughout the story were broadly in line with those of young me, and my response to the story was positive all the way through. In Prince Caspian I found that different sections left different impressions upon me.

I really enjoyed the first section. Reuniting with the Pevensies was of course like greeting old friends. The strangeness and sadness running through their discovery of where – and when – they are, meant that the story and language drew me in as strongly as ever. There is a sense of things going wrong, the idea that things don’t happen the same way twice. The older I get, the more I appreciate the futility of trying to recapture times past. Nothing is unchanging. Good things end. It’s part of life. (Although I suppose that Lewis’ religious beliefs meant that he expected heaven to be a place where this not longer applies, and good things are eternal.)

Discovering Old Narnia through Caspian and Doctor Cornelius was again a pleasantly Proustian rush. Doctor Cornelius’ “Am I?…Am I?…Am I?”, the charming Bulgy Bears, valiant Reepicheep were all as much fun as ever.

The children’s travels through Narnia in an attempt to meet Caspian were more mixed for me.The dreamy, MacDonald-inspired sections were beautifully written and, as their popularity attests, highly memorable. However, I did find myself feeling sorry for ‘wet blanket’ Susan in a way I never did as a child. I just wanted her to get to do or say something worthy of the huntress Queen of Narnia. She seemed to attract the narrator’s scorn as well as that of her siblings. It didn’t feel fair.

I also found that I had more questions about Aslan’s actions here than I had done years ago. I never questioned Aslan as a child – he was always right, wasn’t he? But why  did he not just meet with the children this time? Why the strange midnight conversations? Why only appear sometimes, to some people? Why throw a dwarf in the air? Why dance around the countryside, handing out instant justice? The second part of chapter fourteen, where the girls are with Aslan, Bacchus et al, I really didn’t enjoy. (Young me would never have believed I would say that about any part of the Chronicles. Part of me, even now, feels somehow disloyal in doing so.)

I have seen the accusation levelled at Prince Caspian that it is simply a re-tread of LWW: children enter Narnia, team up with magical creatures, struggle through a difficult journey to a final battle with a usurping enemy. Looking at the baldest interpretation of the plotlines this seems reasonable. However, this book never felt like LWW. It is darker, sadder and older. Which is probably why I (sentimental, melancholy and slightly melodramatic  at times) loved it so much. And still do. For me, there’s no more Narnian-feeling passage in the Chronicles than Chapter ten’s encounter between Lucy and Aslan, or one which has made me wish more that I was in Narnia.