9/11 and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Posted on Sep 12, 2011

9/11 and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

©2011 Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Last night I went down to Wilson 96 on College to hear some of my favourite people read from texts that resonated 9/11 for them. The evening was hosted and curated by the poet Michael Lista. Curated is perhaps not an accurate reading since Lista did not know what his guests (Stacey May Fowles, Mark Medley, Adam Sol, Catherine Bush and Tabatha Southey) would read, but he decided the guests, and insofar as that may have predicted some defined random outcome, we can say he curated. He curated by temperament. The result was meandering in the best possible way: A man on a wire, all of New York looking up (Colum McCann, “Let The Great World Spin”), the perishable (Joan Didion, “Fixed Opinions, or The Hinge of History“), a fireman’s gulls (archival recollections of 9/11), Song (Lamentations, sung heartfully), silence and complexity as a trauma response, and a sobbing Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie, “Peter and Wendy”). And as I listened, I recalled something I had long filed. I had been reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my three young sons and was onto Book 5 by the time of 9/11. Anyone who reads properly to their children will know that the magical time of night-time reading is a salve to both child and parent, and I was reading this book now to my boys, for probably the third time. It seemed an important series to me, and with each child reaching 6 or so, I would begin again. I know the Chronicles are supposed to be horrid to some, the Christian analogue repellent etc. but I’ve never felt this way about them. They are spiritual in the best possible sense, to my mind, as a recovering Catholic. They are the shimmer of story and possibility and beauty, and whatever there is wrong with them, there is a great deal right with them to compensate. It was Chapter 6 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that stopped me, some short time after the towers were brutalised, and the sensible, caring world fell to grieving and retaliating. For it is in Chapter 6, that the peevish cousin Eustache Clarence Scrubb (“and he almost deserved it”) writes the diary entry:

“September 11. Caught some fish and had them for dinner. Dropped anchor at about 7 P.M. in three fathoms of water in a bay of this mountainous island.”

Eustache has spent the days leading to his 9/11 being singularly miserly and difficult. He tries to steal water rations and contrives to have Lucy share her food with him. He is unlikeable. Lewis writes:

“What awaited them on this island was going to concern Eustache more than anyone else, but it cannot be told in his words because after September 11 he forgot about keeping his diary for a long time.”

Imagine the chill that ran through me that day in early September 2011, upon reading these words. And what about what happens to Eustache? He wanders off from the ship and the people who might most care for him (however horrid he might be) in order to avoid work, and finds himself witnessing the death of a dragon. I have never read of a dragon dying of age before; this might be the first occurrence in literature. It is arresting, especially as Eustache has no idea what he is seeing. It begins to rain heavily and Eustache retires to the dragon’s lair where he finds treasure and marvels for himself that “they don’t have any tax here…and you don’t have to give treasure to the government.” He puts a bracelet round his bicep, falls fast asleep and wakes to find he has been transformed — into a dragon. I remember my heart racing as I read this to my children, and I believe I may have gasped. It felt like I was reaching back in time to some deep truth. How strange that Lewis chose that day. How strange that I was reading this book just then. And the coincidence scared me a little, and I filed the whole thing away for ten years. It isn’t that dragons are greedy. It is that greed begets dragons, they are born of it. I don’t want to line any of it up, nor make some trite analogy. That would be less useful than this perhaps: Eustache recognises that he is now a dragon, and he seeks the help of Caspian and the Pevensies. It is the hated mouse Reepicheep who tells him valiant stories to maintain his heart, and finally Aslan who appears to him and tells him to undress, or shed his dragon skin, a feat that requires many knobbly reptilian layers. And then in a full body baptism, he is bathed, or cleansed. And what Lewis writes next is perhaps most helpful to hear:

“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustache was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

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