In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, exploration is the driving force behind everything our beloved protagonists do. The story is explicitly structured as a quest, and discovery for its own sake is just as important as any more practical goal (such as finding the lost lords of Narnia). Exploration is almost synonymous with adventure in this book; exploring the world seems to be inherently dangerous but also thrilling and rewarding. There are larger forces at work (think Aslan) in the world of this book that protect explorers and ensure that their travels end well.
The Dawn Treader voyages to the east because that is the direction of the sunrise and symbolically represents rebirth.
Although Caspian is officially searching for the seven missing lords, in reality he is searching for personal fulfillment and transformation.
Transformation and metamorphosis are common in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Although some transformations seem purely physical (such as when Eustace turns into a dragon), affecting only the outward form and shape of a person or people, they usually turn out to be related to emotional, psychological, or spiritual changes as well. Transformation is not just imposed by external forces; instead, it reveals a deeper truth about the person or people who undergo it. Transformations that seem unpleasant or distressing often turn out to serve a greater purpose in the end.
Eustace's transformation into a dragon is merely a physical confirmation of something that has already happened to him psychologically and spiritually.
Eustace's most important transformation is his realization that he does not have the power to change himself. He must want to change, then submit to Aslan, who can actually effect the change.
Feelings of awe and amazement are the mechanism by which characters in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader recognize that they have come into contact with something holy or divine. These feelings might be inspired by the presence of divine figures (like Aslan) or by vast and unusual landscapes (such as Aslan's country in the eastern edge of the world). Awe is often tinged with fear or intimidation; sacred things are almost too beautiful, powerful, and amazing for mere human beings to bear. The natural world is often the setting for unexpected experiences of solemn amazement. Things that are awesome also inspire silence and stillness; awe, in this book, is orderly, calm, and self-contained, not an ecstatic frenzy.
The feelings of awe that Aslan inspires are connected with fear of his power and appreciation of his beauty.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, awe and amazement are quiet, solemn emotions; there is no place in this world for ecstatic frenzy.
Images of books and writing are frequent in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and may serve to provide insight into a character who is writing or to highlight a character's literary shortcomings. Familiarity with certain kinds of literature is almost considered a prerequisite for being a good person in this book. Reading the "right" books helps humanize the characters and educate them in the nature of beauty and truth. In contrast, relying too much on one's own capacity to write, or writing mechanically or selfishly, can indicate the perils of egotism or bureaucracy. Reading and writing also blur into the supernatural world in this book, becoming magical on more than one occasion.
Literature and writing in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader are powerful processes that can result in a subtle mastery over a situation.
Although the characters in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader experience the power of the written word, they value real-life experience over literary knowledge.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader repeatedly contrasts the "real world" with the world of fantasy and magic. Like many of the fantasy novels that follow in its wake, this book develops a fantasy world that seems vaguely medieval, hosts fantastic creatures like dragons and sea serpents, and involves magic spells and powers. This fantasy world is contrasted with our "real world" of modern technology and contemporary social structures. The narrator sure thinks that the fantasy world is far better than the real one. Yet we also learn that experience in one world can function as preparation for the other, and that the real world may be more similar to the fantasy than anyone thought.
By setting The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in a world that is not industrialized or mechanized, C.S. Lewis allows the narrative to focus on the development of characters rather than the development of the world around them.
Eustace's constant need to contrast the world of Narnia with the world he comes from is symptomatic of his dissatisfaction with himself; wherever he is seems unpleasant because he makes it unpleasant.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader there is an understood ethical code governing the behavior of the protagonists. The narrator draws our attention to this code of behavior by leaving one character (Eustace) outside of it, contrasting his egotism and supposedly progressive views with the established and wholesome values that everyone else lives by. Some of the principles most relevant to the book's plot include courage, loyalty to one's friends, and individual liberty. Although there are no explicit references to Christianity, the symbolism used in the book and our knowledge of the author's background strongly suggest that the principles in the story are meant to be similar or identical to Christian ideals.
Although Reepicheep is the most honorable character in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he is also the most reckless.
The code of behavior that Caspian and the Narnians follow is much like the medieval code of chivalry.
A fantasy novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader features a variety of supernatural elements, including magic spells, invisibility, fantastic creatures like dragons and mermaids, and the ability to travel between different worlds. The supernatural elements of the story blend cleanly into the mystical ones, and it can be difficult to know where magic ends and spiritual miracles begin. Supernatural elements in this book are used for awakening awe and belief, which can then be redirected toward more spiritual ends.
Magic in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader serves to capture the attention of the characters and the reader, but it ultimately redirects that attention toward miracles and spiritual truths.
The presence of other supernatural creatures in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader serves to conceal the strangeness of Aslan himself.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader dramatizes the eternal conflict between fate and free will, which is of particular relevance in Christian theology. Many characters have destinies that have followed them from birth, while others show foreknowledge of the future or accept that certain events are fated or certain to occur. Yet the book also clearly values the rights of individuals to make independent choices and choose their own paths. Both major and minor characters are given opportunities to decide who they will be and what they will do. Even so, there seems to be a power working behind the scenes that already knows how they will choose.
The plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is hindered by the narrative's constant reliance on fate and Aslan's ordering of events.
Eustace Scrubb is the only character in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader who strongly exercises free will and resists his fate, and he is punished and vilified for doing so.