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Matt Mikalatos

“Eustace Was a Dragon All Along”: Aslan and Spiritual Growth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about our spiritual journey, and the transformation we experience along the way—nowhere is this clearer than in the changes in Eustace Scrubb. As we learn in the first sentence: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” And in the last, “…back in our own world everyone soon started saying how Eustace had improved, and how ‘You’d never know him for the same boy’.”

Lewis believed that humans could continue to improve spiritually until they became something “like God” or could devolve spiritually until they ceased to be human at all. In Dawn Treader we see both the potential pitfalls of the spiritual life and the potential victories. And all of them, it turns out, have one thing in common: Aslan.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Seven Gifts of Aslan: Sacraments in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Did you ever wish that Father Christmas would show up in the middle of an adventure and give you the exact gifts you needed for the road ahead, just like he did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? That pretty much exactly aligns with the Christian concept of the sacraments—there are seven sacraments in the teaching of the Anglican church (the church C.S. Lewis attended), and all seven appear in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Lewis told us that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about spiritual journeys. At the core, it’s a book about how human beings grow. How do we become better people? There are places where Aslan shows up and helps the characters to progress (we’ll look at these in two weeks), and there are gifts that Aslan has given us that help along the way, too.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

On Grief, Joy, and Saying Goodbye: Reepicheep and Aslan’s Country

In the end, Reepicheep dies.

That’s something I didn’t understand when I read Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a kid. Lewis wouldn’t—indeed, didn’t—say it that way. In fact, he says the opposite, right in the text of the novel: While no one can claim to have seen Reepicheep from the moment he crested the great wave at the end of the world, Lewis says, “my belief is that he came safe to Aslan’s country and is alive there to this day.”

This particular article was originally meant to be the last in our series on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, rather than the second, but in the unique space we find ourselves at this moment, I decided to write it early. This novel is, in many ways, about the preparations we make for the moment when we reach world’s end, and Lewis’s ideas and thoughts about it may be helpful for us.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The World Beyond Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my least favorite Narnia book as a kid, but on this re-read it climbed the charts toward the top. I even shed a few tears before closing the book.

My problem with Dawn Treader as a kid was, well, nothing really happened. The Pevensies (plus one) appeared in Narnia, ran around on a ship for a while, then went home. There were adventures, sure, but it felt like one of my school buddies reciting their oral report at the end of summer break: I went here and this happened, and then I went here and saw this thing, and then I went home.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Narnia’s Mouse Knight: Reepicheep and the Dual Nature of Chivalry

Reepicheep! One of the greatest of fictional mice, though he is real in our hearts! Chivalrous leader of the talking mice of Narnia (or at least all the mice we see in Prince Caspian)!

Over the course of the last few essays, we’ve been exploring how the dueling narratives of Prince Caspian show us both the “Lord of Victory” and the “Lady of Peace.” There are conjunctions of seemingly conflicting values throughout the novel. When they come together, though, they bring restoration, healing, and a purging of those who brought corruption into Narnia. In Reepicheep, we find yet another example of dueling natures holding together to make a unified whole.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“Too Old for Narnia”: Belief, Fandom, and the End of Wonder

Not too long ago, my eldest daughter decided it was time for my youngest daughter to join her in one of her favorite fandoms: Jurassic Park. Toward the end of the movie, my youngest got deeply agitated and asked, “Does it hurt the actors when those dinosaurs bite them?” No, we explained, those are just special effects. Robots and computer generated drawings. “Well,” she asked, “Does it hurt when the robots bite them?” All of us older folks had a good laugh about that. She was so young and full of wonder, and the world was full of living dinosaurs and strange things.

At the end of Prince Caspian, Peter announces that he will not be returning to Narnia, and neither will Susan, because Aslan has told them they are too old. As a kid this upset me, because I worried that I wouldn’t find a portal to Narnia before I aged out. As an adult, this had gotten all wrapped up in a variety of questions about what exactly Lewis means by this declaration, and especially how it connects to that big question that is lurking out in front of us in this series: What exactly happened to Susan Pevensie that she wasn’t invited into Narnia for the Last Battle?

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

We Are All Kings and Queens in Narnia: Prince Caspian, the Son of Adam

Imagine, if you will, a political climate in which truth has been completely discarded. Even the history books are full of falsehoods that advance the narrative of those ruling the nation. Stories of the past have been ignored, abused, or outlawed. In the midst of this political rule, certain classes of people have been persecuted, harmed, sent into hiding.

That is the world of Narnia during Prince Caspian.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

We Should Probably Talk About That Time Susan and Lucy Attended a Bacchanal in Narnia

When the Pevensie children return to Narnia, their castle is in ruins, and the Golden Age of Narnia is all but forgotten. Talking animals and trees, dwarves and giants and satyrs are all considered to be myths or old wives’ tale. The death and resurrection of Aslan is scarcely remembered at all, and at one point Caspian’s Uncle Miraz not only denies Aslan, he says there’s no such thing as lions. Every true thing we readers know from the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been forgotten or corrupted. This sets the stage for Prince Caspian, a novel about—as Lewis once wrote in a letter—the “restoration of the true religion after corruption.”

There are strange, dueling narratives unfolding throughout the book. The Pevensies appear for three chapters, followed by four chapters of flashbacks about Caspian. Then four more with the Pevensies, and then another split, as the male characters dive into preparations for war and Susan and Lucy head off to attend a cultic Mystery feast.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

A Thousand Years Later — Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

Jack Lewis’s publisher didn’t expect The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to be a smash success. In fact, he was concerned that it would do poorly and damage Jack’s reputation. But one thing he knew for sure was that, if it was going to be a children’s book, it would need to be a series. So before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe even came out, Jack turned his attention to writing a second book.

This story was completely disconnected from most of the characters of the first book. It was, in fact, a prequel, telling the story of how the lamppost in the Narnian woods came to be there. But Jack got stuck partway through the writing, and his publisher agreed with him that it wasn’t coming together in the best way, yet. So he turned his attention to another idea—this one about a magician who pulls a group of children into Narnia to help him fight a war. The book was called Drawn Into Narnia, and Lewis finished it quickly, writing the last words in 1949, before The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe hit bookshelves.

[This is, of course, the book which became known as Prince Caspian…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Father Christmas: Narnian Adventurer, Bringer of Gifts, and Jovial Prophet of Aslan

Well, my friends, it is winter here where I live and Christmas is well on its way. The trees are up (we have two, a tradition that started because my family fought over which one we should cut down), the lights are hung inside and outside the house, and for the first time ever we have a brightly lit reindeer on the roof. The kids are making plans to bake cookies with Grandma, and the radio is recycling seventy-five years of Christmas tunes.

C.S. Lewis built the perfect kid-friendly metaphor to describe the horrors of the White Witch’s winter rule: It’s always winter, but never Christmas. While we adults might get caught up in the everyday concerns (How will the Narnians grow food? Will they get enough Vitamin D? Do they have to shovel their driveways every day?), children are faced with the real horror: Santa will never arrive with their gifts. The celebration never comes.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Matrons, Monsters, Children: Femininity in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

We might as well get this out of the way: C.S. Lewis would hate this article. No doubt he would have many entertaining quips and responses that would have the crowd roaring in approval at my folly. He’d ask us to focus on the story and not get sidelined by critical analysis (thereby missing the true meaning of the novel). But part of what I’m hoping for in this series is to dive into some of my own experience as a reader, as someone who grew up reading and loving Lewis, and who is now reading those same beloved books as an adult.

And the fact is, as an adult, I can’t help but notice that there is only one adult human woman who appears in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Others are mentioned (Ivy, Margaret, and Betty, who are only referred to as “the servants” who “do not come into the story much” and are never mentioned again). One character who appears to be a woman is not even human (we’ll get to that). The only adult female in the entire book who has any sort of positive character is a beaver. Lewis appears not to know how to deal with adult human females. In this novel, female characters fall into one of three categories: matrons, monsters, or children.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Why Did Aslan Have to Die? Theories of Atonement in Narnia

When I was a child, I had no idea what was coming when Susan and Lucy snuck out of their tents. Aslan seemed sad, and the girls wanted to see why. Aslan told them how lonely he was, and invited them to join him on his long walk—on the condition that they will leave when ordered. My first time reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan’s words filled me with a deep and unshakeable dread. Aslan seemed to feel the same thing, walking with his head so low to the ground that it was practically dragging. The girls put their hands in his mane and stroked his head, and tried to comfort him.

When they reached the Stone Table, every evil beast of Narnia was waiting, including Jadis herself, whose long winter had begun to thaw at last. To Susan and Lucy’s horror (and mine!), Aslan had agreed to be murdered—sacrificed—upon the Stone Table, so that their brother Edmund could live.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Neither Allegory Nor Lion: Aslan and the Chronicles of Narnia

A third of the way into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children come across two friendly beavers named, appropriately enough, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Mr. Beaver is the first person to mention the only character to appear in all seven Narnia books: Aslan the Lion. Aslan won’t appear until the final third of the book, but he’s clearly the most important person in it. As Mr. Beaver says, Aslan—not the children—is the one who will fix what’s wrong with Narnia.

Lewis said he was struggling to find Narnia’s direction until, “…suddenly Aslan came bounding into it.” Aslan is, in many ways, the beating heart at the center of the Narnia stories, the literal deus who shows up ex machina in more than one tale, and he provides at some times a sort of safety net, or an introduction to greater danger, or words of affirmation or rebuke, depending on what a character needs at the moment.

So where did the great Lion come from?

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Messy, Beautiful Worldbuilding of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

It all started, we’re told, with a picture of a faun, walking through a snowy wood and carrying some parcels and an umbrella. The image had come to C.S. Lewis when he was 16 years old, and many years later it became the seed of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—which, incidentally, celebrates its anniversary today, having been published on October 16, 1950.

It’s a strange scene, symbolic of the wonderful mythological hodgepodge that passes for Narnia’s worldbuilding. In most myths up until that point, fauns weren’t particularly child-friendly, known mostly as symbols of fertility or followers of the wise drunkard Silenus. We definitely wouldn’t expect them to be trotting along with an umbrella and parcels (we’re never told what’s in those parcels or where they came from). Mr. Tumnus (that’s the polite little faun’s name) also has a long tail which he drapes over his arm…an odd detail for someone who is half goat.

Lewis’s disregard for cohesive worldbuilding was cause for critique among a number of his friends. J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t appreciate the mythological jumble. Poet Ruth Pitter complained that if it’s always winter in Narnia, the Beaver family shouldn’t be able to grow potatoes or serve fresh marmalade rolls. In fact, Lewis burned an earlier draft of something similar to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because, “It was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it.”

[But he kept coming back to that civilized little faun…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Introducing the Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Once upon a time, two men named Jack and Tollers took a walk in the woods. They talked about literature and their love of speculative fiction…they both enjoyed the stories of H.G. Wells, though they were a bit too humanistic for Jack’s taste. They were both professors, and both published. Tollers had written A Middle English Vocabulary, a companion to Sisam’s Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose. Jack had published a couple small books of poetry—which had not been particularly well received—as well as an allegorical spiritual tale called The Pilgrim’s Regress.

It wasn’t, of course, that there were no speculative stories being written at all—it was the 1930s after all—but that they both wanted work that dealt with deeper issues. They wanted speculative fiction that pressed in to philosophy and theology and, most importantly, that touched deep mythical chords.

“Tollers,” Jack said, “There is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves.” Tollers agreed, and they flipped a coin to see who would write about space and who would write about time.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

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