My Narnia posts pretty much presume that either you have already read the entire chronicles, or you don’t care about spoilers. It is impossible to discuss the whole series without spoiling the various parts of it. Fair warning – you will learn a lot about the plots by reading on.
One name: Reepicheep. All right, two names: Reepicheep and Eustace.
This book has one of the best opening lines of all time: “THERE WAS A BOY CALLED EUSTACE Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third book in the Narnia series (in publication order) and is the fifth book if the books are put into chronological order. I will say right now that I am a proponent of publication order. I will provide a complete argument in support of my position in the scheduled wrap up post, but for now let it be said that I have read the books in both orders. Publication order is superior.
So, Dawn Treader. This is the book that has Edmund and Lucy returning to Narnia, and their annoying, smug cousin Eustace tags along quite by mistake. Eustace is a hoot – very superior British youth constantly demanding to be taken to the British consulate. His narrative arc is one of the best in all of the books and his interactions with Reepicheep are delightful. In fact, Reepicheep is among the most noble of characters in the entire series, and the mice, in general, are simply awesome. Reepicheep is the most awesome of the most awesome. He appears in Prince Caspian, and makes a reprise in Voyage, and then we see him one last time in The Last Battle. And it is the mouse who helps the dragon through his dark night of the soul over to the other side.
The premise of the Dawn Treader is a classic quest novel – Caspian X is at the helm of Narnia, peace has been restored, and he has embarked on a journey to find the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia who were dispatched by Miraz on impossible missions to get them out of the way so he could usurp the throne. Five of the seven lords are found alive, two of them having apparently perished in different ways.
Thematically, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a voyage of discovery – certain of the characters confronting and overcoming their own weaknesses. Eustace is transformed into a dragon because of his greed and selfishness and must find his way back into boyhood. Caspian himself is tempted to leave his subjects without a ruler, and must give up the dream and return to the hard life of being a responsible king. Even Lucy is tempted, first by great physical beauty, and then by something much more mundane – the desire to find out what her friends are saying about her. In classic “be careful what you wish for” fashion, what she learns is unflattering and results in the demise of a potential friendship.
I like this one slightly better than Prince Caspian, mostly because of the prominence of Reepicheep and because of Eustace, who returns from Narnia having grown enormously within himself. Happily, we get to see Eustace again in The Silver Chair.
Stay away from the movie though. Because while it was beautifully filmed, Hollywood took a subtle story about growth and confronting fears and selflessness and turned into a quest for seven magic swords. Whatever.