Saturday, January 29, 2011


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) is a children’s fantasy novel, the third in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Here, Edmund and Lucy, along with their insufferable cousin Eustace, are pulled into Narnia to aid Caspian in his search for seven missing Narnian lords.

There isn’t much of an overarching plot here as there are in Lewis’s prior novels; it’s much more episodic, as the Dawn Treader sails to one island after another, and to one adventure after another. And this is why the novel works so well: Lewis has given himself complete narrative freedom to do whatever he wants, and he uses the full measure of his wondrous imagination. The unexpected is here in a way unlike the previous stories, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has throughout it the full and free spirit of fantasy adventure.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a more charming read than either of Lewis’s previous books in the series, and the primary reason is that Lewis, as narrator, has gotten himself rather more playfully involved, making humorous observations here and witty comments there, in a way reminiscent of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Lewis’s characters’ dialogue is also sharp and clever, certainly more so than in previous books. My general impression is that with this book, Lewis really got a handle on his Narnian storytelling.

As is usual for him, Lewis has a number of moral themes at work here: most obviously, he addresses greed on a number of occasions – greed for wealth, for status, and for beauty. Through Eustace, Lewis extols the virtues of being well-mannered and considerate of others, but he also attacks the notion that “modern values” are inherently superior.

Christian themes are not as prominent here as in some other works (except, of course, Christian virtue), but they can be found in some depth in Reepicheep’s quest for Aslan’s Country – his quest, as it were, for afterlife and the Kingdom of God. And this is an area of the story where Lewis excels. He does a fine job of balancing childish wonderment and mature gravity in his characters as they approach the end of the world, and Lewis’s fleeting glimpses of what might lie beyond fire the spirit and the imagination.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is an outstanding adventure novel; it might be my favorite book in the series.



The audio version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is performed by Derek Jacobi, and he absolutely crushes it. He does a simply masterful job. Jacobi does a wonderful range of voices, and he juggles them without a hiccup. He fills the story with life and energy, and sweeps the listener up in it. This is one of the best performances of an audio book I’ve ever heard, and it’s highly recommended.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Prince Caspian, or, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951) is a children’s fantasy novel, the second in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Here, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are drawn back to Narnia, where hundreds of years have passed, and must work to overthrow a usurper and put the rightful king on the throne.

The story itself is rather straightforward: the Pevensies are in Narnia to do a job and get out. It’s all business, and the spirit of adventure the reader finds in the best books of the series is mostly absent here; it doesn’t help that the story follows the same basic structure as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, only without most of that book’s epic feel and emotional power. And yet the world of magical characters and Lewis’s own wit and sprinkling of profound Christian principles carry the story and make it an enjoyable read in spite of its flaws.

A prominent theme in Prince Caspian is the virtue of faith and belief; some of the children experience degrees of doubt in Aslan, and many of the Narnians have lost faith in him altogether. Other themes include chivalry and, as is always the case with Aslan, grace.

Prince Caspian suffers from some storytelling issues. The novel starts with the Pevensie children, follows them briefly, and then jumps to Prince Caspian’s backstory, which takes up nearly half the novel. When the story returns to the Pevensies, they spend most of their time doing little more trudging through the woods. Prince Caspian almost certainly would have worked better if Lewis had written the whole thing from the point of view of Caspian himself (along the lines of what he did with Tirian in The Last Battle), although this would only further highlight the fact that the Pevensies have very little to do throughout most of the novel (and half of what they do is squabble).

On the whole, Prince Caspian is probably the weakest book in the Chronicles of Narnia, but even so, it’s still worthwhile.


Thursday, January 27, 2011


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) is a children’s fantasy novel, the first and best-known in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. During World War II, four siblings are sent from London to a house in the country, where they are drawn into a magical world ruled by an evil witch.

Here, Lewis introduces the reader to a charming fantasy world populated with creatures drawn from Norse and Greek mythology. This kind of world will be instantly familiar to fantasy readers of all ages, as Lewis, one of the cornerstones of the modern high fantasy genre, has inspired a great deal of imitation (and, let’s be honest, some outright cribbing).

Lewis’s narration is perfect for the children’s genre: it is full of quaint homey details and little assurances to the reader (he also speeds through what would otherwise be graphic or horrific scenes). Additionally, Lewis does a nice job giving all four siblings the broad strokes of distinct personalities in such a short book.

While The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is not an allegory in the strict sense of the word, it does contain a great deal of strong and rather unmistakable Christian imagery. The most apparent such imagery centers around Aslan, who is an obvious Christ figure, and whose fate parallels Christ’s Passion. Indeed, while Aslan debuts rather late in the book, he dominates the story, which is, at its core, all about what Aslan is doing rather than what the children are doing.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a delightful read and a wonderful initiation to the world of Narnia. Yes, The Magician’s Nephew comes first chronologically, but it is here that Lewis makes his introductions.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The Everlasting Man (1925) is a Christian apologetic by G. K. Chesterton. It is a two-part “superficial” history of humanity, Jesus Christ, and Christianity, in which Chesterton analyzes what makes humanity unique among species and what makes Christianity unique among faiths. C. S. Lewis has said that this book “baptized his intellect.”

In part one, “On the Creature Called Man,” Chesterton responds to the arguments of H. G. Wells and others that mankind is really no different from any other animal. Chesterton counters that if so, he is certainly a bizarre and unusual one. Here, Chesterton, who does not deny evolution (he is more interested in dealing with the idea of the soul), cites the vast gaps in evidence between man and his supposed ancestors and points out how science is weak on prehistory, as well as how evolution is not experimental or explanatory.

In a similar vein, in part two, “On the Man Called Christ,” Chesterton counters arguments that Jesus was just another moral teacher with the observation that he was a bizarre and unusual leader that inspired a bizarre and unusual Church that is fundamentally different from any other faith.

The first several chapters of the book are absolutely brilliant. Chesterton completely and joyfully demolishes arguments of the evolutionists here, and it’s delightful to read because it’s obvious that Chesterton himself is having a great time. He moves on in part one to an in-depth examination of human history and culture; you’re going to need a pretty extensive background in the humanities to get the full value (in the same way, part two expects the reader to have at least a passing familiarity with comparative religions).

Chesterton is at his best when he is deconstructing silly arguments. His explorations into the depths of the classics are not nearly so interesting. His imagery and metaphor can get pretty thick, too.

Chesterton demands a lot from his readers – sometimes more than the modern reader is used to giving. The Everlasting Man can be difficult to get through, but it is certainly worthwhile.