As a kid this was the Narnia book for me. None of the other books came close to the adventure in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. After having reread it as an adult, my opinion is the same: This is the best of the lot.
So, what makes it so special? Nothing spells adventure like a ship, plus its a ship with a quest, carrying quite a few characters we’ve already met in the series and an important new one. The quest is twofold, Prince Caspian wishes to track down 7 Narnian lords that were banished long ago and never returned, and he wants to reach the end of the world, which is Aslan’s country, or heaven, if one is keeping close to the Christian allegory.
Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are stuck visiting their horrible, annoying cousin Eustace Scrubb. Things go wrong from the start as they start arguing about a painting and end up smack dab in the middle of the sea in Narnia. Fortunately, The Dawn Treader is close at hand and soon all three are brought up on deck to be greeted by Prince Caspian, his men, and the mouse Reepicheep. This entrance to Narnia isn’t quite as iconic as the wardrobe, but it’s close.
Everyone is happy to see each other and be in Narnia except for Eustace, but then, he’s never been there before. And then, the ship is off on the quest to find the lords. Each island they pass too, it just gets better and better and I like this end of the world stuff and the whole poking at the flat earth idea. So many of the characters get challenged: Lucy, Caspian, and Reepicheep particularly. Eustace has the most dynamic change, and we quietly acknowledge along with himself that he does belong in Narnia and that he may be back. I also like all the unexpected turns in the plot–so often there appears to be danger, but then they find things aren’t as they seem and sometimes the more dangerous things are closer to the heart, like Lucy and Caspian longing for things they cannot have.
Basically, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has it all: sword fighting, sailing, a quest, a dragon, gold, princesses, water people, unending feast, a wizard, storms, a sea monster, and a teensy bit of romance thrown in. It’s a great read and if I kept any of the Narnia books on my shelf it would be this one. For me, the other ones just still don’t compare.