“There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrub, and he almost deserved it.”
What an amazing opening line. It’s funny: both cliche — “there once was was a boy…” — and cheeky, “…and he almost deserved it.” As any good C.S. Lewis fan knows, this is the opening line to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
But as anyone up on fantastic literary news — or my blog — knows, these books are not only children’s books. As Michael Ward reveals in his 2010 book Planet Narnia, each book correlates in style, content, story and metaphor to one of the seven medieval planets: The Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
So look at that line again. What does it mean? This is C.S. Lewis, you know. It’s not there by accident.
Google the name Eustace. It is from two Latinized Greek words that mean “fruitful” or “bountiful” and the other: “resolute.” But it also has associations with the word “fecund” — yes, feces, — because technically things that are “fecund” are agriculturally fruitful. Ew….
The “original” Eustace was a 2nd century pagan Roman general who converted to Christianity after seeing a vision of Christ and the cross between the antlers of a deer. He died a martyr, being burned to death for refusing to worship pagan gods, which would have been a duty as a Roman general.
Google the name Clarence. It means “bright” and “clear.” And since this is the book that correlates to the Sun with its gold and Light and all that, (the “Dawn Treader,” duh…), that is an obvious correlation.
Google “Scrub.” It means to scrub. Like, with a sponge or brush. No classical allusions here. It means “to rub something hard with a stiff brush or soap and water.” It’s cleaning by hard work.
And then think of the character arc of Eustace: positively fecund. Absolute pagan. In greed and anger he becomes a dragon. And then in an appearance of Aslan that he later thinks to be a dream (a vision?), he is washed — scrubbed, if you will — of all his serpentine qualities, and cleansed by the washing of his body. The dragon skin was ripped from its roots by Aslan, and he was bathed ( or “baptized”) in a pool, turning his ugly dark skin clear and bright again as he returned to his human form.
And how does C.S. Lewis describe how that bath felt to the de-scaled dragon Eustace?
“It smarted like anything, but only for a moment.”
I suppose it would be accurate to say it “burned,” but only for a moment. Saint “Eustace” indeed.
This fecund pagan, through an appearance of the Lord was scrubbed bright and clear…
….and he almost deserved it.
That, my friends, is not just a cool line. That is foreshadowing. Lewis-style.