The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C S Lewis

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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C S Lewis

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: The third (not the fifth!) book in the most wonderful fantasy series ever written for children. Don't miss it and don't let them miss it either.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 185 Date: February 2008
Publisher: HarperCollinsChildren'sBooks
ISBN: 0007269439

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There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his masters called him Scrubb. I can't tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none. He didn't call his Father and Mother "Father" and "Mother", but Harold and Alberta. They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotallers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on beds and the windows were always open.'

Written fifty years ago, the opening words of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of C S Lewis' Narnian books, are both anachronistic and contemporary. We don't say masters now, but teachers, or father and mother, but mum and dad. This is the boarding-school jargon of the 1950s. But the dry humour in those words remains contemporary. And it's not lost on children. 1950s children may have recognised Eustace Clarence Scrubb immediately as the worst kind of rotter. Today's children will recognise him immediately as the very same thing, but they'll have another word for him altogether. One day, if only for a second, I'd like to have that sense of comic timing which can turn out a tiny phrase after a comma such as and he almost deserved it.

Eustace, together with his cousins Edmund and Lucy, both veterans of the first two Narnian adventures, are pulled through a magic painting to that enchanted world. They are aboard The Dawn Treader, Narnia's royal ship, on a voyage of discovery. Years ago, the pretender Miraz had banished seven lords loyal to Narnia's rightful ruler, King Caspian. They were to explore the unknown seas beyond the Lone Islands. They were never heard from again. And now Caspian, Edmund and Lucy's old friend, has set out in search of those missing lords. Eustace, of course, has a terrible time. Nothing has prepared this spoiled, self-centred, precious child for adventure, or gallantry, or self-sacrifice, or loyalty, or love for one's friends. He has much to learn. And learn he must. Finding out what has been the fate of each of the lords is not easy. The three children, Caspian and the ship's crew, and Reepicheep the Talking Mouse must overcome obstacles, fight the good fight, and above all, be true to themselves. And all the time they hope to see Aslan the lion, lord of Narnia.

Oh, there are some wonderful scenes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, you know. Some are sad. Some are funny. Some are exciting. Some catch hold of your heartstrings and tug at them until you think they'll never let go. There are the invisible Dufflepuds who just never stop talking - I wish the magician would make them inaudible instead of invisible. There is a terrifying experience for Eustace on Dragon Island where, happily, he learns finally to come to terms with the truth about himself. There is the wonderful, peaceful home of Ramandu, the retired star. But above all, there is Reepicheep the mouse: Reepicheep the courageous; Reepicheep the brutally honest; Reepicheep the gallant; Reepicheep the good friend; Reepicheep the seeker of danger and adventure and self-knowledge. Reepicheep, for me, is the greatest character ever written into children's literature. Thinking of the moment at which this little talking mouse realises his life's ambition, to reach the Utter East, brings tears to my eyes even as I type.

Could you read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader without having read any of the other Narnian books? Oh yes, I think so. It's a wonderful fantasy adventure story for children with some interesting messages on getting to know the truth about ourselves and being able to make changes where they are needed. Redemption here, more so perhaps than in all the other Narnian books, is the key. Christian theology and allegory bubble close to the surface but - one clumsy, silly scene with a silly lamb frying silly fish aside - they aren't overdone, or heavy, or preachy in any kind of denominational way. It could certainly be read by itself. It would be an awful shame to do that, though, I think. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is, these days, described as the fifth of the Narnian books, but I feel this does the series a disservice. Read it third; its place in the order of writing, after Prince Caspian and before The Silver Chair. So much of the Narnian mystery and magic is explained in The Magician's Nephew, chronologically first, but fifth written, I fear that sense of childhood wonder, so special to C S Lewis' work, is in danger of being lost if one follows the recommended reading list.

On a practical level, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, together of course, with rest of the series, is an excellent buy for any parent. The quality of Lewis' restrained writing is such that it can be read aloud to four and five-year-olds with ease and welcome rhythm. Its ideas and themes are easily accessible to independent readers of seven or eight. Older children, right up to their teenage years, will be able to take even more from it. I'm on my fifth copy, I think. But the first one I owned, falling to pieces as it is, is in a box underneath my bed. Half the pages are crinkled, as pages tend to go when one cries all over them and the paper dries. I shall never throw it away.

If they enjoy Narnia, they'll also enjoy the real world magic in anything written by David Almond.

The Amazon link to your right is to a set of all the Narnia books. You really shouldn't read one without reading the rest!

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Magda said:


I am so glad you did one of them, and I am even gladder than you did this particular one! It used to be my most favourite Narnia book, and I still think it fulfills the fantasy archetype best. I could never stand Reepicheep, but then I never read Narnia books as a proper child; and even for me who can't stand him, his final swim has a throat-tightening qualities.

Now, Silver Chair is my favourite. I never before noticed how dark it is until I heard read aloud the scene when the Green Witch tries to brainwash the children. Chilling stuff.

Jill replied:

Heehee. Ah man, they don't come any better, do they? I remember my mother reading Silver Chair aloud to me and thinking 'I've got to learn to read well enough to be able to read this over and over again to myself'.