I’ve been doing a few of the Lewis “heavies” – Abolition of Man, The Problem of Pain, That Hideous Strength–so I thought I’d take a break and go for a little trip into Narnia.
I decided to read The Silver Chair, the fourth of the Narnia books, published in 1953. I toyed with starting at the beginning of the series, with The Magician’s Nephew, but in the end I chose the fourth book because this is the next Narnia book that will be released as a movie and I wanted to revisit it before I saw the movie, which is coming out sometime in 2016.
The Silver Chair follows on the heels of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, set a year later according to English time, but decades later in Narnia. The story contains a couple of the characters from The Voyage, notably Prince Caspian (briefly) and Eustace Stubbs, who along with Jill Pole, are the main protagonists of the story. Eustace has changed from his experiences in Narnia, he is no longer the whiny, self-centred brat we encounter at the beginning of Dawn Treader. Instead of being one of the bullying gang at his school (called The Experiment – a sure nod to the warnings found in The Abolition of Man) Eustace is now one of their victims, along with Jill Pole, a girl who at the beginning of the book is hiding from the bullies. Eustace stumbles across her and tells her of his adventures in Narnia, and together they attempt to find a way to cross back there.
They link hands and chant “Aslan, Aslan, Aslan,” but interrupted by the bullies who give them chase again. They burst through a door in a high stone wall that normally leads to the moor and find that they have arrived, instead, in a wholly different place, Aslan’s high country, but there is no sign of the great Lion. At the edge of a very high cliff they have a disagreement, which results in Jill inadvertently causing Eustace to fall off, but Aslan quickly appears and uses his breath to blow Eustace to safety down to Narnia.
Aslan explains to Jill that he has called Eustace and her to Narnia in order to complete a task: to find the missing Prince Rilian, who is the son of Prince Caspian. In order to complete this task he gives her four signs she must look out for. He makes her memorize them and warns her to repeat them constantly when she is in Narnia, for, as he says,
“Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”
Of course, although Jill starts off well, she soon forgets the signs, or misreads them, and things start to go wrong. Due to Eustace not recognizing Prince Caspian, who is now King of Narnia and an old man, the first sign (“Greet the first person you recognize”) is ignored, because Eustace only finds out his identity after the King sails off to find Aslan to ask him who should be king after him, as his son is lost. Jill and Eustace set off to find the lost prince and fall into the company of a Marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum. Puddleglum, who can never find a good word to say about anything (you might say he is Narnia’s Eeyore) is, however, a brave companion for the two children and eventually, through many adventures, they find the lost Prince who is under a terrible enchantment from the Lady of the Green Kirtle, one of the witches of the Northland, like the White Witch.
Like all of the Narnia books, this is children’s story, to be sure, but it is so much more than that. There is much for adults to ponder here too. The whole business of the signs, for example. It is quite to easy to extrapolate that into our lives as Christians. God has given us clear “signs” as to how to live our lives (the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, for example), but, oh, how often we get them muddled, ignore them, and mess them up. Jesus’ words, “Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear!” comes to mind. We have to constantly remind ourselves of the “signs” or we will forget, just as Jill did as she got involved in her adventures in Narnia.
There is also the value of companions. Jill told both Puddleglum and Eustace about the signs, and so at various times in the book they reminded each other about the signs and worked out together what they might mean in the various situations they found themselves in. It is not easy to walk the narrow road alone, we all need companions along the way to remind us of what we have forgotten!
There is also the comforting reminder of the forgiveness and grace of God. Even though Jill feels she has messed up her task, at the end, when they see Aslan again, and she and Eustace feel miserable because of their errors, Aslan says, “Think of that no more. I will not always be scolding. You have done the work for which I sent you into Narnia.” Which, I suppose, is Lewis’ version of, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:23).
This little trip into Narnia was a refreshing jaunt, and an encouraging one. And fun, too, what with the Marshwiggles, the doleful Earthmen, the giants, and the all-to-real quarrels between Jill and Eustace.
I’m looking forward to seeing how they translate this into a movie. I don’t believe they have a release date yet, but when they do, I’ll be one of the first in line!