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This tale about Narnia takes readers on a high-seas adventure to places beyond the imagination filled with new characters and new conflicts....
This tale about Narnia takes readers on a high-seas adventure to places beyond the imagination filled with new characters and new conflicts. Learn more about Reepicheep, the valiant mouse who is small in stature but great in courage. Meet Eustace Clarence Scrubb and find out how Professor Lewis came up with his dreadful name. Travel to where sky and water meet and discover how Aslan is also present in our world as well.
The Picture in the Bedroom
Fans of the Narnia stories may recall that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was dedicated to Lucy Barfield. Lewis dedicated The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to Lucy's foster brother Geoffrey, who was born in 1940 and thus was twelve when the book was released. Lewis and Owen Barfield met as undergraduates at Oxford and became lifelong friends, so it is not surprising that Lewis would dedicate two of his books for young people to his dear friend's adopted daughter and foster son. With a generosity typical of him, Lewis also paid for Geoffrey's school fees.
Geoffrey did not take his foster parents' last name until 1962. Because of this, early editions of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—those printed prior to 1962—are dedicated to Geoffrey Corbett.
Eustace Clarence Scrubb
Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with the unforgettable statement, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" (1). Jane Austen started Pride and Prejudice with the famous claim, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" (1). Lewis's friend J. R. R. Tolkien opened The Hobbit, his story about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, with the delightful announcement, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" (11).
After using the fairy-tale opening "Once there were four children" for his first two Narnia books, Lewis chose to begin the third with the statement, "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it" (3), a line that American Book Review has ranked as number forty-seven in its list of "The 100 Best First Lines from Novels."
Eustace Clarence Scrubb almost deserves his name, for at the start of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he behaves in a manner his priggish, snobby name suggests. As Bruce Edwards says, in naming "the spoiled and selfish brat Eustace Clarence Scrubb," Lewis chose a combination of names that conveys "a sense of conceited self-satisfaction" (93).
The resemblances in the tone and the initials of the name Eustace Clarence Scrubb and those of Clive Staples Lewis hint that there may be further similarities between the character and his creator. Lewis, who disliked his given name so much that he went by "Jack" all his life, shared Eustace's sharp intellect as well as his lack of physical prowess. The Eustace we meet here in chapter one is truly the "record stinker" that Edmund will call him (5), and so was Lewis himself for a time during his youth. Lewis documents this phase in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, confessing that at one point, his prime motivation was the craving for glitter, swagger, and distinction, and the desire to be "in the know" (68). Lewis goes on to describe his descent into a world of self-centeredness as he worked hard to make himself into "a fop, a cad, and a snob." In The Silver Chair, the next book in the series, Eustace will look back at his former self and exclaim, "Gosh! What a little tick I was" (5), a statement Lewis could very well have made about the corresponding period in his own youth.
It may be significant that in The Silver Chair, more often than not Lewis will refer to Eustace by his family name, Scrubb, suggesting perhaps that in the next story Eustace will become someone who no longer deserves his old name as he does here, or at least will not deserve it nearly as much.
Vegetarians, Nonsmokers, and Teetotalers
Here in the first paragraph of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, readers are told that Eustace's parents—and perhaps Lewis's vague use of they here is meant to include Eustace as well—are "very up-to-date and advanced people" (3). But we get the feeling that the Scrubbs' interest in being so up-to-date does not stem from a genuine desire to stay informed about recent learning or cultural progress, but simply so they can belittle others.
The narrator notes that the Scrubbs are also "vegetarians, non-smokers, and teetotalers" (3). Did Lewis have something against these three groups? The answer is a definite no, only against vegetarians, nonsmokers, or teetotalers who were oppressive, contemptuous, or judgmental—people like the Scrubbs who would look down on anyone who did not share their practices and who thought their actions somehow made them better than everyone else. Lewis's negative associations with how "very up-to-date" and "advanced" the Scrubbs are show "the false identification which some people make of refinement with virtue," as noted in Surprised by Joy (5).
In a letter dated March 15, 1955, Lewis wrote that he always attempted to concentrate on what he termed "mere" Christianity and to avoid "interdenominational" questions, but he noted that he made one exception:
I do however strongly object to the tyrannic and unscriptural insolence of anything that calls itself a Church and makes tee-totalism a condition of membership. Apart from the more serious objection (that Our Lord Himself turned water into wine and made wine the medium of the only rite He imposed on all His followers) it is so provincial (what I believe you people call "small town"). Don't they realize that Christianity arose in the Mediterranean world where, then as now, wine was as much part of the normal diet as bread? (Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 580)
It can be argued that wine is as much a part of the Narnian diet as it is the Mediterranean. As Paul Ford has observed, "The spirit of revelry is alive in Narnia, and wine is an important part of celebration" (457). Later in chapter one, after Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace are plucked from the sea, the first thing Caspian will do is to order spiced wine to warm them.
What about Lewis's position on vegetarianism? Except for its association here with Eustace's family, vegetarianism is actually portrayed in a positive light in Lewis's fiction. In chapter eleven, readers will meet Coriakin, a higher-order being who appears to be a vegetarian, as he will not share in the omelet and lamb feast he furnishes for Lucy, because he does not eat these things, "only bread" (163).
Similarly, during Jane's first visit with Ransom in That Hideous Strength, the third book of Lewis's space trilogy, Jane is given a "more substantial" lunch downstairs, while Lewis has his hero eat only "a roll of bread" (146), a plant-based meal that seems to be typical for him. Ransom's vegetarianism is first described in Perelandra. Upon returning to Earth after a visit to the unfallen world of Venus, where meat is not consumed, Ransom states that he is not interested in a breakfast of "bacon or eggs or anything of that kind" but instead requests fruit, bread, or porridge (27).
Lewis was not a vegetarian or a teetotaler himself, but he was a proponent of temperance. In Mere Christianity, he notes that this virtue, which now usually means "teetotalism," has changed its meaning. Lewis notes, "When the second Cardinal virtue was christened 'Temperance,' it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further" (78). Lewis concludes that individual Christians may decide "to give up all sorts of things for special reasons," but the moment they start claiming these things are bad in themselves and looking down their noses at others who do use them, they have taken a "wrong turning" (79). Clearly Eustace and his parents are the type of people who look down their noses at anyone who does not share their attitudes and practices.
If he were writing the Chronicles today, Lewis, himself a heavy smoker of both cigarettes and a pipe, might not have cast nonsmokers in this somewhat negative light by including Eustace's family among them. In a letter written in 1956, a few years after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was published, Lewis pointed out that Christ would not have made miraculous wine at Cana if he had intended for his followers to be teetotalers. Lewis continues, "Smoking is much harder to justify. I'd like to give it up but I'd find this very hard, i.e., I can abstain, but I can't concentrate on anything else while abstaining—not-smoking is a whole time job" (Letters of C. S. Lewis 454).
Perhaps because of this concern about smoking, Lewis—unlike Tolkien, who features pipe smoking prominently by nearly all his heroes—has relatively little tobacco use in the Chronicles. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, readers were told that after the dinner at the Beavers' house, Mr. Beaver got his pipe "lit up and going nicely" (75). In Prince Caspian, Trumpkin lit up his pipe after supper. In The Silver Chair, Puddleglum will smoke a "very strange, heavy sort of tobacco" in his pipe (70). However, it is significant that no human and certainly none of the children are ever pictured smoking in the Chronicles. The closest we come to a human smoking will be at the end of chapter eight here in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Rhince will complain that his "baccy's running a bit low" (129).
The Scrubbs and Cambridge
Having looked at the fact that Eustace's family are vegetarians, nonsmokers, and teetotalers, should anything be made of the fact that, as we will learn in chapter two, the Scrubbs live in Cambridge? Did Lewis have something against Oxford's sister school, and was this his way of showing it—by having people like the Scrubbs live there? Possibly. In his book Tolkien and Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, Colin Duriez has pointed out that during the 1930s, "Lewis increasingly found himself confronting a new approach to criticism, much of it coming out of the Cambridge University English School" (66). Duriez explains:
The Cambridge School was markedly different from Oxford's, especially after syllabus reform in 1928. Anglo-Saxon was optional, "practical criticism" was introduced, literature before Shakespeare was downplayed, and writers of the modern period were taught. The new approach tended to reevaluate the traditional literary canon, and some of Lewis's favorites, such as Milton and Shelley, were casualties. (66–67)
Lewis was also troubled, as Duriez notes, by a wider tendency coming out of Cambridge "to see poetry as the expression of the poet's personality" (67), a tendency Lewis referred to as "the Personal Heresy."
The fact that the Cambridge English School saw itself, like Eustace's family, as very up-to-date and advanced suggests that Lewis's decision to have the Scrubbs live in Cambridge may not have been purely random. His stance that poetry was more than an expression of the poet's state of mind led to what Duriez has labeled as "a courteous dispute" with the Cambridge scholar E. M. W. Tillyard (67). Lewis wrote an essay titled "The Personal Heresy in Criticism," which then became the first chapter in The Personal Heresy: A Controversy, a book he and Tillyard published in 1939. A final piece of evidence for Lewis's intentional decision to put the thoroughly modern Scrubbs in Cambridge may be found in the fact that the initial "E" in Tillyard's first name stood for Eustace.
That said, as Marvin Hinten has pointed out, any contention Lewis may have against Cambridge was "good-natured" (34). As Hinten rightly concludes, "Clearly Lewis harbored no genuine resentment against Cambridge." As confirmation of this, it could be noted that Lewis made Elwin Ransom, the protagonist of Out of the Silent Planet, a fellow of Cambridge College. In 1954, two years after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was published, Lewis himself accepted the chair of medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge, a position he very much enjoyed and held until the summer of 1963.
He Liked Bossing and Bullying
In addition to the facts about Eustace's family, one of the very first things Lewis's narrator tells us about Eustace Clarence Scrubb is that when it came to friends, "he had none" (3). Eustace's condition of being friendless, self-centered, and dominated by the desire to dominate is a state in which Aslan will not abandon him. Like Edmund's earlier condition in the first book, Eustace's sorry status cries out for mercy and redemption. Lewis, as he did previously with Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, again wants to remind his readers that the worst sinners—or in Eustace's case, the worst stinkers—can become the greatest saints. After being freed from his self-centered, dragonish nature in this story, Eustace will, in the next book, be an important member of the team Aslan will send to free Caspian's son from his years of captivity in Underland. Then in The Last Battle, Eustace and Jill will rescue King Tirian. Given Eustace's future roles, it could be argued that in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he is saved from a self-centered life so that he can save others.
Here the news that his cousins Edmund and Lucy are coming for a visit makes Eustace quite glad even though he dislikes them. This might at first seem paradoxical, but as we saw before with the White Witch and King Miraz, dominators need someone to dominate. If the only happiness for these bosses and bullies comes from bossing and bullying, then they must first have people around in order to give them a bad time, as Eustace does here.
Evan Gibson offers the following analysis of Eustace's condition at the start of the story:
The proud person looks down upon everyone else and imagines himself to be vastly superior. He seeks the company of others, but it is only in order to lord it over them. Although an attempt to characterize Eustace brings all sorts of vices flocking to the mind—his complaining, rudeness, cowardice, etc.—his constant attempt to degrade everything and everyone in order to enhance his own self-image seems to overshadow and make mild all his other faults. (169)
Like the White Witch and Miraz before him, Eustace is unable to see any flaws in himself. All of Lewis's villains share this same lack of capacity for self-criticism. As Gibson points out, Eustace needs to receive the self-knowledge that only Aslan can give to be able to see how dragonish his attitudes are. Gibson concludes that there is hope for a person only "when he begins to see himself as he actually is" (169). This same lack of capacity for self-criticism will be seen later when the crew of the Dawn Treader meets the Dufflepuds, whose flaws are as invisible to them as they themselves are to the crew.
We are given an additional detail about Eustace in this opening paragraph. Readers are told, "He didn't call his Father and Mother 'Father' and 'Mother,' but Harold and Alberta" (3). Certainly in this fact about Eustace that Lewis includes, we are meant to see not just the snobby trendiness already discussed but also Eustace's lack of respect for his elders, his defiance of authority, and his general insolence.
There is another point to be found in Eustace's practice. In his essay "Membership," Lewis points out that when St. Paul claimed we are all members of the same body, he meant "what we should call organs, things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another.... The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in the organic sense), precisely because they are not members or units of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable" (334–35). Lewis concludes, "That is why the modern notion that children should call their parents by their Christian names is so perverse. For this is an effort to ignore the difference in kind which makes for real organic unity" (335).
We find the opposite of bland homogeneity in Narnia. Narnia would not be Narnia if it were inhabited only by badgers.
Sitting on the Edge of the Bed
Here at the start of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we learn that Susan has gone on her own adventure, her own journey from the familiar into the unknown. She, of all the children, has been chosen to join her parents on her father's sixteen-week lecture trip to America. In Mrs. Pevensie's belief that Susan "would get far more" out of a trip to America than Edmund and Lucy (5), readers may simply hear the suggestion that since Susan is older, she might better appreciate the new people and new places. But Mrs. Pevensie may also be hoping the trip will aid in Susan's positive growth.
Excerpted from Inside the Voyage of the Dawn Treader by Devin Brown. Copyright © 2013 Devin Brown. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Posted October 23, 2010
Devin Brown's Inside Narnia series is three sevenths of the way to becoming the only *complete* commentary on the Narnia books. It is already the best.
Like with Inside Narnia and Inside Prince Caspian, Brown walks the reader chapter-by-chapter through Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But unlike other books on Narnia, which often focus exclusively on the connections within the work to other aspects of Lewis's thought-or to explaining the literary sources for Lewis's mythical creatures-Brown mentions these connections but also devotes considerable time treating the book as a work of master-class writing. Which it is.
Readers (like me) for whom VODT is the pinnacle of the Chronicles need not worry that Brown unweaves the book's powerful magic. As a critic, Brown adopts Lewis's model for criticism, which is wary of too much reading between the lines. Brown points out clear connections to Lewis's other work, illuminates the book's literary features and allusions, but avoids the "mare's nests" often caused by over-interpretation. This is a book that sends you back to the original with greater appreciation and enjoyment.
Recommended for book groups or high-school-and-up classrooms, and especially for serious fans of VODT, who are legion.