Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter five. Puddleglum.

Synopsis: The children meet Puddleglum. They agree to travel to Ettinsmoor and discuss their plans, then spend the night in the wigwam.

Once again we are told that Narnian air strengthens you. Is this because it is a world where ‘magic’ is present? Or is it related to the age of the world – at this point the Narnian world is relatively young.

If I had to compile a list of favourite Narnian characters, Puddleglum would be one of the main contenders, and I think he has a similar appeal for a lot of readers. I wonder whether Lewis had a favourite character from the Chronicles. According to Downing’s ‘Into the Wardrobe’ Lewis did tell Walter Hooper that he considered Reepicheep and Puddleglum among his most successful creations, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he preferred them to others.

Puddleglum is a wonderful name. I had always assumed it came simply from a combination of the character’s affinity with water and his less than cheerful outlook. However, there is another reason Lewis chose this particular name. One of Lewis’ non-fiction works, ‘English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama)’ mentions John Studley, a poet who described the River Styx as a ‘puddle glum’. Downing explains that this phrase amused Lewis, who in turn uses it to amuse us.

Puddleglum’s character was based on Lewis’ gardener at the Kilns, Fred Paxford. As far as I am aware, Lewis didn’t generally base Narnian characters on specific people from his life. However, Puddleglum is an affectionate portrait of a man Lewis was very fond of. Paxford always planned for, and claimed to expect, the worst. His eccentricity and pronouncements of doom are comical, but the reader is left in no doubt that this is a wise, loyal, trustworthy character nevertheless.

As far as I can discover, Marsh-wiggles are an original creature devised by Lewis. Fauns, centaurs, satyrs and other Narnian species already existed in other literature, but marsh-wiggles don’t seem to.  They are the perfect example of why judgements shouldn’t be based on appearances, as Marsh-wiggles are described so as to sound less than appealing. Puddleglum has long, gangly limbs and a small body. He has ‘a long, thin face with rather sunken cheeks, a tightly shut mouth, a sharp mouth and no beard’. His skin is ‘muddy’ his lank hair is ‘greeny-grey’ and his feet are webbed. Throughout the book the reader is presented with characters who are not what – or who – they seem.

Jill begins to encounter the realities of ‘adventure’ which excited readers of fantasy stories often forget all about. She wants a change of clothes and a wash.

Puddleglum’s pipe smoking reminds me of Tolkien characters who did the same. (Of course, both authors were smokers, too.)

Puddleglum’s total lack of awareness of his gloomy outlook, or how amusing it can be is most endearing.

Ettinsmoor is named after an unpleasant creature of Anglo-Saxon mythology. (Ettins were named among Jadis’ supporters in LWW.) It is a name most prominent in Northumbrian and Scottish tales, which is apt for a land North of Narnia.

The Shribble’s name is suggestive of a small, thin river.

Does Puddleglum think at this point that Scrubb and Pole are the children’s first names?

How charming that Puddeglum, who has miserably predicted total failure of their quest and the distinct possibility of them murdering each other, is thought of as too positive and up-beat by the other wiggles. (Would any other children’s writer, or indeed modern writer of any sort, use the word ‘bobance’?)

Presumably, Puddleglum’s flask contains alcohol.

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter four. A parliament of owls.

Synopsis: Glimfeather takes Jill and Eustace to a meeting of the owls. They learn about the Queen’s murder and Prince Rilian’s disappearance. The owls agree to take the children to the Marshwiggles.

When I was younger I felt very pleased with myself for knowing that the chapter title references the collective noun for owls. What I didn’t realise at the time is that Chaucer wrote a poem called ‘a Parliament of Foules’. Little surprises like this have really added to my enjoyment of the Narniad as an adult. Lewis was so well read that it was natural for him to make use of words, phrases, ideas and even sounds he had read elsewhere. The reader doesn’t need to know all the references to enjoy the stories he writes, but they add another level of enjoyment when they are spotted.

I’m not sure whether or not I would enjoy the ride on Glimfeather. The view would be amazing but it sounds a little unsafe.

What or where is the ruined tower where the owls meet? Could it be part of the original, ruined Cair Paravel?

I love Eustace’s little speech about being a ‘King’s man’. It is another reminder of what sort of person he is becoming following his last visit to Narnia.

‘Crabs and crumpets’ is a lovely reminder of Trumpkin’s memorable turn of speech in PC.

It does seem harsh that Jill’s one instance of showing off has resulted in a lack of help for the quest. But maybe an army of support wouldn’t have been the best way to find the prince.

The tale of the murder of Caspian’s wife would not be at all out of place alongside Arthurian legends. This is unsurprising as Lewis loved chivalric romances from a young age, and tried to write his own during his teens. (Elements of this unfinished tale, ‘The Quest of Bleheris’, resurface in parts of the Chronicles. This is discussed in detail in Downing’s ‘Into the Wardrobe’.)

The Queen is still not given a name, which seems strange. It is mentioned that men say she has ‘the blood of the stars’, which reminds us that her father is Ramandu, but her actual ‘species’ in never confirmed.

The royal party are ‘maying’, which involves celebrating May Day, and can include collecting wild flowers. It seems that Narnians celebrate Christmas and May Day just as we do. Do they share any other festivals with our world? Surely Easter wouldn’t be one – I can’t imagine the talking animals exchanging chocolate eggs somehow?

Ideas of ladies of the court and resting by fountains are reminders of the legends which Lewis loved. A Welsh romance, from the Mabinogion, is actually entitled ‘The Lady of the Fountain’.

The idea of a person who can turn into a snake recurs in mythology and literature, for example in stories about the lamia and nagas. In recent times, evil characters have become snakes or used snakes as ‘familiars’, for example Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin, Voldemort/Nagini in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories and Sauron in the Silmarillion.

There is a suggesting that the serpent-witch could be part of the same ‘crew’ as the White Witch. Surely this can’t be the case – Jadis came from another world entirely. So where did this witch come from? What is her species? Are there others like her? We never find out.

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter three. The sailing of the King.

Synopsis: The children watch an old king sail away in a ship. They talk to an owl who introduces them to Trumpkin. Eustace discovers that Caspian was the old king. They are taken to Cair Paravel.

None of the stories spend a great deal of time in Cair Paravel, but the glimpses we get are glorious. This chapter includes some – both exterior and interior, along with a wonderful Pauline Baynes illustration which references her original drawing of the castle in LWW. The marble quay would presumably look beautiful in the sun, set off against the bright colours of the ship and the Narnian crowd.

One in five of the crowd is human. Is this the aproximate ratio of human to non-human in Narnia? Unlike Eustace in VDT, Jill recognises ‘mythical’ creatures, suggesting she has read what Lewis would call ‘the right sort of books’.

It makes sense for an owl to be present at a sunset sailing, as they are crepuscular birds.

Jill and Eustace refer to each other by surname, presumably because this is how they are addressed at school.

For a children’s book, this chapter has some unhappy content. The different passage of time in our world and the Narnian world means that Eustace sees a dear friend aged and vulnerable, which he is clearly distressed by.

‘Man-cubs’ seems an odd term for Trumpkin to use, one which feels like it has come from The Jungle Book. (Lewis knew the works of Kipling – naturally – and discussed some in his writing.)

Upon re-reading I found that I knew most of the words of the comedic passage where Trumpkin can’t hear what is being said. They were waiting to be dredged up from my memory.

Urnus the faun’s name matches the style of the names of fauns mentioned in LWW and PC.

As a child I found the idea of the serpent-shaped ear-trumpet fascinating.

We are reminded again that Experiment House does not teach anything Christian or Biblical, and that the author doesn’t approve of this.

Why would it be down to Glimfeather to organise the children’s accommodation?

Young me was most envious of Jill’s room in Cair Paravel, with its sunken bath and fragranced fire.

Lewis describes the children’s Narnian clothes as comfortable. He mentions the comfort of clothes elsewhere in the Chronicles. Maybe he was contrasting them to the stiff collars and suchlike which he would have worn when young. In later life, it has been noted by a number of people, Lewis lived in comfortable clothes, which have been described as ‘baggy’ and ‘shabby’.

We are told that the supper the children have is the most splendid thing either of them has ever seen. It must be very impressive, considering that Eustace has seen the table on Ramandu’s Island filled and cleared.

Pavenders are mentioned as being part of the feast. These fish were also mentioned in PC when the Pevensies had first returned to Narnia. Would peacock taste good? (Peacocks have been used as a Christian symbol of immortality.)

The court are entertained with the story of The Horse and His Boy. This echoes the passage in that book, where the court of Archenland are entertained after a meal with the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s a shame Hwin doesn’t get a mention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter two. Jill is given a task.

Synopsis: Jill talks to Aslan. He explains the task she and Eustace must attempt: finding the lost prince of Narnia. He teaches her four signs she must follow. Aslan blows her over the cliff and she and Eustace land in Narnia.

Dreams are a theme which runs through all the books of the Narniad. Jill tries to tell herself she is dreaming, but of course she is not. Another recurring idea is self-justification and self-deceit. She tries to blame Eustace for falling off the cliff. But she – and the reader – knows he is not.

A favourite quote of mine is, ‘Crying is all right while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do’. It really is true.

The Aslan of this chapter feels different from the Aslan of LWW, PC and VDT. He feels disapproving and cold (although his ‘heavy, golden voice’ is unchanged). His ‘motionless bulk’ is likened to London statues rather than the ‘living gold’ of earlier books. His statement about having swallowed up ‘kings and emperors, cities and realms’ is a strange one (to my mind) for a first encounter with a child from another world. Is this because of Jill’s behaviour on the cliff? If Eustace hadn’t fallen, how would the meeting have gone?

Aslan’s insistence that ‘there is no other stream’ echoes the Christian idea that there is no other way to God than through Jesus. Of course water is also symbolic of baptism and of life.

Aslan is very stern with Jill (‘I lay on you this command’) but does soften a little when she owns up to her bad behaviour.

Jill is confused when Aslan tells her she was called into Narnia, as she thought she was calling Aslan.This idea is one which crops up in religious writing quite regularly. People often suggest that the reason someone would seek God or religion is because God is calling to them. This idea occurs in Lewis’ work, a memorable example being Emeth in ‘The Last Battle’.

Jill is given the task she must complete. I remember being surprised as a young reader that Aslan mentions that she could die attempting it. But I suppose Jill and the other characters couldn’t show their courage and other good qualities if they knew from the outset that everything would be fine, and that they were definitely safe. Characters in the Chronicles are reminded at times that they can’t know what will  happen, what might have happened, or what someone else’s story is. Characters have to trust that what is meant to happen will, regardless of the outcome for themselves. (Again, the religious parallels are quite clear.)

Jill flies over islands which Eustace had visited. I wonder which ones they are. The location (and nature) of the mountain country she is leaving tell us that she and Scrubb have been in the country glimpsed through the wave at the edge of the world in VDT. Aslan’s country. Why were they called there rather than somewhere in Narnia?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter one. Behind the Gym.

Synopsis: Jill Pole is crying behind the gym. Eustace tries to cheer her up. He tells her about Narnia and they try to get there. The school bullies chase them, so they go through an unlocked door in a wall. They find themselves in a strange world. Eustace falls off a cliff when trying to stop Jill from falling.

This book begins in a miserable place – a boarding school dominated by terrifying bullies. In his autobiography, ‘Surprised by Joy’,  Lewis discusses his own school memories at length. Miserable they certainly were. Shortly after losing his mother, Lewis found himself being sent to a different country (England) to start school. He absolutely hated boarding school: the loneliness, the bullying, the atmosphere, the focus on sports and athleticism. His loathing for his school days is made very clear, and must have been in his mind as he created Experiment house.

Surely most children can empathise with Jill Pole – even those readers who enjoyed their schooldays. (I’ve looked into Jill’s name and I can’t see any particular reason why Lewis might have chosen it, although it has been suggested that she was named after Jill Flewett, who lived at the Kilns for a while and who Lewis was very fond of.) Feeling lonely in the comfort and safety of your own home is not nearly so horrible an experience as feeling lonely and scared when surrounded by people you fear and dislike. We aren’t given specifics about the bullies and what they do. This allows the reader to fill in the blanks with their own fears.

Lewis gives us a number of his opinions via his narrator’s disapproval of Experiment House. ‘Modern’ styles of ‘discipline’, co-educational schooling and the like come in for criticism, and  when Lewis tells us that Experiment House didn’t encourage Bibles, we know what he is trying to tell us.

The Eustace we meet at the start of this book is very different from the Eustace who first appeared in VDT. We are reminded of how unfortunate his name is, but now he is ‘not a bad sort’.

Trust and friendship are important ideas throughout this story, and this begins here. Why does Eustace trust Jill enough to tell her such a huge secret? As far as we know, none of the ‘friends of Narnia’ discuss Narnia with anyone but each other. Jill and Eustace aren’t close friends. Eustace says he trusts Jill because of their share hatred of Experiment House, but other children must have hated it too. Why Jill?

As Eustace and Jill speak in whispers of Narnia, while surrounded by their utterly prosaic surroundings, it’s like an echo of the thousands of people who have escaped their own ‘dull Autumn day’ by reading the Chronicles.

Eustace knows that Aslan is magic, but he also knows it isn’t ‘right’ to try to summon him through spells and so on.

Eustace’s complaint that girls can’t orient themselves reminds me of Edmund’s comment about girls ‘keeping a map in their heads’ in Prince Caspian. (Both are immediately rebutted by the nearest girl.)

The rumour of the door having been open once is exactly the kind of rumour that entertains school children and gives them a focus for their daydreams. Such ideas can sustain you through the dullest, longest lesson. Many doorways in walls make me think of this doorway. When I spot one I try to photograph it and add it to the instagram account linked to this site.

Eustace insists they hold hands and avoid being separated – which of course is exactly what will happen by the end of the chapter.

One of the things I like about the children’s entry into the Narnian world in each story is that they always arrive in a different place. This place is not somewhere readers of the previous books would recognise. It isn’t even in the country of Narnia.

Jill really shouldn’t have messed around on the cliff edge. We know that. The use of the word ‘despised’ to describe what she thinks of Eustace is very strong.We haven’t known her long at all. And yet all this doesn’t seem to put me off her as a character. Having read the books dozens of times, however, I don’t know if this is because I ‘know’ her already. Would I feel the same on a first reading?

Narnia Re-read. Finishing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I’ve really enjoyed my re-read of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I’ve enjoyed sections of it just as much in 2015 as I did when I first read them. Some references and allusions were much clearer to me, adding to my enjoyment. Other aspects I enjoyed less.

For me, the absolute best thing about this story is Eustace Clarence Scrubb. He’s so brilliantly imagined – a thoroughly unpleasant little boy with a name he almost deserves. His reaction to finding himself in Narnia is hilarious, as is his constant griping and grumbling. He’s fun to dislike. The diary entries he writes are, in my opinion, the funniest parts not only of this book, but of the entire series.They demonstrate a perfect combination of Lewis’ moral intent, his wonderful prose and his storytelling skill. Despite their cleverness, they are understood perfectly by young and old readers alike.

‘Odious’ Scrubb does, of course, become dragon-Eustace. Again, I love this section of the story. I found it genuinely moving to read about his loneliness, self-loathing and clumsy attempts to be helpful. Another aspect of these chapters which I love is the development of Reepicheep’s relationship with Eustace.

Does everyone who reads the Chronicles love Reepicheep? Everyone I’ve spoken to does. We learned about his courage in Prince Caspian, but in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader his character is developed further. We see just how much he embodies the medieval ideal of the chivalrous knight on a noble quest. He isn’t just courtly in his manners, he speaks up for those who have no voice, comforts those who need it and is willing to speak against his king if it is what he judges to be right. He exasperates his crew-mates at times, but nobody travelling with him could fail to admire him.

Aside from these characters, I enjoyed the Dawn Treader itself. The descriptions of the ship, combined with the diagram and illustrations by Pauline Baynes, provided me with a most satisfying rush of nostalgia. The ship is like a character in its own right.

Another nostalgia rush came with the passages about Lucy sighting the Mer-world. As an adult reader I still relished the quality of the writing and the succinct world-building. I’m not even sure I can explain why I like the ‘Sea’Girl’ section so much. I just do. I wonder if other readers feel the same.

Other aspects of the story I enjoyed less than I expected to. The section about Caspian reasserting his authority in the Lone Islands I didn’t really enjoy. I can’t say for sure, but maybe the ‘meaning’ of the story in this section overtook the story itself. Pug and the slavery story left me equally uninspired. Again, I’m not sure why, although the speech of the characters here felt awkward at times. (Although I’d probably still take awkward Lewis over most other writers.)

Coriakin’s Island was provoked a mixed response. The Magician’s book I loved, and this section reminded me how much I liked Lucy. However, the Dufflepuds, particularly their chief, I found more tiresome than comical. Maybe it’s an age thing – I’m sure I didn’t feel this way as a child.

The book’s final chapter also left me a little confused. The religious symbolism felt somehow ‘not right’ for me. This might sound odd when I made no such complaint about Aslan’s resurrection in LWW. After all, how could there be anything more ‘obvious’ than a Christ-like figure sacrificing himself to erase human sin, then coming back to life? But for whatever reason young me never made the connection to Christianity with LWW. Here, the lamb-Aslan and the admission that Aslan exists in our world with a different identity just seemed too mundane for me, too clear a link. This was the case in my older childhood. I found I still didn’t enjoy it much on my re-read. The ending seemed somehow unsatisfying.

Despite this, however, I still really enjoy this book. It feels like a real adventure story, and I can understand why it is the story voted by an online poll as the Narnia story readers would most like to experience. Lewis’ storytelling is, as ever, masterful. The places the Ship visits are memorable. Most of all, the characters have existed in my imagination for many years now, clearer in my memory and closer to my heart than many real people I have encountered.