I love The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite in the seven-volume set. The book begins with the statement “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it…His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his masters called him Scrubb. I cannot tell you how his friends spoke to him for he had none.”
Eustace is an miserable, annoying, unlikable person—spoiled and self-absorbed. He inflicts himself on everyone around him with persistent whining and complaining.
While visiting with his cousins, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, he “accidentally” ends up in Narnia with them, where they’re taken aboard Prince Caspian’s ship, the Dawn Treader. Lucy and Edmund had been to Narnia before, but Eustace never believed their stories. (Their adventures constitute the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)
On one of their journey, the ship stops at a island and Eustace wanders off from the group, and finds a cave where he watches a dragon die. Afterwards he goes into the cave to steal the dragon’s treasures, wondering how to hide his bounty, since he doesn’t want to share his wealth.
He falls asleep, exhausted, only to wake up and discover he’s turned into a dragon. As Lewis put it: "Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself."
At first, he think this new form will command respect. Or fear. Then he sees he’s cut off from other humans, consigned to be this despised creature forever.
He is alone, and lonely.
Frightened, he goes back to his shipmates—who are terrified of him and attack him. He finally succeeds in letting them know who he is. They accept him, and for the first time in his life, he begins to experience what it means to be loved and to love. He helps them find food, shelter and a tree to replace the ship's mast. When the ship is repaired, and ready to leave the island, Eustace knows he cannot go with them; the small vessel could not accommodate his size and weight.
Eustace decides to try and remove the dragon skin, hoping there’s still a boy underneath. But it doesn’t work, so he allows Aslan, the Lion King of Narnia (whom he has feared) to do it. The process is painful, cutting much deeper than Eustace had before. But once it’s done, he steps into a pool of water, and is changed back to a boy. A changed and changing boy.
Note: I’m condensing this wonderful book, and doing it a great injustice.
And not to be cliché, but the book is so much better than the movie, especially when it comes to the elements of this specific story.
C.S. Lewis was a theologian, and his faith is often depicted in the Chronicles. However, even if we ignore the religious allegory, we’re still left with powerful insights about the process of personal transformation, whether it’s a shift in theology or beliefs, a change in the way we see the world around us, embracing a different way of thinking about others (and how we treat them), or a new self-awareness.
Having recently re-read this book, please permit me to share just four of the (simple) insights I gleaned from the “de-dragonization” of Eustace Scrubb:
What's on the inside manifests on the outside.
Eustace turned into a dragon because he was dragonish within.
He became his darkest reality, destined to live his deepest truth.
Many times we concentrate our attention solely on what we see in the mirror; we color our hair, purchase new clothes, lose weight, have cosmetic surgery, change jobs, etc. It’s not that these things are wrong or bad, but they don't make us who we are; altering them will not change the person we are inside.
Real Change begins with an honest look at the Real Us.
Transformation comes after we confront our dragon heart.
The Catalytic Power of Connections.
In spending time with others, Eustace came to know that he was loved and accepted, even in his dragon skin, which motivated him to change. He wanted to be a better person. (Or dragon.) He also realized he loved his family and new friends. When they were in need, he wanted to help.
When I observe people being dragon-like to others, I always wonder about their their interactions, their connections, their relationships.
Do the politicians and preachers who demonize LGBT people really know any of LGBT people? (I'm not talking about the trite "I have friends who are gay" claim.)
Are they aware of the pain and suffering their deceptive statements cause?
Do they understand the fear their words impart, or the violence it can incite?
Have those who categorize all Muslims as terrorists ever met a Muslim, or been to a Mosque? Have they spent time talking with anyone of the Muslim faith, asking how those characterizations make them feel? Is all they know based on the hateful rhetoric of alarmists, candidates and pundits?
When someone denounces a black community for protesting the death of an (another!) unarmed black person, have they ever talked with a black parent, and learned about the fear they experience any time their child goes out in public? Have they tried to imagine what it must be like to fear for their live, merely because of a routine traffic stop? Do they grasp the kind of harsh treatment that comes just because of skin color?
Would the ones who claim that everyone on welfare is lazy feel differently if they actually got to know someone on welfare?
Has the elected official who cuts spending for the hungry ever missed a meal, or had to choose between buying food and putting gas in the car? Have they worked in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, getting to know the people, including children, who are forced to be there?
Do those who rail against affordable healthcare worry about losing everything (including their life) because of a sickness?
If it weren’t for our connection to others, I wonder if any of us would feel any need to change, or look at how we how we treat others?
Would any of us feel differently about poverty, or homelessness, or police shootings, or minimum wage if we spent time with those who are directly impacted by those problems?
Would we change our mind (our dragon mind) if those concerns impacted our own life?
Living in the isolation of a Dragon Cave, it's easy to be selfish, cruel and malicious. A dragon doesn't care about others, except when it comes to tenaciously protecting their treasure and fiercely exerting their frightening power.
But I think when we engage with others, getting to know them and their needs, our perceptions are enlarged, our affections are released, our actions altered. These are no longer budget matters, ballot measures, political talking points or problems to fix. They are real people...they are our friends...and we want to help. We want what's best for them.
That's tangible love.
How we treat others shows what's inside us.
When we know and relate to others, it affects our actions toward them.
Our dragon heart is changed, and love is released to be expressed.
We benefit from outside help.
Eustace tried to make the necessary change, but was only able to make some shallow, surface alterations. He could peel back some of the scales, but there were more underneath.
In his frustration and deep desire for transformation, he turns to Aslan.
I know some will reject the idea of divine assistance; some will deny such existence exists. However, 12-Step programs have long taught that to overcome some deficiencies in our life, we need a Power Greater than ourselves. For me, as a Christian, my Higher Power is God; for others, it could be the universe, the future, their vision of sobriety or their family. But we admit our attempts are superficial, and often self-serving. Because we love those around us, we look outside ourselves for strength and assistance.
Remember: it's wanting to horde the treasure of our cave that got us into our dragon state in the first place.
We cannot do this alone.
Change is Ongoing.
How comfortable it would be if the changes in our life came instantly, and with permanence. It doesn't! As Lewis described: "It would be nice, and fairly nearly 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."
Eustace Scrubb was a dragon, who became a hero.
He didn’t change to be loved, he wanted to change because he was loved!
He changed because his dragon-ness could hurt those he loved.
Personal Note: Another reason I love Eustace is from the perspective of an author. In writing fiction, it’s imperative to have a flawed Protagonist who overcomes and conquers. Eustace is a classic archetypal fictional character! If you’ve read Joseph Campbell, Eustace has most of the traits described in the Hero’s journey. (He is suddenly thrust into an adventure, which he refuses. There are trials, an ordeal, then transformation, where he becomes a hero.)