Immram Taistealaí Camhaora: Seeking the Far Country

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.

 I happen to hope that there is a bit more of an Irish flavor to the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Here’s why:

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.

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About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on October 25, 2011, in Authors, Books, C. S. Lewis, Caspian, Faerie, Fantasy, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Myth, Narnia, The Chronicles of Narnia, Universes and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. the more I learn about Western literature, the more I learn about all the things the Lewis and Tolkien stole from. That is why they were so great. I don’t doubt you are right.

  2. Interesting thoughts, especially on adventure and the direction it leads — toward home or onward to some other shore? Peter Leithart has an interesting discussion of that in his book Deep Comedy. Leithart says that in the classical world, and for centuries throughout European literature, the adventurer is typically an adventurer by fate rather than choice, an exile whose goal is to return home (Odysseus being the prime example). From roughly the twelfth century onward, by contrast, adventure is something voluntarily taken on, for its own sake, without any particular desire to return home. Leithart’s thesis is that this shift in the literature reflects the Christianization of the place; “going out not necessarily to return” traces the story of the apostles in Acts and (down to the bottom of the root) the story of Abraham and Sarah.

    • I’d be interested to hear whether your reading is in line with Leithart’s observation.

      • From what I can tell from my very, very preliminary research, there is a definite leaning toward that idea of voluntary setting forth in Celtic literature, which is primarily written in the medieval period (though with earlier influences). Most of the voyage tales have a heavy Christian influence, probably because the concept of an Otherworld is so congruent with the idea of heaven.

        However, ironically enough, it is the Christian tales that tend to have the voyagers returning, wiser and better men than before, rather than staying where they went. The earlier, pagan literature is where you find heroes going and staying, or at least wanting to stay.

        I love this stuff…

  3. As someone who is new to the Immrama but familiar with Lewis, I found your comments very interesting and when I’ve got this blasted essay out of the way I intend to get out my much loved Narnia books and read them, particularly the Dawn Treader, with a new perspective.
    Cheers

  1. Pingback: Let There Be Mist: In Which I Have Found Yet Another Otherworldly Access Point That I Will Probably Never Be Able To Use | Lantern Hollow Press

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