At the end of my last entry about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lord Rhoop had been rescued from his solipsistic nightmare and was settling down to his first good rest in a long time. This last section addresses Reepicheep's pursuit of Utter East. This fifth post in the series is the conclusion of the chapter titled "Finding Self, Forgetting Self" in my book, The World According to Narnia.The new VDT movie releases December 10.
Rest isn’t the ultimate goal of self-forgetfulness. Even Rhoop, when his sleep is over, will sail back to Narnia and get on with his life. Not Reepicheep, though. His obsessive wish is for the “utter east.” He will sail, then paddle, then swim if he needs to, ever eastward, ever closer to Aslan’s country. “And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” He is the picture of pure focus. Aslan’s country is his telos, his end, in every sense of the word: the end of the world, the end of his life, the goal and purpose toward which he bends his every effort.
Reepicheep’s desire is the same desire the apostle Paul speaks of: “I press on to lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of” (Phil. 3:12). In his single-mindedness, Reepicheep forgets everything, counts it as rubbish compared to the destiny that laid hold of him in the dryad’s cradle song long before he was able to lay hold of it:
Where sky and water meet, Where waves grow sweet, Doubt not, Reepicheep, To find all you seek, There in the utter east.
Paul continues, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14). That goal, of course, is heaven, the country of his true citizenship. And there in heaven, “the body of our humble state” (v. 21) will be transformed into glory—the shining brightness of perfected honor. That’s what the overwhelming brightness of the sun in the Last Sea is about. It is glory, the light of Aslan’s Country.
Ramandu, the gatekeeper of the End of the World, is a retired star, and every day, with every fire-berry he eats, he grows a little brighter, more glorious in preparation for his return to his place in the heavens. Every day the Dawn Treader sails closer to Aslan’s country, the sun grows in its glory. It’s a brightness that would dazzle the travelers’ eyes under normal circumstances. But the brighter the sun grows, the more they are able to take in its brightness. In the Last Sea, the water itself is drinkable light. The sailors have no need for food when they drink the stuff, nor sleep either. It is life to them: “They felt almost too strong and well to bear it.”
Drinking the sweet waters of the Last Sea, the travelers on the Dawn Treader are literally partakers in glory. But they aren’t merely taking glory in, they are becoming glorious themselves. Everything about them grows more glorious. “We do not merely want to see beauty,” Lewis writes in his sermon “The Weight of Glory.” “We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”6 On earth we are always outside the beauty we observe. The glory of heaven is to shine with the same beauty that breaks our hearts on earth.
Glory in the biblical sense isn’t merely brightness; it’s the brightness of honor, of accolade, of good report. Reepicheep’s obsessively cultivated honor is just a shadow of the honor he will exude in Aslan’s Country. For the truest and highest honor is the approbation of the Judge of Heaven and Earth: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21 niv).
To bask in God’s approval—it may sound like the ultimate vanity. But, as Lewis argues, it is the purest, even the humblest pleasure of the creature, to please the One who made you for his pleasure. “There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing God made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex for ever will also drown her pride.”7
In Aslan’s country, all selves will be free—and their freedom will be a freedom from the self. Eustace’s self-absorption will be a distant memory as he absorbs glory and is absorbed into it. Lucy will no longer care what her friends say about her behind her back, overwhelmed instead by the loving words the Lion speaks to her face. The darkness of Lord Rhoop’s inward hell will be flooded by the light of Aslan’s Country. The last we see of Reepicheep, he is headed for that country, completing the journey he has pursued so long and so hard. Forgetting himself, forgetting the world, forgetting everything that lies behind, he goes up, up, up, to be welcomed into the heart of things.