This is how it all starts: Caspian builds and outfits a ship and sets off. Aslan sends him some companions to help him in his quest. Once everyone is assembled and the ship is ready, the adventure can really begin!
Because the plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is episodic, it's difficult to identify one central conflict in the book. After all, each of the shorter adventures on a particular island has its own antagonist; there isn't just one main evil dude who has to be faced. But what's common to all the adventures is the need for the voyagers to keep going in spite of their own fears and anxieties and in spite of the unknown. You might think of the conflict here as "man vs. himself" or "man vs. nature." Caspian and his friends are fighting against their own limitations and against the impersonal power of the natural world as they sail further east than anyone has ever attempted.
In each individual adventure, the general eastward progress of the Dawn Treader is hindered by different villains. In the Lone Islands, for example, Caspian and his friends must face the slave trader Pug and the corrupt Governor Gumpas. Sometimes their antagonists are not men but monsters, such as the Sea Serpent. And sometimes they get caught up in local politics or magical mysteries, such as on the Island of the Voices. But in each case, they're not facing their main foe. These problems are just complications that interfere with the overall progress of their quest.
There are many different moments that you could choose to emphasize at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but for us, this is the climax. Caspian finds the last of the missing lords and faces his final test: breaking the spell that keeps them in an enchanted sleep. If he can do this, the quest is over and he can consider himself victorious.
For two chapters, the ship sails east in a quiet frenzy of anticipation. Everyone is drinking the magical sweet water of the eastern ocean, the light gets brighter all the time, and nobody talks, eats, or does any work. They're just waiting to see what they'll find at the extreme edge of the world.
Just like that, the quest is over. The ship can't go any further, and Caspian and the crew don't get to see the upward-moving waterfall or the glimpse of Aslan's country that their friends will. Caspian is pretty bummed out, and we don't blame him.
You know all the loose ends are being tied up when everybody either goes home or goes to heaven (which Aslan's country basically is). Eustace has undergone a great character transformation, and Caspian has become an adult – he gets married and goes home to assume his kingly responsibilities. As for Reepicheep, well, if going to heaven isn't a conclusion, we don't know what is.
Though The Voyage of the Dawn Treader does fit a classic plot analysis, we think that it makes a bit more sense to look at it from an episodic plot analysis point of view. Why? Because this book has an episodic plot, meaning that within the main quest there is a series of shorter adventures. We've broken down the book into an outline of these episodes. For each episode, we tell you which chapters cover it and which character is the protagonist of that particular adventure. And just in case you wanted some help keeping track of the Big Quest, we also tell you which of the seven missing lords is found and which islands are visited. Yes, we know: we're awesome.
Set-up: Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy are transported to Narnia and taken on board the Dawn Treader.
Protagonists: Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy
Lords Found: None yet
Islands Visited: None yet
First Adventure: Eustace, Edmund, Lucy, Caspian, and Reepicheep are captured by a slave merchant on the island of Felimath. Caspian abolishes the slave trade, removes the corrupt Governor Gumpas from his office, and installs Duke Bern as the head of the Lone Islands.
Lords Found: Bern
Islands Visited: Felimath, Doorn, Avra: the "Lone Islands"
Second Adventure: The Dawn Treader is wrecked by a storm and lands on a deserted island to perform repairs. Eustace gets turned into a dragon and is rescued by Aslan.
Chapters: 5, 6, and 7
Lords Found: Octesian
Islands Visited: Dragon Island
Third Adventure: The Dawn Treader is attacked by a sea serpent.
Chapters: First half of Chapter 8
Lords Found: None
Islands Visited: Burnt Island
Fourth Adventure: Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Reepicheep discover an island with a spring that turns things into gold.
Chapters: Second half of Chapter 8
Protagonists: Caspian and Edmund
Lords Found: Restimar
Islands Visited: Goldwater Island, a.k.a. Deathwater Island
Fifth Adventure: The Dawn Treader lands on an island where all the people are invisible and blame a mysterious magician for their problems. Lucy reverses the spell. The people end up naming themselves the Dufflepuds.
Chapters: 9, 10, and 11
Lords Found: None
Islands Visited: The Island of the Voices
Sixth Adventure: The Dawn Treader sails through a sinister dark mist near the island where nightmares come true.
Lords Found: Rhoop
Islands Visited: The Dark Island, a.k.a. the island where dreams come true
Seventh Adventure: The Dawn Treader reaches the last of the islands in the eastern sea. The adventurers discover the last three missing lords asleep at a strange table filled with a fresh banquet each morning.
Lords Found: Revilian, Argoz, and Mavramorn
Islands Visited: Ramandu's Island
Final Adventure: The Dawn Treader sails as close to the eastern edge of the world as possible. Reepicheep sails on in his coracle to Aslan's country. Edmund, Eustace, and Lucy return to their own world.
Lords Found: None
Islands Visited: None