Friday, December 14, 2007

Expressions of the Christian Faith in Narnia -- Part 3

In this, the long delayed third installment of my series on Expressions of the Christian Faith in Narnia, I’ll be discussing the third book in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia trilogy entitled, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. For Background, you can see the previous entries in this series: Introduction, Part One, Part Two.

The adventures of this third book take place after those of Prince Caspian. In this story, we once again see Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, but we also meet their cousin – the spoiled brat Eustace Scrubb. As this story begins, Edmund and Lucy are visiting with their aunt and uncle – Eustace’s parents, when suddenly they are sucked into the world of Narnia. Immediately, the children find themselves in the ocean, only to be rescued by the nearby Narnian vessel, The Dawn Treader. Aboard the vessel they meet none other than King Caspian X, their friend from their previous visit to Narnia.

The children soon discover that Caspian is on a voyage to explore the sea and search out seven lost Nobles who had been loyal to his father. The Dawn Treader is the first of Narnia’s sailing vessels since the time when the Pevensies had ruled Narnia centuries before. Along the journey, the friends encounter many islands, reclaiming some and discovering others.

There are a few themes which Lewis discusses in the book, but perhaps one of the most central themes is that of sin and redemption. Eustace learns a valuable lesson and is changed, from a spoiled, bullying, rotten, greedy person, into a truly good and decent human being.

One of the first places that the Narnians visit are the Lone Islands, which are the rightful domain of the King of Narnia. It is here that Caspian and the others encounter one the first of the lost Nobles. It is also here that he saves them from slavers who have infested the islands. The lord tells Caspian that the governor of the islands will probably not be happy to see the king, so they devise a plan whereby Caspian and the others land on the main island where they parade through the city up to the governor’s palace. Here, a time of reckoning takes place for the governor and his men.

When Caspian meets the governor, Gumpas, it is clear that the man has forgotten that it is he who serves the King. He has become pompus and enthralled by his own power. When Gumpas protests at the King’s reminders of unpaid tribute and refuses to take responsibility for the abolition of slavery in the Islands, Caspian deposes him, replacing him with the loyal Lord Bern, whom he makes Duke of the Lone Islands.

This episode is a picture of the reckoning which will take place at the end of the age. The Bible tells that the rightful King of all creation will return, and this time He will not permit Himself to be refused. Instead He shall judge each of us. We all will be called to give an account of what we have done on that day of reckoning.

As the Dawn Treader makes its way eastward over the sea, the crew encounters a number of islands. The events occurring on the ship are told both by the narrator, and occasionally from the selfish perspective of Eustace via his diary. One of the islands that the crew encounters serves as a location for repairs and resupplying the ship. As the crew is hard at work on this seemingly uninhabited island, Eustace steals away to avoid the work. He becomes lost and encounters an old dragon just as it breathes its final breaths. He discovers its cave and falls asleep amidst the pile of loot. However, upon waking, Eustice soon discovers that he himself has become a dragon! Finally, he must reveal himself to his friends. He cannot speak, but communicates his true identity to them by writing on the sand of the beach.

For many days Eustace lives as a dragon. He is miserable and outcast from the group. He finds ways to make himself useful, but he behaves, according to his dragonish nature, in ways that disgust even himself. Eustace longs to be a boy again, but through this time he recognizes how badly he had treated everyone around him, and that they merely had his best interests at heart.

One night Eustace meets Aslan, who invites him to a small pool in a distant clearing. Aslan tells Eustace to disrobe and bathe. Eustace tries in futility to remove the dragonish scales, discovering layer upon layer of them covering his body. Finally, he submits to Aslan, who removes the scales and washes him, making him a boy again. Only this time, Eustace is a new person. He has been reborn, changed forever by Aslan.

I find this part of the story to be particularly moving. I did not always, but more and more I see that I am Eustace. I see how "dragonish" I can be, but God cuts through all of that in a unique way. When we allow Him to, He can clean us and change us. And like Eustace, once we've encountered God, we are changed for the best.

The company encounters a number of other islands. One of these they name "Deathwater Island," for it is here that they discover a pool which has the power to turn anything its water touches to gold. As they confront their own greed, they discern the golden figure of a swimmer at the bottom of the pool. Here, they realize they have found another of the lost nobles. They also learn a valuable lesson of the destructive nature of greed.

On another of the islands, the crew of the Dawn Treader encounters a race of invisible people who claim to be under the spell of the magician who rules the island. As the friends so find out, the magician is not evil, rather he has the best interests of the other inhabitants at heart, only they are too simpleminded and stubborn to realize this. Still as a loving master, he cares for them in after a paternal fashion. On this island the children, especially Lucy, learn quite a bit. However, one of the most significant things here is the relationship of the magician with the simple servants. While he, somewhat symbolic of God, cares for them and wants what is best for them, they are dissatisfied and rebel against him -- to their own detriment. While they are humorous and obviously quite stupid, sometimes we can identify with them.

The next island the crew encounters is a dark island, where they take a lone stranger aboard. He is quite insistent that they must not go ashore, for this is an island where nightmares become real. As they turn and row with all their might away from the island, they learn that this is yet another of the lost nobles of Narnia.

The final island on their journey is where they find the final three nobles; having discovered the first on the lone islands, the second as the dying dragon, the third turned to gold, and the fourth rescued from the dark island. When they encounter the final three, the men are seated at a magic table, deep in an enchanted sleep. The master of the Island is Ramandu, who had once been a star, but then grew old and descended to this island. Each day he and his beautiful daughter sing as the sun rises and a flock of birds come from the sun bearing a fire-berry which they give to Ramandu and he grows younger until one day he will be a baby and once again return to the sky as a star. Each evening on this island a magical banquet appears upon the table-- Aslan's table. Upon the table lies a stone knife, which they learn to be the same knife with which the White Witch killed Aslan. It has been brought here to be "kept in honour while the world lasts."

The friends learn that the three nobles sleep because they had taken up the knife against one another in a disagreement many years ago. In order to rescue the sleepers from their sleep, the crew must continue east to the end of the world, and leave one of their own, then return.

Caspian falls in love with the daughter of Ramandu, and promises to return for her. The Dawn Treader continues to the edge of the world, encountering mer-people, beautiful flowers floating on the sea's surface, and discovering that the water at the end of the world is a kind of "living water," which they drink and are sustained.

At long last they come to the end of the world. Here it is Reepicheep the mouse who volunteers for the adventure of traveling past the end of the world, to "Aslan's country." He and the children part ways with the crew, and go their separate ways. The children find that they are able to walk, for the water is shallow here, to a strange place where they encounter a lamb, who offers them a breakfast of fish (cf. John 21) and then turns into a lion -- Aslan. He reveals that He is known by another name in our world (i.e., God) and that Edmund and Lucy will not return to Narnia. After this, He sends the children home.

Especially toward the end of the book, Lewis's symbolism of God and Aslan are more and more clear. The lion who is also a lamb is a clear reference back to the God of the Bible, who Himself is portrayed as both. It is here that Lewis, via Aslan, reveals at least part of his purpose with the books. Aslan says, "I am [there]. But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." Indeed, Lewis sums up the purpose of his books, namely, that readers might learn about God by learning about Aslan and Narnia.

1 comment:

Robert said...


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