Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Narcissus vs. Eustace

Continuing the reading of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” by C.S. Lewis it was hard to ignore the quote provided by the previous presenters, “But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again” which essentially encapsulates a certain timelessness of the piece. In a sense, by re-traveling through fairy tales as an adult a certain magic occurs for its readers, providing them the opportunity to see aspects of the book that would normally have been lost during the first trip. One such aspect is the presence of religion and mythology in the novel, more specifically within the transformation of Eustace Clarence Scrubb into a dragon. Furthermore, the presence of mythology within Eustace’s adventure allows for the analysis of what it means to be human.
The attitudes and detail involved with Eustace’s transformation into a dragon are exceedingly correlated with the mythological tale of Narcissus, with a slight twist. In short, the myth entails an arrogant, beautiful, youth name Narcissus who became thirsty and went to drink from a stream. Upon seeing his own reflection, he fell in love not knowing who he was looking at. Bending down to kiss the image, caused movement in the water, and the disappearance of his face which left him heartbroken. Therefore, even as his thirst increased he would not touch the water, and in return died of thirst and self love. The story holds that a flower grew after his death.
In conjunction with the theme of “thirst” in the myth, C.S. Lewis also repeatedly invokes the idea of thirst with Eustace. This is seen most predominately when Eustace is still a boy, and still overtly arrogant in his speech, attitude, and action. For instance, in chapter five C.S. Lewis does an exceptional job of displaying the intentionally selfish mindset of Eustace during the hurricane. His journal is filled with complaints of too much work, not enough food, and the unfortunate conditions of the ship. More importantly, his journal additionally repeats phrases about thirst such as; “Still terribly thirsty,” “girls don’t get as thirsty as boys,” and “Terribly thirsty all evening” (76/78).
Therefore, like Narcissus, Eustace is alone in his self indulgence. The surrounding characters become impatient if not hostile towards him and his big-headed ways. In essence, this lack of human relationships develops a void within, or an unquenchable thirst, just as Narcissus is afraid of contact with his reflection and eventually dies of thirst. Lewis is ultimately implying that relationships and pleasant interactions are the backbone of what makes us human. Without them we ultimately become shallow.
Moreover, Lewis takes the myth of Narcissus one step further, and envelops a more optimistic perspective of humanity. He does so by cultivating the warning projected by the original, to meet his ultimate agenda within the novel. Thus, in establishing Eustace as shallow through allusions of thirst, he actually transforms him into an enlarged image of a shallow, slithering, reptile-like creature; a dragon. This embellishment in size of the creature allows for the strengthening of the myths warning: “You will become something undesired when you only desire yourself.” Eustace then, becomes a monster due to his selfish ways.
Continuing the progression of the myth, Eustace like Narcissus looks into a pool of water to witness his reflection. Yet, Lewis’ twist arises through Eustace’s reaction to his reflection. Unlike Narcissus, he does not fall in love but becomes regretful and ashamed of his self-obsessive ways (for they are what lead him to the dragon’s cave initially). This is seen when Lewis writes, “He wanted to be friends. He wanted to get back among humans and talk and laugh and share things… an appalling loneliness came over him”(98). Considering the previous quotation, places additional emphasis on Lewis’ belief that humans need interactions, such as camaraderie, laughing, communicating and sharing, to in fact be human. The transformation into a dragon therefore plays a dual role. According to Wikipedia, the Greek translation of dragon means “that which sees” which implies Eustace, in becoming a dragon, is able to be awakened to the truth of his being.
Thus, the pool of water in Lewis’ version of the myth serves as a force reflecting the reaps of self-indulgence, as well as an inhibitor of change. Through Eustace’s slow but steady transformation from dragon back into a decent boy, Lewis is establishing the human ability to change for the better. Moreover, the contrast between the myth and the novel highlights the potential to evolve human decency. The initial similarities allows the reader to transcend into the belief that we all do not need to be like Narcissus, remain absorbed with only ourselves, and be forced to wait for death to become a beautiful pitied flower. As humans, we like Eustace have the option to move 360 degrees, give ourselves to others, have second chances and become our own respected flowers in life, not in death.

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