Number of pages: 282
In this Narnia book, the fifth in the chronological order, but the third in order of writing, Lucy and Edmund are sent to stay with their obnoxious cousin Eustace (he and his mother almost seem like the original version of the Dursleys from the Harry Potter series).
Eustace has heard about his cousins' fascination about Narnia, and mocks them for it as he thinks it is all make-believe (there are definite parallels with Edmund's behaviour towards Lucy at the start of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Not long into the book, the three children are whisked into Narnia, this time through a picture that appears to portray a Narnian ship. They are promptly picked up by the crew of the Dawn Treader, captained by Caspian, now older and also king of Narnia (although it is not mentioned explicitly, the age difference can be explained by the fact that time in Narnia runs faster than in the real world).
This sets the scene for a sea-bound adventure that feels very episodic in nature, as the story tells of what happens on each island that the travellers arrive on. The McGuffin that sets all things in motion in this case is that Caspian is searching for the lost seven lords of Narnia. Just about every adventure they have leads to the discovery of one of the lords (the exception being a section of the book involving the invisible Dufflepuds). I also noticed that Aslan doesn't appear much, but nevertheless becomes increasingly present as the book moves towards his conclusion.
I remember at times this book felt like it was aimed at a slightly older audience than some of the previous books in the series, particularly the plot revolving around characters being sold for slavery and a lot of conversations between the grown up characters that as I recall probably caused me to abandon reading the book out of boredom when I was young. I think what prompted me to read the book in its entirety as a kid was seeing the BBC's 1989 adaptation of the book, in a four-part serial that followed immediately on from their dramatization of Prince Caspian. Reading it again, I spotted a few things I didn't notice when I was younger, particularly Caspian wondering why they couldn't cross into "their world" (this becomes relevant at the end of the subsequent book, The Silver Chair.
There are a couple of chapters near the start that feel a little tedious, but the book becomes increasingly compelling after about a quarter of the way in. I liked the fact that Reepicheep came back, as a crew member on the Dawn Treader, and got a bigger part than in the previous book. Eustace is initially portrayed as the absolutely vile and dislikeable character, and this is expressed most vividly through his diary entries that come across as constantly narcissistic and self-pitying. However, eventually I found myself liking Eustace, mostly through a particular chapter...
[Spoiler (click to open)]
Eustace is turned into a dragon by a magic curse, and slowly begins to realise that the other characters don't hate him; he also has the task of proving who he is, before Aslan turns him back into a boy.
I remember I was surprised by the way it was written; in the BBC adaptation (presumably because it looked better dramatically0, Aslan was seen appearing before the dragon and peeling away his scales to reveal Eustace underneath; in the book, Eustace appears as a boy again to Edmund, and tells him the story in the form of a flashback. The whole chapter feels like a figurative absolving of sins, adding to the fact that Aslan represents Jesus.
Overall, I enjoyed the fact that I can now understand more of the religious symbolism of the book, and there are definite recurrent themes of gold, greed and even covetousness as various characters struggle with different temptations. "Aslan's country", mentioned several times, is clearly a metaphor for Heaven, or the New Creation. The other thing I enjoyed a lot was how vividly the sea near to the end of the world was described, in a style reminiscent of Jules Verne.
This made for an immensely satisfying read, and this is one of my favourites in the series.
Next book: The X-Files Season 10, Issue #7 (Joe Harris, Elena Casagrande, Silvia Califano, Arianna Florean, Azzura M. Florean)