Study Guide

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Themes

By C.S. Lewis

  • Exploration

    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.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. What is Caspian searching for? (Hint: we can think of at least three things.) What do you think would have to happen for him to be satisfied with the outcome of his quest?
    2. Does Caspian's goal of finding out what happened to the seven missing lords conflict or harmonize with Reepicheep's goal of finding the eastern end of the world? Can the Dawn Treader really do both? Explain your answer.
    3. Why do you think nobody in the world of Narnia has ever ventured into the Eastern Seas before? Why is the Dawn Treader the first ship to go this far?
    4. What is so significant about traveling to the east? Why does C.S. Lewis choose to send the Dawn Treader on a voyage to the eastern end of the world instead of the western end?

    Chew on This

    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

    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.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. Describe Eustace's physical and psychological transformations in Chapters 4-7. How does Eustace's metamorphosis into a dragon reflect his psychological state? What emotional and spiritual changes must he go through in order to be turned back into a boy?
    2. Why does Coriarkin transform the Duffers into Monopods? Why do they make themselves invisible? Why do they ask Lucy to break the invisibility spell?
    3. What effect does the discovery of water that turns things to gold have on Caspian and Edmund? How are they brought back to their senses?
    4. Do Caspian, Lucy, or Edmund develop as characters in the course of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? If so, how? If not, then what is their purpose in the story?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Awe and Amazement

    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.

    Questions About Awe and Amazement

    1. How does Eustace feel when he first sees Aslan?
    2. Why does Lucy see Aslan most frequently? What aspects of Lucy's character make her a particularly receptive believer?
    3. Why does Aslan usually only appear to individuals or very small groups? Why doesn't he just appear to the entire crew of the Dawn Treader and give them instructions?
    4. What emotional and psychological effects do the crew of the Dawn Treader experience at the extreme eastern edge of the world? How does the power and glory of Aslan's country manifest for them?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Literature and Writing

    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.

    Questions About Literature and Writing

    1. Why does the narrator of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader constantly emphasize that Eustace has read the "wrong books"? Which books are the wrong ones and which are the right ones? Why?
    2. Why does Eustace begin writing a journal in Chapter 2? What kind of power does the journal give him that he is otherwise lacking?
    3. What is the significance of Eustace's inability to write out his story while he is a dragon? (Remember, he keeps trying to use his claws to write in the sand, but the waves wash away his words.)
    4. How does Coriarkin's magic book blur the boundaries between text and reality? What other forms of media does the magic book remind you of? (Suggestion: You might want to consider forms of media that may not have been known to C.S. Lewis in the 1950s when he was writing.)
    5. Describe Lucy's absorption into the spell "for the refreshment of the spirit." How is her experience with this story similar to our experience of absorption in reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? How is it different?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Contrasting Regions: Narnia and England

    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.

    Questions About Contrasting Regions: Narnia and England

    1. Which character is most likely to make explicit comparisons between Narnia and England? Given what this character is like, do you think the narrator of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader considers such comparisons useful?
    2. How would Narnia be different if it had the same level of technological advancement as 20th-century England? Would it be possible for Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace to learn the same ethical lessons in a more technologically advanced version of Narnia?
    3. How do Narnian and English ideas about the role of women in society differ? Describe Narnian chivalry, especially as it pertains to Lucy, and contrast it with the "modern" ideas that Eustace has learned from his parents. In what ways do the Narnians treat Lucy as an equal to Caspian or Edmund? In what ways do they consider her limited by her gender?
    4. Why does Aslan need to bring Edmund, Eustace, and Lucy to Narnia in order to learn about him? Couldn't he just reach out to them in their own world? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Principles

    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.

    Questions About Principles

    1. What are some features of the code of behavior that Caspian and the Narnians follow? List as many as you can think of and support them with references to moments in the book when they describe or act on their principles.
    2. How do Narnian ideas of ethical behavior relate to C.S. Lewis's own Christian values?
    3. Does The Voyage of the Dawn Treader suggest that some principles and chivalric ideals can be taken too far? Consider some of Reepicheep's actions. Is it always smart for him to behave in the most honorable fashion possible? Does the text seem to suggest that he should moderate his behavior in some way? If so, how?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • The Supernatural

    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.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. How does The Voyage of the Dawn Treader balance supernatural elements with spiritual ones? Consider Aslan's role in the book and his relationship with the magicians and fantasy creatures that the characters encounter.
    2. How important are the supernatural and fantasy elements to the plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Would it be possible for Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace to learn the same lessons if their voyage were completely non-magical?
    3. Consider the magicians Coriarkin and Ramandu. How does our reaction to them change when we learn that they used to be stars in the sky? How does this make them different from the stock characters of magicians or wizards in other fantasy novels?

    Chew on This

    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.

  • Fate and Free Will

    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.

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Describe the prophecy that was spoken over Reepicheep's cradle when he was a baby. Does Reepicheep have any control over his fate?
    2. What happens when Caspian tries to escape from his responsibilities as King of Narnia? How do his friends explain the difference between being a king and being a "private person"?
    3. Does the ending of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader rely on fate because destiny is a significant theme in the book or because the plot is weak and needs to be forced into resolution? Do the actions that Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace take in the final chapter seem natural?

    Chew on This

    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.