08/03/2012

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (by CS Lewis)

I've long enjoyed books by CS Lewis; it's well over forty years since I first came across the 'Narnia' series.

Having recently seen the film 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader', I realised that I had not read the book for at least twelve years. The film annoyed me in some respects - not so much sections that were left out, but the parts added in. However, I didn't get around to picking the book up again until yesterday, and that after finishing the academic tome 'Planet Narnia', which uncovers a proposed hidden key to the Narnia series: that of the influence of the seven mediaeval planets. While I mostly agreed with the author's ideas, I found it hard to see the influence of Sol (the sun) in this book, as my feeling is that it's related more to Venus, similar in many respects to Lewis's science fiction book 'Perelandra' which has the alterate title 'Voyage to Venus'.

So, realising that memory is often faulty, I thought it was about time I read 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' again. It's one I read regularly as a child, and liked very much, although I often used to miss out one particularly frightening chapter.

The story is about Edmund and Lucy Pevensie who play important parts in the two earlier books in the series. It also introduces their irritatingly smug cousin Eustace. He refuses to believe in Narnia... until a picture comes to life and the three find themselves on board the ship 'Dawn Treader'. There Edmund and Lucy are reunited with their old friend Caspian and the wonderful and courageous talking mouse Reepicheep. They are on a quest to find seven lost Telmarine lords who went into exile many years previously. Their adventures take them to several islands, and eventually to the end of the world: Aslan's country.

As well as some rather scary parts, at least from a childhood perspective, there is an amusing chapter about some strange creatures whose name ends up as 'Dufflepuds', a thought-provoking scene where Eustace becomes a great deal less unpleasant, and a very moving final part of the story where Reepicheep leaves the ship's company to meet his fate. There's also a powerful scene where Aslan appears as a Lamb; this was the spot at which, about forty years ago, I suddenly understood the Christian metaphors contained in the series.

The writing is excellent, the story fast-paced, and the book so much better than the film. If nothing else, the film should prompt more sales of this book, making it more widely available to today's young readers. As for the planetary influence, I found myself feeling, all the more, that of the seven possibilities outlined in 'Planet Narnia', the most likely one was Venus. But I am no academic, and the theory is still very interesting.

Highly recommended. Best read after 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and 'Prince Caspian', but not essential to do so.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 8th March 2012

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