Friday, October 21, 2005

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis)

Spoiler alert! Story details discussed

1) This was probably my favorite Narnia book when I was a kid, either because the cover was purple, or because it had more adventure than the first two books did. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was engaging but it kinda focused on tea parties and Christmas presents in a way that didn’t speak to me as much as it might have, while Prince Caspian had the heroes sitting around eating apples for the first hundred pages. This one drops the reader right into the water. It’s the adventure that everybody who read Prince Caspian thought was going to happen in that book.

2) All I remembered from having read the book as a kid was “the land where dreams come true” (Would I be the one who could survive in such a place? Or would I be the most vulnerable to its dangers?) and the pool of water that turned things to gold. I spent much of my childhood wondering what it would be like to be stuck at the bottom of a pool, having been turned to gold by the water. Drowning would be the only real problem, but it’s a real problem. Okay, dying because all my organs had turned into gold would be a problem too. Plus I'd be too heavy to move.

3) Many other things came back to me as I read. I remembered the dragon with the bracelet pinching his arm. I remembered the name Reepicheep, which reminded me that one of my grade school teachers had said the name Reepicheep, which reminded me she’d read the first three books aloud to the class. Somehow I’d forgotten about that. I found Reepicheep a little less ridiculous as a kid.

4) I like the way the kids enter the voyage with little buildup and no rational explanation - it just plunges everybody into the water. A rational setup would have been pointless.

5) Eustace’s character transformation is very effective, as Edmund’s was in LWW. For all of the captivating and powerful dimensions in these stories, Aslan is the only character whose contradictions are described directly: he’s beautiful and terrible, kind and dangerous, etc. The only human characters who are blessed with contradictions are those who start out acting one way and wind up acting another – Edmund in LWW, Eustace in this book and one or two others. (Both Edmund and Eustace start being likeable and stop being interesting when they complete this transition.) Eustace in particular is given a great deal of time to suffer for his mistakes – and resent others for them - so when he emerges as a different sort of person, it feels genuine.

6) I love the scary part when Lucy enters the magician’s house. One of Keith Johnstone’s most basic rules is to get the characters into trouble. In this case it doesn’t turn out to be real trouble, unfortunately.

7) The magician changes a whole species of creatures and refuses to change them back. That kinda bugged me.

8) I’ve heard that King Arthur’s gathering of the Knights of the Round Table symbolizes the work the conscious mind does to gather the resources lying buried in the subconscious. The demands of surviving childhood require each of us to bury our treasures - strengths we’re not yet ready to use - and the demands of surviving adulthood require each of us to dig them up again.

Caspian took his voyage to locate the seven lords who’d fled Narnia. What might seven lords represent?

Sensitive new age guy that I am, I associate the seven lords with the seven chakras. Five years ago that word would have made me gag, but I’ve learned a few things since then. Stranger In A Strange Land presents a multi-leveled psyche; a system of chakras could be thought of along the same lines – seven different levels on which each of us might interact with the world. Regardless, Voyage of the Dawn Treader suggests an individual who’s gathering up seven lost parts of his kingdom, his consciousness, which have been lost.

I’m not suggesting that C.S. Lewis had any of this in mind when he wrote the stories. I presume these ideas came together subconsciously, as such things do. But there was clearly a meaning behind the number of lords being seven. Would it have been the same with six lords? Eight? Five? It would have felt different, and that feeling is the best indicator we have that something symbolic is going on.

Come to think of it, why are there seven days of the week? One for each chakra? We have a base-ten mathematical system because we have ten fingers; it makes sense that we’d base the week on the number 7, which is central to many patterns in nature. (I'm sure there's at least one other more rational-sounding reason that I just don't know, but I just don't know it.)

9) The voyage to the end of the world is a basic mythological idea that somehow always succeeds in being interesting, since it’s by definition a voyage into the unknown. A story set in a familiar location runs the risk of repeating the same events that happened last time, but a story at the end of the world – well, who knows what’s out there? Nothing could logically be there, so whatever is there must be beyond logic. Any story that goes there uses logic as a vessel (a pattern whereby this event causes that event which causes another event) to sail beyond the limits of logic. That trick is why stories exist.

The end-of-the-world quest also has a way of isolating the characters in the story for a personal confrontation. When they travel out beyond all familiar territory, they have nothing but what they’ve brought with them.

10) I love the way Aslan’s country is always left mysterious, always in the distance, even beyond the end of the world. There's something hopeful about that.


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