At first glance these two labels might seem to be contradictory: how can the tone of a book be both playful and solemn? Aren't those opposites? Well, yeah, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is definitely both of these. The narrator is often playful and lighthearted, especially toward the beginning of the book, when he's setting the scene and introducing us to the characters. Many of the narrative asides have a teasing, jolly quality; for example, when describing the painting of the ship that hangs in Lucy's bedroom at her Aunt Alberta's house, the narrator butts:
By the way, if you are going to read this story at all, and if you don't know already, you had better get it into your head that the left of a ship when you are looking ahead, is port, and the right is starboard. (1.7)
Over the course of the book, as the Dawn Treader gets closer to Aslan's country, the narrator's playfulness gives way to a more and more solemn, awe-filled tone:
After that for many days, without wind in her shrouds or foam at her bows, across a waveless sea, the Dawn Treader glided smoothly east. (16.3)
We like to think of this transition from playful/teasing to awed and inspired as the process by which the narrator fades away, leaving us to gaze on Aslan's country on our own. As he gets less playful and more solemn, his personality fades a little and lets the story speak for itself.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, like the other Chronicles of Narnia, is considered classic children's literature. It uses a straightforward vocabulary and syntax geared toward the child reader and also excludes any especially violent or steamy elements in an attempt to be more child-friendly. For example, although Caspian ends up meeting and marrying Ramandu's daughter, we don't hear anything about his feelings of attraction toward her. Likewise, in battle scenes we might feel fear of the unknown, but we never hear about blood or gore. The narrator is careful to protect his imagined child audience from anything that might be inappropriate for them – at least in his opinion.
In addition to being children's literature, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is also a quintessential quest narrative. Like Homer's Odyssey or Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader involves a small group of noble companions bound together in a fellowship to seek adventure, achieve a noble goal, and arrive at a particular destination. This book, along with the other Chronicles of Narnia, is considered fantasy because it includes and depends on fun supernatural elements, such as dragons, sea monsters, magic spells, and talking animals.
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.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader ends with everyone going their separate ways. Caspian returns to Narnia, taking Ramandu's daughter with him as his new Queen. Reepicheep fulfills his destiny and travels all the way to the east and into Aslan's country. Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace go back to their own world, all the wiser for their adventures in Narnia – especially Eustace, who was an absolute pill and now vaguely resembles a human being. "And then they all went home" about sums it up.
What might surprise you more than the fact that the quest is fulfilled and everyone makes it home (or, in Reepicheep's case, to Aslan's country) is how quickly the narrator wraps everything up. Once Aslan has told Caspian that he can't abandon his kingdom and journey east with Reepicheep, he's pretty much out of the picture. When Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Reepicheep say goodbye to their friends on the Dawn Treader, the narrator just tells us that it was "a grievous parting on both sides" and he won't "dwell on it" (16.52). It only takes a paragraph for C.S. Lewis to explain what happened to everyone after they found the end of the world. Why? Well, perhaps because the book isn't following any single character; we're following the ship itself. Once the ship sails and then glides as far east as it can, that's the end. Our focus is on the voyage itself, not necessarily on any one person.
Another interesting feature of the ending is the nature of the eastern seas and Aslan's country. If you've made it to the end of the book, you've probably realized that Aslan's country is a metaphor for, or maybe just a fantasy-world version of, heaven. As they get close to it, the narrator states:
Everyone on board was filled with joy and excitement, but not an excitement that made one talk. The further they sailed the less they spoke, and then almost in a whisper. The stillness of that last sea laid hold on them. (16.3)
The edge of the world, where people pass from an earthly existence to a heavenly one, is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and solemn. As they get closer and closer to "Aslan's country," they feel no need to eat or drink or talk, and they don't have to do any work, because the current carries them forward. So C.S. Lewis's idea of heaven is that just being – looking at things and drinking in the light – is enough. Simply existing becomes so exciting and pleasurable that it's almost overwhelming. Lucy and Caspian say to one another, "I feel that I can't stand much more of this, yet I don't want it to stop" (16.17). The narrator also starts to suggest that the characters are beginning to run out of ways to describe their sublime experience: "Lucy found it very hard to describe" (16.17) and "Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards (16.53). Perhaps one reason that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader ends when it does is that C.S. Lewis feels like he's gotten as close as he can to describing things that are sacred and ineffable. If you tell a story that leads up to something indescribable, that's where it has to stop, because, well, you can't describe it!
First of all, let's clarify what we mean by "Narnia." Technically, Narnia is a country – the nation ruled by King Caspian. In the world where Narnia exists there are also other countries, such as Calormen and Telmar, as well as Narnian territories like the Lone Islands. However, sometimes people use the word "Narnia" to refer to the whole magical world which the country of Narnia is a part of. It's not just critics and fans who do this – it's also characters in the books. This becomes more complicated when we're thinking about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which takes place entirely in the seas east of the country of Narnia and on islands in those seas. Nobody in this book actually sets foot in Narnia the country, but they are in the "world of Narnia" – the world that has Narnia in it, as opposed to what Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace refer to as "our world," the world of mid-20th-century England.
In this book, the characters visit a variety of islands, including the Lone Islands (Felimath, Doorn, and Avra), Dragon Island, Burnt Island, Goldwater Island, the Island of the Voices, the Dark Island, and Ramandu's Island. Except for the Lone Islands, which are Narnian territories with villagers, markets, and governmental structures, all of the islands are fantastic, unknown places that the adventurers themselves name and put on the map for the first time. Each island is like a small, self-contained world with its own mysteries and dangers. Although the crew of the Dawn Treader encounters magicians, fantastic creatures, and supernatural occurrences on the islands, the islands themselves are relatively tame and uninteresting. The vegetation on the islands looks vaguely like the plants and trees that Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace know from their own world – for example, on Ramandu's island:
Underfoot was fine springy turf dotted here and there with a low bushy growth which Edmund and Lucy took for heather. Eustace, who was really rather good at botany, said it wasn't, and he was probably right; but it was something of very much the same kind. (13.4)
Similarly, when Eustace is a dragon, he uproots "a great tall pine tree" (7.14) for the Dawn Treader's new mast. So what happens on the islands may be fantastic, but the plants and landscapes are close to that of our own world. It's interesting to note that C.S. Lewis is more interested in the development of the characters and in the fantasy elements of the story than in creating an truly unique setting. In this sense, the islands and countries that the Dawn Treader encounters are reminiscent of the strange lands in Gulliver's Travels – the countryside itself is not unusual, but the people are.
We think it's appropriate that this maritime adventure has a difficulty of "sea level." The prose isn't difficult, and the plot is so exciting that it moves along quickly. For most readers, it will probably take more effort to interpret the symbolism of the book than it does to read the book itself.
Like the other Narnia chronicles, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is written in a straightforward, easy-to-understand, conversational style – as long as you're thinking of having that conversation with a slightly stuffy but thoroughly good-hearted professor. The sentences tend to be short and the words are chosen precisely but simply, with nothing wasted or elevated. You can almost imagine that C.S. Lewis himself is telling you the story over dinner (we picture him smoking a pipe for some reason). The word choices and styles of phrase are straightforward and accessible, the kind of thing you can easily imagine someone saying to you, rather than being dense or more stereotypically "literary."
For example, when Lucy notices the shadow of the ship as it moves across underwater hills, the narrator speaks to the reader and makes an everyday comparison to clarify what's going on:
It was like what you saw from a train on a bright sunny day. You saw the black shadow of your own coach running along the fields at the same pace as the train. Then you went into a cutting; and immediately the same shadow flicked close up to you and got big, racing along the grass of the cutting-bank. Then you came out of the cutting and – flick! – once more the black shadow had gone back to its normal size and was running along the fields. (15.4)
Notice that there are 64 words in this passage, and 48 of them (75%) are just one syllable. Of the remaining 16 words, all are just two syllables, except for the word "immediately," which is four syllables but also a relatively low-level vocabulary word. You probably didn't need to go looking it up in a dictionary. We don't usually get all statistical when looking at literature, but in this case we think the numbers are pretty telling.
If you're not into syllable counting, then consider the distribution of the parts of speech: there is only one adverb, "immediately," and the adjectives tend to be very simple: "bright," "sunny," "black," "big." Clearly, Lewis is choosing to write in a more basic prose style in order to reach the widest possible audience.
It would be almost impossible for us to list every single Biblical allusion in this book. As a devoted theologian, C.S. Lewis was well-versed in Christian symbolism, and even his simplest books are densely packed with religious references. So let's focus on two categories of Christian symbols that provide structure for the plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: metaphorical versions of the sacraments and allusions to God or Christ.
OK, we realize that, depending on whom you ask, only the first one of these three things is technically considered a "sacrament." But all three have been sacred processes in the life of believers throughout the history of the Christian church. Baptism you might already know about: whether it involves sprinkling, splashing, or dunking, it's about using water to symbolically purify the individual believer. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace goes through something that looks a lot like baptism when he meets the great Lion, Aslan. Eustace tells Edmund:
Then he caught hold of me – I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. (7.44)
Aslan's immersion of Eustace in the pool is an obvious-if-you're-looking-for-it, hit-you-over-the-head reference to the kind of baptisms that John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth perform in the New Testament.
Eustace also goes through a process of self-confrontation and rebirth that reminds us of contemporary Christian ideas about being "born again." His transformation into a dragon seems to simply show on the outside what has already happened to him spiritually: he's hideous, buried in layers of rough nastiness. Before Eustace can be tossed into the pool (i.e. baptized), he must peel off his outer shell of meanness and selfishness and get back to his true self. One of the particularly Christian-sounding points that the book makes about this process is that Eustace can't do it alone. Whenever Eustace tries to peel off his outer shell himself, he only gets a thin layer, leaving lots more behind. Aslan has to do it for him in the end, and it's far from a painless process. This is not unlike the Christian idea that Jesus steps in and transforms the believer, because the believer can't avoid sin or become pure on his own.
And Eustace isn't the only character in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader undergoing a spiritual process. The ship's voyage to the extreme eastern end of the word in search of Aslan's country is much like a pilgrimage to a sacred site – or like the metaphorical "pilgrimage" that every Christian believer goes through while trying to reach heaven. Although everyone on the ship takes part in this pilgrimage, it's Reepicheep who devotes himself to it most fully and who gets to travel the last leg of the journey alone. Our last sight of Reepicheep is of him disappearing at the top of a strange wave:
The coracle went more and more quickly, and beautifully it rushed up the wave's side. For one split second they saw its shape and Reepicheep's on the very top. Then it vanished, and since that moment no one can truly claim to have seen Reepicheep the Mouse. But my belief is that he came safe to Aslan's country and is alive there to this day. (16.56)
Reepicheep, who sails straight into Aslan's country, is reminiscent of Elijah, the great Christian prophet who didn't die but instead was "translated" in bodily form into heaven.
If you've read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you've already gotten the whole Aslan-is-like-Jesus thing. But if the first Narnia book didn't hammer it home enough, C.S. Lewis definitely spells it out for us at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy that he exists in their world, too:
"But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." (16.76)
In effect, Aslan is revealing to Edmund and Lucy that all their adventures have been part of his grand plan for their lives, educating them spiritually and preparing them for development as good Christians. Yes, the other name that Aslan is talking about is "Jesus Christ."
Aslan also appears in the book in several other symbolic animal forms that are connected with Christ and the Christian trinity. In the final chapter, Aslan begins by taking the form of a lamb, a reference to Christ as the "Lamb of God," and offers the children a meal of fish, something Jesus and his followers eat frequently (and that Jesus is able to perform miracles with) in the New Testament. During the episode of the Dark Island, Aslan leads the Dawn Treader away from harm in the form of an albatross that at first "looked like a cross," reminding readers not only that the albatross is a bird that leads sailors to safety in maritime legends, but also that the Holy Spirit is sometimes represented as a white dove. Don't make us explain what's symbolically Christian about it looking like a cross…we think you can figure out that one on your own!
It may surprise you to learn that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader draws not only on Christian theology but also on Celtic, especially Irish, mythology. As a professor of languages and literature, C.S. Lewis was well-versed in early British myths and legends, and both the voyage across the sea and the importance of sunrise have Celtic associations.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Caspian and his friends sail through the Eastern seas, braving storms and monsters as they visit a series of magical islands, eventually arriving at Aslan's country, a place "outside the world" (16.53) that seems a bit like heaven and a bit like fairyland. Similarly, there are many ancient Irish myths in which great heroes (and sometimes ordinary guys) sail across the seas, endure raging storms, visit strange islands, and in the end make it to the Otherworld, a creepy and intimidating fairy land where you definitely do not want to get stuck.
If you start reading some of these legends, you might be shocked at how many plot elements they share with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One good example is the story of Mael Duin, the oldest known Celtic travel myth. Mael Duin is a hero who swears to avenge his father's death and sets out on a sea voyage to find the killers – just like Caspian, who swears to find his father's exiled allies. When Mael Duin sets sail, his three foster brothers jump into the sea and he has to take them on board the ship and let them join him so they won't drown – which sounds a lot like the way that Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace arrive on the Dawn Treader. Mael Duin also visits a lot of strange magical islands (although the details are different from the islands in the seas of Narnia). At the end of his voyage, Mael Duin, like Caspian, marries a mystical queen whom he meets on the last island he visits. Other elements that the two stories share include a rebellion of the crew, being guided by magical birds, and finding an intimidating fantasy world at the end of the voyage. If you're interested in C.S. Lewis's use of Irish mythology, we suggest you head to your favorite bookstore or library and pick up a book of Celtic legends.
Oh, and just to make it clear: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader definitely alludes to other, non-Celtic myths and legends about great voyages, too. The most obvious is Homer's Odyssey. So don't go away thinking that this book is just Christian symbols meet Celtic ones – there's also some Greek mythology in the mix, plus a lot of other things. We're just taking some time to explain the Celtic allusions because they might be unfamiliar to you.
As we've mentioned in the "What's Up With the Title?" section, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a lot to do, symbolically speaking, with the dawn. Caspian's voyage is specifically a journey to the extreme eastern end of the world – which, in the flat world of Narnia, not only means in the direction of the sunrise, but also actually getting closer to the sun. Many different ancient cultures worshipped the sun and considered events like the sunrise to be sacred, but the Celts took this to an extreme. Many of their holidays were related to solar events like eclipses, solstices, and equinoxes; they had several gods of the sun; and they put a lot of effort into tracking the sun's position in the sky. The scene at the beginning of Chapter 14, in which Ramandu and his daughter face the sunrise and sing while surrounded by stone pillars and an enormous feast, is extremely reminiscent of a Celtic festival. Just imagine druids in the middle of Stonehenge with an offering of harvest fruits, worshipping the sun as it comes up, and you can see the allusion.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a book that appeals to our sense of sight. Our readerly "eyes" are constantly dazzled, from our first view of the brightly colored Dawn Treader, with its rich purple sail and its green gilded sides made to look like a dragon's wings (1.7), to our last view of the "blue wall, very bright, but real and solid" of the sky in the world of Narnia (16.59). The book also uses vision as a theme and symbol, particularly in the adventure with the Dufflepuds, during the visit to the Dark Island, and in the final quest to find the eastern edge of the world.
When the adventurers arrive at the "Island of the Voices," they are confronted with invisible enemies who threaten to kill them if they don't cooperate. When the adventurers agree to help, they hear the story of the invisible people, who call themselves the Duffers. As the Chief of the Duffers explains, when the local magician changed their appearance, they decided to become invisible rather than continue to appear in the form he gave them. He tells Lucy and the other Narnians, "we thought we'd rather be invisible than go on being as ugly as all that. And why? Because we'd like it better" (9.54). But now they have grown tired of their invisibility and they need Lucy's help to reverse the spell. Lucy does everything they ask, but in the end she gets another side of the story: the magician, Coriarkin, explains that he didn't necessarily make the Duffers ugly:
"[…] it's only they who think they were so nice to look at before. They say they've been uglified, but that isn't what I called it. Many people might say the change was for the better." (11.21)
We're picking up on several different ways in which appearances matter to the Duffers. First, it matters to them that the way they look matches the way they see themselves. They want to appear in what they consider their "true" form, not the form Coriarkin imposed on them, and at first they don't want to be seen at all if they can't be seen for who they really are. When we learn that they weren't necessarily good-looking to begin with, and that the magician sees their new appearance as an improvement, we realize how arbitrary the standards of beauty really are. But what's really interesting is that in all three forms – Duffers, invisible people, and Monopods – the Duffers have the same character. They're just as gullible and foolish when they're dwarfs as they are when they're invisible people and one-footed hopping creatures. So no matter how they are seen (or not seen), their fundamental nature is unchanged.
It seems like C.S. Lewis is telling us that what we look like is less important than what we do. The one change in their behavior is their desire to be visible, even if they don't like what they see. It may be only a small thing, but they're making progress!
We also want to point out the moment at which Aslan becomes visible in Coriarkin's study after the anti-invisibility spell. Lucy is surprised that she seems to have some power over Aslan, but he gently reminds her that he always plays by his own rules. Aslan's appearance reminds us that we're supposed to consider him a constant invisible presence throughout the book, observing most things that happen. But unlike the Duffers, Aslan isn't invisible because he can't bear to look at himself; he's invisible to give everyone else a chance to make personal decisions. Free will, baby!
In the adventure at the Dark Island, the Dawn Treader, against pretty much everyone's better judgment, sails into a creepy cloud of blackness. Nothing really happens to them there, but they're completely freaked out by the way nothing is visible beyond the edges of the ship and the way they start to hear – or maybe just hallucinate – noises from their nightmares. Aslan leads them out of this darkness using an albatross and a beam of light. Symbolism! We love it.
The interesting thing about this adventure is that the danger is extremely unclear. They're told by Lord Rhoop that this is the island where dreams, bad ones, come to life, but their fear begins before they're actually attacked or harmed in any way. So what makes them so scared? We think it's the threat of non-existence, of not seeing the world and almost not existing in the world. The narrator describes Lucy watching the ship moving into a black void:
The bows had already disappeared before the sunlight had left the stern. She saw it go. At one minute the gilded stern, the blue sea, and the sky, were all in broad daylight: next minute the sea and sky had vanished. (12.22)
Here's our pet theory: in a book that focuses on what amounts to a pilgrimage from the earthly world to a heavenly world, this is the moment that the characters have to face, symbolically, the idea of nihilism. OK, we dropped a big word there, but basically "nihilism" just means a freaky philosophical nothing – in this case, nothing to see, and maybe nothing to believe in. Of course, just when you think that there's no escape from this cloud and our adventurers won't see the sun again, Aslan shines a beam of light into the blackness. In the context of this book, the beam of light is like spiritual truth, breaking through the black fog of nihilism. Sight and faith are linked metaphorically: just when you think you won't be able to see – or have faith – Aslan makes it possible.
The final chapters, in which the crew of the Dawn Treader gains the ability to bear the brightness of the eastern sun by drinking the sweet seawater, function as a complementary adventure to the events on the Island of the Voices and the Dark Island. Instead of not being able to see the people they meet, or not being able to see where they're going, the adventurers are suddenly able to see more than they've ever seen before. We learn that:
They could look straight up at the sun without blinking. They could see more light than they had ever seen before. [...] And next morning, when the sun rose, now five or six times its old size, they stared hard into it and could see the very feathers of the birds that came flying from it. (15.47)
Just when the sight of the water and light is about to become too much, Aslan's sweet ocean water makes their eyes stronger and their vision sharper.
What does this mean? Well, there's definitely a religious aspect here: Aslan and his country are glorious and awe-inspiring, so much so that they would be overwhelming for mere mortals unless he strengthened their senses. But we're also reminded, as we were at the Dark Island, that vision is dependent on light. We can only sense things because light rays bounce off stuff at different frequencies that hit our retinas (in our eyes). In the same way, this book is suggesting that the very nature of the travelers is dependent on Aslan, a.k.a. God. They can only see because of light, and the more light they're able to take in, the better their vision gets. Similarly, they can only embark on their quest because Aslan allowed and encouraged it, and the more he supports them, the more they can succeed.
The narration of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, like that of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is a curious mixture of a third-person omniscient feel with a first-person narrator occasionally butting in. In general, the story is told in a manner we usually associate with a third-person omniscient narrator. The episodic plot tends to move between different protagonists, and the narrator dives into each of their thoughts without any trouble. When Eustace turns into a dragon, the narrator is able to tell us that "his first feeling was one of relief" (6.34). When Lucy sees Aslan's face in the magician's book, the narrator says that "she felt quite sure there had been no picture [there] before" (10.22). And when Reepicheep jumps overboard to confront the Sea People, the narrator enters Drinian's thoughts: "he liked him very much and was therefore frightened about him" (15.28). So we can tell that this narrator is omniscient and sees into every character's thoughts, describing them in the third person.
However, the narrator also sometimes uses first-person pronouns (I, me) to describe his own feelings, sometimes implying that the has met and had conversations with the characters after they came back from their adventures. For example, when Lucy is reading the magic book, the narrator says:
Some people may disagree with Lucy about this, but I think she was quite right. She said she wouldn't have minded if she could have shut the door, but that it was unpleasant to have to stand in a place like that with an open doorway right behind your back. I should have felt just the same. (10.14)
This passage suggests that the narrator knows how Lucy is feeling because she told him, which seems to contrast or even conflict with the moments when the narrator is able to see into her thoughts omnisciently. It's tempting to identify this first-person narrator with the author, C.S. Lewis, but we prefer to resist that temptation and keep biography and narrative strategy separate.
There are also some stranger moments of narration in the book using the first person plural (we, us) and the second person (you). The narrator sometimes addresses the reader directly, such as when he comments "Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for us it is only an imaginary country" (1.5). And occasionally these comments to the reader take on the rare-in-novels second person, such as when the narrator describes the dragon and says "Edmund or Lucy or you would have recognised it at once" (6.6).
Why such a mixture of different kinds of narration? Well, after all, the Narnia books are a mixture of different kinds of mythology – fantasy creatures rub shoulders with Christian symbols and references to Celtic and Greek legends. So maybe it makes sense that, just as the world of Narnia brings together a variety of supernatural images, the narrator of this world combines a variety of perspectives.
The call of the heroes in this book is difficult to miss: our three protagonists are literally pulled into the world of a painting on the wall. There's clearly specific magic at work, targeting them and making sure they arrive at the correct place and time to join King Caspian's eastern voyage. As far as we know, the painting they get sucked into has never come to life for anybody else, and they're plopped down right next to the Dawn Treader just as it's left familiar territory and is about to undergo its first adventure.
Although this journey takes place over the course of several different adventures, each with its own corresponding island, several things are consistent throughout that indicate that this is really one single stage. On each island they visit, Caspian and his friends find traces of the missing Narnian lords – sometimes information, sometimes belongings they left behind, and occasionally the lords themselves. Each island visited also marks another step in the journey eastward, so that the islands are like mile-markers showing their progress.
Although King Caspian gets close to the utter east, he doesn't actually get to see the wall of water flowing upward that marks the easternmost boundary of the flat world in which Narnia exists. That's a privilege reserved for Reepicheep and the three visitors from "our" world, Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace. Caspian's responsibilities as ruler of Narnia, and his developing relationship with Ramandu's daughter, require that he turn back and allow others to complete the quest for him.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the "final ordeals" that most of our characters must go through consist of leaving the adventure behind and going back to their regular lives. For Edmund and Lucy, the ordeal involves the knowledge that they will never get to come back to Narnia; they must learn to recognize Aslan in another guise in their own world. For Caspian, the "ordeal" is the duty he must fulfill: going back to rule Narnia. Not that we think that will be all that unpleasant, but it will involve a lot of day-to-day problems, struggles, and politics. The only adventurer who really gets to go all the way is Reepicheep. Presumably he, too, must go through some "final ordeals" before he gets into Aslan's country, but we're not told what they are.
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
Eustace Scrubb is magically transported to Narnia along with his cousins Edmund and Lucy Pevensie. Eustace meets King Caspian and joins the voyage of his ship the Dawn Treader, but remains critical of everything he sees and experiences in Narnia.
Eustace is transformed into a dragon. His experience teaches him about his own flaws and self-interest.
Restored to human form by the lion Aslan, Eustace gradually begins to change into a brave, loving, good-hearted adventurer like his cousins.