Some of my reading in Irish literature is about the voyage tales, such as Immram Brain, Immram Maile Duin, and Echtrae Chonlai.
In these stories, the heroes make voyages over the sea in search of the magical and wonderful Otherworld. A lot of the stories (if not all of them, depending on what scholar you read), are very Christian, with varying amounts of earlier legendary material. It’s a bit depressing when you start looking at the scholarship and they begin systematically shredding the stories’ supposed Celtic origins and Otherworldly imagery, but I’m a bit more of what they call a nativist. I think there is still something of the old legends there.
When I was reading through some of the immrama (voyage tales) and echtrai (Otherworld adventures), the stories of Bran and Mael Duin in particular made me think of Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They are stories of voyages to magical islands that ultimately lead to the ends of the world.
Now, I am fully aware that there are other somewhat similar voyage tales in other cultures. Take, for example, the story of Odysseus. He quite literally defined the odyssey as far as modern readers are concerned. But for Odysseus, the goal was always to go home. Everything he did from the time he left was in order to find his way back. The Irish journeys are not quite as “homeward”, shall we say.
While in many of the voyage tales in Irish literature, the heroes do return, there are a lot of stories in which returning is not the ideal. When Bran’s ship reaches the Otherworld, they spend what seems like a few weeks, but is really centuries. One of his companions has a longing to see his friends again, but when they go home and his feet touch the soil, he turns to ash as the ages catch up with him. Bran and the others set sail and never return. Perhaps they went back to the Otherworld, or maybe they spent the rest of their days trying to find it again.
Likewise, in Echtrae Chonlai, Conlae is summoned to the Otherworld by a faerie woman. When he goes, he does not come back.
With The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, King Caspian and most of his crew are not sailing to the ends of the world, never to return, but one of their number is. Reepicheep intends to go as far as the seas will take him to find Aslan’s Country. It is his goal, not just a stop along the way.
Aslan’s Country is obviously Lewis’s heavenly realm, but it also shares some traits with the Irish Otherworld in many of these stories:
*No one finds it unless they are meant to
*It is a timeless realm that is both connected to and beyond the mortal circles.
*It is the ultimate destination – everyone wants to find their way there eventually, even if, as for Caspian, he was not able to reach it during that voyage
*Those who do come back home again are forever changed, usually for the better
Apparently, now that I’m studying Irish and Welsh literature, I tend to see it in everything, so I have drawn a lasting connection in my mind between the immrama and the Voyage (Immram) of the Dawn Treader.
Please let me know what you think. This is an interesting idea, but I may be completely wrong. At the very least, it is a fun possibility to explore.
*By the way: the title is my rough translation of Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Irish. It is probably quite, quite, quite wrong, but it looks pretty darn cool, if I do say so myself.