It’s time for episode three of the tales of Narnian adventures, and I’m happy to say that so far I’ve managed to stick to the monthly schedule. After last month’s ‘bridging’ book, “Prince Caspian“, we move on to “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, a title I remember as being one of my favourites of the Narnia stories – so I was keen to see what I made of it nowadays…

At the end of “Caspian…” the four Pevensies are returned to ‘our’ world and Aslan breaks the news to Peter and Susan that they won’t be able to return to Narnia. And as “Voyage…” opens the family has been split up, with Susan and her parents touring America, Peter cramming for exams and the two youngest staying with their aunt, uncle and beastly cousin Eustace Clarence Scrubb. The family Scrubb are described in very unflattering terms as being “vegetarians, nonsmokers, teetotallers, pacifists, (who) wore a special kind of underclothes ” and it’s clear that Edmund and Lucy won’t fit in, particularly as Eustace takes every opportunity to bully his guests. However, the two siblings have each other for solace, as well as a wonderful painting of a ship which looks remarkably Narnian and reminds them of their other country. And one day, when Eustace is being particularly nasty, it’s this painting that suddenly comes to life and drags the trio back into Narnia.

Fortunately, the ship is that of their old friend Caspian, and the three children are rescued. Eustace is, of course, miserable and a total pain, whereas the Pevensies are delighted to be reunited with Caspian and also the talking mouse, Reepicheep. Caspian has set forth on a quest to sail to the East in search of the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia – although Reepicheep’s aim is more dramatic…

So the party sail over the seas encountering many dramatic situations; from slavers to dragons, a mysterious Magician to fallen stars, the adventures of the travellers are wonderfully and vividly painted. Eventually, however, the ship starts to reach the farthest Eastern point to which it can journey, and it is here decisions have to be made…

Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.

Well – I was expecting to enjoy “Voyage…” a lot, because I always remember it as one of my favourites, and I was mightily impressed with it all over again. It’s a brilliantly constructed, inventive and involving story from start to finish, and I can see why I loved it so much as a child. I suppose you could regard this as the quintessential quest story; a group setting out from its home, making all sorts of discoveries on routes with dark adventures and soul seeking, and then finally reaching their destination where everything will be changed for some of them. And the adventures really are quite marvellously done – from the comedy of the mysterious invisible people on the Magician’s island to the sheer terror of the Dark island which does rather lurk in the brain…

(Lucy) spent a good deal of time sitting on the little bench in the stern playing chess with Reepicheep. It was amusing to see him lifting the pieces, which were far too big for him, with both paws and standing on tiptoes if he made a move near the centre of the board. He was a good player and when he remembered what he was doing he usually won. But every now and then Lucy won because the Mouse did something quite ridiculous like sending a knight into the danger of a queen and castle combined. This happened because he had momentarily forgotten it was a game of chess and was thinking of a real battle and making the knight do what he would certainly have done in its place. For his mind was full of forlorn hopes, death or glory charges, and last stands.

As for the characters, well in some ways Eustace’s behaviour is a little bit reministent of how Edmund was in the first book, and the changes he has to go through to become a better person are not easy for him. There are, of course, morals dotted about the book – Eustace’s fate being one, and the Dark Island’s description of the place where dreams come true being another. Lucy is put to the test at one point in the adventures as well, and it’s left to Edmund to be the mature and sensible one, and to support Eustace too. Reepicheep is a joy – one of my favourites in the whole Narnia series – and his determination to see his destiny through is admirable and poignant.

Once again, I really do have to note what a marvellous storyteller Lewis was. This book drew me in right from the start, and the end sections in particular, where the ship begins to reach the far East, are so wonderfully evocative. Lewis brilliantly captures the strangeness of the seascape through which the ship is travelling, the weirdness and the effect it has on the travellers, in a way that transported me there with them. Just fabulous, and what an inventive mind Lewis had.

As for Aslan, his appearances are mostly fleeting in this book, with him being more of a background prescence, at least until the end. There *is* a point where a more explicit message is given about what he might represent, particularly in our world, but again I didn’t have any problem with Lewis’s agenda here; from my point of view, this is just a marvellously written, wonderfully readable book.

My reading of “Voyage…” is not, of course, an objective one, as I’m beginning to realise with the whole sequence, as I read and loved these books so many times in my childhood that I now understand they’re pretty much engraved into my psyche! Nevertheless, revisiting this one as an adult I was totally enthralled with the adventure all over again; Lewis’s amazing storytelling is evocative enough on its own, but again Pauline Baynes’ drawings are the perfect enhancement and the reading experience was a wonderful one. Only three books in, but this one is definitely a favourite and has a special place in my heart – and I’m very much looking forward to continuing with these next month!