The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis
Initially, I was frustrated with this story, because I did not understand Lewis’s theme. It was not until I finished summarizing the book that it became obvious to me. Follow God’s word. This is clearly the big idea. The Bible is God’s set of instructions for our life. We must review his instructions daily and remind ourselves continuously of our final objective. In “The Silver Chair,” Jill is given a set of instructions by Aslan. Her mission is to find the Lost Prince, and she is told to review Aslan’s words continuously. The parallel between Aslan’s word and God’s word is so obvious that I’m disappointed that I did not recognize it sooner.
The Pevensies are no longer allowed to enter Narnia. The adventures in this book follow Eustace, the Pevensies’ cousin who was redeemed from dragon-being during in the “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” and his friend Jill. Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole are swept away to a magical world after getting bullied on the school playground. In this magical world, that is neither earth nor Narnia, the two children find the edge of an extraordinarily high cliff. Eustace falls off the edge, but instead of plummeting to his death, Aslan the Great Lion blows a wind that carries Eustace off into the distance. After Eustace’s cliff dive, Jill meets Aslan for the first time. The lion gives her a quest and set of instructions to follow. He says that she must either complete the quest or die trying. Jill’s assignment is to find the Lost Prince and return him to the King of Narnia. To accomplish this task, Aslan gives Jill four steps to follow:
As soon as Eustace steps foot in Narnia, he must greet his old friend immediately
Jill must travel north and reach the ruined city of the ancient giants
There will be writing on the stone in the ruined city. Jill must do what the writing says
The Lost Prince will be the first person that asks Jill to do something in the name of Aslan. This is how she will know his identity
Jill is forced to repeat the four steps over and over again so that she does not forget them. After memorizing the steps to Aslan’s satisfaction, the lion blows Jill over the cliff towards Narnia. In Narnia, Jill and Eustace rejoin, and they meet the King. The King is Eustace’s old friend, Caspian. However, since time passes differently in Narnia, Eustace does not immediately recognize Caspian, and they fail to complete step number one. Eustace does not greet his old friend. Therefore, Eustace and Jill fail to receive some much needed help. However, this makes me wonder. If they received Caspian’s help, would there be a story? Perhaps this story only exists because the quest to return the Lost Prince was not simple. It was challenging, and therefore it makes a story worth recording. If the task had been simple, aided significantly by King Caspian, then perhaps the tale would not have been so interesting and consequently never recorded.
Instead of greeting King Caspian, Jill and Eustace meet the owl, Master Glimfeather, and the Dwarf, Lord Regent Trumpkin. During the night, the two children participate in a Parliament of Owls. The owls tell the story about the death of the Queen and the Lost Prince. The Queen was killed from the sting of a serpent. And the Lost Prince disappeared after meeting a woman in the woods. The owls believe that the serpent and the woman are the same person, and that the prince is still alive. Owls are very wise, and their beliefs turned out to be true. Like all of the Narnia stories, this one has a happy ending, where the Lost Prince is returned to Narnia. The owls are correct with their assertion.
To assist the children in their quest, the owls introduce Jill and Eustace to the Marsh-wiggle, Puddlegum. Puddlegum has very long legs and long arms and somewhat resembled a frog. Jill, Eustace, and Puddlegum embark on their journey to find the ancient city of the lost giants. Along the way, they meet giants, a silent knight, and a lovely lady. The knight and lady are traveling together and instruct the adventurers to proceed to the Gentle Giants at Harfang, where they will be greeted with a warm bath, hot meal, and cozy beds. These promises appealed very much to the two children, but Puddlegum was skeptical of the lady, whom we will call the Green Lady since she was clothed in a green gown. Following their deepest desires, Jill and Eustace persuade the Marsh-wiggle to seek out Harfang and the Gentle Giants.
Inside Harfang, the visitors were treated exceedingly well by the giants. They were fed, bathed, and given comfortable sleeping quarters, just like the Green Lady promised. All is well and comfortable, until the children discovered a terrible truth. They found a recipe in the kitchen for humans. The giants were planning to eat Jill and Eustace during the Autumn Feast. Quickly, the children and Puddlegum executed an escape from Harfang. During their egress, they slide down a passageway into the Underland. The Underland, also called the Deep Realm, is devoid of the sun, and it is a different kingdom than Overland, which is filled with light and where all of the previous adventures occurred.
Inside the Deep Realm, Jill, Eustace, and Puddlegum are escorted through the caverns by an army of Earthmen. Although their situation looks bleak, the children realize that they are following Aslan’s tasks. They have reached the ruined city, which Harfang was built on top of, and they followed the writing that said “Under Me.” Although it was inadvertent, they slid underneath the city, just like the “Under Me” engraving instructed, while escaping the Gentle Giants in Harfang. Therefore, steps 2 and 3 of Aslan’s instructions have been completed. Only one task remains.
The Earthmen deliver the captives to the Green Lady and the Black Knight, which were the same lady and knight that they met while traveling in the Overland. Later in the day, the children meet the Knight, where he is fastened to a chair. The Knight declares that the children must not cut him loose from the chair, else he will turn into a green serpent and kill them. However, while the Knight rages in his captivity, he uses the name of Aslan to instruct Jill to cut him free. Recognizing Aslan’s final sign, Jill releases the Knight from the chair. Free at last, the Knight draws his sword and destroys the Silver Chair, and then he proclaims himself as the Prince Rilian, son of King Caspian. When the Green Lady, or more accurately the Witch, discovers Prince Rilian’s release from her spell, she transforms into a Green Serpent but is immediately slayed by the Prince. The Green Lady, who ruled the Underworld, was the same type of Northern Witch that cast Narnia into an eternal winter during the ages of King Peter, King Edmund, Queen Lucy, and Queen Susan.
Jill, Eustace, Puddlegum, and Prince Rilian escape from the Deep Realm after the Witch’s death. Along the way, they meet a Gnome, Golg, who thanks them profusely for freeing them from the Queen’s spell, and he invites them to his city, Bism, which is located even further underground. Quite tired of caves, they politely refuse the Gnome’s invitation. Staying with Lewis’s theme of happy endings, this book concludes with Prince Rilian’s return to Narnia and the appearance of Aslan. Although the journey was challenging, Jill and Eustace completed Aslan’s mission. Perhaps this is the major theme of the book. Despite challenges, God has given us a task, and we are to push through until completion. To the best of our abilities, we should follow God’s directions. Sometimes we will make conscious choices to follow the Lord’s direction, such as cutting the raging Knight free from the Silver Chair, despite how inappropriate/unwise those actions appear in the moment, and other times, Jesus will intervene and forcefully push us in the correct direction, such as when the children inadvertently slide down a tunnel into the Deep Realm. Whether our actions are consciously completed to align with God’s quest, or our actions are silently guided by God’s hands, the important thing is that we stay focused on the final objective. The important thing is that we stay focused on eternity. In the end, God will prevail. The White Witch could not kill Aslan, and the Green Lady could not conquer Narnia. Neither Witch was able to overpower Aslan, and no Witch will ever be able to overpower God. Like Jill and Eustace, we must focus on the final objective and not be discouraged by challenges and disappoints along the way. Yes, I think that is the big theme of this book.
Also, God’s directions for our lives are provided in the Bible. Like Jill was given directions by Aslan and instructed to review them continuously, we are instructed to study the Bible continuously. Daily, we should be reminding ourselves of God’s instructions and studying his words. We should memorize his instructions, and this only happens by continuously thinking about them. That is why Jill was instructed to continuously repeat Aslan’s tasks. Aslan’s tasks are analogous to God’s Word. It is too easy to forget God’s words. And, if we forget to review his instructions, or fail to remember our final objective, then we will be misguided.