C.S. Lewis wrote in his partial autobiography, Surprised by Joy, “I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least” (1955, p. 167). As God is Creator, it makes sense that the imagination of human beings, which could be argued as the start of our creative process, is an example of us being made in and reflecting His image. And surely, few have so completely demonstrated the potential power of the imagination to lead to thought and study on God, faith, and Christian themes as Lewis himself through his creation of The Chronicles of Narnia. In this way, he has been an exemplary example of his words; for, through the use of his imagination, he has stretched out his fingers and penned many works that have inspired man’s own imagination and mind to ponder upon the heavenly with youth-like joy, excitement, and adventure, both fiction and non-fiction alike.
Through the lens of fictitious characters and the utilization of allegory, Lewis has been able to present Christian apologetics to generation and generation of Christian and non-Christian readers in an easily consumable and entertaining form. They are equally reflective of ultimate truths and fun, and by creating relatable and engaging characters that the reader finds wanting to model or sees representative of a piece of their own story, the reader can ask important questions about their own life and, for the Christian reader, their own faith walk. Each human being has their own story, their own worthy testimony, and through the use of representative characters, it is often possible to observe oneself more clearly and rationally. This phenomenon can be particularly seen in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third published tale in The Chronicles of Narnia series. Using The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as its lens, this paper will present background on Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as providing a book summary, and will then discuss and analyze Lewis’ use of the representative characters of Reepicheep and Eustace to contrast different journeys of faith, in particular between the steady convert and the stumbling convert, all the while emphasizing their equal value.
To best analyze the characters of Reepicheep and Eustace, it is first important to give proper background on C.S. Lewis as the creator and author of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the principal source of this paper, as well as The Chronicles of Narnia, where the book is found to reside. After this, a summary of the book will also be given.
Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland, and while he is most known for writing under the name C.S. Lewis, he has had several names attached to his person. He was called “Jack” by friends, and he used pseudonyms Clive Hamilton and N.W. Clerk before and after his fame arose. Born into a family of avid readers who greatly valued education, in a house that was filled to the brim with books (Christianity Today, n.d.), Lewis was considered a prodigy even from a young age. He began writing fantasy stories by the age of 5, creating the land of Boxen, which hosted anthropomorphized animals. (Schakel, n.d.)
Study, War, and More
After experiencing a horrific boarding school lifestyle under the thumb of an authoritarian headmaster, Lewis then proceeded to schools such as Campbell College, Cherbourg House, and Malvern College. Eventually finding that Malvern was not the right establishment for him, he then began working toward the entrance exams for the infamously prestigious University of Oxford. With the help of a private tutor, one W.T. Kirkpatrick, Lewis passed his entrance exams and received a scholarship in classics. (Schakel, n.d.)
However, while Lewis was on the fast-track to higher education, the world was not at peace, and the “war to end all wars” was at the young man’s front door. Enlisted to serve his country, Lewis’ education was put on hold as he went to France, serving on the Somerset Light Infantry. After serving two years and witnessing countless deaths, a dear friend among them, Lewis himself was wounded and discharged (C.S. Lewis: The Official Website of C.S. Lewis, n.d.-a). With his obligations fulfilled, the scholar and war veteran returned to his Oxford life. (Schakel, n.d.)
Lewis did incredible work at the university and received high praise on several accounts in Greek and Latin texts, classical history, philosophy, English language, and literature. In 1925, he became a Fellow, which “refers to senior academic and administrative members of a College” (University College Oxford, n.d.), and tutor at Magdalen College in Oxford. (Schakel, n.d.)
Lewis was raised in a Protestant home, but he struggled with his faith and the God question throughout his life. Losing his mother at a young age and being left with a father who never fully recovered from his wife’s death, Lewis as a young man saw God as cruel and vague. Later, being highly influenced by a matron at his boarding school who hosted untraditional beliefs, he abandoned his belief in God entirely and adhered to a strict atheist belief system.
However, as Lewis would later state, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading” (Lewis, 1955, p. 191), and indeed, it would seem that he did not take his own advice, as he was drawn in by books by Christian authors George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton. Essentially these books “baptized [his] imagination” (Christianity Today, n.d.), Lewis would explain, falling ever more in love with the fantastical elements that they brought.
In the process of inciting his imagination, his mind and heart were awakening to the idea of theism. Likewise, questions began surfacing in his mind when he realized that not only his favorite authors were Christian but his respected friend group was largely Christian as well. These friends—which would go on to be some of the core members of the literary cub The Inklings—including Owen Barfield, Nevill Coghill, Hugo Dyson, and the infamous writer of The Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien, challenged Lewis’ atheism and his beliefs, and eventually, Lewis relented to the call after his own heart (Christianity Today, n.d.). In explanation of his own conversion, Lewis writes:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms…The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation. (1955, p. 229)
Lewis turned and fully faced God, and in that moment, he put aside his old writings and ambitions of poetry and began writing literature that was dripping in Christian truth. So much to the point that even his friends did not necessarily agree with his vibrant expression of faith, and he was even passed up for professorship at Oxford due to his passion. Yet, doing what would receive acceptance from his peers and blending in did not seem to be at the forefront of Lewis’ life, as he carried on in his convictions and lived as honestly as possible. (Christianity Today, n.d.)
His friends, family, and co-workers were further stunned by his falling in love and deciding to marry one Joy Davidman Gresham, who had many strikes against her by the standards of English sensibilities and those who were members of the Church of England at that time, as she was American, divorced, a Communist who converted to Christianity, and maintained a harsh personality. While those around him fixated on her unconventional life with stern eyes, Lewis saw her true beauty and value through eyes of grace. However, the two did not have long together as Joy was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly after marrying, leaving behind a grieving and heartbroken Lewis. As he had lost his mother and witnessed his father’s unraveling, it was now time for Lewis to learn the loss of one’s life partner for himself. In all of these moments, though, it could be said that Lewis bared his humanity and rested in the assurance of grace that he had accepted at that pure moment of salvation. Writing A Grief Observed, Lewis wrestled with his loss and showed his reader once again that being a follower of Christ does not mean a lack of questions or even a plethora of answers, but rather, it defines the trajectory and destination of our questions (Christianity Today, n.d.). Through his own life experiences, it could be said that Lewis learned that there are many different types of people, and therefore, many different stories of faith; and perhaps, this is one of the reasons why his characters are so relatable. Perhaps each one of his characters is just a little bit like someone he once knew; perhaps there are a few who are even a little bit like himself. And as he crafted his beautifully inclusive world with eyes that saw each testimony as valid, the reader may find themselves wanted by the same God that wanted Lewis. Perhaps, they will find that they are already loved.
The Chronicles of Narnia
Throughout his life, C.S. Lewis wrote over 40 books, ranging from fiction to apologetics, to those academic in nature. He is beloved for his radio speech turned novel, Mere Christianity, and his haunting account of a young demon getting advice from his uncle, which hosts both imaginative flair and horrific truths of spiritual warfare, The Screwtape Letters. Perhaps one of Lewis’ greatest and most beloved achievements was The Chronicles of Narnia. (Schakel, n.d.)
While Lewis was tentative about this series after writing the first book, over a course of four to five years, seven books were published: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; The Horse and His Boy; The Magician’s Nephew; and The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis: The Official Website of C.S. Lewis, n.d.-b). What started as a simple desire to write what he would want to read, to write children’s stories about knighthood and chivalry, to write the fairytales that he loved so much, turned into the formation of an entire universe. Mark Bane would describe the uniqueness of Lewis’ chronicles by drawing attention to the fact that Lewis was able to “remain… faithful to his original intention to write stories for children while adding in subtle moral and spiritual complexities” (1997) No one, least of all Lewis, it would seem, could expect what kind of stirrings Narnia would create in the hearts of young ones and adults alike.
It had not been his original intention to create Narnia at all (C.S. Lewis: The Official Website of C.S. Lewis, n.d.-b), nor had it even his intention to make it Christian allegory (Bane, 1997), but Narnia demanded creation once the words hit the pages. And once Aslan had been realized, Lewis understood the rich potential of anthropomorphizing the “King of the beasts” to represent the King of all creation. He had trained himself in giving animals human-like qualities through his exploration with Boxen, but Narnia was able to weave together both the fantastical and the real in a way that even his young imagination could not have expected. It also gave him the freedom of revealing small glimpses of truth without having to fully explain or preach. (Bane, 1997)
Lewis was heavily influenced by Greek and Roman mythology and Arthurian legend, with those inspirations being worked into the books through characters like the nymphs, centaurs, etc.; likewise, he was often caught up in dreams and images that he had. In particular, an image that he had since he was a teenager of a fawn carrying an umbrella would then extend into The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Scenes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader also came through a dream of Lewis’.
While many non-Christians enjoy the books just for their fantasy style, it is the hidden truths that he interlaced inside the adventures that draw out its full potential for joy. Each book shows different aspects of faith and the Christian walk, and in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis explores the concept of “believing is seeing.” Aslan is not as frequently mentioned in the book as some of the others, and each of the characters struggle with forms of temptation. Bane explained it well, saying, “Lewis deepens the spiritual experience of his characters by making Aslan harder to find” (Bane, 1997). As well, it juxtaposes the skeptic and the Christian, through characters like Eustace and Reepicheep, while also giving visual representations of salvation and sanctification. Surely, Lewis’ beautiful mixture of childhood loves and deep truths have created a masterpiece in The Chronicles of Narnia. As in all of his books, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a wealth of opportunity for thought and deep reflection, particularly concerning one’s one conversion and faith walk, which can particularly be seen in the characters of Eustace and Reepicheep. To fully appreciate the character analysis, a full summary of the book is provided.