Dawn-treading: #Narniathon21

Everhardus Koster: Viking ships on the river Thames (1847)

The Dutch artist Everhardus Koster, who died in 1892, in 1847 painted a fanciful picture of Viking ships in the river Thames. This being a while before any sleek clinker-built Viking era vessels were scientifically excavated Koster’s imagined ships appear somewhat clunky, but at least they feature the familiar square sail and single mast, together with the animal head prows we know from the Oseberg longboat (a serpent’s head ornament found with other detached animal-head posts) and from depictions of Norman ships on the Bayeux tapestry.

What I find interesting though is the fact that their appearance closely resembles the illustrations that Pauline Baynes drew for C S Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952).

In this post for #Narniathon21 I want to say a bit about the sea journey undertaken by the Dawn Treader (this name somehow feels typical as a kenning for a ship of the early medieval period in Northern Europe); but I want to leave the kinds of sources and influences Lewis very likely drew on for his narrative to a later post.

© C A Lovegrove

King Caspian and Reepicheep, whom we met with in Prince Caspian (1951), are journeying east beyond the Lone Islands to discover the whereabouts of seven Telmarine lords: they’d been sent by Caspian’s wicked uncle Miraz on an expedition from which he’d hoped they’d never return. Reepicheep the Mouse was also desperate to travel to the End of the World and, just maybe, to arrive at last at Aslan’s country.

The first part of the voyage (Pauline Baynes)

Pauline Baynes, who illustrated Lewis’s Narniad, provided maps — or rather charts — for this instalment, and they variously appear in different editions. Hardbacks show the first part of the voyage from Cair Paravel to the Lone Islands, going via Galma, Terebinthia and the Seven Isles in the Bight of Calormen, and picking up Lucy, Edmund and the disagreeable Eustace mid-ocean.

The Lone Islands (Pauline Baynes)

My paperback edition includes a chart of the Lone Islands where Caspian, Reepicheep the Mouse and the youngsters get captured as slaves, the first real adventure the Pevensies and their cousin experience after entering Narnia through Aunt Alberta’s painting.

The Dark Island, by Pauline Baynes

Though illustrations show the Dawn Treader at sea in full sail, I can’t help being reminded by Koster’s early Victorian painting. Here is the high dragon head’s prow with a tail on the stern, the broad and generous hull, the high gunwale and the square rig for the single mast. Even the small fishing boat shown in Koster’s painting has a prow-ornament resembling that made for a boat and found in a bog at Midtvåge, Onarheim, Tysnes in Norway in 1948. Whether or not a reproduction of this painting was known to Lewis from his childhood reading of Norse myths it’s striking how close the Baynes depiction approaches it (though of course the Dawn Treader includes a forecastle and poop deck).

Everhardus Koster’s Viking ships on the river Thames (detail)

Baynes also provided a schematic representation of the expedition’s route; however, though the sequence of landfalls is correctly shown, the final stage of the voyage is not shown going directly east as it should but more southeast. Also, while the sail is drawn billowing out the banner at the masthead seems to be subject to a different wind altogether!

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by Pauline Baynes

I’ve therefore sketched out (in an unimpressive homage to Baynes) the more correct wake made by the Dawn Treader according, as I hope, to the directions in the text:

The Second Part of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in the style of Pauline Baynes

Lastly — for now — I did try to concoct a log of the voyage derived from the dates given in Eustace’s diary but it proved impossible to be exact as to the start and end. I estimate that the ship left Cair Paravel late July (the twenty-seventh?) and picked up the three cousins around the 26th August, but I can’t be certain.

© C A Lovegrove

In late October after leaving the Island of the Star (Ramandu’s Isle or the Island of the Sleepers) the passing of time is noted even more vaguely. If the conclusion of the novel occurs, as I presume, towards the end of November then that mayn’t be a coincidence: Lewis was born on the 29th November.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a particularly rich novel in terms of themes and influences and narrative. My next #Narniathon21 discussion post will attempt to look at some of these, including some of the less obvious sources that may have fed into the story.

  • Cobalt Jade. 2020. ‘The Odd Geography of the Utter East.’ http://www.cobaltjade.com/2020/08/odd-geography/ accessed 23rd February 2022.
  • C S Lewis. 1952. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: a story for children. Puffin Books, 1965.
  • C S Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia. HarperCollins,
  • Thorleif Sjovøld. 1954. The Viking Ships: a short description of the Tune, Golstad and Oseberg ships. dryers Forlag, Oslo.
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20 thoughts on “Dawn-treading: #Narniathon21

  1. A real gem of a post! I had always seen the mission of Dawn Treader as essentially mystic, perhaps echoing a reading of the psalm “If I take the wings of the morning: and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea;
    Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me,” but linking the ship’s name to a kenning had honestly never occurred to me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Nick, and there’ll be more on this in a few days’ time! Though I can’t say they ring any bells with me the psalm’s words concerning the “uttermost parts of the sea” and “the wings of the morning” I suppose surely must’ve been in Lewis’s mind when he has Reepicheep quoting a saying about the “utter East”. I myself had Matthew 24:27 in mind (I had to look it up!) but there’s no mention of the sea…

      “Dawn Treader” felt like a kenning to me — however I don’t know if it’s attested in any A-S texts; it’d be great if it was!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Karen! I hope you’ll then like my follow-up post scheduled for 20th March, which looks at a variety of sources offering details which Lewis doubtless knew all about. I agree that Baynes was capable of much more than the twee images which many readers associate her with, as the Dark Island illustration beautifully shows.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. jjlothin

    I had to look up ‘kenning’ but that was a useful way to spend 20 seconds: what a wonderful word!

    Then while I was at it, I spent another 5 or 10 minutes skim-reading Wikipedia’s lengthy entry on Pauline Baynes (centenary of her birth this year) – particularly interesting section on CSL on PB and vice versa! Someone needs to write her biography …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re too kind, Ola — I wouldn’t say improved, though! Possibly tweaked and definitely on the “could do better” artistic side, all in an attempt to follow Lewis’s text in the final stages. But thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I love that painting and that ship does resemble Lewis’ description of the Dawn Treader. I wonder if he had that painting in mind when he wrote this book. I also like your map. It’s very nicely drawn. Good job! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would like to think that he might have, but I don’t know how much in public view it was.then — even now it’s in private hands, I think following auction. But thank you for liking my map, I enjoyed making it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a delight, thank you, Chris. I too had to look up ‘kenning’ and am really enjoying the connections you make. Your posts are adding to both my enjoyment and understanding of these books. I would never have imagined when I read them as a child that all these years later I would still enjoy learning more from them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m very gratified, Anne, thank you! I hope also you enjoy the next VDT post I’ve lined up: I’ve just now looked at what Katherine Langrish has to say about it and think I’ve managed to avoid duplicating most of her observations, so obviously there’s always more to learn from them, as you say.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Liz! As for the pennant and sail dichotomy, I’m no sailor but if the ship is tacking to starboard and the wind is coming from the port it’s possible the pennant from our viewpoint is streaming to its right while the sail is billowing out to push the vessel forward …


  5. Marianna

    This was the first book I read in the Narnia series and it my favorite one. I like Lewis’ description of the voyages and how he give each island this mystifying atmosphere. Adding mystery to the world.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly, what you say. I’m rereading the early medieval Voyage of St Brendan for a review and finding even more correspondences than I remembered with Lewis’s novel, and there’s a similar sense of mystery and mystique too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Land of the Duffers” reminds me of the telegram that sets the Swallows on their adventures in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons: “Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won’t drown”.

    Btw, I consider Baynes’s illustrations to be the best part of this series.

    Liked by 2 people

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