Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2629

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...

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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 dishonor her by not taking her word that the food is safe to eat.

Reepicheep is a good companion who is happy to play games with Lucy. When they play chess, he usually wins. He is a smart and clever opponent, but if one has read Prince Caspian, then one knows that he places great value on being at the most dangerous spot during battle. He would even let Lucy win because "because he had momentarily forgotten it was a game of chess and was thinking of a real battle and making the knight do what he would certainly have done in its place. For his mind was full of forlorn hopes, death or glory charges, and last stands."

Edmund's role in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" is secondary to that of Lucy, but he carries it off well. He is prone to coining aphorisms such as '"If there's a wasp in the room I [Edmund] like to be able to see it'"— this in reference to there being a dragon nearby. In one important moment, he gets into a heated argument with Caspian over who has priority over the pond water that turns anything in it into gold. Both are kings: Caspian is Caspian X, whose rule over Narnia has been sanctified by Aslan himself, but Edmund is King Edmund, one of the four rulers of Narnia during Narnia's Golden Age, and technically outranks Caspian, because Aslan set the four rulers, High King Peter, King Edmund, Queen Lucy, and Queen Susan over all other rulers for all time. In one of his most cryptic moments, Aslan appears on a hillside near the pond: "Across the grey hillside above them—grey, for the heather was not yet in bloom—without noise, and without looking at them, and shining as if he were in bright sunlight though the sun had in fact gone in, passed with slow pace the hugest lion that human eyes have ever seen." Edmund knows what this means and stops arguing, as does Caspian.

In The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," King Caspian fulfills an oath he made to Aslan in Prince Caspian that he would, as soon as the situation in Narnia was secure, look for the seven lords sent across the Eastern Sea by the usurper Miraz. It has been three years since the events in Prince Caspian, and King Caspian is growing into manhood. He is strong and tough, but his defining characteristics are his intelligence, courage, and compassion. He puts all his best traits to use in the Lone Islands, where he puts an end to the slave trade, asserts his right to rule the islands, and throws out the corrupt government that had evolved during decades of neglect by Narnia's kings.

As the Dawn Treader sails across the sea, Caspian is met by many challenges, most of which he handles well. He shows that he is willing to listen to others and consider their view, as he does when Reepicheep suggests that they would be cowards not to enter the Darkness in their search for the lost lords. It turns out that Reepicheep is right, because the Lord Rhoop is on Dark Island in the Darkness, and they save him, although almost at the cost of their own sanity. He wisely overrules Reepicheep when the mouse wants to explore Dark Island.

His most significant lapse is near the end of The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." Lewis is interested in fully developed characters; if they were all paragons of virtue, his tales would lose their ring of authority. The novel may be fantasy, but Lewis is writing about people who could be real, hence the impression that the narrator interviewed Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace about their adventures. Caspian is a passionate young man; his passion serves him well when he puts an end to slavery in the Lone Islands, as it does for most of his trip. Yet he comes near to panic in the Darkness, allowing his passions to run away with his imagination. It takes Lucy, the experienced adventurer, to keep her head and call for Aslan's help. At the Last Wave, Caspian decides that he will remain behind and continue on to Aslan's country. When someone points out that he cannot go, he threatens violence and retaliation against those who would oppose him. He has forgotten his responsibility to Aslan, who made him king; to his sailors, who volunteered to serve him and who he should make sure get home safely; and to his subjects in Narnia who require his just, honest rule as well as his courage and intelligence to protect them from their enemies. There may be a war against Calormen brewing over the ending of the slave trade in the Lone Islands. He eventually yields to his duty, foregoing the adventure he most desires, showing that a good leader rules to benefit others, not to serve his own desires.

Aslan is revealed in an unusually diverse number of ways in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." His presence is always felt, though it would be the Deeper Magic of his father that brought Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace to Narnia's world through a painting. They would be in Narnia's world because Aslan had called them to fulfill a task, as he does to Jill and Eustace in The Silver Chair. Ending slavery in the Lone Islands would be one of the tasks he sets.

On Dragon Island he is to Eustace, who has become a dragon because of his cruelty and greed, a Redeemer. The ritual bathing of Eustace not only returns him to his form as a human boy but also sheds the burden of his evil behavior, allowing Eustace a second chance. Edmund was given a second chance by Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Aslan gives the despicable Rabadash a second chance in The Horse and His Boy. Giving second chances to people is one of Aslan's characteristics.

On the island of the Dufflepuds, Aslan not only appears in Coriakin's book of magic while Lucy looks through it, he actually materializes when Lucy casts the spell of visibility. She doubts that she could have made him appear, but he responds, '"Do you think I wouldn't obey my own rules?'" In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, he dies when cut by the stone knife of the White Witch while he is bound on the Stone Table. In this, he is obeying his own rules; the Deep Magic is the magic of the world, and he submits to it. His resurrection breaks the Stone Table and sends death moving backward, but this too is obeying the rules— in this case the rules of his father and his father's deeper magic. Thus, when he materializes and when he suggests that he is following his own rules, he is actually being consistent, and his consistency is no trivial matter: It cuts to the heart of his sharing experiences, even to the death, with his creation.

Aslan is not only manifested in the flesh in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," he appears in the form of a spirit, something he shares with his followers. When Lucy calls to him for help, she feels his breath; his breath is the spirit throughout "The Chronicles of Narnia." When he breathes on people they are comforted and strengthened. He also sends a sign to the crew of the Dawn Treader, an albatross that appears as a white cross guiding the voyagers out of their worst nightmares.

Eventually, Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace find him near Aslan's country, south of the Last Wave. There is a beautiful lamb near a fire, cooking food. The lamb offers to feed the children; this may be understood as actual, material food, but it also symbolizes food for the spirit. The lamb's "snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane." The symbolism is basic: the lamb represents Christ, and the lamb turning into Aslan means Aslan is Christ. It additionally shows Aslan's ability to take forms that he chooses (in accordance with his father's law). Aslan has told Lucy that he would appear bigger every time she saw him, and now he is enormous, a golden, shining lion. Edmund asks a sensible question—is Aslan on earth, too?—to which Aslan answers, '"I am . . . But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."' This is as close as Lewis gets to stating that there is a spiritual purpose to his Narnian novels, perhaps that by reading them one can better know Aslan on earth.

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