“ASLAN WAS JESUS THE WHOLE TIME!”
“THE WHOLE TIME!”
“A bit on the nose, right?”
“I thought it was… what’s it called when something is used to teach you about something else?”
“Yeah, an allegory.”
The Dawn Treader comes upon a weird area of unnatural darkness. They almost do not sail through the huge blanket of darkness, but Reepicheep pretty much calls them cowards. Caspian looks to Lucy as the last excuse for not going, “I suppose we shall have to go on. Unless Lucy would rather not?” Nice try, pal. You’re all going. After a little while, which the book both describes as an unknowable amount of time (“how long this voyage into the darkness lasted, nobody knew”) and later it says the ship’s captain knew it was only a few minutes (“five minutes perhaps”), they arrive at a dark island. Lord Rhoop, who had been left on the dark island, sees them, screams, jumps in the water, and swims to them. They get him on board and he explains that this island makes dreams (nightmares) come true. They hightail it out of there immediately. Lucy is scared so prays to Aslan. Nothing in her circumstances change, but she feels better, which is an accurate description of prayer with a result most people would recognize. But because it’s all real, they also later get supernatural Aslan assistance! An albatross appeared with Aslan’s voice and breath (although it only reveals these things to true-believer Lucy), and here’s where we learn that Aslan can take different shapes, which is important in the last chapter.
Once safe, Aslan, we assume, destroys the island. He couldn’t do this before it tortured and traumatized Lord Rhoop for years, because reasons.
The very next island they come to they find the last remaining lords, all in an enchanted sleep at a very large table covered with food. They dare not eat the food thinking this will make them sleep, too. Eventually Lord Rhoop gets to join the other three lords in the dreamless sleep because he is literally too traumatized to be conscious. Guess he didn’t pray to Aslan.
While our heroes are sitting at the enchanted table, not eating, a lady who was so pretty that when they saw her “they had never before known what beauty meant” approached them. She explained that one of the lords asleep at the table touched the White Witch’s stone knife, a magical knife from the first book that is kept in honor at this island, and it made all three of them (even the other two who had just been standing there) fall into an enchanted sleep. The only way to save them is all kinds of messed up, as we’ll learn.
This beautiful lady (who is described down to her long hair and bare arms) is only ever called “the girl” or “the daughter of Ramandu” and IS NEVER GIVEN A NAME. Her purpose is to be nice to look at, and a prize to be won at the end of Caspian’s journey. That’s it. Her name is not important.
Caspian tells “the girl” that in the story of Sleeping Beauty the prince or king had to kiss the beauty to wake the kingdom. (Nice and subtle there, you old dog, er, werewolf boy.) “The girl” informs Caspian that he will have to break the spell before he can claim his prize (herself). Little Bit and I decided to name her Trophyna, since we couldn’t take it that she didn’t have a name, and she’s a literal human trophy.
Trophyna’s father, an actual person who gets a name, Ramandu, comes out next and explains that the way to break the curse on the sleeping lords is to sacrifice a person to Aslan. So in the far east is Aslan’s land, and it’s obvious now that this is the Kingdom of Heaven from Scripture, or in other words, where dead people go when they die if they believed in Jesus. If they deliver a person to Heaven (“he must go on into the utter east and never return into the world”) then the spell will be broken. Since Reepicheep has been prophesize to be that person, he volunteers.
So much messed up stuff here. We just skipped through the sexism right over to human sacrifice.
Ramandu turns out to be a star. Eustace says that in the real world a star is “a huge ball of flaming gas.” Ramandu says, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” See, our knowledge of the natural world does match Scripture! Stars are beings after all. It all works. Now don’t think about it too hard. Ramandu is a retired star–not one brought down to earth as a punishment like the magician (also a star), but simply an old one who will return to the sky one day. Aslan’s birds make him younger with magical berries they pick from the sun each day that seem like hot coals and are reminiscent of the biblical story of the seraphim flying a live coal to Isaiah’s lips. Ramandu’s backstory is not really important for this book, but what’s remarkable to modern readers will be the detail its given when the woman who becomes queen of all of Narnia, and a major protagonist’s wife, is not worth enough to have even a tiny back story!
Caspian says his mission is technically over as they’ve found the lords, and saving the lords will be a brand new mission. This is ridiculous since it’s all technically the same mission as they set out to both find and save these lords, but no one tell Caspian this because the book is setting up some weird testing of the crew and logic can’t come into it. Ramandu agrees that Caspian should not use “men deceived” to complete this mission so instead they ask the crew if they want to come. But Caspian does end up using deceit as he frames the mission in terms of letting the crew join this rewarding adventure instead of needing them to join. All the men jump at the chance to get rewarded and be worthy of the adventure (instead of thinking in terms of being ready and able to do it), and Caspian decides the very last crew member to ask to join should be punished by not getting to join. This was especially cruel since the sailor feared being left behind. This turn of events messed the sailor up so badly that he eventually would leave the Dawn Treader, become a famous liar, and live in, you guessed it, Calormen.
Sailing this last bit towards Aslan’s land, or Heaven, is described as a surreal experience in a spirit land. Everything is too bright, the water is drinkable light, the sun gets bigger, the crew no longer needs to sleep or eat or talk. The older members of the crew even start to become younger. The scene has every imaginative element Lewis could pour into it. There are also fierce merpeople who I think only exist to challenge Reepicheep to dive into the water to fight them and incidentally discover the water is sweet and magical like the prophecy from the beginning of the book.
They finally reach the last part of the sea where lilies cover the entire top of the water for days. Then they reach the end where the ship can go no further. Caspian tries, in a Miraz-like way, to go on to Aslan’s land and leave the Dawn Treader crew. After hearing this abdication is wrong, Caspian goes back to his quarters in a tantrum. There Aslan talks to Caspian out of the gold lion’s head on his wall (“It was terrible”) and tells him that the children from the real world, and Reepicheep, will leave him and he had to go back alone. This leaves him a crying mess.
Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Reep get in a boat and are taken to Aslan’s country. The end of the world is described, not as a drop of a waterfall into nothingness, but as a lift of a waterfall up into the sky and into Heaven. Reep sails his little ship straight up that rainbow waterfall and that’s the end of him, just like when Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. The children, however, only get a glimpse of Heaven, like the Apostle Paul claims happened to a guy he knew, and go on to walk to the very edge of the world where, like it would in a flat world, the sky reached the ground in a dome.
And who do they meet there? “The Lamb” who was said to be so white it would hurt to look at. He invites them to a meal of fish (like Jesus did with his disciples), and the Lamb turns into a very familiar lion and is revealed to be Aslan. Aslan makes it clear that the children must go back home to the real world and figure out who he (Aslan) is and what his name is. If Christianity claims you have to call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13), then Lewis probably wants people to know how important it is to get that name right. We learn that the only reason the children were ever brought to Narnia in the first place was to get to know Aslan enough to recognize Jesus in the real world.
Little Bit was confused so I explained that this means they will only get to Aslan’s country by dying, and only if they figure out to believe in the name of Jesus first.
Lucy asks when they can return to Narnia and Aslan says they are too old and will never return to Narnia.
Then Aslan tears a hole in reality, and dumps them back at Eustace’s house. People start noticing that Eustace “had improved,” but Eustace’s mother finds him tiresome and boring now.
In Narnia, Caspian goes back to fetch Ramandu’s daughter, and they all reach Narnia together. Trophyna “became a great queen and the mother and grandmother of great kings.” Maybe queens, too, but why would they mention daughters? Do daughters become kings? I don’t think so. Also, her personal accomplishments tap out at “mother” and “grandmother” which is the best a woman can do I guess. Even when her legacy is being described, the only things worth mentioning are those which advance the stories of the men in her life.
The point is we left an entire race of people disfigured, sacrificed a person to break a random spell, took a nameless trophy, lost two of our friends who are too old to ever return (did they get to be double digits or something?), ruined a sailor’s life for no reason, and now Eustace is better than the parents he is returning to so they don’t like him. So… happy ending!
Reading with Little Bit: A Critical Look at The Chronicles of Narnia
October 13, 2017