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The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (The Chronicles of Narnia, #3)

The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (The Chronicles of Narnia, #3) - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes I loved this book, both as a child and again as an adult, because it takes me on the kind of adventure I'd love but know I can never have: a long, long sail (cool) into magic lands (über cool).

It's also sprinkled with wonderful, memorable quotes and moments. I loved the bit where Lucy is looking down into the water and sees the mermaid, who looks up just in time to see Lucy looking at her. They can't speak and they're separated almost before they can lock eyes, but it's a moment neither of them will forget. I had a non-boat, non-mermaid related moment like that when I was a child. Perhaps we all have.

I also love when Drinian gets very angry when Reepicheep puts himself in danger. "All this didn't mean that Drinian really disliked Reepicheep. On the contrary he liked him very much and was therefore frightened about him, and being frightened put him in a bad temper -- just as your mother is much angrier with you for running out into the road in front of a car than a stranger would be."

I didn't agree with this passage from the chapter "The Dark Island," and I remember that puzzling me very much. Lewis is usually so spot-on when it comes to emotional truth, it seemed odd that he'd fluff something major -- something important to a child, anyway, and bad dreams are very significant to young people. I always felt, and still feel, that my whole day is darkened when I have a bad dream just before waking in the morning. But here's Lewis' beautifully written, wholly opposite take on that:

And just as there are moments when simply to lie in bed and see the daylight pouring through your window and to hear the cheerful voice of an early postman or milkman down below and to realise that it was only a dream: it wasn't real, is so heavenly that it was very nearly worth having the nightmare in order to have the joy of waking, so they all felt when they came out of the dark.

It just occurred to me that this may be part of Lewis' Christian apologia. It's an analogy of life here in "the shadowlands," which may be dark and difficult; but ultimately the pain we suffer will make the release from it that much sweeter. I don't agree with any aspect of this take on human suffering, but it's a lovely passage anyway.

Speaking of things I don't agree with in this book: As an adult reader, I found it deeply amusing to play "Let's Count How Often Lewis Backs The Wrong Horse, Historically Speaking, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."

The story starts off with a memorable introduction to Eustace Clarence Scrubb, a boy so nasty that he almost deserves such a name. (The first line of this book really ought to win some sort of award, as should Lewis' ability to create perfect names, which rivals Dickens'.) And what's so horrible about this boy? He's been brought up by terrible, awful, no good very bad parents:

They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotallers and wore a special kind of underclothes.

Okay, I have no idea what the underwear is in reference to, but the rest is pretty hilarious. Imagine! People who don't eat meat or drink or smoke! The fiends! And these wretches are being allowed to rear a child!

Lewis is merciless to Eustace, who is admittedly a nasty piece of work (at least at the beginning of the book). When Eustace is flung into Narnia along with Lucy and Edmund, he is terrified and violently ill -- not exactly surprising, considering that he's tossed with no warning into the ocean and then hauled onto a very small ship. The sailors promptly offer this child of about 12 years some wine to make him feel better.

Let me just stop right here and crack up at the idea of a writer trying to pull a stunt like that today -- at least if the writer were making fun of the kid for being such a hopeless prig, he'd actually say no to alcohol. At the age of 12! What a loser! This sounds like exactly the kind of situation contemporary authors would use to demonstrate the horrors of bullying and peer pressure-induced teenage alcoholism; but Lewis clearly thinks the kid should man up, already, and take the booze.

Which doesn't exactly explain why Lucy, who is just as young and thoroughly female, enjoys the cup of hot wine offered to her. I'm not sure what does explain that. But I do find this paean to way-underage drinking entertaining, if only because I haven't noticed anyone else noticing it.

Eustace gets worse, though. He insists that boys and girls are all just people, and ought to be treated as such. It would be one thing if Caspian were giving up his quarters (the best on the ship) and bunking with his sailors because Lucy is royalty. But of course it's because she's a lady. What a loser Eustace is for thinking she's first and foremost a kid. And as a former kid myself, let me say that I'd have been thrilled to be offered a hammock to sleep in, as Edmund and Eustace were. I can have a bed at home. If I'm in Narnia, give me adventure.

But then I've never been sufficiently ladylike.

Lewis seems to think that girls and women are china dolls: they should be treated with great care lest they break, and rejected if they're anything less than exquisitely beautiful. Who wants to make room on the shelf for a homely china doll? Prince Caspian, that paragon of virtue, rejects the idea of marrying a king's daughter because she "squints, and has freckles." That's all we hear about her. That's reason enough for Caspian to hurry off on his next sea voyage.

Speaking of Lewis' habit of hanging on with both hands (and several of his toes) to the good old days when girls were ladies and kids smoked and drank: we know the Dawn Treader has arrived at a dreadful place when we learn that the Lone Islands are governed by, well, a governor. No wonder it's rife with corruption. Fortunately, nothing ever goes wrong when people are ruled by aristocrats; so Caspian announces, "I think we have had enough of governors," and hands the rule of the Lone Islands over to a Duke. And they all lived happily ever after, in a place where smoking and drinking never shortens or damages your life.

Lewis also introduces us in this novel to the Calormenes. "The Calormenes have dark faces and long beards. They wear flowing robes and orange-coloured turbans, and they are a wise, wealthy, courteous, cruel and ancient people." They also talk like people straight out of The Great Big Book Of Middle Eastern Stereotypes, a theme (?) Lewis will expand on later in The Horse and His Boy.

So. What have we learned here? Yes to smoking, drinking, meat-eating primogeniture, aristocracy vs. elected officials, girls being treated as "ladies" from the moment they're born, and female beauty as a prerequisite to marital happiness; no to foreigners, feminism, and "up-to-date and advanced people." I think that covers everything!

Truly, I did love this book. Like all the Narnia novels (well, six of them), it's strong enough to survive its own faults, especially if you approach it with a sense of humor. Just don't let your kids read it. And if you do, don't blame me if they tell everyone what a lousy parent you are for not rearing them on wine and cigars.