Over and Under Narnia
(A Book Review of C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair)
The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis is considered the penultimate book in The Chronicles of Narnia, and I have no contention why readers said that it’s an all together different book (though I had taken a much different tack in reading the series for reasons stated on this post). At the outset it is the first book in the series that does not have anything to do with the Pevensie siblings; instead it features Eustace Scrubb (who first appeared in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), their cousin, in a leading role along with a new character, Jill Pole, his classmate from boarding school.
The book decidedly has a more grown-up feel to it as reading upon the opening pages we witness Jill’s distress, hiding in the shrubbery and chased by the school bullies. This shift in tone and hints at mature themes continues to turn up bit by bit throughout the book. I will not say much here but this incident will lead Eustace and Jill to an adventure, and you bet it that there are more than bullies they have to deal with once they find their way through the land of Narnia.
Once again the reader is in for a treat in C. S. Lewis’s patented quest tale, but what makes The Silver Chair something else is the new set of beguiling characters. I know it might take a while for some reader to get used to it seeing as it is that we get to know events in Narnia through the eyes of the Pevensies. In my opinion, this point makes the installment of The Horse and his Boy significant in the sequence in that it weans us for a bit from the beloved protagonists and lets the reader see the adventure in another set of point of view.
Eustace is his same snotty self, yet more in a restrained manner this time around — indeed he already learned his lesson (plus more once you get to the book). Lewis takes female characterization again up a notch with the introduction of Jill Pole, and as I see it, it seems much of the book is told from her standpoint, which is all the more splendid for one can’t help but like and relate to her. Seen cringing during the first chapter she takes on a lot of guts and personality as the plot progresses. Lewis shows in Jill a very much grounded and human character: she screws up from the very beginning; she is easily distracted by simple comforts, though you can’t blame her seeing as it is how hard of a journey they have ahead of them; she’s not afraid to cry and to use trickery as she sees fit; and do tell me, if being afraid of caves and dark craggy places isn’t human enough, then what is? In the face of all these, what makes her all the more awesome is she isn’t afraid to own up her mistakes and no matter how dismal she feels, she gets up and tries again. With confidence she does all these in a completely, utterly real way.
And before I totally forgot there’s Puddleglum, a marshwiggle, an original creature by Lewis who accompanies and guides the two kids and provides the comic relief in the novel. I tell you he’s such a character — he closely reminds me of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — and what make him memorable are his outwardly amusing pessimistic views, though actually he’s a closet optimist. I think it’s merely his way of offsetting fears that he himself doesn’t recognize he’s courageous enough to face. You might not get what I’m saying right now; just see for yourself till you read the book.
A stark contrast to earlier books, this is the only quest so far where the heroes are groping their way, with completely unclear instructions to accomplish. Midway in the book, seeing the general happenings in the land of Narnia since the indeterminate time a Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve ever visited there, we get a semblance of the task they have to do. Since the characters met and teamed up from the start, we got a pretty straightforward narration from Lewis along with the seamless unfolding of worldcraft, adding to the mythological feel of the series the haunting kingdom of the giants up north and the ghastly gloom of Underland (a nod to the traditional tale of heroes of old traveling in the underworld as part of their journey). Since there’s only a handful of characters, I take this book is more action packed than others with some pretty neat scenes describing in detail some of the amazing sword fights. It has its moments of suspense as well: it had me on the edge of my seat, breathless, thinking if Eustace and Jill will ever get out of Narnia or they might end up stuck in there. It also has some charming fantastical elements like flying by Aslan’s breath and on the back of huge talking owls and we get to learn nifty facts about Centaurs to boot. What’s not to love, eh?
In the vein of prior books, The Silver Chair brings to its pages Christian themes yet now with a marked sophistication for readers who followed up reading the series. In this occasion it stresses the vital lesson on developing discipline, to not take our eyes off the instructions and promises no matter how absurd it may look like in the first place. Out of Eustace and Jill we realize that it is hard to confess — more so to ourselves — our personal responsibilities, that we are accountable. At the end of the day, faithful obedience done even in the face of death is just but one side of the coin. We slip, we tumble and as Paulo Coelho succinctly said said: “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” I believe the answer remains whether or not we’ll be able forgive ourselves.
To err is human;
To forgive divine.
Book #43 for 2011
Published by Scholastic Inc.
(Trade Paperback, January 1995 Edition)
Started: November 15, 2011
Finished: November 17, 2011