The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes

Adventure for the sake of adventuring! This book is far and away my favourite of the Narnia series and
I am so sad to see that “my” cover of this book is not available online. “My” cover shows the prow of the Dawn Treader coming towards the reader on a choppy sea, with Reepicheep the Mouse sitting at the corner of the cover: the Dawn Treader is a ship on the go, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the ultimate adventure book.

But I should begin at the beginning.

One of the drawbacks of having immigrant parents whose first language is not English is that they don’t have “old favourite” children’s books lying around that they can suggest to you. So I missed many of the “classic children’s stories” while growing up. Thankfully, I did not miss this series. One evening, I had to go to a grown-up party with my parents. My sister was not there – I was the only child – my parents were having a ball – I was dying of boredom. So Maggie, whose party it was, gave me The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was hooked.

I borrowed the Narnia series from the library over and over again until finally, one unforgettable Christmas (1987), I received a plethora of books, including a box set of Narnia books. The one I loved the most, the one with the best adventure and the best cover (I’ve mentioned before that I am a sucker for covers) is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. So ends the walk down memory lane (and thank you for coming with me); so begins the review.

For those of you who don’t know the Narnia books, they are a series of seven short books written by the English author C.S. Lewis and, nominally, are about a group of English schoolchildren who, at different points in time, are taken out of our world and brought to the world of Narnia, where they are bestowed with royal ranks and perform quests. There is some dispute as to the “first book” of the series, as it was written out of chronological order – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published first, but The Magician’s Nephew is a “pre-quel” and tells the tale of how Narnia was created. If you number the books according to “Narnia time”, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the fifth book in the series.

What makes this book my favourite?

  • It is adventure on the High Seas.
  • They are sailing to the Edge of the World and voyage to Lands Hitherto Unknown.
  • They sail to a bunch of new islands, and each one is a surprise.
  • Caspian stops being a whiner.
  • I always liked Edmund better than Peter.
  • I always liked Lucy better than Susan.
  • The first chapter has some hilarious lines in it.
  • Did I mention that it is adventure on the High Seas to Lands Hitherto Unknown?

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that a book about an adventurous seafaring crew sailing to the Edge of the World and mapping out unknown lands is going to be pretty exciting for any child. Actually, it’s still pretty exciting to me.

But the best part is that there is no quest in this book. Most of the other Narnia books have English schoolchildren running around and performing some essential duty for the good of Narnia. It’s all very interesting and exciting, but let’s face it: the formula is “goal, strive for goal, reach goal”, and we all know how the story ends.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is different. It’s just a book about a bunch of friends with wanderlust, curiosity, and a ship and crew sea-worthy enough to satisfy both. They sail out to sea to meet whatever fates await them. The Dawn Treader is charging towards the Edge of the World and the crew has no clue what awaits. It’s so deliciously decadent to sail off without a care in the world other than exploring. It’s like a holiday after all that questing in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. Hurrah for self-indulgent adventuring!

Any critique? Why yes. There is the sudden, strange and inexplicable appearance of Christian imagery at the end (lamb of God, anyone?). Inexplicable because it’s completely untied to the storyline. C.S. Lewis was also a Christian theologian and in many other Narnia books the imagery is obvious and important to the story. I have no problem with Christian imagery when it is essential to the plot, but I dislike it when religious imagery is randomly thrown in for no plot-related reason. That, to me, is sloppy writing and shows a distinct lack of plot-control.

Ah, I should probably say something about the illustrations. All I want to say is: I could not imagine these books without the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Narnia in my mind as described by Lewis is exactly as Baynes shows it to be; there is no greater compliment to an illustrator from a reader.

Reading ages: 8 to 11

Most Memorable Opening Line in the Narnia series: There was once a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Rating: A- (minus for the sloppy use of Christian imagery)


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