Clearly, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the best of the Narnia novels, and a big part of that is due to a talking mouse.
Yes. I’m talking about Reepicheep, the brave, swashbuckling Narnian mouse who is on a quest to find Aslan’s country (and defend the honor of the Kings and Queens of Narnia while he’s at it.).
Sure, a lot of things happen in Voyage that also give it the claim to being the best novel, the discussion of science and modernism versus tradition and religion (although religion and science aren’t actually at loggerheads), Eustace’s Pauline conversion, the growth of Lucy, Edmund, and Caspian, and of course the quest to find the seven lost Narnian lords, which gives the entire book its shape. All of these things add up to a tightly plotted and fast moving adventure. But I think that the reason it’s the best isn’t just Reepicheep, but what he and the other characters go through in the novel, which is growing up and becoming adult Christians.
In Voyage, the things that stop our heroes and heroines are themselves, which is true in our own lives. Lucy goes into the wizard’s house, reads his book, and finds out things about her friends that poison her heart against them. It’s only when Aslan talks to her that she realizes how overcome she was with the desire to know, the same thing that Adam and Eve felt when they ate the forbidden fruit. Knowledge, the saying goes, is power, but sometimes it’s a dangerous power, a power that poisons the heart against its better nature.
We see this all too clearly with Eustace. He’s been raised in a modern household, where he calls his parents by his first names and speaks of science and modernity as if they’re gods. He has no use for anything that isn’t based in some sort of scientific theory. And that poisons his heart against the very virtues his cousins exhibit: chivalry, teamwork, and love.
Like so many of us, Eustace has to learn his lesson the hard way. Once he’s a dragon,m and once he’s had his dragon skin removed by Aslan, he realizes how awful he’s been to his cousins and their friends. He realizes the deeper things aren’t things that can be measured with scientific tools. He turns into a dragon quickly because he was already halfway there in his heart. His heart was dead to the things that really matter. How often are out hearts dead to the real life Christ offers us, but it takes a dramatic turn in our lives for us to realize how much we need conversion?
How much of this story is a reflection of us? Voyage of the Dawn Treader asks the reader to look at herself quite sternly. Are we Lucy, wanting to know things we shouldn’t? Are we Eustace, wanting things we shouldn’t want, treating others as if they are only here to serve us, without thought to how we might serve them? Are we Caspian, who almost loses sight of the great goal, rescuing the Lords, ruling Narnia, and going back to marry Ramandu’s daughter, when he suddenly craves adventure?
Or are we Reepicheep, who has the intense desire to get to Heaven? Reepicheep’s entire life has been leading toward getting to Aslan’s land:
My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.
Repicheep’s course is set, and he won’t be deterred by the hemming and hawing of the crew. When he reaches his reward, he is “quivering with happiness.” Isn’t that what we want, in the Christian life? To quiver with happiness when we stand before Jesus? But to have that happiness, we have to be like Repicheep and have our course firmly set.
Lucy and Edmund also thirst for Aslan’s land. In England, they are in exile, and they want to stay with Aslan and live in Narnia forever. How much we want to stay in our own mountaintop experiences! But we can’t. Like Peter, John, and James, we have to come down the mountain–and so Lucy and Edmund also have to leave Narnia, so they can find Aslan in their own world. We have to find Christ in our own daily lives, not just in the moments of illumination. And sometimes that’s scary, as in the storm sequence, when Aslan’s voice reminds Lucy: “Courage, dear heart.” Jesus might be hidden from us, but that doesn’t mean he’s not here, whispering courage to us in the hard times here in the world.
It’s not as if Aslan is always nice. Remember, “he’s not a tame lion.” He tells us the truth, and sometimes that hurts, like when he claws away Eustace’s skin. The Christian life is the same. Growth hurts. It’s hard. It’s painful. But the pain is a good pain, a pain designed to bring us out of ourselves and, to quote The Last Battle, bring us “further up and further in.”
We can only reach Aslan’s land through a long, hard voyage. It’s not easy to get there. But it’s worth dedicating our life to the pursuit. Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Reepicheep, illustrate that beautifully.