Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
Being a Historical Exploration of the Creation and Reception of the
Third Book of the Chronicles of Narnia

Biography of C. S. Lewis | Bibliographic Description of Original Text | Publication History
Contemporaneous Reception of Text | Critical Evaluative Essay | Home Page

There is no shortage of writing about C. S. Lewis. A quick catalog search for the subject “C. S. Lewis” is almost overwhelming. Much has been written about his writings, his life, and his Christianity. Upon its release, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader received several favorable reviews in newspapers and magazines. These reviews tended to be brief plot summaries and a few value statements about the book’s quality, and a comparison to the first two books in the series.

I believe C. S. Lewis’s reputation as an author of adult literature and essays has led to the Narnia books being taken more seriously by scholars than they might otherwise have been. Although more scholarly focus has been placed on his adult works, there are still many writers interested in the Narnia books. David Downing’s C. S. Lewis bibliography lists 60 books and essays as “General Studies of Lewis and His Fiction” and 26 books and essays under “Studies on the Chronicles of Narnia.” Joe Christopher and Joan Ostling’s earlier (1974) but more extensive annotated Lewis bibliography lists 65 works (not reviews) about the Narnia books, although some of the article listed appear to only make brief mention of Lewis and Narnia. Of these, only two specifically mention The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, although several purportedly address the Chronicles of Narnia as a whole. Based on these bibliographies, scholarly analysis of the Narnia books seems to have taken off in the late 1960s. Earlier works tend to be reviews or summaries. Christopher and Ostling describe Bess Porter Adams’ treatment of Narnia in About Books and Children: Historical Survey of Children’s Literature: “Brief discussion of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a ‘gay little story’; no mention of its meaning” (99).

More recent research on Voyage of the Dawn Treader has included topics like “Medieval Echoes in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia with a Special Emphasis on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," “'Where Sky and Water Meet': Christian Iconography in C. S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” and “'The Way to Aslan's Country': Allusions in The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader'.” In short, they are being treated as literary research topics just like the adult works of C. S. Lewis. They are not exclusively being written about for their educational value or sales numbers, as children’s books often are.

The Narnia books are also often written about in terms of their Christian allegory. Richard Wagner lists Biblical allusions for all seven books. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan parallels Jesus in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Psalms 51:5-12. Eustace parallels the Apostle Paul in Acts 9:18 (Wagner 83). Books like A Family Guide To Narnia: Biblical Truths in C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia by Christin Ditchfield, Eternal Truths in Narnia: Bible Study with the Chronicles of Narnia by Julie Kloster, and Finding God in the Land of Narnia by Kurt Bruner make explicit the Christian allegory that Lewis kept veiled, and offer the Narnia books as guides for their readers to become better Christians. Religious interpretations of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader often hold up Reepicheep the Mouse as the best Christian role model in the book; “the courtly Mouse is a model of the true Christian disciple” (Bruner 104). Evan Gibson observes that “Reepicheep is the dawn treader” (172). He continues East on his quest for Aslan’s country after the others turn back. Lewis himself wrote that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about “the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep)” (Downing 47). However, Lewis also said, “You are mistaken when you think that everything in the books ‘represents’ something in this world. Things do that in The Pilgrim’s Progress but I’m not writing in that way” (Downing 64).

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader received some recent reviews for a new audio book version, which frequently comment on both the quality of the audio production but also on Lewis’ text. Patricia Austin in Booklist observed of the story, “the troops encounter myriad adventures (some more interesting than others), which can stand alone as fantastical stories of fantastical lands” (1212).  Louise Sherman’s 2002 review of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader audiobook from Scholastic Library Journal notes, “While adults might find the story a little dated at times and the religious elements somewhat heavy handed, children will not notice and will enjoy the story” (87). I think this is true. Although there are certainly Christian elements to the story that can be easily drawn out by those who are seeking them, Lewis’s work is also perfectly enjoyable at the non-allegorical level. Children do not need to recognize Aslan as a symbol of Jesus Christ to enjoy Lucy’s rapturous experience of touching his fur or to understand why Reepicheep would sail to the edge of the world to see him.

The Narnia books as a series have remained very popular over time. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with its exciting sea journey and new lands, may provide more to hold the interest of a modern child than The Magician’s Nephew or The Horse and His Boy. I read all of the Narnia books as a child—not for school, not for religious instruction, but just for fun—and remember The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as one of my personal favorites for its relatable characters and appealing adventures. It reunited me with Lucy, Edmund, Caspian, and Reepicheep--characters I'd already become fond of through previous books, and introduced Eustace, whose journey of self development is relatable to middle school age children, who are beginning to develop their personalities.
            On, where its average customer rating is 4.6 stars out of 5, many users of all ages have called Dawn Treader one of their favorites of the series. Matt Poole wrote, "
When I first read the chronicles of Narnia (in fifth grade), this was the one that captured my imagination the most. It's a book that is constantly exciting, each destination reached more incredible than the last. Such amazing creatures and concepts." E. A. Solinas observes, " "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is one of Lewis's most original and tightly-written Narnian adventures. It's also a bit of a break from form. After two books of battles against evil tyrants, "Voyage" simply goes where no man/woman/mouse has gone before, and gives us a view of the Narnian world as more than one isolated little region." A review entitled "A Kid's Review" said, " I think that "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" was a fantastic book. I liked it because it had a lot of suspence and adventure."A different "Kid's Review" highlighted the character development in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: "The last reason that I liked the book is because of its many interesting characters. Eustace is a very obnoxious, spoiled child. Prince Caspian is further developed in this story and I expect to learn more about him as I finish this series. Lastly, Lucy and Edmund become more mature on their third trip to Narnia."
            The Voyage of the Dawn Treader contains many of the hallmarks of excellent children's literature: children adventuring without adult guidance, animals, humor, and a journey. Its explorations of another world and of human nature are timeless. Additionally, the best children's books are said to "delight" more than to "instruct." The Narnia books in general have been popular across a wide spectrum of people because although they were influenced by Lewis's theology, they were not blatant in their moral instruction. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in particular is subtle in its pursuit of a Christian theme; as previously mentioned, it does not feature a big "good versus evil" battle but is instead a journey. The characters grow and mature throughout the course of their journey, but it feels natural and relatable. Lewis's writing has characters who are more sophisticated than the "good girls and boys" who serve as shining examples and the "bad boys and girls" who serve as terrible lessons to children in books like Horatio Alger's tales of street urchins working their way to respectable middle class livelihoods and Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew series.

Works Cited