I’ve really enjoyed my re-read of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I’ve enjoyed sections of it just as much in 2015 as I did when I first read them. Some references and allusions were much clearer to me, adding to my enjoyment. Other aspects I enjoyed less.
For me, the absolute best thing about this story is Eustace Clarence Scrubb. He’s so brilliantly imagined – a thoroughly unpleasant little boy with a name he almost deserves. His reaction to finding himself in Narnia is hilarious, as is his constant griping and grumbling. He’s fun to dislike. The diary entries he writes are, in my opinion, the funniest parts not only of this book, but of the entire series.They demonstrate a perfect combination of Lewis’ moral intent, his wonderful prose and his storytelling skill. Despite their cleverness, they are understood perfectly by young and old readers alike.
‘Odious’ Scrubb does, of course, become dragon-Eustace. Again, I love this section of the story. I found it genuinely moving to read about his loneliness, self-loathing and clumsy attempts to be helpful. Another aspect of these chapters which I love is the development of Reepicheep’s relationship with Eustace.
Does everyone who reads the Chronicles love Reepicheep? Everyone I’ve spoken to does. We learned about his courage in Prince Caspian, but in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader his character is developed further. We see just how much he embodies the medieval ideal of the chivalrous knight on a noble quest. He isn’t just courtly in his manners, he speaks up for those who have no voice, comforts those who need it and is willing to speak against his king if it is what he judges to be right. He exasperates his crew-mates at times, but nobody travelling with him could fail to admire him.
Aside from these characters, I enjoyed the Dawn Treader itself. The descriptions of the ship, combined with the diagram and illustrations by Pauline Baynes, provided me with a most satisfying rush of nostalgia. The ship is like a character in its own right.
Another nostalgia rush came with the passages about Lucy sighting the Mer-world. As an adult reader I still relished the quality of the writing and the succinct world-building. I’m not even sure I can explain why I like the ‘Sea’Girl’ section so much. I just do. I wonder if other readers feel the same.
Other aspects of the story I enjoyed less than I expected to. The section about Caspian reasserting his authority in the Lone Islands I didn’t really enjoy. I can’t say for sure, but maybe the ‘meaning’ of the story in this section overtook the story itself. Pug and the slavery story left me equally uninspired. Again, I’m not sure why, although the speech of the characters here felt awkward at times. (Although I’d probably still take awkward Lewis over most other writers.)
Coriakin’s Island was provoked a mixed response. The Magician’s book I loved, and this section reminded me how much I liked Lucy. However, the Dufflepuds, particularly their chief, I found more tiresome than comical. Maybe it’s an age thing – I’m sure I didn’t feel this way as a child.
The book’s final chapter also left me a little confused. The religious symbolism felt somehow ‘not right’ for me. This might sound odd when I made no such complaint about Aslan’s resurrection in LWW. After all, how could there be anything more ‘obvious’ than a Christ-like figure sacrificing himself to erase human sin, then coming back to life? But for whatever reason young me never made the connection to Christianity with LWW. Here, the lamb-Aslan and the admission that Aslan exists in our world with a different identity just seemed too mundane for me, too clear a link. This was the case in my older childhood. I found I still didn’t enjoy it much on my re-read. The ending seemed somehow unsatisfying.
Despite this, however, I still really enjoy this book. It feels like a real adventure story, and I can understand why it is the story voted by an online poll as the Narnia story readers would most like to experience. Lewis’ storytelling is, as ever, masterful. The places the Ship visits are memorable. Most of all, the characters have existed in my imagination for many years now, clearer in my memory and closer to my heart than many real people I have encountered.