Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Join us during the next several weeks as we examine seven points of discussion from 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' by Dr. Devin Brown.

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Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Tirian » Oct 22, 2010 9:13 pm

“How Ever Many Skins Have I Got to Take Off?”: What Is Lewis Saying?

After six days on Dragon Island, Edmund wakes to find “a dark figure moving on the seaward side of the wood.” It is Eustace, now transformed from a dragon back into a boy, but so changed that we are told at first Edmund “thought it was Caspian.” This might seem a small detail, but the fact that the new Eustace may be mistaken for the young king says a great deal about him. The encounter goes like this:

A low voice calls out, “Is that you Edmund?”
Edmund replies: “Yes. Who are you?”
“Don’t you know me?” asks the voice. “It’s me—Eustace.”
“By jove,” answers Edmund finally recognizing his cousin. “So it is.”


Edmund’s failure to recognize Eustace is understandable, and the exchange is full with meaning. Eustace is not the boy he was, but instead the boy he was meant to be, and so is only now truly Eustace. Gradually he shares with Edmund the details surrounding his return to his original form, or as he says, the story of how he stopped being a dragon.

Eustace tells of his meeting with Aslan and their journey to a garden on the top of a mountain. Aslan then shows Eustace a well and—in a way that does not use words—tells him that he must undress before bathing in the healing waters. Eustace, who as a dragon is not wearing clothes, understands this to mean that he must remove his scaly skin, like a snake. And so he peels off a layer of his dragon hide and starts to go down into the well only to find that there is another layer of dragon skin beneath the one he has removed.

Eustace tells Edmund what happens next, and this passage merits close reading if we are to understand what Lewis is suggesting by it. Eustace tells Edmund:
“Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under-skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it, But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

“Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—‘You will have to let me undress you.’”

Lewis scholars have somewhat differing views of this incident.

In The Way into Narnia, Peter Schakel claims, “Three times Eustace peels off his dragon skin, and three times it grows right back,” as though Eustace accomplishes absolutely nothing on his own. Similarly in The World According to Narnia, Jonathan Rogers asserts that “the dragon hide grows back before he can get into the baptismal pool.”

In C. S. Lewis: Spinner of Tales, Evan K. Gibson offers this comment: “The process of ‘undragoning’ Eustace expresses a truth which most adult readers probably recognize immediately. Man’s unassisted efforts to change himself always result in failure.”

In The Keys to the Chronicles, Marvin Hinten explains Eustace’s efforts this way: “Despite several sheddings of skin, however, he is unable to change himself, thereby making one of Lewis’s favorites theological points from his adult nonfiction, that Christianity is not simply a matter of self-improvement but of becoming something entirely different.”

Other scholars have suggested that Lewis intends this scene to say that on his own, man may well be able to accomplish minor changes and these may come relatively easily and without pain. By having Eustace shed some surface layers, Lewis may be saying that on our own we certainly may be able to do something: we can take the initial steps and make superficial improvements but not the kind of radical changes that go much deeper.

In The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, we find a moving account of Lewis’s own spiritual transformation, one which mirrors Eustace’s attempt here to remove layer after layer of dragon skin. Lewis writes about his battle with his “besetting sin” of pride and observes: “I have found out ludicrous and terrible things about my own character…. There seems to be no end to it. Depth under depth of self love and self admiration.”

When the “beastly” skin is finally removed, Eustace states describes it as “ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been.”

Questions for Discussion:

Here Eustace is able to remove one layer of skin but then immediately he finds “another smaller suit on underneath the first one.”

1. What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin?

2. What do you think about our own ability to change?
Eustace tells Edmund that after he agreed to allow Aslan to remove his dragon skin: “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.”

3. What do you think Lewis is saying about the relationship between pain and real transformation?

4. Do you have any other thoughts on this passage?
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Re: Week 1: How Even Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Glumpuddle » Oct 22, 2010 10:07 pm

1. What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin?

If Eustace admitted defeat after failing only once, I don't think his admission would be as credible. For the entire book (so far), we have come to know Eustace as a prideful know-it-all who is convinced he is the most wonderful person in the world. Actually admitting that he cannot do something this important is a BIG step for Eustace. If he took that step too easily, it wouldn't be as believable. Thus the need for multiple failures.

This point also needed strong emphasis. This may very well be the first time in his life Eustace has admitted he can't do something and that someone else must do it for him. Eustace is used to believing he can do everything...Now he is in a situation where he admits he can do nothing. This is a crucial piece to his character arc.

2. What do you think about our own ability to change?

Human begins seem to have a natural tendency towards doing evil rather than good. (You don't have to teach a child bad behavior; they are simply born knowing it). Humans simply are not qualified to "cure" themselves of this tendency towards evil.

3. What do you think Lewis is saying about the relationship between pain and real transformation?

Since evil comes more naturally to humans than good, it makes sense that the process of being rid of evil would be painful. We instinctively want to reject the good change because it goes completely against who we are.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby duckfeet001 » Oct 23, 2010 12:04 am

In the story,Eustace is first descxribed as a cowardly obnoxious bully to Edmund and Lucy and also Direspects King Caspian and the crew,when he is in the cave,he starts having Dragonish greedy thoughts and when he is torn away from his Dragon skin,he is being Reborn. :ymapplause:
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby coracle » Oct 23, 2010 2:09 am

1. Eustace has discovered that when he is ready and willing to be a different boy, he is unable to change himself. He can remove the outer skin but the dark inner skin that is his real being - only Aslan can get rid of it.

2. I see the truth very plainly here that we cannot change ourselves as our sin and failure are not shallow things but deep down. It takes someone else with special ability to make a difference. It is the heart of the gospel. I think the timing is crucial - Aslan knew when Eustace was ready and willing.

3. Those who have been through any surgery, personal counselling, or even the removal of a bad splinter can attest that there is always pain, but that it makes a difference, and in the end there is wholeness and health. It isn't logically a requirement, but it seems to be the way it is!
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Valiant » Oct 23, 2010 6:43 am

1. Eustace has always believed he can do things by himself and that he is capable of overcoming anything. He tries to peel of the dragon skin, only to find more. He tries again a few times, until Aslan tells him that he will have to do it. For possibly the first time in his life, Eustace accepts that he cannot do something (save himself) on his own.

2. I think Lewis is trying to tell us we cannot save ourselves from sin. I agree, in two ways. Firstly, Christ had to die for our sins. We can't do it for ourselves. This is what Aslan did for Edmund in LWW.

In VDT, we have an example of how Chist changes us in our daily lives. Eustace is stuck in his skin until Aslan peels it off. We are stuck in our sin until Christ pulls it off.

3. I think it can be painful to be transformed. Firstly, it takes humility to accept we were wrong in the first place. As well, t can be hard to give up our sinful habits.

I also think that we change when we suffer, either for good or for bad. When we are put through a difficult time, we can either turn to God or turn away from him.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Pepper Darcy » Oct 23, 2010 7:49 am

1. What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin?
I always took it to mean that no matter how hard man tries, man cannot redeem himself... thus the reason for Christ coming to save us. If we could save ourselves, there would be no reason for Christ to die. But since we cannot save ourselves, Christ did have to come. Eustace's repeated attempts to 'save' himself from being a dragon shows us how helpless he is without Aslan, and how helpless we are without Christ.

2. What do you think about our own ability to change?Unless God gives us the ability to change, we'll still be a monster, just like Eustace. If Aslan hadn't taken the skins off for him, Eustace would have been a dragon forever. We're so helpless and dependant upon God, and seeing how Eustace couldn't help himself, we can be thankful for our helplessness since we have such an almighty God who *can* save us.

3. What do you think Lewis is saying about the relationship between pain and real transformation?
Christ said we have to take up our cross and follow Him. He wasn't talking about a literal cross, but about our Christian walk. If we follow Him, if God has saved us from His wrath, then there will be pain. We'll suffer for His sake; we'll be pursecuted as well. Christ gave us the ultimate sacrifice. We ought to be willing to suffer for Him as well.

And before God saved us, we were enemies to Him. We were steeped in the world and the love of the world. Perhaps that 'pain' of transformation could be associated with giving up those worldly loves for the sake of the one who saves us. Eustace would have to admit he was wrong; he was a jerk; and a snivelly worm. There would be pain to his pride (flesh). In The Silver Chair and The Last Battle, there would be pain as well since he followed Aslan (i.e. Lady of the Green Kirtle and getting thrown into the Stable)

4. Do you have any other thoughts on this passage?
I always appreciated how Lewis, though this isn't allegory, but 'supposition' I think people call it, was not afraid to put his faith and belief into his work. He's bold enough to show how helpless man is (Eustace not being able to shed his skin) and how powerful God is (Aslan *must* help Eustace or Eustace is forever lost). It shows us what we are like before God saves us (a monster; a dragon; a snivelly worm). Eustace never *earned* that grace; Aslan *gave* it to him. It might not be allegory, but it is definately a clear, beautiful picture.

Though I think I'd differ with the guys that Tirian quoted who said the skin was growing back. I think Lewis meant there were so many layers beneath the skins. =)

Anyways, this is a great discussion.

Glumpuddle, I love your thoughts about how Eustace is a knowitall and must confess himself up as wrong =D Very insightful. I had never thought of it that way before! :) You are right on in your answers in 2. and 3. I especially love your answer to 3-- evil doesn't love light. It loves darkness because the darkness hides the sinful acts that evil is doing. Light exposes the evil =)
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby pogginfan » Oct 23, 2010 8:34 am

1. What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin?
Echoing everyone's thoughts here, I think Lewis is saying that no matter how hard we try, we can never be free from our sins without Christ. We could rip off layer after layer, but none of them would result in a true, deep change, nor would it save us from what we are and where we're headed. We need Christ to change us, and yes, sometimes it's painful, but there's no other way.

2. What do you think about our own ability to change?
We can't change or save ourselves. Humans have rebelled against an infinite God, and as humans we are only finite. We can't atone or save ourselves. We are completely helpless to do anything regarding changing and salvation until Christ opens our eyes to the truth and the scales fall off, just like Eustace.

3. What do you think Lewis is saying about the relationship between pain and real transformation?
Trading your sin and pride and picking up the cross of Jesus is no easy thing. Confessing your sins and laying down pride goes against man's fallen nature, and it's hard to do. But the pain is definitely worth it in the end, because it's what makes one a new creation.

4. Do you have any other thoughts on this passage?
This is one of my favorite passages from the Narnia series, and in my opinion, one of the most profound. I'm really enjoying reading the discussion about it. :D This passage always seems to offer more to think about!
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby georgielaurafankjm » Oct 23, 2010 8:38 am

1. I think Lewis is saying that however hard we try to get rid of our sins we can't do it on our own. We need Aslan, and in our life it is God to remove it for us.

2. Like I said before we can't change on our own and we need God to give us the ability to change.

3. It takes pain to give up things of life. It is hard to give ourselves away to Christ. As Eustace says it is a good kind of pain, it is painful to give up the things of the world yet to feels so good.

4. I love how you can find pieces of faith in all the Narnia books. This is one part of the book I will be very very mad if they cut out of the movie.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby beloved » Oct 23, 2010 8:40 am

1. I've always thought the first three dragon skins were an attempt to change himself. I used to have a Sunday school teacher who said he once believed with all his heart that he was going to hell and nothing he could do would change that. Funny that he was right. He told the story of how he had to humble himself to God's will.

2. Eustace, the boy who knew it all and loves books of information, had to lay himself down at the mercy of the claws of a being who he knew was going to do something terrible. The first three skins are humbling, the road map that says, "hey, this is how Jesus will save you," and you can try to do it yourself but to no point. I heard a speaker once say that God can do everything but he refuses to do anything without you.

3. Abandoning one's self isn't easy. There is a real heart ache when we go to the alter on our knees, tear stained and sinful, and it seems that when we surrender the pain grows even more. I can't explain it, but I know it. The pain that we all feel at that moment at time may all be the same and still be very different. We have pain because of sin, but we have a Healer. We can sit and pretend that the sore on our arm is fine though anyone can see it scabbed up and looking a very green, infectious color. When we admit that it's there and that it hurts it's funny how it hurts even more than it did before, but it must be torn off and it will hurt. Isn't it a great thing that when it hurts it can start getting better? Pain is the first sign that we need help.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Liberty Hoffman » Oct 23, 2010 9:55 am

1. What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin? I have always thought, through repeated readings of this book, that the reason Eustace kept having 'other layers' under each layer is to show that he thought he had only a few things to get rid of, when in reality he had things to get rid of that he couldn't get rid of himself, thus Aslan doing it for him. Aslan was the only one who could transform him.

What do you think about our own ability to change? in life, we all can do some things to move toward changing our 'dragonish' habits, but only God can truly turn us around. we don't want to change, so it hurts, just like Eustace being stripped of his dragon skin by Aslan, to have our faults and sins ripped away from us. but in the end it feels so much better afterward, once we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ.

What do you think Lewis is saying about the relationship between pain and real transformation? the only way for God to get to all of our sin, to dig it all out, is for him to 'tear' it out and that hurts. and it makes it worse when we resist. but through the pain we can be changed.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Eustace » Oct 23, 2010 2:55 pm

1.What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin?
Eustace like most of us will not give up after our first try on our own. Many of us have try it several times to find out it doesn't work if we try it on out own.

2. What do you think about our own ability to change?
Eustace tells Edmund that after he agreed to allow Aslan to remove his dragon skin: “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.”

We try to change but in end we find out it won't work unless God helps us. Also, he is the only that really knows how deep our sin goes. We just scratch the surface.
3. What do you think Lewis is saying about the relationship between pain and real transformation?
Sometimes we have to go through a lot of painful times to be really transformed. Sometimes pain and transformation work hand in hand.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Valiant » Oct 23, 2010 6:24 pm

Liberty Hoffman wrote:[b]1. I have always thought, through repeated readings of this book, that the reason Eustace kept having 'other layers' under each layer is to show that he thought he had only a few things to get rid of, when in reality he had things to get rid of that he couldn't get rid of himself, thus Aslan doing it for him. Aslan was the only one who could transform him.


Thats a very interesting thought. We may think that they only have a few faults until it is revealed how many we truly have. And often our sins run deeper than we can imagine. Only Aslan's claws can go that deep to rip them off!
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Oct 23, 2010 11:18 pm

1. What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin?

From Eustace's point of view, he has always considered himself right, regardless of whether he had proof of it or not. Sometimes he is and sometimes he isn't in this world of academic achievement and of commercial success. When he was drawn into Narnia Eustace was in unfamiliar territory, well beyond the jurisdiction of Earthly powers. And Eustace responded from his own selfish interests, complaining about the accommodation, his shipmates, and the provisions that were supplied, regardless of the ship's circumstances, or what he, himself could have done to help. Most particularly, when in bitterness and resentment he went to sleep in the dragon's lair, having helped himself to the treasure there, and became a dragon, our very dogmatic Eustace was on the wrong track.

I think that Lewis is saying that in Eustace's repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin, is that though Eustace can see he is wrong, he has many issues to work through, and that he can't find the right solutions without Aslan's help. Such as to genuinely think of the needs of others, and to know when to co-operate, when to turn the other cheek, and when to take a stand. And, by the way, who to appeal to for help in unfamiliar territory, beyond Earthly powers.

2. What do you think about our own ability to change?
Eustace tells Edmund that after he agreed to allow Aslan to remove his dragon skin: “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.”


I can relate to this. We are all dragons to some extent. Whilst we might mean to behave better it is hard not to yield to provocation, or to resist temptation, for example when everything we have valued about ourselves, even the things that are just and worthy, are called into question.

It hurts to pull off our own scabs in our process of healing, but it hurts a lot more if someone else wounds us, especially when it is unjust and unwarranted. I like what Eustace said following this extract that when Aslan reformed him it was a good pain, that is to say a just pain, and a warranted pain, not a pain that rankles on and on. Yes, God's judgement will go right to our very heart, to the very depths of our sinful being. But He will not be unfair to us or accuse us wrongfully. Unlike our peers.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Sir Jack » Oct 24, 2010 7:44 am

1. What do you think Lewis is saying through Eustace’s repeated attempts to shed his dragon skin?
&
2. What do you think about our own ability to change?

I think Lewis is saying, that we can not change ourselves, and before he can change us we have to realize that. We have to first face the fact, that we will never ever be able to get rid of all the dragonish, greedy, selfish (...) stuff that sticks to us. we can however change a little tiny bit of us, but -and thats importand to lern- even if we try to change, we can't change OUR SELVES, we can only adjust our behavior. e.g. if you are a really selfish person, and you realize it, even if you don't want to be selfish, you can't just change to a generous person. All you can do is to try acting generous. you can do selfles things, but you can't how ever change the selfishness itself which is rooted in deep your character.
Or if you just can't stand a person, but you know it's wrong and that god wants you to love everybody. You might WANT to change your attitude twords them, but its not realy possible for you to do it on your own. all you can change is your behavior twords them. Only God /Aslan can change your attitudes and your weakness of character. only he can realy change you totaly. without his help you could rip of one skinn after the other, without an end.
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby mrsbroyles2003 » Oct 24, 2010 8:24 pm

I love it! This is a great discussion topic. This is one of my favorite passages in the whole series! If I answered the questions, I would just be redundant in mirroring everyone else's answers. I think everyone pretty much hit it with saying quite simply, we can't do it ourselves. (we can't do ANYTHING ourselves, without God, much less something as huge as transform from our "dragonish" selves!) we need God's help in all things! One note. I LOVE how Lewis writes that the skin Aslan takes of is "thicker and more Knobbly" (or something along those lines) I think its a great analogy of how even when we shed a little of our sin, we get all proud of ourselves and think we did it ourselves, then when we let God in and help us, we see that our sin is so much worse than we thought it was! And yes, it is very painful for that to happen, because in our human nature, we don't like to give up our sin. Its hard. sin is instant gratifiacation (or at least feels like it at the time) and it is hard for us to give that up, just as it is hard for an alchoholic to give up the alchohol or a drug addict to give up the drugs, but once we do, man is it great! I think Eustace says something like, "it hurts like the billy but Oh, is it fun to see it come off!" (talking about a picking at a scab, but using that as an analogy for what he went through with Aslan and the dragon skin) the whole passage is just amazing! C.S.Lewis is amazing! :ymapplause:
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Re: Week 1: How Ever Many Skins Have I Got To Take Off?

Postby Shastafan » Oct 25, 2010 3:34 pm

1. I think he means that no matter how many times you try to be better, or fix your mistakes, there's no way to get rid of it altogether. "For we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God"-Romans 3:23. We can't earn salvation ourselves, since we fail every time. Eustace tries hard to get rid of his sin, but in the end, he only finds another one. We keep on sinning, and because of it, every skin we try to take off makes no difference.

Only someone whose stronger than us can take them all off himself; someone who has experienced sin himself and was willing to come on cross and die for everyone who was held back by it. Only God can come and take away the crimson stain and wash us white as snow. At the same time, you have to allow him to do it; if Eustace hadn't agreed with Aslan's help, he'd still be failing at taking his skin off. We can let pride hold us back and try to earn our way into heaven, but we'll never make it there without the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And will it be painful to take all the disobedience and rebellion? Eustace found that that out, but he said it was a "good pain," and one that'd leave him move refreshed than anything else had ever been. :)

2. Like I said, we could try forever to get rid of all the shameful and regretful things we've done ourselves, but you can never escape the sea of sin that you're drowning in alone. We have the ability to call out on our savior, who is the only lifesaver that actually saves you eternally from what you've done. Our only hope is to admit we can't shed our skins ourselves, and we need help. I assure you, God is the only one who can have the ability to save his people from themselves, and he'll wait for even the most rotten of people to see that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. :ymhug:

3. When I realize something I've done wrong, and very wrong, I sometimes cry my eyes out and beg for the Lord's forgiveness. Sometimes, the pain is unbearable, but when it starts fading away, I feel so alive and cherished by the One who loves me the most. I never had a powerful conversion like Eustace, but I know in the process of something in your heart changing(and for the better), it's very mighty and painful, but at the same time, you feel relieved, as if a weight has been carried off your shoulders. Eustace must've been feeling this at a great extent, but as he tells Edmund, it's a "good pain," and he was happy to finally get rid of it all. ;)

4.I like how Devon Brown points out how significant it is that Edmund couldn't reconize Eustace. That's a great example that you're not the same person that you were before when you let Jesus change your heart. :ymapplause:
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