The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
The title of this particular Narnia chronicle clues us in to the fact that it has an episodic plot and several main characters. Instead of titling the book with the hero's name (such as the previous Narnia book, Prince Caspian) or after the good guy and the bad guy (such as the first Narnia story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), this book's title refers to a voyage. A lot can happen on a voyage, as we know from reading some of the great travel narratives, like Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe and The Voyage of the Beagle, and the main thing that connects these different events is that they happen in sequence as the characters or participants move across geographical space. As a result, the different episodes may not relate to one another in terms of plot – the people you meet in one place may not have anything to do with the people you meet in another, as you know if you've ever been to both California and New York. So we're prepared for there to be several unrelated adventures instead of one main conflict, although we might also ask ourselves how these adventures work together to develop the characters we meet.
Speaking of characters, we're also expecting to see a few different characters take turns as our protagonists. Usually, a "voyage" is something that involves many people, so we might expect to get to know a few different major characters, a ship's crew, and all the strange people they meet on their journey.
The title also gives us the name of the ship, the Dawn Treader. We're guessing you know the verb "to tread," as in walking or stepping on something, but you may not have realized that's the kind of "treading" that the ship is described, figuratively, as doing. Although the ship can't literally walk on the sunrise, it is sailing constantly east, so from anyone on the shores of Narnia the ship would appear to be sailing across the rising sun each morning – it's treading on the dawn, get it? We knew you would.
Oh, one last point about the title – just let us nerd out on formatting for a minute. Wait, where are you going? Come back! This might actually be helpful when you're writing a paper. The thing is, when you write the name of a ship, it should be italicized or underlined. For example, "The ship on which Gilligan and the Skipper served was the S. S. Minnow." But wait: you also need to italicize or underline titles of books. So if Gilligan decided to write a book about his experience, it might be called The Fateful Trip of the S. S. Minnow. Why isn't the name of the ship italicized in the title? Well, italicizing something that's already in italics turns it back into regular text. (Kind of like multiplying two negative numbers together makes them positive. Well, maybe.) So, the ship in this story is called the Dawn Treader, and the book is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
OK, you say, you get it. The thing is, publishers of books sometimes have trouble with this concept – either they have their own "house style" that might be different, or they're just confused. So don't be surprised if you see references to the book that don't follow these rules. The important thing is that you know the ship is the Dawn Treader and the book is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Make sure your English teachers know, too. Tell them nicely.
Oh, one last thing and we promise we'll shut up about this typographical nonsense. When you buy a copy of the book, what it will actually say on the cover is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, because the book is the thing itself and not just a reference to that thing. Take a look at any other book you own: is the title in italics? No. You just make it italics when you write about it. Get it? Got it? Good.