Title: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Author: C. S. Lewis
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia
Nutshell: Edmund and Lucy are English schoolchildren sent to visit their rather horrid cousin Eustace for the summer. Eustace’s main hobbies are pinning bugs to cards for his collection, being a know-it-all, and loudly looking down on everyone. His parents are an early version of the sorts of people that get their knickers in a bunch when other people play “spot the vegan.” Edmund and Lucy are not excited, espcially since Eustace is most likely to tease them about something very dear: a secret, magical world where they once were rulers. Sure enough, Eustace starts in with the mockery right away. When, a minute later, they fall through a painting into the ocean of Narnia, he at first attempts to believe that his cousins have somehow drugged him or tricked him. But, on a sailing ship surrounded by strangely dressed men, under unfamiliar stars, he is convinced: Narnia is real, and he is in it.
As with all good adventures, poor Eustace cannot simply hop back through the painting and go about his life. He must stay, discovering enchanted islands and mystical creatures, being kidnapped by slave traders, and having dinner with stars, until he has learned something about himself, and been changed.
Read-alikes: The Secret Country By Pamela Dean is a slightly more complex secret world series. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards is somewhat less, but just as delightful. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is odd, but similar. And The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson.
No books have changed my life more than The Chronicles of Narnia. I was eight when my Uncle Stephen gave me a set. They were the first fantasy books I had ever read. The world was a new place when I finished.
I wouldn’t have expected to write a review of the Chronicles. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that it was possible for a person to have never read them. Having my references to the books missed by person after person was like slowly discovering that nobody else could see the moon. “But the moon! It’s right there in the sky! How could you miss it?” And then if, once having the moon explained, my helpless companion did not express a gushing desire to discover the moon, I was baffled. “But… it’s beautiful. How can that not be ‘your thing’?”
Enough. I caught the clue eventually. People need a reason to read the Chronicles. Hopefully, I can provide one.
Narnia is a book written for the joy of adventure, the delight of true magic, and the heart of one who longs for beauty and majesty.
Dawn Trader is written as a series of small adventures, a la The Odyssey. The overall plot is that the young king of Narnia is traveling in search of his father’s most faithful lords, who were banished long ago. Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace join him.
Almost immediately they are captured by slavers, and it is very entertaining to watch the slavers try to sell their own king at market. It doesn’t go well for them.
In another adventure, they come upon an island where everyone is invisible, and have to rescue them from an angry magician. Except that things are not as they appear. Which is quite a trick, as things don’t appear at all. This is my favorite adventure, although I couldn’t tell you why.
Several of the islands they come upon are early examples of subverting tropes. The island with a pool which turns things to gold turns out to be one of the most dangerous; the island where dreams come true only makes bad dreams true.
And some of the islands have deep, old magic to them, layered and thick with age.
The Chronicles are characterized by C. S. Lewis’s understated style. His prose is casual and conversational, with the asides and references to the reader that fell so heavily out of favor by the end of the twentieth century. (Now, of course, we’ve resurrected that mode of addressing our readers in the style of writing favored by bloggers.) They’re a delightful adventure series for young readers, made better by the rich layers of truth beneath the text. They are the perfect example, to me, of that quote of Emerson’s: “Fiction reveals truth which reality obscures.”