I think it's ironically funny that I haven't been forced to finish them yet. My entire family loves them--I mean, LOVES them. My dad read all of them out loud (but I guess I had better things to do?). In fact, he actually recorded himself, and my brothers listened to those cassette tapes over and over again. My dad and I actually did read Prince Caspian together, just the two of us, but I was bored for much of it. I started The Magician's Nephew when I was about eleven, couldn't get into it, and abandoned it. When I was first married, I belonged to a book club that was going to read all seven of the books in order of publication, and that is how/where I read the first three, but Mike and I graduated and moved before I could finish.
So maybe too much information? But I just thought you'd like to know that in spite of having not read all The Chronicles of Narnia, we do have an undeniable history together. Wouldn't you agree?
Just so we're clear from the get-go (and so that I can make this introduction longer than the rest of the post), here are the books I've actually read:
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (in 2007)
- Prince Caspian (once as a little girl, and then again in 2007)
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (twice: once in 2007 and again in 2011--I have to admit, I really like that one)
- First two chapters (approximately) of The Magician's Nephew
- One overheard scene from The Silver Chair (from one of my dad's readalouds)
Whew! And with that more than adequate introduction, I will now launch into my thoughts about The Silver Chair.
When the story begins, Eustace Scrubb (a cousin to the Pevensie children and one of the main characters in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and Jill Pole are suffering at the hands of bullies at Experiment House (an unconventional boarding school). Eustace longs for his days in Narnia, and even though Jill has never heard of it, they both wish to be delivered from their current situation. They run with all their strength to escape the bullies and find themselves transported to Aslan's world. After an unfortunate accident, Jill finds herself alone with Aslan the lion. At first, she is horribly frightened and distrustful but then recognizes the good in him and listens to his instructions. He tells her that King Caspian's son, Prince Rillian has been lost for many years, and she and Eustace must find and free him. He gives her four "signs" that will help her in her journey and which she must remember and follow at all costs. Then he blows her to Narnia where she reunites with Eustace. Accompanied by a Marsh-Wiggle named Puddleglum, they set off on their quest.
For those who gently prodded me to finish this series, I have to thank you. I feel it's safe to say that for this book alone, the series is worth reading. It was so good.
First order of business: shout-out to Puddleglum. Seriously, this lanky, pessimistically optimistic, fiercely loyal Marsh-wiggle nabbed a spot on my list of Favorite Characters of All Time as soon as he said, "I shouldn't wonder..." I think it would be fairly easy to create a gloomy, cynical character or one that was bubbly and happy, but to be able to combine those two types into someone who is absolutely convincing is a mark of real talent. Puddlegum has so many good lines, but here is one of my favorite: "The bright side of it is...that if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we're safe from being drowned in the river." Oh, and also, the fact that he heroically broke all of them out of the Green Lady's spell? Yeah, that helped secure his place on the Favorite Characters of All Time list, too.
There's no way I could write about this book without mentioning the symbolism at some point. It is laced throughout the entire story--some of it subtle, some of it not-so-subtle. But for me, the imagery was so beautiful and poignant, it will stay with me for probably forever.
My favorite scene, and probably the one that is most well-known, is after Eustace, Jill, and Puddleglum have untied Prince Rillian, and the Lady of the Green Kirtle has found them and is trying to put all of them under her enchantment. She speaks in soft, cajoling tones and plays a lilting instrument. At first they defiantly insist that she let them leave and return to Narnia. She laughs at the mention of Narnia and softly croons that Narnia is only a dream, something they made up. They think she must be right; Narnia was just a dream. Then one of them mentions the sun (which, at that moment, they cannot see since they are miles underground). The Green Lady feigns ignorance and asks them to describe the sun. One of the children says it is like the lamp, only much bigger and brighter. Again, the green lady laughs and gently corrects them, "The lamp is the real thing. The sun is but a tale, a children's story."
If you are a Christian, as I am, you will see that this scene has immediate application to faith. There are so many things I believe in that are bigger, brighter, and more wonderful than my current knowledge recognizes. I can hold onto that which I can currently see and experience and say that since I don't know any better, then that's all there is. Or I can pay attention to what I feel and know in my mind and heart to be true and exclaim, like Puddleglum: "Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones...That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia." When my faith sees moments of doubt, as it frequently does, I continue to push forward in my belief because that is what feels right to me, that is what makes sense, and that is what I fervently hope is true.
A little before this scene, Prince Rillian is tied up, pleading and begging the children and Puddleglum to release him. They don't know he is Prince Rillian, and they are at a loss for what to do. They had already been told that to untie Prince Rillian could prove fatal. They had made a pact with each other that they would not untie him no matter what he said. But then he cried, in the name of Aslan, to be freed. That stops them cold. The fourth and final sign from Aslan was that someone would ask them to do something in his name and that they should do whatever it was. They try to reason their way out of it--surely Aslan could not have meant for them to listen to a lunatic, etc. But Puddleglum insists that they follow the sign.
And then comes this dialogue: "'Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?' said Scrub. 'I don't know about that,' said Puddleglum. 'See Aslan didn't tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he's up, I shouldn't wonder, but that doesn't let us off following the sign.'" I love this. Aslan is a metaphor for Jesus Christ, and this scene perfectly demonstrates that just because we follow what the Savior has asked us to do doesn't necessarily mean that all our problems will come to an immediate and abrupt end. We have to exercise faith that if we do as He commanded, then things will work out exactly as He wants them to and that, even if not immediately, this will be best for us in the end.
Finally, I really loved the scene between Aslan and Jill at the beginning of the book. Jill has found her way to a stream, and she is practically dying of thirst. Aslan is resting by the water. Jill does not know Aslan yet, and she is terrified of this great lion. Aslan tells her to come get a drink, but she is too afraid. She asks him to promise that he will not eat her if she comes closer. He says he will not make any such promise. Finally, she decides to risk it, and of course, Aslan does not harm her. As I have thought about my relationship with the Savior, I realize that many of my experiences have been similar to Jill's: I want a promise right then and there, but the Savior expects me to overcome my fears, exercise trust, and partake of the gift He is freely offering but which I must choose for myself.
I thought the ending to this story was very different from the other three books I've read so far. This was the first book where the children leave a problem behind (the bullies) and then return to it when their adventures in Narnia are over. What's more, this is the first book where someone from Narnia crosses over into their world for a short time. And because of the things they learned while in Narnia, they are able to overcome the challenges they left behind. I really liked the way this connected the two worlds and made each one important to the other.
I still have three books left in the series, but I'll be surprised if any of them can top this one for me. It wasn't just an interesting and exciting story but had real application to my life.