Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Celebration of Representation (Discussion, Pt III)

C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is an exploration of journeying on multiple levels. The physical journey which shapes the plot of the book involves Edmund, Lucy and Eustace’s trip to Narnia where they meet King Caspian and his crew aboard their ship, the Dawn Treader. They sail to the East in hopes of finding the seven missing Lords of Narnia and exploring relatively uncharted territory. Individual characters also experience their own arcs of growth throughout the course of Lewis’s story. Reepicheep’s journey is one of fulfillment. He is able to pursue a lifelong goal by sailing beyond the end of the world to what is considered Aslan’s country. Caspian also shows this type of progress in terms of his leadership skills as the reigning King of Narnia. Eustace Scrubb’s transformation from a bad-tempered, closed-minded child to a more open, helpful friend allows Lewis’s work to be classified as bildungsroman-type story too. After his experience as a dragon and his symbolic “baptism” by Aslan, Eustace is changed—his internal disposition is more pleasant and he begins to redirect his energy toward positive ends, like supporting the crew. One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the way in which Lewis manipulates his role as author. He injects himself into the text and allows the reader to see herself as a traveler, as another character in the world of Narnia.
Lewis creates the world in his novel, but frequently includes parenthetical interjections in which he seems to give up that role. He claims that he isn’t aware of certain aspects of his characters’ quest or that he can’t include certain information. For example, in the third chapter of the text, he writes that he has “never yet heard how these remote islands became attached to the Crown of Narnia; if [he ever does… he] may put it in some other book” (38).  In the chapter titled “The Magician’s Book,” Lewis writes “I don’t know what the Bearded Glass was for because I am not a magician” (148). Close to the end of Voyage, after Ramadu and his daughter begin to sing, Lewis states:  “I wish I could write down the song, but no one who was present could remember it” (204)  His abandonment of creative control validates Narnia as a real space. Lewis isn’t creating an imaginary land, but wants to assert that he is simply relaying the story and the facts of an adventure that actually happened. Narnia exists and we have entered it.
Although the physical text, just like the opening picture, is a representation of this world, it allows readers to visit and explore it along with the characters. Lewis makes the reader aware of her own personal journey through his direct addresses to her in the text. Lewis includes the second person “you” in the text, consistently reminding the reader of her actual presence in the novel. Beyond Eustace’s coming-of-age story, Caspian’s development as a leader, Reepicheep’s fulfillment of his dream, and other characters’ personal journeys, the reader also experiences travel. In the closing scene of the novel, the children (as well as the reader) are told that they will not return to Narnia because they “are too old […] and must come close to [their] own world now” (247). Aslan isn’t telling the children that they must abandon Narnia or their imaginations forever. He is simply telling them that real-world application becomes necessary. A reader, at any age, is able to experience this land in a very real way and, therefore, is able to inform her “earthly” realities.
            Lewis’s denial of creative authority also poses a more philosophical question:  who or what has ultimate control? This question not only applies to the sphere of Narnia but also to the metaphysical debates of our contemporary society. The character of Aslan is a vehicle that Lewis provides as a symbolic and ambiguous response within this larger discussion. The seemingly omnipresent lion acts as a guide to the characters and has a distinctly spiritual element; however, he is never given an explicit metaphorical meaning. He represents something larger than reality, an external force with power in the mortal realm, but is never given a decisive title.  In the last few pages of the text, Lewis writes that “everything now felt as if it had been fated or happened before” (244) but also suggests that Aslan has “another name” on Earth. Lewis purposefully leaves the analysis up to the reader. It is actually unimportant whether Aslan is meant to represent God, fate or a different higher being. He grants the reader interpretive license in the same way that he acknowledges the reader’s entrance into the text. For Lewis, the reader is not a passive agent but an active player just like all of the other characters in his text and the other readers of his novel. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader confirms that art, in its many forms, is a gateway to travel, both through the imagination and through the real places and adventures that imagination creates.

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