Narnia re-read. The Last Battle Chapter thirteen. How the Dwarfs refused to be taken in.

Synopsis: Tirian and the seven friends of Narnia explore their surroundings. They try to communicate with the dwarfs.

I’m coming to this chapter still annoyed by the Susan situation (see previous post). I’m hoping it will cheer me up.

All the fruit I’ve ever eaten has been mentally compared to the wonderful fruits described – or rather not described – here, and the toffee tree fruits of MN.

I think, although I can’t be sure, that this is point at which I worked out what had really happened to Jill, Eustace and the others. I really didn’t like the idea. The more I think about it the stranger it is. I know that, logically, if you truly believe in an wonderful afterlife which exceeds anything we’ve ever experienced in this world, death shouldn’t be something to fear. But it’s such an odd way for a children’s book to conclude. And many (most?) readers would not feel such a certainty about life after death.

Of course Edmund is the sort of person who ‘knows about railways’.

As a child I had absolutely no idea what a ‘hack at rugger’ involved. I’d always imagined that the Pevensies were still at school at this point, but Susan and Peter wouldn’t have been. I wonder what they were doing. Did they have jobs?

The stable door reminds me of the door made with three pieces of wood in PC. Tirian describes it as a ‘great marvel’, which is exactly the phrase used in LWW when the Pevensies discover the lamppost. In both cases, it is noted that the strange, incongruous items look like they have simply ‘grown’ into place.

The idea of something larger on the inside than the outside would, I imagine, remind most modern readers of the Tardis.

Lucy’s talk about the stable in our world shows that the religious parallels cannot be ignored now. There is a definite, specific link between the way Narnia works and Christianity. As a child, this was uncomfortable for me. I wanted Narnia to be separate from our world, a total escape. Also, I believed in Narnia and Aslan much more, and loved them much more,  than I did anything I’d so far discovered in our world. I couldn’t see the link between Aslan and the stuff vicars talked about in Church.

Eustace’s poor manners serve to explain the story for the reader. Just as in HHB, when Aravis tells her story, a listener is chided for interruption.

Lucy was always kind and keen to help others, and we see that this is unchanged. We also see that she still has a very close relationship with Aslan.

The aside with the dwarfs is, I know, making a point about belief, and faith, and cycnicism. But it leaves me wondering where the dwarfs end up. What eventually becomes of them? Does their situation change when the other living creatures all leave the land of Narnia? Would Tirian be able to kill them in this place? Are they already dead? Do they just sit there forever? Will they, like the lost souls in Lewis’ The Great Divorce, have a chance at redemption?

And then Aslan appears, and it is becoming clearer and clearer who/what he is.

When I eat my way through the food of the Chronicles, I confess that I’m not looking forward to eating ‘tongue’. It’s not top of my list of delicacies to try. I much prefer the thought of Mr Tumnus’ sugar-topped cake.

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. Finishing The Silver Chair.

Before beginning my re-read of the Chronicles, I was really looking forward to rediscovering The Silver Chair. I remembered it fondly, and remembered re-reading it frequently. I remembered finding the book exciting, and even frightening in places. So how did I respond to it as an adult? Some aspects of the book fully lived up to my recollections; others were not quite as I anticipated.

I remembered really liking Jill as a child, and identifying with her. Reading the book as an adult, I found her less sympathetic. Maybe this is because my memory-version of her also took into account her behaviour and actions in The Last Battle. Based solely on this book, however, there is less to warm to. She is brave, and a good friend, but I don’t feel that I know her as well as I thought I did. At times I even found myself feeling frustrated with her, for example when she neglected the signs. (This is somewhat unfair of me, as her behaviour is entirely human and completely understandable.)

Eustace I remembered as another favourite character. However, again I suspect that this depth of affection was built up from reading the three books he appears in. We see less of his thoughts in this book than in VDT, as we generally see things from Jill’s point of view. He’s not presented to us in much detail for large parts of the story.

I’d never really thought much about Prince Rilian until now. He wasn’t really a fully fleshed-out character in my imagination. Instead, he appeared more as a plot device, a reason for the main characters to embark on their quest. Upon re-reading the book, I found two, quite similar, Rilians. The enchanted Prince is arrogant, discourteous and self-centred. He speaks like a character from an Arthurian romance, a trait I’d never thought much about as a child, but one which contrasts with his father’s speech and actions elsewhere in the Chronicles. The ‘disenchanted’ Prince is again like a Round Table knight, in actions and speech, but obviously much more likeable.

Young me loved Aslan. Really, really loved Aslan. However, the Aslan of The Silver Chair seems more remote and stern than the solemn but ‘glad’ character of earlier books. For example, Jill’s dreamlike experience of Aslan at Harfang is frightening and upsetting, leaving her in tears. Lucy’s dreamlike experience of Aslan in PC was one of intense happiness, comfort and joy. Even in his own country, there are few clues to this warmer aspect of the character other than the ‘wild kisses’ he gives the resurrected Caspian.

The story itself was grimmer than I remembered. The travellers face dangers not only in the form of their various enemies, but also from physical hardships. They are tired, hungry, wet and cold for much of the time; traipsing across hostile moorland in driving rain and snow doesn’t sound like much fun. They also have to face their fears: heights, enclosed spaces and failure in the task they have been given. Nostalgia had re-dressed the book as some sort of jolly romp across Narnia in my imagination, so the ‘darkness’ of the book surprised me.

However, despite some aspects not being quite as I expected, there was a lot which met or surpassed my recollections.

I really enjoyed the episode based in Harfang. Actually, enjoyed is probably the wrong word. I appreciated the sinister feel of these chapters, the unpleasant details and the sense of foreboding and fear which permeates them. The giant licking his lips, the crudely-made toy horse, the cook book: these images really stayed with me.

The ideas, revisited throughout the story, of doubt, belief, trust and truth were more apparent to me as an adult reader, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. I also enjoyed the ‘layers’ of the book which I was unaware of as a child, for example the references to quest stories, or the ‘lunar’ symbolism unearthed by Michael Ward.

Over all else, however, Puddleglum is – for me – the absolute highlight of this book. He’s entirely unaware of how funny he is, which is utterly endearing. (I think, of all the characters in the Narniad, he’s the one with the funniest ‘lines’ – although the diaries of the ‘pre-dragoned’ Eustace of VDT run him a close second.) He’s incredibly brave without being consciously ‘heroic’ or ‘noble’. He’s loyal and wise without being in the slightest arrogant. He’s so unheroic in appearance and demeanour that it makes his good qualities seem unexpected and somehow more impressive. I think his quiet heroism means even more to me as an adult. He’s like the everyday heroes in the real world: people who are ‘ordinary’ and unassuming but who demonstrate amazing bravery when circumstances demand it. I’ll take Puddleglum over any loud, dramatic, self-conscious hero any day.

 

 

 

 

 

Narnia re-read. The Silver Chair Chapter sixteen. The healing of harms.

Synopsis: The children say goodbye to Puddleglum. Centaurs take them to Cair Paravel.  They see Rilian reunited with Caspian, who then dies. Aslan takes them back to his country. There, they see Caspian lying in a stream, and Aslan brings him to life. The children return to our world, and with Aslan and Caspian’s help they punish the school bullies.

As ever, the home of a good Narnian is here shown to be a cosy, homely place, with delicious food and comfort all around. The description of the sausages is most enticing, which is unsurprising considering that Lewis completed the Chronicles in 1954, when meat rationing finally came to an end in Britain. Lewis would probably have thoroughly enjoyed a feast of fat sausages, ‘just the tiniest bit burnt’. (I’m planning to eat my way through all the food mentioned in the Chronicles once I’ve finished my re-read, and I’m really looking forward to this meal.)

Reading the book as a child, I just accepted the way things happened in the story. Now, when I read that Caspian had been told by Aslan to return to Narnia, I find myself wondering why he didn’t do so sooner. The voyage can’t have been good for the king.

When Cloudbirth the healer is described as a ‘leech’, it refers to the obsolete use of the word to mean ‘physician’. (This is derived from the Old English word ‘læce. Cloudbirth’s name follows the convention throughout the Chronicles (although disregarded in the film adaptations) of portmanteau words. (Roonwit, Glenstorm, Ironhoof etc.) Maybe Lewis chose this form because of their similarity to kennings: descriptive two-word nouns associated with Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse poetry. (For example: ‘battle sweat’ meaning blood, and ‘raven harvest’ meaning corpse.) I don’t have evidence for this particular idea, but it does seem plausible, bearing in mind Lewis’ areas of interest and love of wordplay. 

The little comic touches here a real pleasure: the seriousness of having a centaur to stay for the weekend; Puddleglum’s fear that neither he nor the Prince will survive for long, Puddleglum’s assessment of himself as ‘a good-looking chap’.

We learn that Aslan has ‘nine names’ but they are not listed. Of course, religious figures in our world have multiple names. Allah has 99 names. Jesus is known as Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace etc. Aslan is referred to elsewhere in the Narniad as ‘the son of the Emperor over the Sea’ and ‘the Great Lion’. I can’t think of any others but will have to double-check that I’ve not missed one.

A perfect example of Lewis’ ‘sehnsucht’ is given here. The centaur-ride was rough and uncomfortable at the time, but the children would later long for another chance to experience this moment again. The mood continues in this vein, with ‘a tune to break your heart’ being played. (Similar words were used in VDT.)

Jill’s eyes fill with tears. Eustace weeps for Caspian. Characters often cry in the Chronicles, and it is not shown as weakness or silliness, but as a natural response to intense emotions or physical hardships. I can only imagine how crying was viewed at Lewis’ boarding schools. Maybe the two are connected.

In VDT the religious aspect of the Chronicles was made more explicit than previously. In this chapter of the Silver Chair it becomes so again. Young me didn’t really notice this, but now, reading it, I’m struck by how odd it is to read in a children’s book about a hero growing old, dying, and then being resurrected with the blood of Aslan. I can’t think of any parallels with other children’s literature.

Does everyone who dies appear in the golden stream in Aslan’s country? Does he have to shed blood in this way for others? Or are kings different?

I distinctly remember the line, ‘He has died, Most people have, you know. Even I have.’ It was the first time that I really considered how many people had lived before I was even born. (Children often do find it difficult to concieve of a world that preceded them.)

Aslan tells the children they will come to this place again – permanently. How on earth would you be able to get on with your ordinary life, knowing that? Every day you would be wondering, ‘Is today the day?’

Lewis, the man who had hated boarding school, and hated the social structures and bullying which he suffered there, must surely have been indulging in wish fulfillment here,  as Caspian and the children beat the bullies. It’s an odd scene, which I think I care for much less now I’m an adult.

Why on earth did Eustace bury his Narnian clothes? It’s such a strange way to deal with them. I would definitely do what Jill did: keep them and wear them.

The open hillside, with the lake in it, is described briefly in just two sentences, but the image has stayed with me over the years. If there’s an equivalent in our world, I would love to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

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?