Study Guide

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Literature and Writing

By C.S. Lewis

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Literature and Writing

He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools. (1.2)

One of the first things the narrator tells us about Eustace is that he has terrible taste in reading. Don't be like Eustace. Shmoop is here to help.

What Eustace thought had best be told in his own words, for when they all got their clothes back, dried, next morning, he at once got out a little black notebook and a pencil and started to keep a diary. He always had this notebook with him and kept a record of his marks in it, for though he didn't care much about any subject for its own sake, he cared a great deal about marks. . . . But as he didn't seem likely to get many marks on the Dawn Treader he now started a diary. (2.54)

Because Eustace can't seem to take control over his position on the Dawn Treader or his relationships with Caspian, Lucy, and Edmund, he takes narrative control instead. In his diary he can put his own slant on the Dawn Treader's adventures and activities. If he had wireless access, we're sure he'd be blogging, too.

Caspian nodded to Bern and then stood aside. Bern and Drinian took a step forward and each seized one end of the table. They lifted it, and flung it on one side of the hall where it rolled over, scattering a cascade of letters, dossiers, ink-pots, pens, sealing-wax and documents. Then, not roughly but as firmly as if their hands were pincers of steel, they plucked Gumpas out of his chair and deposited him, facing it, about four feet away. (4.12)

Governor Gumpas shores up his power base in the Lone Islands with a show of bureaucratic business – not just business in the sense of "serious managerial stuff," but business in the sense of "busy-ness." When Caspian objects to the slave trade, Gumpas starts to channel the King's objections into the busywork of council meetings and legislative procedure. For Gumpas's, writing is a mechanism for ensuring that nobody can change the status quo.

And then Caspian showed up in his true colours as a brutal tyrant and said out loud for everyone to hear that anyone found "stealing" water in future would "get two dozen." I didn't know what this meant till Edmund explained to me. It comes in the sort of books those Pevensie kids read. (5.13)

Eustace recognizes that his cousins have knowledge that he doesn't, but he reacts by looking down on them and disdaining the kind of reading they do.

What awaited them on this island was going to concern Eustace more than anyone else, but it cannot be told in his words because after September 11 he forgot about keeping his diary for a long time. (5.20)

Eustace doesn't need to maintain control of his narrative once he becomes his own hero. If you're the protagonist, you don't need to be the narrator, too (although it's certainly possible).

Edmund or Lucy or you would have recognised it at once, but Eustace had read none of the right books. (6.6)

Strangely the books that have educated Edmund and Lucy for their experiences in Narnia are fantasy stories – usually the last texts anyone would accuse of teaching valuable lessons!

Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons. (6.12)

Eustace's "progressive" education has only included nonfiction reading; he hasn't read any fiction and he can't appreciate literary artistry. His lack of familiarity with the world of fantasy is unfortunate in England, but it's very nearly fatal in Narnia.

And of course they were all very anxious to hear his story, but he couldn't speak. More than once in the days that followed he attempted to write it for them on the sand. But this never succeeded. In the first place Eustace (never having read the right books) had no idea how to tell a story straight. And for another thing, the muscles and nerves of the dragon-claws that he had to use had never learned to write and were not built for writing anyway. As a result he never got nearly to the end before the tide came in and washed away all the writing except the bits he had already trodden on or accidentally swished out with his tail. (7.12)

Despite his relatively successful stint at keeping a diary, it turns out that Eustace is a terrible author and narrator. As a dragon, he's physically prevented from writing, and as a pedantic fool, he's not mentally equipped to tell a story. But never fear – Aslan will come along to help him shape the narrative of his life.

It was a large room with three big windows and it was lined from floor to ceiling with books; more books than Lucy had ever seen before, tiny little books, fat and dumpy books, and books bigger than any church Bible you have ever seen, all bound in leather and smelling old and learned and magical. But she knew from her instructions that she need not bother about any of these. For the Book, the Magic Book, was lying on a reading-desk in the very middle of the room. (10.12)

Coriarkin's book-filled study is our first indication that he's going to be a good magician rather than an evil one. As we know from some of the comments that our narrator has made, reading the right kinds of books is essential for success in the world of Narnia, and Coriarkin seems to be doing pretty well.

One thing that worried her a good deal was the size of the Book. The Chief Voice had not been able to give her any idea whereabouts in the Book the spell for making things visible came. He even seemed rather surprised at her asking. He expected her to begin at the beginning and go on till she came to it; it obviously wouldn't have occurred to him that there was any other way of finding a place in a book. (10.15)

Although Lucy appreciates books as literature, she also expects to make use of them in an almost technological sense. The narrator implies here that she is familiar with concepts like an index and a table of contents. She expects to be able to search through a book, find what she needs, and retrieve it. If this makes a book sound a bit like the Internet and an index sound a bit like a search engine, well, you get the idea. But the Chief of the Duffers sees a book as a narrative that progresses from beginning to end: you have to dive in at the beginning and let it unfold in front of you, hoping that it will eventually give you what you need.

She went up to the desk and laid her hand on the book; her fingers tingled when she touched it as if it were full of electricity. She tried to open it but couldn't at first; this, however, was only because it was fastened by two leaden clasps, and when she had undone these it opened easily enough. And what a book it was!

It was written, not printed; written in a clear, even hand, with thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes, very large, easier than print, and so beautiful that Lucy stared at it for a whole minute and forgot about reading it. The paper was crisp and smooth and a nice smell came from it; and in the margins, and round the big coloured capital letters at the beginning of each spell, there were pictures. (10.16-17)

The Magic Book that Lucy reads in Coriarkin's study is not only full of powerful spells but is also an art object in its own right. It's handcrafted, has a definite physical presence, and appeals to several of Lucy's senses. Its artistry is so impressive that it momentarily distracts Lucy from its actual content.

On the next page she came to a spell "for the refreshment of the spirit." The pictures were fewer here but very beautiful. And what Lucy found herself reading was more like a story than a spell. It went on for three pages and before she had read to the bottom of the page she had forgotten that she was reading at all. She was living in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. When she had got to the third page and come to the end, she said, "That is the loveliest story I've ever read or ever shall read in my whole life. Oh, I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years. At least I'll read it over again."

But here part of the magic of the Book came into play. You couldn't turn back. The right-hand pages, the ones ahead, could be turned; the left hand pages could not. (10.31-32)

In the Magic Book, the reader's ability to be absorbed into a narrative is so complete that story and reality blur together. For the narrator of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this kind of total-immersion reading experience is the ideal way to interact with a book.

"Shall I ever be able to read that story again; the one I couldn't remember? Will you tell it to me, Aslan? Oh do, do, do."

"Indeed, yes, I will tell it to you for years and years." (10.54-55)

Aslan implies that going to heaven will be like reading a really good story.

And after dinner the Magician did a very useful and beautiful piece of magic. He laid two blank sheets of parchment on the table and asked Drinian to give him an exact account of their voyage up to date: and as Drinian spoke, everything he described came out on the parchment in fine clear lines till at last each sheet was a splendid map of the Eastern Ocean, showing Galma, Terebinthia, the Seven Isles, the Lone Islands, Dragon Island, Burnt Island, Deathwater, and the land of the Duffers itself, all exactly the right sizes and in the right positions. They were the first maps ever made of those seas and better than any that have been made since without magic. For on these, though the towns and mountains looked at first just as they would on an ordinary map, yet when the Magician lent them a magnifying glass you saw that they were perfect little pictures of the real things, so that you could see the very castle and slave market and streets in Narrowhaven, all very clear though very distant, like things seen through the wrong end of a telescope. The only drawback was that the coastline of most of the islands was incomplete, for the map showed only what Drinian had seen with his own eyes. (11.71)

Coriarkin does Drinian a huge favor by magically translating his real-world experience into a written map. If only all of our experiences of writing could be a direct translation of what we see and say into words (and diagrams) on the page!

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