Carl McColman, Paraclete Press
If you have seen or plan to see the movie made from the C. S. Lewis book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this book is the perfect complement.
Even though the movie has slightly altered what happens in the book for dramatic purposes, they have kept the many spiritual lessons that have made the book a favourite among Christians.
McColman’s handy concordance goes through the The Voyage of the Dawn Treaderchapter by chapter to explain how closely Lewis’ book mirrors the “journey” or voyage to Christian maturity to which it alludes.
In the introduction, the book explains the spiritual or mystical themes of all seven books: The Magician’s Nephew explores the themes of creation and the origin of evil; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe offers insight into the Gospel story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus (through the Christ-like figure of Aslan, the noble Lion);Prince Caspian examines the need to be faithful, even when it is not popular
to do so; The Silver Chair considers the importance of perseverance and mindfulness; The Horse and His Boy explores the psychology of conversion — of longing for God; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, instead of instructing in biblical truth, navigates the stormy seas and calm waters of the spiritual journey of faith; and, finally, The Last Battle looks toward the end of time and the hope of eternal life.
The book then goes on to focus on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. McColman reads Lewis’ prose as an allegory of the Christian life in general and of the mystical life in particular.
The focus of the book is that of a journey of discovery, as McColman explains: “VDT directly maps out the contours of the Christian spiritual life,” symbolising the maturity from resistance to grace and acceptance.
He also shows how the story can be understood as symbolic of the three stages of the mystical life: purgation, illumination and union.
The major theological lesson that the book looks at is how sin, both corporate and personal, manifests itself in the story. Three dramatic metaphors for sin are available to the reader: being sold into slavery, being turned into a dragon, and using magic to gain power over others.
Personal journeys to maturity in Christ are also evident. Eustace’s dragon skin being removed by Aslan is a clear indication that Christians cannot shed there sin without the help of Christ. And both Lucy and Edmund’s temptation to prideful behaviour is yet another clear lesson for Christians.
The book is balanced and offers mature Christian reflection on the many themes in the book. McColman’s focus on the symbolism and significance of the book made me want to revisit the series again.
What is intriguing is that McColman often refers (particularly in the introduction) to the fact that C. S. Lewis never intended the books to be read as Christian allegory and that the books come from the rich tradition of Celtic fantasy and mysticism.
As a Christian reading these books, the allegory seems very clear, but perhaps this is the beauty of Lewis’ prose: it fits into a rich tradition of classic works like J. R. R. Tolkien that both stand on their own and are relevant in any mystical tradition.
The book is easy to read (I read it in four sittings) and probably will not contain many revelations for those who have studied the books through a Christian lens, but this is an excellent companion to both the books and the films.
First published in Insights Magazine