Back in June of 2010 it came to my attention that, although they may be firmly embedded in my consciousness, I had never actually read all of the Narnia books. This struck me as something of an oversight and I resolved to rectify the situation as soon as possible and read them all before the end of the year (which I did, I’m just a little late in posting reviews). After the first four books, I had had quite enough of earnest children solving problems for the time being and was suffering from Narnia fatigue and so set them aside. I had forgotten about completing the series until I saw all the promotional material for the new film of The Voyage of the Dawntreader and being thoroughly irked by it. (Why the strange pronunciation? You don’t say lawn mower or horse rider, you say lawn mower and horse rider with the stress on the first thing, so why on earth would it be Dawntreader?) My irritation gave me the motivation I needed to return to the series.
The Voyage of the Dawntreader is, chronologically, the fifth book in the Narnia series. In it, Lucy and Edmund are drawn into Narnia through a painting, bringing with them their reluctant and sulky cousin, Eustace. Together, the three of them join King Caspian, older now than the last time we saw him in Prince Caspian, as he journeys to the eastern edge of the known world to discover what happened to the men loyal to his father whom his evil uncle sent away on a sea voyage from which none of them have ever returned.
Sadly, The Voyage of the Dawntreader was not my favourite of the Narnia books; that honour, rather unconventionally it seems, belongs to The Magician’s Nephew. The length of the Narnia books does not really lend itself to an epic journey storyline and so I felt that this book was very unevenly paced, with excessive amounts of time devoted to some events while others were skimmed over in a few sentences. Consequently, some of the episodes, such as Eustace and the dragon and Lucy and invisible voices, were excellent and well developed, whereas others felt rushed and perfunctory. I thought that the rapid dismissal of the island of dreams, one of the most interesting ideas in the book, was particularly disappointing. However, although plenty of people write better quest novels than Lewis, it is still an enjoyable read.
I was surprised at how much I liked the development of Eustace’s character, as Lewis manages to show how irritating he is without making him annoying to read about. His indignant diary, his outrage at not being able to contact the British embassy and his stubborn refusal to believe things despite all evidence to the contrary add wonderful touches of comedy to the book. This light relief is particularly welcome as I feel that The Voyage of the Dawntreader represents the point at which the series begins to become more serious: although allegory is an ever-present feature of the Narnia books I felt that it became a lot more overt in this book and there are several dark references to the future of the children and of Narnia itself. Although I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the others so far, I think that it played a necessary role in the trajectory of the series as a whole, and I look forward to seeing what comes next and how Lewis builds on this foundation.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Published by Diamond, 1996,pp. 189. Originally published in 1955.