The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
I am always vaguely amused at the debate that goes on over the reading order of The Chronicles of Narnia and how worked up some people get over it. True, some books should be read before others and The Last Battle should definitely be read last; but in my own experience The Silver Chair (published fourth, written fifth*, and chronologically sixth in the series) was read first! Was my love and appreciation of Narnia ruined because of this? Of course not!
The Silver Chair is set about a year after the proceedings of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which Eustace Scrubb accompanied his cousins Lucy and Edmund Pevensie into Narnia and became a much better person for it. Returning to school as a reformed bully, he happens upon a fellow school-student Jill Pole crying behind the gym, and in an attempt to cheer her up, divulges the secret of Narnia and the great Aslan. Interrupted in their discussion, Eustace and Jill attempt to escape the teachers and bullies by trying out a door in the school wall — which magically opens out into Narnia.
Unfortunately, an act of pride from Jill separates the two of them, and she alone bears witness to Aslan and accepts from him the burden of a noble quest. She learns that Prince Rilian, the son of the famous King Caspian, has disappeared without a trace, and Aslan reveals he has brought both her and Eustace into Narnia in order to find him, giving her four specific instructions by which she can find him. Rejoining Eustace outside Cair Paravel, they soon hear the specifics of Rilian’s disappearance and make plans for their search for him. They are soon allied with Puddleglum, a creature known as a Marsh-wiggle who agrees to act as their guide as they leave Narnia and travel into the dangerous northern lands in search of the lost prince. With only Aslan’s mysterious signs to trust in (and with the first botched already), the three companions have a long road ahead of them.
The Silver Chair is the only Narnia story that has a clear narrative structure from the get-go; the search for the lost prince. It is only a few chapters before the trio of travelers are on their way, with a clear sense of their purpose and direction — quite different from the other books in which it can take most of the book for the child protagonists to get a sense of their goals and purposes. This has the clear advantage of speeding up the narrative, and The Silver Chair races along at a steady pace. For the first time we get to explore the lands that lie north of Narnia (though this is a little bittersweet, considering the appeal of Narnia — a short interlude at Cair Paravel only whets the appetite), and the dangers that lie therein.
This may be interesting, but it is a little bleak. Far from the valleys, rivers and meadowlands of Narnia, the northern reaches are grim moors, rocky gorges, underground caverns and wastelands. Populated with giants and gnomes; it does run the risk of being a little depressing. The Silver Chair certainly traverses the most inhospitable lands of Narnia, and several dangers that the children face (including giants, witches and claustrophobic undergrounds) can be quite harrowing for younger readers. In fact, it’s tempting for me to attribute my own claustrophobia to Lewis’s graphic accounts of the tight squeezes and tunnel crawls in the darkness of the undergrounds.
But in all this darkness there is moments of beauty and intrigue; an opening at Cair Paravel where Trumpkin still reigns as regent (though a little hard of hearing), the imaginative vibrancy of the land of Bism that Lewis portrays in glorious colour, and the Narnia snow-dance, which should really be read in order to properly appreciated. This is also the novel in which we are introduced to Puddleglum, surely one of C.S. Lewis’s most original and beloved characters. Said to have been based on Lewis’s gardener, Puddleglum is endlessly pessimistic about their chances for survival, and yet is patient, canny, stoic and wise. He gets his moment of glory, and in typical Lewis-fashion, it is a vindication of faith rather than any fancy sword maneuvers.
The Pevensie siblings are rather missed, as even though Eustace has improved drastically from his behaviour in “the Voyage”, neither he nor Jill quite has the likeability of the Pevensies. But perhaps this is down to a sense of nostalgia considering the Pevensie family has been represented in all the books up till now, as well as the fact that the Pevensies were nothing less than kings and queens, possessing a nobility and romantic mystique about them that the more normal Eustace and Jill simply don’t have. Yet perhaps this may appeal to some, since Eustace and Jill are certainly more realistic children. They do their fair share of bickering and squabbling, yet there is a poignant moment near the end in which they address each other by their first names (rather than “Scrubb” and “Pole”), and they reappear in The Last Battle as fully fledged heroes.
The Silver Chair is a solid addition to The Chronicles of Narnia, even though the chair of the title is surprisingly low-key in the context of the story. With a stirring adventure, heart-pounding dangers and a villain that is second only to the famous White Witch, Lewis presents an entertaining and re-readable adventure story.
*Lewis actually completed The Horse and His Boy before The Silver Chair, but its publication was delayed.
(1950-1956) Ages 9-12. Boxed sets are available. Publisher: Journeys to the end of the world, fantastic creatures, and epic battles between good and evil — what more could any reader ask for? The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, written in 1949 by Clive Staples Lewis, had all this and more. But Lewis did not stop there. Six more books followed, and together they became known as The Chronicles of Narnia. For the past fifty years, The Chronicles of Narnia have transcended the fantasy genre to become part of the canon of classic literature. Each of the seven books is a masterpiece, drawing the reader into a land where magic meets reality, and the result is a fictional world whose scope has fascinated generations.
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