Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter fifteen. The disappearance of Jill.

Synopsis: Jill is pulled through a hole in the ‘roof’. The others fear for her safety, but she has been helped out by some Narnians. They then dig out the others, and Prince Rilian is revealed.

It seems that Narnia is having its usual effect on visitors from our world. Jill is very brave, and has no qualms about leading the way through the mysterious hole. When she disappears, Eustace’s upbraiding of Puddleglum seems to be based on his care for Jill rather than real anger. (Drinian was shown to be angry with Reepicheep in VDT in a similar way.) With Puddleglum’s doleful response, agreeing that he’s done a terrible thing, it would be difficult to remain angry at him.

Jill’s view, which she takes a moment to make sense of, includes many of the key features which Lewis uses to show ‘good’ Narnia: dancing, music, stars and trees. The music is ‘sweet’ and ‘eerie’, with the suggestion that it is more than ‘just’ music, in a way that sounds and music often are in the Chronicles. Also, the creatures involved are involved in actions which, although complex, come naturally to them, which is something often referenced throughout the books.

Is a snowball dance a thing which has happened anywhere but in the Great Snow Dance, either in real life or in fiction? I can’t find any examples, but there are so many odd traditions nothing would surprise me.

After experiencing an unnatural, evil, enchanted winter in LWW, the reader is now allowed to see what a real, wonderful Narnian winter is like. One of the experiences I most wished to have, as a young reader, was to experience the pleasures of Narnian hospitality as Jill does here, sitting on a snowy hill, wrapped in fur and sipping a hot drink. Such simple pleasures seem so familiar, so comforting, so inviting. The more I’m surrounded by technology and suchlike these days, the more I find the Lewisian voice in me pining for the ‘good old days’.  (Although of course nostalgia paints those days as some sort of rural idyll, when I actually grew up in the 80s, with a video and a Spectrum zx 48k.)

Eustace shows just how far he has come in terms of bravery when he appears out of the hole, brandishing his sword at imagined enemies. I can’t imagine his swordsmanship is particularly refined, but its the intention which matters here.

The Narnians all know Puddleglum, even though he is from a different part of Narnia entirely. Does everyone in Narnia know everyone else? What sort of population is there? Is it possible to work out a rough idea of the geographical size of Narnia, or its population density? And if there is, is there anyone interested enough to try?

Puddleglum’s insistence that he hasn’t an interesting tale to tell is yet more proof of what a ‘decent sort’ he really is. Hopefully the Narnians get the details out of him at some point. I’d like to think he was honoured and rewarded by King Rilian for what he did – especially when the witch was trying to enchant the others.

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter fourteen. The bottom of the world.

Synopsis: Golg explains about Bism and the life of the gnomes. The party decide not to visit Bism, and try to find their way out.

In another world, the name Golg wouldn’t sound out of place amongst the orcs of Mordor. (Tolkien often used hard ‘g’ sounds for orcish names.)

Once again, the Silver Chair’s focus is on point of view: What is real? What is true? To the heroes, they are in a land they dislike because it is beneath their true home, with no sky and fresh air. To the gnomes, the same place is too high up, and they are terrified of the sound of a world with no roof. Also, the gnomes had appeared to be dull, serious, grey creatures. However, this was due to their enchantment. Now they have been freed, we can see that they are merry, lively folk. They turn cartwheels and set off fireworks, and their true home is a blaze of light and colour. In turn, the gnomes had feared Rilian and the others, believing them to be enemies, when in truth they shared a common enemy and had no cause for disagreement. How things look – your ‘reality’ – is not necessarily actual ‘reality’. Truth is subjective.

Which happened first: the witch enslaving the gnomes or her enchanting Rilian? We know both have been in ‘Underland’ for years. How exactly did the witch call the gnomes up from Bism? Was there an earlier rift in the ground? Did they have to dig their way up? And how did she even know they were there? Is anyone else in ‘Overland’ aware of their presence? Has there been contact between the two worlds before? If so, how? Will there be again? Speaking of the gnomes, were they called into existence at the same time as the other creatures of Narnia?

The word ‘Bism’ means ‘deep pit’ in Greek, so fits this underground world perfectly. (This is also the origin of the word ‘abyss’, which has a similar meaning.)

I would love to see some really good quality artwork portraying Bism. I’ve never seen any (not even on Deviantart, which usually has something.) The description of a world alive with colour, so bright it dazzles the eyes, is really appealing. I’d particularly like to see the living gemstones and precious metals. (Although diamond juice probably looks better than it tastes.)

Salamanders have often appeared in myths and legends. They were said to be ‘born from the flames’ and also have the ability to put out fires. There’s a really good explanation of this at: https://ztevetevans.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/mythical-beasts-the-salamander/ (This blog is full of interesting, well-researched posts about myths and legends. It’s well worth a look.)

Rilian’s temptation to explore the extreme depth of the world echoes his father’s attempted abdication in order to explore the extreme edge of the world. Both got caught up in the excitement, the glory, the idea of doing or seeing something most mortal men never would. Both forgot – although only for a short time – about their duties and responsibilities, Caspian to his subjects, Rilian to his father. Reepicheep would have been surprised to see his old friend Eustace quoting his opinion on the value of adventures, and siding with Rilian rather than Jill – who really didn’t want to visit Bism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter thirteen. Underland without the Queen.

Synopsis: Rilian, Puddleglum and the children realise that the death of the witch has ended her spells. The Earthmen are acting strangely and setting off fireworks. A crack appears in the ground which leads down into the depths of the earth. Puddeglum catches a gnome to find out what is happening.

Poor Puddleglum – I really don’t rubbing butter and oil on his burns wouldn’t be particularly helpful; in fact, it could worsen the problem.

I just never realised, as a child reader, how large Underland was. It clearly states that the exit is miles away. Maybe young me wasn’t very strong on visualising spaces on this sort of scale, but in my memories it was quite a limited space.

“Hast hit it, friend wiggle.” What a piece of dialogue.

The two horses Rilian owns are called Coalblack and Snowflake. Michael Ward suggests in Planet Narnia that this is a reference to the two horses, one black, one white, which in some legends pulled the moon across the sky. This fits with his theory that the entire book relates in a number of ways (See my earlier posts for more details) to the medieval imagery and symbolism of the Moon.

Kissing the image of Aslan which has appeared on Rilian’s shield feels like an overtly religious action. As the Narniad has gone on, the religious messages within it become clearer to see, especially to an adult reader. Of course, it is also a medieval image, doing homage to an emblem on a shield. Unlike his father, Rilian’s speech and action is in the style of a medieval knight. Maybe this is due to the ‘quest’ nature of the book.

For the first time, Jill and Eustace use Christian names to refer to each other. They show affection for each other (albeit in a very stiff-upper-lip way) in the face of great danger.

I think it’s a bit harsh to describe Jill’s behaviour earlier on as ‘cowardly’. Her fears were pretty justifiable, and she worked past them to make it through the tunnels.

The way in which Lewis describes the stables, and Jill’s interaction with the horses, makes me think he likes them, but I have no idea whether he actually did any riding himself. It has been suggested that elsewhere in his work, horses – and their relationships with their riders – have been used to demonstrate the way in which our physical and mental or spiritual selves can work together harmoniously.

The reference to Prince Corin (The Horse and His Boy) is a fun ‘shout-out’ to another book in the series.

Re-reading this chapter, it struck me that it felt like the strangest, spookiest section of the Chronicles so far. It feels dark and oppressive (intentionally). The contrast with the ‘sunny’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ feels increasingly stark.

Lewis makes wonderful use of lists throughout the Chronicles. (My own favourite is probably the listing of food eaten at the feast in Prince Caspian.) Here the list is of the sounds the Earthmen are making, and their varied facial features. Again, the physical appearance of the gnomes sounds wildly varied.

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter twelve. The Queen of Underland.

Synopsis:  The Queen returns to find the chair broken. She tries to put the others under a spell but Puddleglum resists. They fight and kill her.

Remaining so calm and courteous in his speech to the witch must have been a real effort for Rilian.

What is the Lady of the Green Kirtle? Where did she come from? How old is she? Is she unique or are there others like her? What would her natural life-span be? Was she born with all her powers or did she have to learn them?

Green has long been associated with magic, fairies and mythical creatures such as dragons and leprechauns. It is unsurprising that the witch uses green powder to cast a spell.

The Lady’s pretence of friendliness, when she is clearly evil, makes her somehow more unpleasant (to my mind, anyway) than an enemy like Miraz. Throughout this book, themes about what to believe and what to trust come up again and again.

The passage where the witch tries to convince the others that Narnia doesn’t exist, and their arguments about what is real, is among the most popular and most often quoted of the entire series, particularly for those who like the religious ideas underpinning the series. The witch insists that the world in which the travellers are is the only world. Anything else they imagine to be above them is just a dream or an imagining. For example, lions don’t exist. The travellers have imagined them – basing their ideas on cats they have seen. The sun is just something they have dreamed up, based on lamps. The entire situation is based on Plato’s ‘cave’ allegory. Lewis loved Plato. He’s even referenced by name elsewhere in the Narniad.

The allegory is explained much more clearly, and in more detail than I could manage, in many places elsewhere online, but my general understanding of it is this:

Imagine that there is a group of prisoners chained up in a cave. They never see the world outside. Behind them is a fire. Sometimes, people and animals pass by the fire, out of view of the prisoners, casting a shadow on the wall. When the prisoners see the shadows they believe them to be the real, and only, forms that there are. They don’t realise that they are simply echoes or outlines of the real things, which exist in a world beyond their experience.  When a prisoner escapes and discovers the truth, the others disbelieve him, accepting only what their own eyes have seen. Plato is trying to demonstrate that the physical world which we experience through our senses is not the only one. He believed that our world consists of ‘copies’ of ‘true forms’ which existed beyond our current experience.

In this chapter, the characters are also trapped in an underground space, and the Queen nearly convinces them that world is only what they see in it. It is only through Puddleglum’s bravery and quick thinking that they are saved. He clears his head by stamping out the enchanted fire:

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. 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. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. 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. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Of course, reading this as a child, I had no idea it related to Plato. Neither did I understand how similar it sounded to an argument someone might present in defence of their beliefs or their faiths. I just knew that Puddleglum was a real hero, and that I wanted to ‘live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia’. Reading it now, I don’t think that has really changed, although my understanding of what living like a Narnian involves has.

Once the witch reveals her true self, and becomes a huge serpent (like Lamia in Greek mythology) Rilian, helped by the others, is finally able to kill her and avenge his mother.

For some reason, I always loved the line where Rilian calls Jill a ‘damsel … of a high courage’ and assumes she comes of ‘noble blood’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter eleven. In the dark castle.

Synopsis:  The Black Knight tells Puddleglum and the children of his plans to invade ‘Overworld’. He explains how the Silver Chair is used to control him in his ‘madness’. When he comes to his senses, he asks them to release him, and they do so.

Aside from the echoes of Hamlet mentioned in the previous chapter, this section of the story references other influences too. In Spenser’s ‘Fairie Queene’ a knight called Sir Guyon spends three days and nights in the underworld with Mammon, who in medieval times was the personification of greed for material wealth. Mammon tries to tempt the knight in different ways, including offering him some rest in a ‘silver seat’, but Guyon resists. (In Lewis’ ‘The Allegory of Love’, he describes Mammon as the ‘gold-hoarding earthman of immemorial tradition, the gnome’. The inhabitants of Underland are referred to in The Silver Chair as gnomes and earthmen.)

There are echoes of a Greek myth in the story, too. Pirithous was descended from Gods and related to the centaurs. He was a good friend of Theseus, taking part in adventures with him. In one tale the two men travelled to the underworld because Pirithous wanted to take Persephone (Hades’ wife) as his own bride. In some versions he was tricked by Hades into sitting down on a chair or stone, where snakes coiled around him, trapping him. In other versions the chair is the ‘chair of forgetfulness’ or the ‘seat of oblivion’, and Pirithous forgets who he is and what his quest is. Another Greek tale, Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, visits the island of the witch, Circe. She invites him to sit on a chair decorated with silver as part of a plan to cast a spell over him.It is easy to see how these tales of underworld visits, seats which are traps, forgetfulness and snakes have all combined in Lewis’ imagination. As ever, his love of stories and legends from different times allows him to create something new which still feels like it has a ring of familiarity or authenticity.

The knight tells the children he doesn’t know where he came from before the Queen found him. Why doesn’t he ask her what happened?

What ‘barbarous land in the far south of the world’ is Rilian referring to when he mentions the honey cakes? The most southerly land we hear of in the Chronicles is Calormen. That would seem a long way for honey cakes to be transported.

The entire plan of taking over Narnia by invading it from below seems unnecessarily complex. Couldn’t the witch have simply enchanted Rilian to fall in love with her, then made him marry her, and ruled through him that way? He mentions his enchantment being broken once he is crowned. Would this actually happen? Would his circumstances change? And why does he go to the trouble of feeding his visitors and then explaining his plans to them?

Puddleglum’s dry responses to the knight’s praise of his ‘lady’ are even more enjoyable than the children’s horrified reactions to his plans.

Rilian mentions a specific memory from overworld: looking into a pool, and seeing in it the reflection of trees and sky. This reminds me of Lewis’ other references to reflections and mirrors. (See Alister McGrath’s ‘The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis for a detailed exploration of this theme.) He uses the example of seeing a scene reflected in a mirror in The Last Battle to explore what ‘real’ and ‘reality’ mean. Such ideas can be connected to Platonic ideas of forms and shadows, and also religious ideas whereby God or the Divine is seen ‘through’ something else, such as nature. It also reminds me of Lewis’ sehnsucht; seeing a tiny garden made by his brother, and feeling it was somehow more real, more the essence of what a garden was, than his own actual garden.

Lewis uses the example of the sign, in this case being asked to do something in Aslan’s name, to make a religious or moral point. It suggests that if we know what we are supposed to do (and for Christians this would presumably mean what the Bible has instructed) we must do it, even if we are unsure of the consequences for ourselves. Doing the right thing, even if it will mean you are alone, or in danger, or worse, is of crucial importance in all the Narnia stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter ten. Travels without the sun.

Synopsis:  The travellers meet the Earthmen of Underland, who take them through different tunnels and caves, then across a lake. They reach a city and meet the Black Knight.

In the last chapter’s post, I mentioned my irrational fear of being in underground spaces, so this chapter was never going to be my favourite. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, but I never found myself wishing I was there with the characters. (I wished, very regularly, and very hard indeed, that I was present in other parts of the Narnia stories.)

I always thought that the Earthmen of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations looked more comical, or sad, than threatening. No wonder Jill longed to cheer them up. I love the fact that Puddleglum sees them as role models for taking a properly serious view of life.

What is the light that one Earthman is carrying? Is it magical?

The claustrophobic journey through small tunnels and caves reminds me of the thrilling underground chase in Alan Garner’s ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’, another classic children’s book which I loved. Decades later, I can still remember racing through the pages, desperately hoping that the characters would make it.

The larger cave is lit by glowing moss. In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, he often makes fun of or subverts fantasy tropes (in the most affectionate way). At one point he mentions how fortuitous it is that whenever a dashing hero has to explore underground, there are always handy flaming torches, eldritch light sources (usually green) or mysterious glowing vegetation to help him find his way.

The dragonlike creatures sleeping underground seemed strange to me. We are told that they came there from ‘Overland’. Why? When? Were they present at Narnia’s creation? And why have they been made to sleep here until the world’s end?

When was Father Time a king in Overland? Which country did he rule? What species is he?

When I read this book as a child, I don’t think I really grasped the idea that there was a whole working city across the lake. In my imagination I saw the palace but failed to notice the rest. I’d also forgotten that there were ships other than the one Puddleglum and the children were on. The whole underground world is larger than I remembered.

I had to look up the definition of ‘coil’ as used here by the Prince. It means ‘disturbance, trouble or fuss’, which is also how Shakespeare used it when Hamlet mentions ‘this mortal coil’.

We are told that the human prince looks like Hamlet. Would children today know what this might mean? (To me, it conjures up Laurence Olivier in black and white, but this image was already old when I was a child.) The prince resembles Hamlet in more than just his appearance. Hamlet is a prince without power, hemmed in to his situation by others. He is full of doubt and inaction. This prince is also constrained by his surroundings, and the real power resides elsewhere. The prince also reminds me of Hamlet in terms of his brittle, stand-offish manner when talking to others.

When children read this book for the first time, have they already worked out who the prince is by this point? And the Lady?

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter nine. How they discovered something worth knowing.

Synopsis:  The travellers discover that the giants plan to eat them. They try to escape unnoticed but are chased by the hunting party. They climb into a hole and hear a voice speaking to them in the darkness.

The idea of having eaten a talking animal without knowing it naturally turns Puddleglum and Eustace’s stomach. Lewis describes it as being like cannibalism. Which makes me wonder why hunting, and eating ‘dumb animals’ doesn’t seem to bother anyone in Narnia. If you had dear friends who are birds, foxes and suchlike, would you really want to go out and hunt smaller versions of them? How do people hunting animals from a distance (e.g. by shooting them with arrows or laying traps) know without a doubt that their quarry won’t be a talking beast? I’ve mentioned in earlier posts on other books that the idea of hunting for sport was one of the aspects of Narnian life which left me feeling uncomfortable. It still does. The idea of the stag pleading for its life is really horrible, but hunting any terrified animal is when you think about the reality of it.

‘We’ve brought the anger of Aslan upon us,’ sounds like something a Narnian would be more likely to say in The Last Battle.

Even when I had read the book a number of times, young me always experienced a thrill of horror when Jill discovers ‘Man’ is the traditional dish of the Autumn feast. The entry for ‘Marsh-wiggle’ is comical, but still, the whole idea is a chilling one for young readers. (This isn’t a complaint – children’s books without any tension, darkness or fear are not the ones which stay with you, or make you want to re-read them. As Lewis himself said, ‘Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage’. Fear and even horror have their place in any fiction for any age.)

The use here of the word ‘holla’ (‘shouts and hollas’) amused me, as its modern usage is so very un-Lewisian.

How many giants would one ‘man-pie’ feed?

The scrambling, desperate chase in an attempt to escape the hunting party again makes me wonder how more empathy for hunted animals wasn’t felt.

If the travellers had remembered and paid attention to the signs, would this still have been the way they entered into the Underland? Or would there have been a simpler, more pleasant way?

I have to admit a dislike of being underground, which I think affects how I respond to the following section of the story. Having experienced caving and visiting subterranean catacombs, mines and tunnels, I have discovered that being in such places elicits a negative response from me. I am, therefore, unsure about how much of my emotional response to the three disappearing into a small, low, enclosed space, then filling up their route out with stones, is down to this, and how much any reader would feel regardless of their personal opinions.

I wonder what Eustace and Puddleglum’s swearing was?

Falling, surrounded by rocks, into darkness and the unknown is not a part of the adventure which I am – or was – remotely envious of.

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter eight. The House of Harfang.

Synopsis:  The giants treat their visitors like very young children. They are given a bath, a meal and a bed for the night. Jill dreams of Aslan and the signs. He shows her the words ‘under me’. The next morning they see these words written on the ruined city they unknowingly crossed the night before. They decide to escape from Harfang.

When I think back to reading the Chronicles as a child, I think the section of The Silver Chair at Harfang was one of the scariest parts of the stories for me. The way the giants are described (the powdered face of the Queen, the King licking his lips, the King’s sharp nails) is still unpleasant now.

The word ‘Harfang’ means snowy owl in French, and hare catcher in old Swedish, but I don’t know whether this played a part in its selection, or whether Lewis simply liked the sinister sound of the word itself.

I didn’t know what the Queen meant when she asked for ‘possets and comfits and caraways’ when reading the books as a child. Possets are traditional puddings/drinks, comfits are confectionery, so I suppose caraways might refer to caraway seeds, but I’m still not totally sure.

(I used to wonder what cock-a-leekie soup might taste like. In fact, I wondered what a lot of foods from Narnia tasted like. I say from Narnia, but generally Narnian food is British/Irish food. So, once I’ve completed my re-read, I’m going to cook my way through the Chronicles and post the results.)

I always wondered about the food Jill was given. Was a turkey a snack for a giant? Did they eat piles and piles of them? How did the food quantities work? Surely a giant the size of a telegraph pole would get through a lot of roast chestnuts in one sitting?

The over-sized, poorly made giant toys added to the uneasy feeling I had reading this chapter when young.

Lewis’ narrator continues his chatty asides to the reader, which help to add to the feeling that the stories are grounded in reality: he seems to have experience of being kissed by a giant.

When the dream section begins (and dreams have been established as significant and spiritual events in previous books – see posts on PC) the language becomes more formal: ‘And then came the deadest hour of the night and nothing stirred but mice in the house of the giants’. It even sounds almost Biblical in places: ‘At that hour there came to Jill a dream’. Lewis has described himself as ‘the product of … endless books’ and this is evident in his use of varied language styles which switch between E. Nesbit, Thomas Malory and the Bible with relative ease. It doesn’t jar or feel ‘wrong’ to me as a reader.

Poor Puddleglum appears to be hungover – I never noticed this as a child.

If it has a 500ft (150m) wall in one part, the giant city really must have been impressive when it was standing.

How would giant hunting work? The quarry and the hounds are normal sizes. Wouldn’t an approaching party of a dozen or so giants scare away anything nearby?

The giants’ laughter in the last sentence of the chapter add to the building sense of fear and tension, ready for the real problems of the next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter seven. The hill of the strange trenches.

Synopsis: Puddleglum and the children travel across a strange landscape of stones and ditches in the snow. Against Puddleglum’s advice, the children insist on visiting Harfang. They are taken to the King and Queen.

The weather described at the beginning of this chapter sounds very familiar to anyone from Britain. Where VDT was a book full of sunshine and warmth, The Silver Chair is most definitely possessed of a colder, darker, damper feel. In Michael Ward’s fascinating ‘Planet Narnia’, he proposes that VDT is linked to the medieval idea of the sun, while The Silver Chair relates to the moon. Silver itself has long been associated with the moon and moonlight, of course. Ward quotes Shakespeare;  ‘Arise, fair Sun, and kill the envious Moon . . . Her vestal livery is but sick and green.’ He also notes that in Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ (which Lewis loved) the moon goddess crosses the night sky in a chariot pulled by two horses, ‘the one black, the other white’. Other medieval associations with the moon include wateriness, travellers and journeys, madness (‘luna-cy’) and doubt. All of these canof course be found as key ideas and themes in The Silver Chair. I find Ward’s theory most convincing and would recommend reading his book: it is filled with interesting information and well researched ideas.

The religious message here (and throughout the book) is quite clear to me as an adult, although I’m not sure that it was as a child. Jill neglects to go over the signs again and again. She forgets them, and muddles them up. She knows, deep down, that she is in the wrong for doing so, but covers up her discomfort with grumpiness. Losing focus on the signs leads the travellers in the wrong direction. They make their journey more difficult in the long run. The signs are, of course, the word of ‘God’.

Lewis’ characters make plausible mistakes and errors of judgement. This is one of the reasons I like them so much. It is easy for the reader to imagine their own reaction to a choice between staggering round strange rocks in a howling gale, for no clear reason, and visiting a warm, welcoming house filled with food, hot water and other treats.

Puddleglum is shown as being brave when he knocks on the giants’ door. Lewis greatly admired bravery, and explained why in his non-fiction writing: ‘Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point’. How impressive are the other virtues if they are found in easy, risk-free situations and come at no cost? Courage, and hope, in difficult situations, recur again and again throughout the Chronicles.

The drink given to Puddleglum is clearly alcoholic. But why does he drink it? I would have expected him to want to stay alert. Maybe it’s worth it just to make him say ‘Respectowiggle…respectabiggle’.

Are the King and Queen the king and queen of only the giants, or of a specific realm? If so, what is it called?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter six. The wild waste lands of the North.

Synopsis: The journey begins. They have to pass giants throwing boulders. For days, they journey across the moor, and find a bridge. Here they meet the Lady of the Green Kirtle and her mysterious companion, a silent knight in black armour. She suggests that they visit the giants at Harfang for their Autumn feast.

This part of the Narnian world (are these northern places part of a particular country? How far north do they extend?) must be providing Eustace with a very different experience from his last visit. On the Dawn Treader, he experienced Summer and sunshine, surrounded by the crew of the ship. He was on a famous quest. Here, it is Winter and the three travellers are dwarfed, not only by the giants they pass, but by the landscape itself. Nobody even knows where he is.

‘Walks after the first halt – like school mornings after break or railway journeys after changing trains – never go on as they were before’. I love these little throwaway observations which the narrator makes. They anchor the story to our world, making it seem more real.

Why do giants in fantasy stories always seem to be of less than average intelligence?

As a young reader, I don’t think I noticed that the moors took ten days to cross. The time and distance involved in the journey is greater than I had previously imagined.

The wild lands which the travellers pass through remind me of both Northumberland and the Peak District. Both these regions of England possess a wildness, and a sense of open space and the imposing scale of nature, which I feel the Northern lands have too. People talk about Britain being a ‘crowded’ country, but in National Parks like these it is possible to escape the world for a while, and you can go hours without seeing other people if you are lucky.

I remember many of Pauline Bayne’s illustrations very clearly from my childhood, and the picture of the bridge from this chapter (and this post) is one which really made an impression on me. I always liked ruins (thanks in no small part to Lewis’ beloved ‘sehnsucht’, no doubt), but I think I also liked it because it seemed familiar and different at the same time. There are many stone bridges near my home, dating back decades and even centuries. However, none are so curved as this, which looks almost organic in structure. Narnia itself was always this way for me, comfortingly familiar, but different at the same time. The bridge was covered in carvings, of ‘giants, minotaurs, squids, centipedes and dreadful gods’ which seems a strange mixture of animals. The giants and minotaurs seem logical for this part of the world. But why squid? Or centipede? Were they giant too? And which dreadful gods were they? (Reading about squid and dreadful gods in one sentence immediately makes me think of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. Writing about Cthulhu had been published prior to the Narniad but I’ve never encountered anything to say that Lewis had read any Lovecraft. (An interesting discussion of the two writer’s different approaches to sehnsucht can be found at http://www.teemingbrain.com/ )

In ‘the Magical Worlds of Narnia’ David Colbert suggests that the masked knight represents Lewis’ ‘mask’; how he covered up his personal life, particularly his relationship with Mrs Moore, when presenting himself to the world. To me, this doesn’t ring true. I know that Lewis kept  much of his personal life very private, even when writing his autobiography, but I can’t agree that this inspired the masked knight. Instead I would suggest that the knight owes more to Arthurian legend for his origins. A knight clad in black is a common character in fantasy (up to and including Monty Python) and his silence makes him mysterious.

Once again, looks are deceiving in this story. The lady on the horse appears to be beautiful, charming and friendly, with a musical laugh. Her name gives a clue to her real nature, however.  In ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, the Green Knight’s wife tries to seduce Sir Gawain. She also wears a kirtle. She claims tooffer help and protection but does nothing of the sort.

Did the children have ‘shining eyes’ because they were excited about food and beds, or was the witch already working some magic upon them?

Puddleglum’s somewhat ghoulish ideas about what could be inside the black armour fascinated me as a child.

It always seemed strange to me that Jill stopped saying the signs. There were only three to go, and it would have taken less than a minute. And why didn’t the others do it too? Then again, I’ve never camped without a tent in the middle of Winter so maybe I’m being unfair.