And so in the #Narniathon21 hosted by Chris at Calmgrove to my childhood favourite of the Narnia books, the 4th to be published, 6th in the chronological order, The Silver Chair. Is it still my favourite? I’ll tell you later. A full synopsis with comments follows, so if you don’t want to know the plot read no further.
This is the first book with none of the Pevensies in. Our main protagonists are now Eustace Scrubb, a much reformed character after his adventure in the previous book, and his classmate Jill Pole. They are boarders at a school with rather an odd name which frankly jars badly – Experiment House – where they are bullied. Escaping the bullies one day go through a door in the garden wall – finding themselves in a different world near a cliff which Eustace promptly falls over after Jill shows off close to the edge. Aslan’s breath, of course, catches him and he is blown gently to safety, sending Jill off likewise.
Aslan gives Jill a quest for the pair – to find the lost prince Rilian, son of the aged king of Narnia. Eustace and Jill are tasked to seek the prince until they find him and bring him home, or to die trying, or to return to their own world. Tough conditions indeed! Aslan tells Jill of four signs to guide them on their quest and makes her memorise them:
‘First; as soon as the Boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend. He must greet that friend at once; if he does, you will both have good help. Second; you must journey out of Narnia to the north till you come to the ruined city of the ancient giants. Third; you shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you. Fourth; you will know the lost prince (if you find him) by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan.’
He sends them to Narnia, where, as it is decades later, Eustace fails to recognise the aged King Caspian, thus missing the first sign. They do however get good help though via Glimfeather the owl, who tells them about the green serpent that killed Caspian’s queen, the prince’s mother, which Rilian searched for until his disappearance. The owls fly them to the marshes to meet a guide who will take them north.
He is Puddleglum, the Marsh-wiggle, a pessimistic soul who although outwardly gloomy is happy underneath. I always loved Puddleglum and he’s still my favourite character. They head off north, and encounter a lady in a green kirtle and a black knight, who send them up to Harfang the giant city, where they nearly end up as the giant’s dinner, but escape in time to stumble into the ruined city and thence into the underground realms via a one word clue inscription ‘under’ (which was part of a much larger obscured one). But it leads them in the right direction, ‘down, down, deeper and down‘ to quote Status Quo (watch here!).
They meet a band of Earthmen who are bound to the Lady in the Green Kirtle who rules there and are taken to the dark castle, where they meet the knight once again. Later that night the he tells them he must be bound to the silver chair to prevent his transformation into a snake and they mustn’t let untie his bonds. But of course in his ravings he asks them to do it ‘in Aslan’s name’ and they finally follow the fourth sign and free the prince from his enchantment. The green lady of course transforms into the snake that killed his mother, and between Puddleglum and the prince they slay it, freeing all the gnomes from enslavement too. The Earthmen gnomes are able to return to their homeland in the centre of the Earth via a large rift that opens upon the Green Lady’s death – the Israelites crossing the Red Sea comes to mind.
They manage to find their way back to the surface with help, and it’s full steam ahead to reunite Rilian and Caspian before he dies.
Then, once again, Lewis annoyed me, by Aslan taking Eustace and Jill back to their world, (along with a temporarily revived Caspian) and giving them the opportunity to inflict their revenge on the bullies. Jill whips the girls with a riding crop and Eustace the boys with the flat of his sword while Aslan scares the bejesus out of them all before disappearing. Bullying back is not the answer, but the 1950s were different times. Caspian is revived for five minutes through Aslan’s blood, shed via Eustace driving a thorn into his paw – yet again another Androcles reference, although a reversal.
Of course, I’ve been spoilt by the Harry Potter films, and my vision of the Lady of the Green Kirtle changing into a snake was very much in the mould of Voldemort’s horcrux Nagini (a woman transformed permanently into a snake), or the basilisk in HP & the Chamber of Secrets. Her downfall felt a bit easy, given that there is speculation that she is Jadis’ sister – the equivalents of Oz’s wicked Witches of the East and West, or even Jadis reborn. Lewis just says she is one of the ‘northern witches’ which included Jadis, the rest is pure guesswork.
I felt that Lewis could also have made the prince’s nightly ordeal more of a thing – after all they freed him their first night there. I’d have prolonged the agony making them listen to his pleas for several nights before he mentions Aslan! These episodes are all over in a handful of pages.
I did enjoy this one again, but I’ll admit, I found the journey in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader more satisfying as a whole. After Lucy in the first books, Jill takes a little bit of getting used to too. But I do just love Puddleglum’s happy pessimism, which keeps The Silver Chair high up in my affection.
Source: Own old Puffin paperback, 208 pages.