The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Worst & Most Beautiful Pain

In the book Voyage of the Dawn Treader we find, what is in my opinion, the second greatest piece of Biblical imagery in the entire mythology.  A young boy named Eustace becomes an ugly scaly dragon as a consequence for being selfish and stubborn.  The reader feels somewhat happy this happens to him because he has been such a nuisance to the voyage.  Eustace repentantly realizes his mistake and desperately wants to become a boy again, so he tries and tries to tear into and rip off his dragon skin.  There’s just one problem, he can’t get his dragon skin off no matter how hard he tries.  The deeper he tries to go into his dragon scales, the more pain he feels.  After hours of self-determining effort on Eustace’s part, Aslan comes to his aid and leads him to a well to bathe in.  But since he’s a dragon he cannot enter the well.  Eustace realizes his skin must come off first.  Eustace tries again to painfully tear through the layers of dragon skin and gets farther this time but still sees that he cannot do it on his own.  To which Aslan says, “You’ll have to let me undress you.”  Eustace describes the event:

I was so afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and 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 fun to see it coming away…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done 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 knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft…then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I had 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…After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me…with his paws…in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact…It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.’  To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy.  He had relapses.  There were still many days when he could be very tiresome.  But most of those I shall not notice.  The cure had begun.[1]

This story portrays a massive two massive realities present within the Christian life, that of regeneration and sanctification.  By regeneration I mean “that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy.”[2] In regeneration God does heart work.  He gives the person a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27), circumcises that heart (Deuteronomy 30:6), puts the fear of Himself in the person so they will not depart from Him (Jeremiah 32:39-41), and sees to it that this new spiritual life He began in them will be completed until His return (Philippians 1:6).  Eustace was made a new boy that day by Aslan’s hand, so too each person who puts their faith in Christ becomes a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As seen in Eustace’s story, man cannot do this work on his own, God must do it if it’s going to stick.  Also as seen in Eustace’s story, this process of regeneration in man will be painful, because tearing soul out of the grip of the devil’s grasp leaves it mark.  Once regeneration takes place, salvation has begun.  The man who was unrighteous is now right in God’s eyes, and God in response to His own work in the man, begins to turn that man into what He is not, righteous.

This is precisely where the second reality comes into view, sanctification.  By sanctification I mean the “gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works.”[3] Just as Eustace felt the horribly painful claws of Aslan tearing into him, so too when Christ conforms us into His image, His pruning is often just as painful.  John 15:1-2 portrays this, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” The pruning of Christ can be very painful, but o’ is it good to be more like Jesus and less like our old selves!

Therefore, I submit that this image is the second greatest piece of Biblical imagery in the entire Narnian mythology.  It is wholly helpful to the reader and not hurtful in the slightest degree, because it shows the Christian reader how they came to be where they are now as Christians – namely that what Aslan did to Eustace, God did to every Christian.  It also shows the unbelieving reader how one begins the process of becoming a Christian namely by laying down your arms and giving all over to God, only to be surprised by the joy of finding out that your “all” was already God’s in the first place.

[1] Lewis, 473-476.

[2] Berkhof, 460.

[3] Berkhof, 532.

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