Eustace's Baptism (2)

Naomi Miller '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2004

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, third book in the Narnian series (or fifth, depending on the publisher) begins much like the first: the Pevensie children visit a strange house and are suddenly transported to another world. Whereas the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, has many parallels to the Bible, this book is more of an adventure book, with moral instruction to be gleaned from the various adventures. However, the book contains some blatantly religious imagery as well. One example is the scene in which Aslan Himself baptizes Eustace. Aslan tells Eustace that he must undress himself before bathing in the well, and Eustace understands that he must shed his dragon skin. He rips off the first three layers of dragon skin himself, but keeps finding more layers underneath.

"I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it -- if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."

"You mean it spoke?"

"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last when we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden - trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well. . . .

"Then the lion said -- but I don't know if it spoke -- 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know -- if you've ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy -- oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off -- just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt -- and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me -- I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on -- and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again." [115-116]

Questions

1. Eustace feels as though Aslan's claws went "right to [his] heart." In what way did Aslan get to Eustace's heart?

2. Why does Eustace compare such a powerful experience to picking a scab? Why does Edmund reply as he does: "I know exactly what you mean"? How does his stooping to Eustace's comparison emphasize both Eustace's boyishness and Edmund's wisdom?

3. How is it significant that Eustace is smaller after Aslan "undresses" him? Is he more like a newborn child now?

4. This all takes place at a well in a garden at the top of a mountain. Why does Lewis combine so many religious elements into one location? Might he have chosen to combine fewer elements if he hadn't written the story for children?

And poor Eustace realized more and more that since the first day he came on board he had been an unmitigated nuisance and that he was now a greater nuisance still. And this ate into his mind, just as that bracelet ate into his foreleg. He knew that it only made it worse to tear at it with his great teeth, but he couldn't help tearing now and then, especially on hot nights. [110]

5. How does the structure of that last sentence have two meanings at once? What does this say about Eustace's character?

6. How does this passage foreshadow the longer passage about Eustace's baptism and transformation back into a boy?


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Last modified 16 February 2004