The second volume of the Narnia Chronicles closed with the possibility of Lucy and Edmund -- though not their older siblings -- returning to Narnia. "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" makes good on that story, with the intrepid pair (plus a whiny cousin) returning on a strange sea voyage.
After the events of "Prince Caspian," Lucy and Edmund are sent off to stay with their obnoxious cousin Eustace. But when they admire a picture of a strange ship, suddenly all three kids are sucked in -- and land in a Narnian sea. On board the ship is King Caspian, now fully grown, who is determined to find a bunch of knights exiled by his murderous uncle, even if he has to go to the edge of the world (literally).
Lucy and Edmund are thrilled to be back in Narnia again, but Eustance proceeds to make trouble any way he can, complaining and causing trouble among the crew. But there are problems more horrifying than any of them can guess, from dragons to sinister "gold water" to a region filled with their worst nightmares.
"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.
And in some ways, it's also the darkest Chronicle. Lewis explores the theme of greed here -- greed for power, beauty, money and magic -- and has some scenes both chilling and majestic. But his archly humorous style peeks through in several places, whether it's pompous mouse Reepicheep or tea with a reclusive old wizard.
Edmund and Lucy are their usual plucky selves, albeit a bit more mature than before. But "Voyage" also introduces one of Lewis' most interesting characters in Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Like Edmund, Eustace is initially a peevish, lying boy who generally makes trouble, but slowly learns his errors. But unlike Edmund, Eustace doesn't have to ally himself to the baddie to learn that.
"Voyage of the Dawn Treader" was a turning point for the Narnia Chronicles, as well as the one that began venturing into darker territory. Engaging and tightly written.
on 15 April 2008
This final book in the Chronicles of Narnia series thankfully returns to the early splendour of "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe". After "The Silver Chair", which seemed a little flat compared to other books in the series, "The Final Battle" restores some of the magic that made the first few novels so enjoyable and successful.
Lewis does well in beginning the novel from the point of view of the Narnians, specifically the last King of Narnia, instead of the from the childrens' perspective. We begin to see a particularly brave story develop from who is essentially a Christian author: A false Aslan has begun corrupting Narnia from within, who eventually comes under the thrall of the vicious realm adjacent to Narnia. Considering the powerful although admittedly insipid themes that Lewis is fond of, it seems a brave move to take his allegory so far. As a child the danger must read very real, and as an adult it is interesting to see the mythology of Lewis' realm with his potentially fully drawn.
Cracking characters and a smooth, compelling storyline make this one of the best of the series, as good as "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" and a fantastic, thrilling and emotional end to the book series.
on 12 January 2007
The third book in the Chronicles of Narnia (or the fifth if you're reading them in chronological order), is a rather unusual book within the context of the series, considering the good-against-evil theme that permeates the other six books in the series is largely absent here. Of course there are dangers and trials, as well as personal conflict that need to be resolved, but because there is no central villain nor any fundamental evil that needs to be defeated, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is more thoughtful, more carefully paced, more obviously spiritual and more episodic than any of the other books.
Likewise is the role that the children from our world play within the story. Sadly, Peter and Susan are too old to return to Narnia, and so the adventure belongs to Edmund and Lucy, as well as their horrible cousin Eustace Scrubb who are sucked through a painting in a spare bedroom into Narnia. However, unlike in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Prince Caspian", in which they had clear and important roles to play in the unfolding of Narnia's well-being, they are pulled aboard the ship the Dawn Treader in order to...well, just tag along really. Indeed, the children do not even set foot in Narnia throughout the course of the story - but crucially important words are spoken by Aslan at the conclusion of the tale that sheds a whole new light on the meaning behind the children's presence in Narnia: "In your world I have another name. This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you may know me better there."
But I'm getting ahead of myself. After Lucy, Edmund and the odious Eustace are aboard the Dawn Treader they discover that their rescuer is Caspian, the boy crowned King at the conclusion of "Prince Caspian". But because of the time difference that exists between Narnia our own world, several years have passed in which Caspian has grown into a young man, whereas Edmund and Lucy remain children. Caspian is on a sea voyage to discover the fates of seven lords who were banished by his evil uncle Miraz; and map the uncharted seas of the East. Also on board is the talking mouse Reepicheep (also introduced in "Prince Caspian") who is on a quest of his own: to find Aslan's Country, said to exist at the eastern end of the world's oceans.
Edmund and Lucy (who are still considered monarchs in Narnia) quickly settle in to the routine of the ship, which is more than can be said for Eustace who seems only capable of making a nuisance of himself in his desire to return to more civilised lands. As the ship sets off into ever more dangerous waters and stopping at islands that become steadily stranger, Eustace eventually must come to find redemption in the discovery of the leonine Aslan - but I won't give away the details of his spiritual transformation, you'll have to read and find out for yourself! It is perhaps Eustace's development that makes up the main plot-thread of the book considering the book opens and closes on his character, though it is certainly not centred around him - Caspian, Edmund, Reepicheep and Lucy all get their chance to shine.
Furthermore, Lewis treats us an imaginative scope of adventure and mystery that is perhaps not matched by any other book in the series in regard to its variety and quantity. Since the fun of reading a book like this is in the discovery of each new marvel presented, it would be wrong of me to list them all - but of course it will come as no surprise to readers that Aslan's presence heavily surrounds the ship and its purpose. Some of Lewis's most overtly Christian connotations are found within "The Voyage" - yet as always, they are not so obtrusive that they become preachy or alienate readers who are not particularly interested in the subtext. Toward the end of the novel in particular, the christological references of the story are beautifully incorporated into the narrative of the story...and again, I have to resist temptation to go into detail!
As always, Lewis fills his books with little touches of intrigue and enigma, for example: the bracelet of a missing lord, which now hangs on a stone outcropping till the world ends, the unspoken sin of a star that was banished to earth, and the friendship that is formed between Lucy and a mermaid in the moment that they both meet and part. Lewis was a master at making small, thought-provoking events that didn't mean much to the overall continuation of the plot, but existed simply for their own sake in enriching and enlivening the story.
For many, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is the best book in the series; not to mention their favourite. To be honest, I'm not sure where I stand on such a question, but I do know that it is an unusual (in a good way!) inclusion in the Chronicles, and in many ways a turning point for the series. This is the last book in which Pevensie children play a major part in the action; as Eustace takes over in the next book "The Silver Chair" as protagonist. As such, there is a bittersweet quality to it, which is well in keeping to the nature and purpose of Narnia itself.
on 9 June 2006
So begins this story, in which Edmund and Lucy - the two youngest of the Pevensies, the only two still young enough to be allowed to enter Narnia - have had the bad luck to be sent for the summer to stay with Eustace's parents, and put up with Eustace's teasing about their "imaginary" country. Eustace's position at the beginning of this book is something like Edmund's at the beginning of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE - he's bad company and untrustworthy, though his specific flaws are different from Edmund's.
Naturally, he is the fly in the ointment when Edmund and Lucy are drawn back into the Narnian world - he comes along too. As he's been raised reading all the wrong books and has a sad lack of imagination, he makes quite a fool of himself at first. Fortunately for us, he doesn't take center stage much until he comes into his first great adventure about a third of the way through the book, which more than makes up for things. The book is otherwise largely told from Lucy's point of view.
From the Pevensies' point of view, it's been a year since they were last in Narnia - and in fact, even once they are in the Narnian world, they aren't in Narnia itself this time. Caspian (for whom three years have passed) is fulfilling an oath he took at his coronation to sail for a year and a day eastward to find and if need be rescue the seven lords who were disposed of by his usurping uncle Miraz years ago by being sent to explore the unknown eastern seas beyond the Lone Islands - a Narnian possession that we've previously heard of but never seen. When the Pevensies and Eustace join the ship, the Dawn Treader is nearing the Lone Islands, where the ship's company meets one of a series of adventures, this being their last landfall before striking out into uncharted seas eastward. And one of the ship's company - Reepicheep the Talking Mouse, most valiant of the knights of Narnia - has an even greater ambition than to rescue the seven lords; he hopes to find Aslan's own country, that mysterious place to the east from which Aslan has always come into Narnia.
THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, in fact, is a long ocean voyage in a world where "here be dragons" on a map may not be an idle warning, and even the Pevensies encounter magics and strange truths about the Narnian world that they had never guessed at. As well as more mundane dangers - great storms, supplies running short between islands - the ship's company encounters many of the legendary dangers attributed to the unknown in our world in the days of chivalry, both in and on the sea itself and on the various islands they discover. Their dragon, when he comes along, turns out to be an unexpected kind of problem. In the tradition of one of Lewis' own favourite fantasy writers, George MacDonald, the dragon is Eustace himself, who finally stumbles into a bit of magic that transforms him into a shape that more accurately reflects the state of his heart than does his human shape, giving him the much-needed shock of his life. The problem, of course, is how to transform him - and how to bring him along with the ship if they can't. For me, "The Adventures of Eustace" are where the book moves into high gear.
This book is where I particularly notice the difference between Lewis' original UK editions of the series - which are now those in print in the US and used for the audio editions - and his later text, which was used for the US editions that I first read, for which Lewis rewrote (and improved) the ending of the episode of "The Dark Island". Apart from that detail, the unabridged recording by Derek Jacobi is very well done. Of the narrators of the three books in which Reepicheep appears, Jacobi is the best at interpreting his character, giving him a strong, high-pitched voice that doesn't in the least sound fragile. Jacobi can also give a good reading of Aslan's deep growl.
on 23 December 2005
The final in the series of "Narnia" stories, The Last Battle works on the same two levels as the other stories. On the one hand, we have a an adventure story about children in a strange and magical world, and on the other we have a treatise on ethics and religion.
Lewis' world of adventure and magic is charming, vividly described and exhilarating. As with the other books in the series, this is fundamentally a human story of drama and pathos, where children are finding adventure and heroism. As a child, I was as enthalled with this story as with any of his others - real favourites. Even so, I found this to be the darkest and in many ways the most challenging of his works. Now, as an adult, I see this very much as a work to be a passionate statement of religious belief, which is skillfully articulated though uncompromising in the position it takes.
The work is really in two parts. The longer, first part, has an interesting opening in which a rather selfish and thoughtless creature sets in motion a chain of events that culminates in the destruction of a sacred forest and ultimately in a breakdown of social order. There follows revolt and warfare wrapped up with fragmentation and subversion of the previously unassailable cult of Aslan. The second part involves the transportation of the children and their friends to the land of Aslan and much discussion of their love of Aslan and much discussion of the wonder and beauty of Aslan's kingdom.
Clearly, Aslan represents God. The narrative part of the story has much to do with the nature of good and evil, and the difference between doing wrong innocently and doing wrong maliciously. Interestingly, it follows a strong thread through the nature of propaganda, the subversion of a worthy cause, and the uncontrollable chaos of politics. Slightly worrying are the casting of an apparently Middle-Eastern kingdom as devil-worshippers, the general feeling that the British class system is alive and well in Narnia, and the slightly mysogenistic criticism of Susan who as a young woman "has reached the silliest time of her life and wants to stay there for as long as possible". I think we can forgive this slight transgressions of political correctness in view of the time in which the novel were written; the "green" views concerning the cutting down of woodland and (horrors!) the march of civilisation would find, though, some resonance today.
The Christian element of the book is very firmly stated, especially in the second part, which is more or less a description of the Second Coming and the End of the World! Heavy stuff for a children's book! However, it works surprisingly well and a child will enjoy the story and probably find the sub-text at least posing some questions for them.
Technically the production is excellent, as might be expected from the BBC. It is the right length, seems to be unabridged (though I have not checked) and the voices and sound effects fit together nicely without being overdone.
I would recommend this, but not before you have read (or listened to) The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe plus a couple of the other works in the series.
on 25 February 2001
This is my favourite of all the Narnia books. It has a fantastic, chilling ending. It can be read by anybody and indeed should be. It is the only book to have all the main human characters in and most of the famous characters from the series. Their are many versions of the Narnia books available to purchase but In my opinion this is the finest one. The words and lines are evenly spaced, there are fantastic colour drawings, the words are of a perfect size to read and it is printed on laminate paper. It is also worth noting that Pauline Baynes, who's colour drawings are in the book, drew the original drawings for the 1950's version of this book. All in all, this book is excellent!
on 29 October 2000
To fully understand this book you need to have read Prince Caspian, & the lion the witch & the wardrobe. It is my favourite book of the Narnia chronicles, as there are some hilarious moments, the mice are very funny!! It is set about 30 - 40 years ago, & you can tell that straight away!! The book has been written carefully, using good decripitions. It is very drawing & it is hard to put down. A really good Book.
on 12 January 2007
Say what you will about the correct reading order of C. S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia", one thing is certain - "The Last Battle" needs to be read last. It is not simply because it was written and published last in the series, that it clears up all loose ends in the previous installments and leaves no possible room for any sequels, but because it will change your entire understanding and perception of the last six books. Do what you like with the other books' reading order, but trust me on this one: "The Last Battle" needs to be read *last*.
It has been over two hundred years in Narnia after the events in "The Silver Chair", when Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole saved Prince Rilian from imprisonment and restored him to his father and the throne. Now Rilian's descendant King Tirian enjoys the solitude of his hunting lodge with his best friend, Jewel the unicorn. But there is treachery in Narnia like nothing the country has ever faced before...
A dishonest ape named Shift has found a lion-skin and forced Puzzle the donkey to wear it. Now he lords over the Talking Beasts of the forest by pretending to be the mediator between them and the great Lord Aslan, who remains hidden in a stable and only emerges by the dim light of a campfire at night. Soon the game (which began as a way for Shift to obtain food without any effort) has gotten dangerously out of control. Convinced that Puzzle is the real Aslan, the Talking Animals are scared and confused at his changing attitudes toward them, and the Calormenes of the neighbouring empire have taken advantage of the situation by invading Narnia. Once Tirian is captured by his enemies, he remembers the great stories of the past in which children from another world appear to help Narnia in need, and appeals to the true Aslan for another such occurrence. Right on cue, Eustace and Jill appear to free the King and lend their aid to the free Narnians in fighting for their beloved homeland.
All of the books in "The Chronicles of Narnia" series contain Biblical allusions, but "The Last Battle" is easily the most allegorical considering it is best described as Narnia's Armageddon. To put it simply, this is the end of Narnia (and don't think that's a spoiler, as the very first sentence of this novel is: "In the last days of Narnia...") and as such, we have allegorical representations of the Antichrist, the false prophet, the fate of non-believers, Heaven, the Final Judgement, the Second Coming and the End of the World. It's a pretty hefty topic for a children's novel, and both the story and style of the book is weightier than any previous book in the series, with plenty of death, violence and tragedy. This creates an interesting paradox overall, considering "The Last Battle" is the most spiritual, the most controversial, the most disheartening and ultimately the most upbeat book in the series.
The Calormenes are called "darkies" throughout the story, and are indisputably the villains; what with their part to play in the destruction of Narnia and the worship of their pagan-god Tash, an element of one other books in the series ("The Horse and His Boy") that has raised accusations of racism. Yet Lewis makes what is perhaps an attempt to compensate late in the novel by introducing a young Calormene named Emeth, who is permitted to enter Aslan's country based on his virtue, even though he never believed nor followed Aslan in his lifetime; a thought that may appeal to many, though it does not exactly fit into Christian teachings. As always, the author's dogma is a little muddled, for in all of his books Lewis plays by his own rules, by his own sense of right and wrong - this ranges from previous attacks on vegetarians and co-ed schools to his own opinions on who deserves salvation and who doesn't.
This leads into the second major point of controversy within the book: the fate of Susan Pevensie, the onetime Queen of Narnia. To put it bluntly, she's not here and her siblings dismiss her as someone who is no longer a friend of Narnia. Why? What could have possibly caused her abandonment from Narnia and Aslan? Surely something truly terrible! Well, no actually. Lewis pinpoints the cause as Susan's interest in "nylons and lipstick" and an interest in "grownup things". A beloved major character is excluded from the final installment of the series on the grounds of puberty? What?! Her fate becomes even more tragic when further information is revealed over the new "situation" of her siblings and parents (readers will know what I`m talking about, and what it must mean for poor Susan). I was very young when I first read "The Last Battle", and I recall how upset I was at the treatment of Susan - it stands to reason that other children will feel the same.
Okay, those are my issues and now they're off my chest. On to better things. "The Last Battle" makes fantastic use of Lewis's poetical prose, and the book carries a sense of both bittersweetness and grandeur, particularly in the chapter "Night Falls on Narnia". Though Tirian is somewhat indistinguishable from Caspian and Rilian before him, his friendship with Jewel is immensely touching, as is his relationship with the children who come to his aid. Far from the squabbling duo in "The Silver Chair", Jill and Eustace acquit themselves excellently throughout "The Last Battle", reaching hero-status in their efforts to aid the falling Narnia.
"The Last Battle" is also Lewis at his most philosophical (perhaps it's no coincidence that Professor Kirke mentions Plato), as he explores metaphysics, the boundaries of belief, the relationship between the real and the unreal, the existence of life after death and the nature of God Himself; in some ways "The Last Battle" is more akin to Lewis's apologetic Christian writings, such as "Surprised By Joy" or "Mere Christianity" than any of the other Narnian books, in that Lewis uses it as a basis for many of his spiritual concepts and ideas. As mentioned, "The Last Battle" carries the most obvert Christian messages, particularly in a declaration Lucy makes toward the end of the novel. The stable door, which begins as a convenient holding-pen for the fake Aslan soon takes on new theological meaning, with a surprising symbolic connection to our own world.
Lewis makes excellent use of components introduced in his previous books, calling up the strange creatures and that Jill and Eustace discover in "The Silver Chair", the Narnian concept of stars explored in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader", the magical transporting rings in "The Magician's Nephew", even the use of the phrase Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve that was used so long ago in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." It all culminates in a wonderful reunion at the conclusion of the book that may just brings tears to your eyes - especially when Lucy rediscovers her first and best Narnian friend.
Make no mistake, this is a fitting end for the trilogy and if the new movie franchise gets this far I'll be first in line for a ticket - but I'm removing a star in honour of Susan.
I particularly love this book (and The Silver Chair)out of all the Narnia Chronicles because I went to a progressive school just like that of Eustace Scrubb. Eustace is the horrid cousin of two of the original four who found their way into Narnia in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, and in this sequel to Prince Caspian all three are sucked into a picture in the spare room wall to join Caspian in his quest. He is searching for the seven seafaring Lords who left his wicked Uncle Miraz to search for the end of the world.
There are many marvellous adventures, including a fight with a sea-serpent and an island-pool that turns everything to gold, but the best chapters concern the reform of Eustace after greed turns him into a dragon.
on 2 June 2013
The most aggressively evangelical instalment in the series, and probably the least enjoyable. It's nearly fifteen years since I last read it, so while my memory of the specifics has faded somewhat, my general impressions of the book haven't.
The opening act - Shift's great plot - is agreeably ominous. The second half (approximately) of the book feels like a copy-and-paste of the apocalyptic books of the New Testament with some Narnian names sprinkled onto the text. All the preceding Narnia novels had had a strong Christian theme, it is true, but it had always coexisted reasonably comfortably with children's adventure, fairy tales and pagan mythology. In "The Last Battle", millenarian Christian allegory blows all of these away, and they are sadly missed. This is full-on Christian propaganda, and it is heavy going.
There is of course no proving that Lewis was unsatisfied (artistically if not spiritually) with the bleak, violent eschatology of this book, but the fact that his next (and final) Narnia novel was a joyous return to the themes of childhood discovery and adventure, and was heavy on original storytelling rather than Biblical blood and thunder, makes me think so. The late Victorian/Edwardian setting, and the age and characteristics of the protagonist, meanwhile, give it an autobiographical flavour. The gap between 'The Last Battle' and 'The Magician's Nephew' coincides, so far as I can tell, with Joy Gresham and her young sons becoming a fixture in Lewis's life. Perhaps this influenced the direction the final book in the series would take.