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A novel by C.S. Lewis
(2005, Harper Collins)
[original copyright 1952])

The Chronicles of Narnia, book 5

Returning to Narnia with their cousin, Edmund and Lucy travel the unknown seas in search of seven missing lords and Aslan’s home.


-- First reading (paperback)
May 9th to June 11th, 2020


The book started out really well, especially in their first stops, where they get captured, and where Eustace is transformed, and I liked the return of Caspian. But in the second half of the book, they get little to do but wonder. Lucy is manipulated into reading the book, but otherwise they do very little to influence the story, and it gets tedious watching them stare in awe and wonder at the miraculous stuff stemming from Aslan’s lands to the East.

Spoiler review:

As Aslan mentioned at the end of Prince Caspian, only Lucy and Edmund get to return to Narnia this time. And this time, they bring their cousin, an obnoxious boy whose character gets the best representation in the books that feature these characters. Observing a water painting of a ship, they are pulled into Narnia onto the Dawn Treader in a very cool and interesting manner. There, Caspian greets them, Eustace mopes around in his lower deck cabin, while the others try to enjoy the trip to the unknown lands to the east.

This early part of the book was by far the best, as the characters interacted in their own ways, with Lucy expressing all sorts of wonder, Edmund protecting Caspian, and Eustace sulking, not understanding that he’s in a different world. When they come to the three islands that are known on the ocean, they are so in awe of the new lands that the four youngsters and Reepicheep the mouse decide to walk across one island and meet the ship on the other side. There, they encounter their first major hurdle, as the island has been ignored by Narnia forever, and so Calormen slavers have mostly taken over. They capture the explorers. It is fortunate that Caspian falls into the hands of a noble lord, who survives in this environment, but is not proud of what is happening here. I kept waiting for the lord to betray him, but his advice was sound, laying a trap for the governor and slaver ships.

The lord is one of seven people driven out of Narnia by King Miraz when he usurped the throne. These lords show up on many of the islands that the Dawn Treader encounters throughout the book, in one form or another. One may have died on the dragon island, while another ended up turning to solid gold after touching a magical pool. Yet another ends up going temporarily crazy on an island where dreams come true. There were three more asleep at a table full of food, where they just grew tired of searching for the end of the world. The Dawn Treader also encounters a sea serpent, a raging storm, and a magician who used to be a star, but is being punished by Aslan for something he did. In typical Aslan fashion, we are told that his transgression is none of our business.

The dragon island was by far the most interesting. Obnoxious Eustace leaves the beach because he doesn’t want to do any work on getting the ship repaired. He takes to the hills, but then gets lost, encountering a dragon at his most vulnerable. The dragon dies (was this one of the lords?), and Eustace takes a golden bracelet from the hoard, but then falls asleep for no reason. When he wakes, he has become the dragon. His greed has obviously had consequences. He’s embarrassed, but finally goes to the beach when he thinks the ship will leave without him. The crew are terrified, but when they are able to communicate with him, they discover his identity. His attitude becomes one of compassion after this as they try to help him, transform him back or just remove the tightening bracelet. I liked the way his physical transformation brought about a mental and emotional change. He helps them get a new mast by ripping up a great tree, gets them food, and tries to spy new lands to the east. Finally, Aslan appears and transforms him back, as he’s learned his lesson. Sigh.

The fallen star magician requires Lucy’s help, as the people there were all turned invisible, a spell that can only be reversed by a young girl (presumably a virgin, not necessarily a young girl, as is typical in magical scenarios). The stories that Lucy learns while reading the magician’s book can’t be recalled, but she remembers them being beautiful and awesome. I gather this is another dictate of faith, otherwise it’s lazy storytelling. The “people”, Duffers who resemble mushrooms, are restored, and they are at times funny and others annoying, as they all follow one of their kind who actually has an opinion, though it’s often a strange one.

Aslan’s table is where they find the three last lords, fast asleep. It’s unknown why they need to sacrifice one of their crew to wake the men, but that’s the price laid out by the caretaker and his daughter. I thought perhaps Caspian would marry the woman, but it doesn’t seem so by the end of the book. The birds that stream from the rising sun to clear and reset the buffet are very strange, and I think are another metaphor, but by this time I was bored and didn’t care much.

The next sequence, which features an underwater land, was more interesting, though I wonder about Reepicheep’s behavior. Sure, he’s prone to accepting all challengers no matter the consequence, but had he already forgotten his promise to exchange his life for the three lords? I thought at this point that Eustace would be the one to join Aslan, but all they do is pull Reepicheep back on board, and he forgets the whole ordeal.

The end of the world is a pool of lilies. Literally. And then they reach a cliff that Reepicheep walks through to get to Aslan’s land. The three children also go, and are greeted by Aslan, who makes another door for them back to our world. As with Reepicheep’s behavior, I was disappointed by Caspian, as he goes into a fury about not being able to go to the land. He needs to be reminded by Aslan to be patient, where he should have been reminded what happened to Narnia last time their king disappeared suddenly.

I wish the second half of this book could have lived up to the promise of the first half. We were shown a huge variety of different lands and people, showing us that Narnia’s surrounding lands are more than just the talking animals. The chapters were interesting in that they showed us something different each time, with the tenuous connection of the missing lords. But they just weren’t very interesting, and after Eustace is transformed back into a human, there is very little for the characters to do except gape. They cleverly escape the sea serpent, but it doesn’t follow, which makes their escape seem more like luck.. They are told to rescue the Duffers, and the best part about that is Lucy’s desire to do it. At least Reepicheep made the decision himself to save the three lords. But there was no discussion, no debate, and very little interest on my part by this point.


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