Even in the first three stories, C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia have imprinted my imagination with unforgettable scenes. For me, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’s most unforgettable moment shows the noble mouse Reepicheep bidding farewell to Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace. Then he sails over the edge of Narnia’s world into Aslan’s country. Moments later, the three cousins meet Aslan himself. He tells them they must learn to know him in our world, too.
For the children, these adventures fulfill a longing set in their hearts since they set sail on the Dawn Treader. For the mouse Reepicheep, he has felt this longing since his infancy, when he first heard a rhyme about finding “all you seek” in the East.
When I first read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I didn’t know this book would give me such an education in longing. In C. S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he referred to this feeling as sehnsucht. Such a longing cannot be satisfied by anything in this world. As far back as I can remember, I have loved stories of magic and impossible things. Now that I’m an adult, I see in my love of fantastic stories a dim reflection of the longing God put in my heart for him and his new creation—for things beyond this world.
A long journey toward longing itself
Voyage begins with longing: Lucy and Edmund are visiting their cousin Eustace, and they long for Narnia. They don’t only wish to escape Eustace’s horrible behavior. They also long for the joy and wonder of that other world. Their desire is answered by a strong pull of magic, and they—along with Eustace—are swept into Narnia.
They reunite with King Caspian and Reepicheep aboard the Dawn Treader. Once aboard, they learn of Caspian’s quest to find his father’s exiled friends, the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia. Reepicheep also shares his deepest desire: to see, even for a moment, Aslan’s Country. He has known this spell to seek Aslan’s Country and the Utter East since his infancy, when a dryad spoke a prophecy over him:
Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves flow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter east.1
The book sets a main course to adventures following the fates of the seven lords. Still, Reepicheep’s desire runs beneath their journeys like a deep ocean current.
Similarly, Lucy longs to see Aslan and spend long hours with him, like she did on her previous visits to Narnia.2 She only catches a glimpse of Aslan on Deathwater Island. One island later, they briefly meet in the house of retired star Coriakin. Aslan, however, spends much time correcting Lucy’s misguided use of an eavesdropping spell and her desire to be considered more beautiful than her sister Susan. Aslan does not linger, but encourages Lucy by saying they shall meet again soon. Lucy asks, “What do you call soon?” Aslan replies, “I call all times soon.”3
Following this encounter, the ship sails into further eastern seas, where Lucy has one last glimpse of Aslan before their final meeting at the End of the World. When the ship is trapped by nightmarish Dark Island, an albatross descends along a sunbeam to lead the ship out of darkness, while whispering to Lucy, “Courage, dear heart.”4
Only during a final encounter at the Very End of the World does Lucy find the intimate time with Aslan she desires. After their farewell to Reepicheep, this is a bittersweet meeting. Aslan’s words for Lucy and Edmund only compound their brackish emotions: They aren’t coming back to Narnia. Like Peter and Susan before them, they have grown too old for their journeys beyond their own world.
By knowing him a little better there, we know him better here
Voyage constantly brings me back to Reepicheep’s desire for Aslan’s Country.
To Eustace being awakened to new worlds and new life.
To Lucy’s longing for Aslan’s presence along the way.
Of course, during my initial reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I didn’t catch onto Aslan’s true nature.5. This time, at Voyage’s end, I couldn’t miss the meaning of Aslan’s exhortation for the children to know him better by his name in our world. This moment isn’t quite my favorite scene in the book—my favorite scene is Eustace’s un-dragoning—yet this scene marks a Narnian highlight.
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”6
Lucy’s confession seems to be ignored by many of Narnia’s modern critics—as well as other portal fantasy creators. Stories like Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway insist the worlds encountered by their children must be most important. But Lewis is clear: the Person whom our heroes meet must come first in their hearts.7
When I bring my children into Narnia for the first time, I hope I see the same light in their eyes that I imagine in Reepicheep’s eyes, when he realizes he has at last found the purpose of his longing. I hope my children also learn to know Aslan by his true name in this world, so they may love him more than Narnia.
- C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, chapter 1. ↩
- Interestingly in this story, it is Eustace, not Lucy, who first sees Aslan. ↩
- C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, chapter 11. ↩
- Incidentally, “Courage, dear heart” is one of my top Narnia quotes. ↩
- See my article “In Sixth Grade, I Learned the Secret Meaning Behind ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.” ↩
- C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, chapter 16. ↩
- Lucy’s confession only makes Susan’s later rejection of Narnia in The Last Battle all the more heartbreaking, but that’s a discussion for another day. ↩