It is fitting that the reading for this week is a children’s book, as most of us started our service learning placements this week. I am doing my service learning at Tunbridge Charter School with a kindergarten class. One of the things the teacher asked me to do was to hang up some of the students’ projects up in the hallway. The project was about rules, and each student had to list a rule that they have at home and illustrate the rule. I couldn’t help but look at the projects as I hung them up, and one of the things I noticed most was the truly unique way each student described the rule and justified it in their mind. For example, one student used “staying away from the stove” as their rule. The student explained the rule: “To keep safe I don’t go near the stove.” The student did not specify: the stove is hot; if I touch it I will get burned; getting burned is not safe; therefore to keep myself safe I will not go near the stove. The student takes the simple rule at face value and does not go near the stove so she will be safe. In other words, she takes the rule at face value without looking for further meaning.
This example relates to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, because I think C.S. Lewis writes the book in such a way that it can be read by children and taken at face value, or interpreted more deeply by older minds to dig out a deeper meaning. For example, at the end of the book when Aslan appears as a lamb, minds like ours, that have been trained to think a certain way, immediately recognize Biblical imagery, and start to make associations with “the lion lying down with the lamb” and other such images. However, a younger child reading this same passage may only see a lion pretending to be a lamb, or they may associate the lamb with something completely different that we as educated minds would label “irrelevant.” But I think that Lewis writes in such a way that welcomes different interpretations. The Christian imagery is there, if that’s what you want to look for. But you can also read the story of the Dawn Treader and simply take it at face value.
The unique thing about reading is that every reader brings their own unique associations with him or her when they read. Although Christian themes are an association common in readers from our culture, other associations may be more personal. For example, as I was reading the story about the lake that turns everything it touches into gold, I immediately thought of the story of King Midas’ Golden Touch. But perhaps if one of the kindergarteners heard the story, they might think of keeping away from the stove, only because they know it’s not safe. Both associations are equally valid. These personal associations are what makes a story significant to us as readers, and are what makes us remember them.
Every person creates their own individual library of associations and references. As we read and travel and experience new things in our lives, we continue to collect more of these images. These references are what allow us to process new experiences, and connect them with things that we are more familiar with. For example, in the book Eustace does not even know what a dragon is because he “had read none of the right books.” Eustace had limited himself to only one kind of book—in his case, books on finance—and therefore had not collected a large enough library of references to be able to cope with what was happening to him when he turned into a dragon.
Associations from personal experiences affect readers’ interpretations of a text. Therefore, a kindergartener’s interpretation of a text will be very different from a college students’. Although the college students’ interpretation may be more advanced, the kindergarten students’ is equally valid, and might even be more interesting. C.S. Lewis offers up his book to both interpretations, and he seems to welcome both of them equally.