I've never read the Narnia series beyond Prince Caspian so I'm having fun going through these. Having recently read some of Lewis's other works, it's fun to compare those with this fantasy series and see the similar themes, language and thought structures.
As to the series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is different from Caspian and Wardrobe in a couple of ways. First, as was indicated at the end of Caspian, only 2 of the Penvensies are on this trip…although they do bring along another Earthling, their cousin. I felt myself missing Peter and Susan at times (and sometimes wishing I could trade out Eustace for one or both of them) but at the same time, I was growing somewhat annoyed at Peter and it was refreshing to have Eustace there and see his growth from whining cynic to helpful adventurer. It was also fun to see two central characters return from the previous novel…having Caspian (now king) and Reepicheep there added to the familiarity and camaraderie of the voyage.
Another large change is that both Wardrobe and Caspian had a strong central antagonist in the book with a looming conflict to resolve. In Dawn Treader, there isn't a specific antagonist or a large conflict. Rather, we follow the crew on their quest to sail as far East as they can…beyond the ends of the known world and, if possible, into the "land of Aslan." Along the way they have a variety of adventures, thus encountering minor antagonists and conflicts, but the intensity or added tension created by a central character like the White Witch or the power hungry Miraz.
One other change I noticed in this book from the previous ones was that the symbolism in this novel seemed more prevalent and blatant than before. Perhaps part of this is because I was reading some of Lewis's other works and so I was tuned into his allegorical nature. Though, some of the symbolism used felt so over the top and obvious that it struct me as interesting. In Wardrobe, there are definite symbolic elements dealing with Aslan near the end of the book…a generally religious person may overlook these and not think twice. At the very end of Dawn Treader, however, is a section of symbolism (coupled with explanatory dialog) that would be very hard for any Christian to mistake for anything other than the blatant symbol Lewis is presenting. It was almost as if he had talked to people who read the previous novels and "didn't get it" and so he went into Dawn Treader thinking…"I'll beat them over the head with it so they can't miss it." This wasn't bad, per se, it was just a distinction that I thought was odd (and I'm curious as to how this will play out in the movie coming out this winter). That said, there are still some elements that are ripe for symbolism but I'm still wondering exactly what they might signify.
Overall, I really enjoyed the story. At points, it reminded me of epic voyage stories like The Odyssey or The Aeneid. I really enjoyed the character grown of Eustace. I also really liked the variety islands and adventures encountered. Even the peaceful moments of travel had vibrant and creative elements that were a lot of fun (such as the "sea people" near the end). The dragon encounter was very interesting. The Dark Island was intriguing and I would have liked to know a little more of it. I thought the "Death Water" idea was cool, especially that it became almost a mythical/mystical element due to the Aslan intervention.
Like The Odyssey, even though the book had an overarching goal (to reach the utter East), it was presented in such a way that it could easily be broken out into a series of standalone short stories. Like previous books, the writing is fresh and engaging and would easily be enjoyed by a child. At times I wonder about the narrator's role, but in the end, I didn't worry about it much.
This is an excellent addition to the Narnia series. A little different in scope from Wardrobe and Caspian, but just as enjoyable in my opinion.
4 out of 5 stars
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