Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter sixteen. The very End of the World.

Synopsis: Lucy sees a sea-girl. The ship sails through part of the sea which is covered with lilies. Caspian says he will abdicate and continue to the world’s end, but is persuaded not to. Reepicheep, Eustace, Edmund and Lucy leave the ship in a small boat and sail onwards through the Last Sea, They reach a wave at the world’s end, which Reepicheep sails over in his coracle. The children leave the boat and walk across land, where they meet Aslan, who returns them to their world.

The passage where Lucy sees the sea-girl is totally superfluous to the book’s plot. It doesn’t tell us anything we need to know. But I always loved it. Lewis must have too, to have written it.  It doesn’t seem to have a specific religious or spiritual subtext. Lucy observes the mer-world, trying to work out how it works. For a fleeting moment, she finds herself face to face with a Sea Girl around the same age as her. In that moment, without communicating, the girls become friends. Lewis viewed friendship as one of life’s great joys. He wrote about it at length in ‘The Four Loves’. We are told here that if Lucy ever sees the girl again they will rush towards each other. Maybe it’s just the quality of the prose, but I always found this to be a memorable, moving passage. When I read ‘The Last Battle’ one of the thoughts which its ending prompted was, ‘I hope they meet again!’

As they near the edge of the world, the crew are in a dreamlike state of ‘wonder’ and quiet excitement, prompted by the light, the calm and the sweet water. Older sailors grow younger. Flexibility in age is mentioned a few times in the Chronicles. Jadis doesn’t age. For different reasons, neither does Aslan. In Aslan’s Country, age is impossible to tell.  The Pevensies become adults and then revert to childhood. Lewis warns of the folly of being either too grown up or too childish. Did the sailors ‘re-age’ upon their return? Or did their older wives and children get a surprise?

Lilies, especially white ones, carry various associations. They represent purity and innocence. They are a symbol of the Virgin Mary, and sometimes of Jesus. They also represent rebirth, due to their flowering in spring from a seemingly-lifeless bulb.

Just as sounds often trigger powerful emotions in the Narniad,  smells do too. Here, the lilies smell sweet, fresh, wild and lonely, and the scent affects Lucy emotionally. She loves it, but it is so intense she almost can’t bear it.

Caspian tries to abdicate in order to sail to the world’s end. I wonder what Lewis made of the real abdication of the British monarch in December 1936. I imagine he was unimpressed with the King’s desertion of duty. Edmund mentions Ulysses being bound to the mast of his ship in order to hear the sirens without succumbing to them. (Naturally, Lewis had read the Odyssey in its original language.) However, Ulysses was bound voluntarily. We are reminded of Caspian’s youth as opposition to his abdication leads to a teenage-style ‘strop’. He reappears, tearful, after being chastened by Aslan.

The glimpses of Aslan’s country in this chapter remind me very much of this passage from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Both are describing a beautiful shore of a heavenly country beyond the sea. Although their friendship faded in the later years of their lives, their interests, beliefs and works were interconnected in many ways. These two passages feel like the closest connection between the stories of Middle Earth and Narnia, for me anyway.

When the children leave the ship, and then watch Reepicheep leave, the story changes.They feel that they are fated to act in the way they do. They become childlike once again. They are filled with wonder, and the Lewis staple, sehnsucht, is everywhere around them.

When Reepicheep casts away his sword it shows him to be a knight in the mould of the honourable knights who sought the grail, like Sir Galahad. He doesn’t want to fight for the fun of it – he counts this as a more important goal. The sword lands upright in the sea and doesn’t sink. It reminds me of Excalibur rising from the lake.

A lamb offers a breakfast of fish to the children, in an echo of Jesus’ actions in John, Chapter 21. Both lambs and fish are traditional symbols of Jesus. The lamb becomes Aslan, and tells the children he exists in our world, but is called something different. He calls himself the bridge builder; ‘Pontifex Maximus’ in Latin. Early Christians called Jesus the Pontifex, building a bridge between the physical and spiritual world. He tells them they must cross a river – maybe an echo of the Styx, which had to be crossed to reach the Ancient Greek afterlife.

Although I didn’t read the Christian symbolism in this section as a young child, by the time I was in double figures it was impossible for me not to spot it. And I wasn’t sure how I felt about this part of the book. It felt like Narnia was changing. I was unnerved by the lamb – why didn’t Aslan just show himself as Aslan? It felt strange. I also felt  sad on behalf of Lucy and Edmund (two of my very favourite characters) on being told they could not visit Narnia again. Fortunately the last sentence in the book ends on a lighter note, with Eustace’s parents being disappointed in the wonderful changes in their now pleasant son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter fifteen. The wonders of the Last Sea.

Synopsis: The sun appears larger and the water clearer as the Dawn Treader sails east. Lucy sees an underwater world peopled with mermaids and mermen. The water becomes sweet.

The dreamlike quality that began in previous chapters develops further here. ‘All was different’. Everyone eats less, sleeps less and talks less. The birds sing with human voices. The sea water is so clear you can see the bottom. This is a very different place from those we’ve seen before. There is a sense of wonder, maybe even reverence developing. The ‘sprituality’ of Narnia, which of course makes some love and some hate it, is becoming more and more apparent. Colbert’s ‘The Magical Worlds of Narnia’ suggests that this book was intended as the final book in a Narnia ‘trilogy’, and that this is the reason why this element of the book comes to the fore here.

The submarine world Lucy sees has always stayed with me. Whenever I think of mermaids, it is this passage that springs to mind. It’s a perfect example of Lewis’ ability to use clear, concise prose to paint a memorable, beautiful picture for his reader. I would quote some, but suspect I would end up quoting pages and pages. I can only recommend that you revisit it. It’s a perfectly formed world within a world, which operates on its own logic. In five pages we learn about its geography, its buildings, its people and their pets/hobbies.

Drinian’s grumpy concern for Reepicheep is utterly endearing. Surely everyone can relate to feeling worried about someone, and this resulting in snappiness and anger.

I would love to taste the sweet, clear water from this sea: drinkable light. What an interesting taste that would have. Maybe this transformative water echoes baptism.

Lewis returns to the idea of mixed, contrasting emotions. Here, the crew are ‘almost too well and strong to bear it’. They find they have developed the ability to cope with the dazzling light of the sun. This reminds me of ‘The Great Divorce’, where those who visit heaven on a trip from hell find the wonder around them painful and difficult to bear, but can overcome this as the move closer to the ‘divine’.

It seems most fitting that Narnia is a ‘flat’ world. It reflects older ideas about the world (chivalry, astronomy etc.) in many different ways. This is another. When I read it as a child I found the idea of a world you could sail over the edge of thrilling. Now, having read (and re-read) every Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, this reminds me of maps I’ve seen of that flat world. Maybe Narnia is held on the back of elephants balancing on turtles We’ll never know. Caspian’s misconception about our ’round’ world always amused me. Does anyone from Narnia ever get called into our world? Is the link only ever one way? If so, (which I believe to be the case) why?

As a child, I enjoyed this part of the story, but had no idea about the religious side of things. I just wished I’d seen mermaids and tasted light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter fourteen. The beginning of the End of the World.

Ramandu appears and explains what Caspian must do to break the enchantment. Birds appear and feed Ramandu. Caspian gives the crew a choice: stay on this island or sail to the end of the world.

Ramandu’s silver ‘glow’ echoes the silvery light emanating from Aslan earlier in the story. His general appearance and demeanor remind me of the Hermit of the Southern March in ‘The Horse and his Boy’. Were there really silver sheep somewhere, or was his robe reflecting his glow?

Once again, Lewis gives two seemingly contrasting or very different qualities to the same thing. Here, Ramandu is ‘mild’ but also ‘grave’.

Lewis was powerfully affected by music that he loved. Works such as Wagner’s Ring Cycle provoked intense emotional responses for him. Throughout the Chronicles, sounds, particularly voices and music, are described with words that not only convey tone, volume and so on, but also less ‘musical’ qualities.  Aslan’s voice and Susan’s horn are probably the best examples of this. Sounds can be sad, happy or something else entirely. Here the high song is also said to be ‘cold’ but ‘beautiful’.

Michael Ward’s ‘Planet Narnia’ argues that the underlying theme of the entire book is the Sun, and the qualities and properties ascribed to it by the medieval world. This chapter certainly strengthens his case. The sun becomes larger both in significance, as the herald of the world’s end, and physically.

We are told that for Edmund, of all the thrilling-sounding adventures, battles, monsters and magic encountered on the voyage, seeing the sun rise on Ramandu’s Island was the most exciting experience. For me, this corresponds with Lewis’ religious/spiritual beliefs and experiences. For people who believe in and feel that they are in some sort of communion with their God, this experience must be extremely powerful, but difficult to describe and not visible to other people. Maybe Edmund’s experience echoes this sort of response.

There are numerous religious references in this chapter. In the Bible, Elijah is brought food (bread and meat) morning and evening by ravens, just as Ramandu is brought food by the white birds. In another book of the Bible, Isaiah is brought a coal by a flying creature – in his case a seraphim – which is touched to his mouth. The coal cleanses him of his sin. Ramandu is fed a fire-berry from the sun (described as a ‘little live coal’) which rejuvenates him.

To be honest, the idea of birds landing all over me, and ‘picking clean’ a table I was going to eat from, did not appeal to me as a young reader. It still doesn’t.

Who carried Coriakin to this island? Why did they do it? Why this particular place? Are stars immortal? Can they die or do they all follow the same pattern as Coriakin? Did he have his daughter before or after he ‘set’?

A very popular quote from this chapter is: ”In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’ ‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” This encapsulates Lewis’ beliefs about the world around him – the world was not just the one of matter which he saw – there were elements beyond that. Similarly, he saw humans as more than meat, bone and biological impulse, he thought they had souls, too.

How does Ramandu know about our world? Has he heard about it? Or do stars possess some sort of magic which allows this? Is it because he was there when Aslan called Narnia into being, and there were humans there from our world? How does he know the travellers have met with Coriakin? Was he told, or is he able to work it out in some way?

I would love to know what Coriakin’s ‘sin’ was. What could a star do which was so wrong that it had to be removed from the sky? Do the stars in Narnia do other things apart from dance through the heavens? Do they have personal lives? And why was his punishment so strange: being sent to live in a remote but luxurious country house, with the tiresome Duffers as servants? Why did Lewis include this detail – why wasn’t Coriakin just a retired star, or a human magician or wise man?

We see here how much Caspian has grown as a leader and ‘politician’ from the previous book. He is much more kingly in his speech and his actions.

Is this the only occasion where Reepicheep is referred to as ‘Sir’? I can’t think of another.

If anyone else had made Reepicheep’s speech about getting to the East, it would sound silly, or boastful. With him, it is simply a statement of fact. You don’t doubt Reepicheep’s word.

What is it that Ramandu does to Lord Rhoop? Is it star-specific magic or something more general? Are all stars capable of healing?

I can’t find any reason why the man left behind was called ‘Pittencream’. It sounds like a medical preparation as much as anything. He is an example shown to us of what happens when you allow fear to prevent you from acting. It’s a depressing tale. He deludes himself about what his adventures consisted of, in a way familiar to readers of ‘The Screwtape Letters’.

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter thirteen. The Three Sleepers.

Synopsis: The Dawn Treader reaches an island. They find a table set with a feast, where three men are sleeping. They realise that the men are the last three Narnian lords. A woman appears and explains what happened to them.

A common theme throughout the Chronicles is the coexistence or combination of apparently contradictory emotions. Here, Lucy looks at the unfamiliar constellations above her with ‘a mixture of joy and fear’.

It is at this point in the journey where the story becomes increasingly dreamlike. The weather becomes warm and  unchanging. The sea becomes calm. The sky appears larger, the stars nearer. When they reach an island, it is described using words like ‘gentle’ and ‘attractive’. Wherever they go on the island, the soft sound of waves breaking on the shore is in the background.

Ramandu’s table combines some different aspects of the story of St Breandan’s voyage. This is discussed in David Downing’s ‘Into the Wardrobe’.

Once again we are told about delicious food – this time ornate and extravagant: ‘flagons of gold’, ‘pies shaped like ships under full sail’, ‘peacock’. Apparently, similar feasts were a feature of life at Cair Paravel during the Golden Age. Pauline Bayne’s illustration (shown in this post) is reminiscent of Victorian cookbooks, with their extravagant puddings.

How much would hair and beards grow if left unchecked for seven years? Would it make a tangle like the three lords’ does here? Or is the island’s magic responsible?

For perhaps the last time in this book, we are reminded of the disadvantage Eustace is at, ‘having never read of such things … made it worse for him’.

How is a ‘sea cloak’ different from a normal cloak?

Ramandu’s daughter is never given a name. We know her by her relationships with her father, husband and son only. Was this intentional or an oversight? In the films made of the Narnia stories, she was given the name ‘Lilliandil’, which to me is reminiscent of the Elvish names created by Tolkien. We don’t know who her mother is, but presumably she wasn’t a star like Ramandu, as she herself isn’t described as a star. What happened to her? Does Ramandu’s daughter mind living on a completely isolated island with only her father? Has she always lived there?

What happened to the sailors who accompanied the three lords to this island? We are told they existed, but where did they go?

Why is the stone knife which killed Aslan being ‘kept in honour’ on a tabletop near the world’s end? What is the reason for this choice of location? Who brought it here?

‘You can’t know. You can only believe – or not,’ is a popular quote from this chapter, particularly with Christian Lewis fans. It pops up online quite regularly.

The table is set with food every day. Yet the island is only visited rarely – we only know of two instances in the last seven years. It seems a strange arrangement, particularly as Aslan is able to know who will visit the island, and when.

How does Caspian know the story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ from our world? Who told him about it?

 

Narnia re-read. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Chapter twelve. The Dark Island.

Synopsis: The Dawn Treader sails towards a mysterious darkness. They agree to sail into it. They bring a man on board who explains that they have found the island where dreams become real. They are led back out to safety by Aslan in the form of an albatross. They discover that the man is Lord Rhoop. The darkness is destroyed.

Chess is mentioned often in this book, but I can’t seem to find any underlying ‘meaning’ in this.

A total darkness, unexplained, would be frightening for many people, children or adults. I remember finding it a scary thought as a young reader. It is human nature to fear the darkness.

Here is another famous Reepicheep speech. When asked what the use of exploring the Darkness, he responds: ‘Use? … Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honour and adventure.’

The sailors are irritated by this, and Reepicheep often exasperates people around him, but his intentions and motives are always completely honourable, which is difficult to argue effectively against. So it is here. He makes people face uncomfortable truths.

How had Lord Rhoop survived all the years alone in the darkness? What did he eat and drink? We are told nothing about the geography or flora and fauna found in the Darkness, but he must have had some fresh water and a source of food somewhere.

Whenever I see the ragged man at the start of old episodes of Monty Python (played by Michael Palin) who says ‘It’s…’ I always think of Lord Rhoop.

Rhoop says that the sailors’ talk about the Island of Dreams, where they imagine their favourite daydreams coming to is ‘what brought me here’. Does this mean others know about the Darkness? Are there rumours of what it contains? Why did Rhoop visit but not the other lords? How did he get to the Island? It doesn’t seem to make much sense.

For some reason, Nancy never struck me as a Narnian-world name. It just seemed too ordinary, especially for a world where women have names like Prunaprismia and Swanwhite.

Can anyone read Rhoop’s desperate explanation of the island’s true nature without wondering which of their own dreams would manifest themselves on a visit to the island?

When I read Terry Pratchett’s ‘Hogfather’ I was strongly reminded of this chapter of VDT. A group of criminals are in the Tooth Fairy’s country (it makes sense when you’ve read the book) and their childhood fears become real – the ominous creak of a wardrobe door, the snip of scissors and so on. I think the scissors in particular struck a chord, as this is also the basis of Eustace’s fear. The loose, unfinished descriptions of the fears allow the reader to fill in the horrible blanks for themselves.

Reepicheep is unaffected by the threat of dreams coming true. Is this because he is a mouse, and they dream differently, or is it something peculiar to Reepicheep?

I’ve often wondered how prayer is supposed to work for people when they (as far as I know) don’t receive direct responses. When Lucy ‘prays’ to Aslan here, she isn’t answered, and nothing changes around her. However, she feels better nevertheless. Her fear lessens. Maybe this is how it works for some people.

The Dark Island seems to the the most frightening part of the voyage for the Dawn Treader’s crew. This fits with the idea that the main enemies to be defeated on this journey are internal – fear, pride, ignorance and so on. The biggest enemy is one made of the character’s own thoughts.

Rynelf pounts out a beam of light appearing – a most welcome sight for the sailors. In ‘Meditation in a tool shed’ Lewis used an image of a beam of light to discuss ideas about perception, reality and how we understand the world around us:

‘I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.’

Lucy, high up on the ship, ‘looked along the beam’. What she saw there eventually turned out to be an albatross (Aslan appearing as an albatross), but at first she thought it was a cross. This section of the chapter seems linked to Lewis’ other religious writings more strongly than other parts.

Albatrosses feature in other writing, most famously in Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. It was thought that killing them was bad luck, or that they contained the souls of sailors.

‘Courage, dear heart.’ This is a quote I often see popping up on Instagram pictures, Etsy merchandis and even tattoos. It seems to strike a comforting chord with many people.

Why did the Darkness disappear? It is suggested that Aslan destroyed it, but why do so at this particular time?