Themes and Characters
Edmunds calls Eustace Clarence Scrubb a "record stinker." The narrator says of Eustace, "I can't tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none." When he learns that Lucy and Edmund will be staying in his home, Eustace delights in thoughts of how he will torment them and make them miserable.
When Eustace ends up on the Dawn Treader, he almost immediately causes problems: he swings Reepicheep around by the tail and then is surprised when the mouse Book illustration by Pauline Baynes for The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C. S. Lewis. takes after him with a rapier. Eustace apologizes to Reepicheep, though for the wrong reasons. This may be his first step toward reform. He manages to make enemies of everyone on the Dawn Treader. When they drop anchor at Dragon Island, being lazy, he decides to simply slip away to avoid work, climbing up a hillside in the forest. According to the narrator, "This showed, by the way, that his new life, little as he suspected it, had already done him [Eustace] some good; the old Eustace, Harold's and Alberta's Eustace, would have given up the climb after about ten minutes."
Much of the blame for Eustace's despicable behavior falls on his upbringing; in fact, his mother seems to like his being cruel to others. After returning home from the voyage, the new Eustace is not nearly so interesting to her as he was before, so she neglects him. When he sees a dragon, he has no clue as to what it is because he had been forbidden to read any of the books that would have told him what a dragon is. He had only read books that "had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons." The dragon is a miserable, lonely old creature who walks to a pond and dies. Perhaps he is a representation of what Eustace could become as an old man: lonely, friendless, and sad, with only wealth for company. Eustace is delighted to discover the dragon's hoard and falls asleep on it, thinking dragonish thoughts, and he awakens to discover himself transformed into a large, scaled beast. One leg is terribly squeezed by a large ring around it; this is a hint as to why Aslan would wish to have such a miserable person on the voyage, because it is through Eustace's finding the dragon's cave and then putting on the arm ring that the fate of one of the lost lords is discovered.
Through his transformation into the embodiment of the greedy, selfish creature that he was as a human being, Eustace begins to appreciate other people. "He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things. He realized that he was a monster cut off from the whole human race." "It was, however, clear to everyone that Eustace's character had been rather improved by becoming a dragon." As a dragon he can fly, he gives people rides above the island, and begins to make friends. "The pleasure (quite new to him) of being liked and, still more, of liking other people, was what kept Eustace from despair." His interior transformation results in Aslan performing a miracle. The lion bathes Eustace, washing away the dragon to find the boy within. It would be asking too much for Eustace to be instantly transformed into a saint, and he in fact remains a pain-in-the-neck much of the time, but he is on his way to becoming a good person. He even displays courage when battling the sea monster that attacks the Dawn Treader.
Although Eustace undergoes the greatest growth in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," Lucy Pevensie, Queen of Narnia, is the main character. Of all the fine characterizations in "The Chronicles of Narnia," hers is the most interesting, probably because of her closeness to Aslan. The lion is not prone to explaining himself; he can be cryptic. Lucy's closeness to him and her understanding of his ways enable her to explain some of what he does and to what end. If there is something fun to see or some wondrous challenge available, she can be counted on to head straight for it:
Lucy thought she was the most fortunate girl in the world, as she woke each morning to see the reflections of the sunlit water dancing on the ceiling of her cabin and looked round on all the nice new things she had got in the Lone Islands—seaboots and buskins and cloaks and jerkins and scarves. . . .
All of Lucy's adventures have meaning for her, and she grows. For instance, she reveals that she is anguished by her plain looks; she resents how people negatively compare her to her beautiful older sister Susan. When reading through Coriakin's book of magic, she discovers a spell that would make her beautiful beyond any other woman in the world. She wants to be loved and admired; the spell speaks directly to her greatest insecurity, her looks, and she nearly caves in, but Aslan's face appears on the page just as she is about to cast the spell, and she knows she must turn the page.
Not every lesson can be so easily learned. While in the tower on Burnt Island, Lucy casts another spell that allows her to watch a friend talk with another girl on a train. The other girl is snooty and criticizes Lucy's friend for being friends with Lucy, to which the friend responds that she does not like Lucy at all. This hurts. Aslan suggests to Lucy that the fault is hers, not her friend's, that eavesdropping, even by magic, was wrong. Can she forget what her friend said? No, she cannot. '"Have I spoiled everything?'" she asks Aslan. '"Do you mean we would have gone on being friends if it hadn't been for this—and been really great friends—all our lives perhaps—and now we never shall.'" Through a minor transgression, Lucy has changed her future relationship with her friend, but it is pointless to ask about what might have been because Aslan will never say.
Lucy has an attractive personality, but she has considerable competition for attention from the valorous Reepicheep, the chief mouse, described as two feet tall. As the voyage progresses, Reepicheep becomes the standard for courage against which all the other voyagers measure themselves, and he is looked to for guidance in dangerous situations. It is he who figures out how to defeat the sea serpent when it wraps its coils around the Dawn Treader and, at Aslan's Table, he is the first to demand drink when others fear that the food and drink are poisoned. He takes the measure of people well, and recognizes honor in Ramandu's daughter and will not...
(The entire section is 2629 words.)