The Silver Chair

C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair is perhaps my favourite of the Narnia stories. On the book’s opening page, he cannot resist having a pop at ‘modern’ education (1950’s style). Jill and Eustace attend Experiment House, a modern school, which was “’Co-educational”, a school for both boys and girls, what used to be called a “mixed school”; some said that it was not nearly so mixed as the minds of the people who ran it.’

Having entered Narnia, Jill, who has never before met Aslan, nor knows who he is, asks him to move away while she has a drink of water, lest he eat her. ‘“Will you promise not to- do anything to me- if I do come?”

“I make no promise”, said the Lion.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms”, said the Lion.‘

There follows a brief discourse about the nature of election. Aslan, claiming to have called Jill and Eustace out of their world, is questioned by Jill, who points out that it was in fact they who had called on him.

‘“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you”, said the Lion.’ Indeed!

The children and their glum Marshwiggle companion whose moods and outlooks might represent many a Christian, are set to rescue Prince Rilian, heir to the now aged Caspian. Having been enthralled by a beautiful green woman, they are given instructions by Aslan as to where they might find him. They escape from giants into the dim and cavernous world of Underland, where they meet its terrible queen who has long been planning a subterranean invasion of Narnia. This witch-queen, Lewis hints, is related to the White Witch of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She begins to enchant her newly-released prisoner and his liberators by assuring them that there is no ‘Overland’, that the sun does not exist and any memories they have of it are but fanciful imaginings. Although they defeat this seductive harridan, her lies and deceits about life outside of the darkness are not dissimilar to those we hear in our world about heaven and angels. While discussing the sun, Rilian says it is like the lamp hanging in the room:

“It giveth light to the whole world and hangeth in the sky”.

“Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the Witch. “When you try and think clearly what the sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story”. 

Towards the tale’s end, a wise dwarf concludes, upon hearing of a new witch’s planned subjugation of Narnia, “Those northern witches always mean the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it”. 

Before finishing, Lewis returns once more to the state of British education:

‘And in the inquiry all sorts of things about Experiment House came out, and about ten people got expelled. After that, the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made an inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after’.

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