In the western world, the most famous quest is that for the Holy Grail. But every nation, every culture, every religion has its great quest story. Something deep within our psyche compels us to go on pilgrimage, to leave our home and take to the road. The inner call that sends us forth promises to provide us with adventure and mystery but with something else as well—something less tangible. At the end of the quest lies the promise of meaning, purpose, fulfillment.
The Greeks used the beautiful word “telos” to refer to that purposeful end that we spend our lives in search of, but in English we have a similar word that rivals the Greek in its beauty and power. At various stages in our lives, we who speak the tongue of Shakespeare and Milton seek after a consummation (from two Latin roots that mean “all together”).
Like “telos,” consummation connotes the achievement of a final goal or end, whether in business, in art, or in life itself: the “consummation devoutly to be wished” that Hamlet seeks in his “To be or not to be speech” is death. But it is also used to refer to that physical and spiritual moment when a new husband and wife join themselves sexually and become one flesh. To find consummation is to achieve a happiness that is really a kind of completion. In the moment of consummation, we know who we are, why we are here, and how we fit in to the greater plan.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis reprises a character he created in Prince Caspian: Reepicheep, king of the talking mice. Whereas Reepicheep plays the role of a simple, if chivalrous knight in Prince Caspian, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he develops into something grander and more wonderful. If he is a little like Lancelot (the bravest of the knights) in the former tale, then he is a great deal like Galahad (the finder of the Grail) in the latter. Still fearless and a bit reckless, Galahad-Reepicheep turns his talents and energy toward a magnificent, never-before-attempted quest: to set his foot upon the shore of Aslan’s Country.
Since Aslan’s Country is heaven, Reepicheep’s quest can only end with that consummation that we call death. But that does not dissuade the courageous mouse from taking up the challenge. He will sail east, to the place where the sun rises, and he will not stop until he has found the true home of the Risen Lion King of Narnia.
What will he do, what will he risk, what will he sacrifice to achieve that goal? Reepicheep himself gives the answer: “‘My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. 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 and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.’”
When my kids were younger, they spent many hours watching the Disney channel. At first, I was pleased to see how many characters in the shows they watched spoke with passion about following their dream. That is, until I realized that all their talk about following their dream had little to do with consummation: it was mostly about being a pop star. Thankfully, children who read Reepicheep’s story will learn of a greater dream: one that calls for true courage and sacrifice; one that will reveal to us, in the end, the very purpose for which we were born.