Book Review: “The Silver Chair” by C.S. Lewis

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The fourth of the seven-book Chronicles of Narnia gets its name from a magical piece of furniture seen only briefly, at the climax of the story. In it, Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia with a fellow-sufferer at the tender mercies of Experiment House in England — a school bent on meddling with human nature, overrun with vile examples of it. Together Eustace and Jill Pole vanish into Aslan’s Country, where the Lion Himself sends them on a quest to rescue a lost Narnian prince.

Given four signs to follow and a strange companion — a long-limbed, web-footed creature named Puddleglum — Jill and Eustace make their way to the frozen wastes of the north, and of course they mess everything up. They forget to look out for the signs, they get captured by man-eating giants, they escape into the clutches of an underground kingdom populated by weird gnomes and ruled by a Witch. The witch holds the prince under her power, and only by following Aslan’s strange and risky commands can they save him and themselves.

Finally, they face the witch herself, who tries to enslave their minds with her magic and her guile. The result is a conversation similar to the debate between faith in the Bible and the enticing skepticism of modern thought. Judging from Lewis’s past chronicles and their messages, this similarity is likely no accident.

Filled with heroes struggling with their faith, and finally emerging victorious over dark forces, it is nevertheless more than just a piece of religious fiction. The magic, the adventure, the scenery and characters, the creatures and dangers, and the final wry comeuppance for the Head of Experiment House, are delightful all around and can give pleasure to anyone who loves fantasy. And Harry Potter fans will find Lewis’s description of Centaurs especially interesting. I quote in part…

A centaur has a man-stomach and a horse stomach. And of course both want breakfast. So first of all he has porridge and pavenders and kidneys and bacon and omelette and cold ham and toast and marmalade and coffee and beer. And after that he attends to the horse part of himself by grazing for an hour or so and finishing up with a hot mash, some oats and a bag of sugar. That’s why it’s such a serious thing to ask a Centaur to stay for the week-end. A very serious thing indeed.

There’s much more where that came from, perhaps even hinting at the sources of J.K. Rowling’s depiction of centaurs. Maybe the ones in the Forbidden Forest have relatives in Narnia?