Friday, 25 October 2013

The Silver Chair

Lady Luna,
in light canoe,

By friths and shallows
of fretted cloudland

Cruises monthly;
with chrism of dews

And drench of dream,
a drizzling glamour

Enchants us – the cheat!
changing sometime

A mind to madness,
melancholy pale,

Bleached with gazing
on her blank count’nance

Orb’d and ageless.
In earth’s bosom

The shower of her rays,
sharp-feathered light

Reaching downward,
ripens silver,

Forming and fashioning
female brightness,

– Metal maidenlike.
Her moist circle

Is nearest earth.
        

Lady Luna

The Silver Chair was the fifth Narnia book written, the fourth published, and the sixth in in-world chronological sequence. Had C. S. Lewis planned out the whole series from the beginning, I’m convinced it would have been the first. At least, something broadly like it would have. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lunar imagery – moonlight, dew, chattering water – signals Aslan’s downward transition from king to sacrificial victim. In Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Horse and His Boy, Lunar motifs accompany Aslan’s descents to earth. In The Silver Chair Luna, the first of the seven, finally takes the central role. However, as we shall see, she does not get the book to herself. Luna is a subordinate planet and will remain subordinate in Narnia.
As usual, the characters call upon Jove at appropriate moments.
“By Jove! The signs!” said Jill suddenly. “I’d better repeat them.”

“It’s a kind of trench, or it might be a kind of sunken lane or something,” said Jill. “It runs quite straight.”
“Yes, by Jove,” said Scrubb. “And it runs due north! I wonder is it a sort of road? If it was, we’d be out of this infernal wind down there...”

“By Jove,” said Scrubb. “A city!” And soon they all saw that he was right.

“Why, there it is!” cried the Prince. “Of course!... We have all been dreaming, these last few minutes. How could we have forgotten it? Of course we’ve all seen the sun.”
“By Jove, so we have!” said Scrubb. “Good for you, Puddleglum! You’re the only one of us with any sense, I do believe.”
And I think this is the only Narnia book that mentions Jove’s metal.
When the meal came it was delicious and the children had two large helpings each... After the meal they had tea, in tins...
The “signs” are commandments given by Aslan, as befitting kingly Jove. The “sunk lane” is one of them, though they don’t recognise it at the time. The underground city holds the object of their quest. Puddleglum’s memory of the sun demonstrates his Jovial resistance to the Witch’s enchantment. The tins I’m less sure of, but the children are enjoying Puddleglum’s hospitality at that point, and hospitality is a Jovial virtue.
In Prince Caspian, as you remember, Lewis linked invocations of Jove with the previous book as if to confirm Michael Ward’s theory that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a book about Jove. In The Silver Chair he similarly links references to The Horse and His Boy with Mercury’s poetic portfolio. The first, indeed, repeats the opening sentence of that book almost word for word.
...a blind poet came forward and struck up the grand old tale of Prince Cor and Aravis and the horse Bree, which is called The Horse and his Boy and tells of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Cair Paravel.

[Rilian] whistled as he rode, and sang snatches of an old song about Corin Thunder-fist of Archenland.
Venus and Mars are harder to find. Once again there is no Morning Star. Nor are there any loves or large-scale battles in this book. Something of the Martial wilderness survival struggle from Prince Caspian returns in the harsh lands of the North, and the final combat faintly echoes the fight in Aslan’s How.
That night they bivouacked on the bare moor, and Puddleglum showed the children how to make the best of their blankets by sleeping back to back. (The backs keep each other warm and you can then have both blankets on top.) But it was chilly even so, and the ground was hard and lumpy.

The Prince caught the creature’s neck in his left hand, trying to squeeze it till it choked... With his right hand he drew back his sword for the strongest blow he could give... With repeated blows they hacked off its head. The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.
The Green Witch is a more accomplished seductress than her White counterpart. Her colour might suggest Venereal growth and new life, until we discover it actually stands for Lunar envy.
...the two strangers were quite close. One was a knight in complete armour... The other was a lady on a white horse, a horse so lovely that you wanted to kiss its nose and give it a lump of sugar at once. But the lady, who rode side-saddle and wore a long, fluttering dress of dazzling green, was lovelier still.
“Good day, t-r-r-avellers,” she cried out in a voice as sweet as the sweetest bird’s song, trilling her R’s delightfully.

When she had come to a little ark set in the wall not far from the fireplace, she opened it, and took out first a handful of a green powder. This she threw on the fire. It did not blaze much, but a very sweet and drowsy smell came from it... that smell grew stronger, and filled the room, and made it harder to think. Secondly, she took out a musical instrument rather like a mandolin. She began to play it with her fingers – a steady, monotonous thrumming that you didn’t notice after a few minutes. But the less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood.... she began speaking in a sweet, quiet voice.
Luna herself presides over the beginning and end of the quest.
It was much lighter than [Jill] expected, and though the sky was overcast, one patch of watery silver showed where the moon was hiding above the clouds.

[Jill] had been so long in the dark that her eyes couldn’t at first take in what they were seeing; except that she was not looking at the daylit, sunny world which she so wanted to see. The air seemed to be deadly cold, and the light was pale and blue... Then it came over her like a thunderclap that the pale, blue light was really moonlight, and the white stuff on the ground was really snow. And of course! There were the stars staring in a black frosty sky overhead.
To recap the series so far: the first and second books each made a major theme of one planet (Jove and Mars, respectively) and a minor theme of its mythological opposite (Saturn and Venus). Then the third and fourth books written each put a single planet (Sol and Mercury) at centre stage. The Silver Chair does something else again. Luna has the leading role, but her character is such that she has to perform between two supporting actors: Sol and Saturn.

Nearest Earth

In a way, Luna might be said to be the most important of the seven planets, both in pre-Copernican thought and in the works of C. S. Lewis. The other six each have their own attributes, of course. Mercury is eloquent, Venus fecund, Sol enlightening, Mars belligerent, Jove monarchical, Saturn sobering. All of them are perfect, though in the corruption of Earth their influences may work for evil – Saturn and Mars in particular. Luna is not perfect. Look at the big grey blemishes on her face! Look at her shape, how it’s only circular one night in thirty! Look how her light dims to nothing every month! Yet that very cycle of brightness and darkness has the regularity we expect of celestial perfection. When she meets any star in the sky, she moves in front of it; she must therefore be below all the other stars. That explains it. Her sphere is the boundary between the perfect heavens and the sinful Earth. Without her, the concept of a layered cosmos might never have entered the ancients’ heads. Or Lewis’s.
Unless this “great divide” is firmly fixed in our minds, every passage in Donne or Drayton or whom you will that mentions “translunary” or “sublunary” will lose its intended force. We shall take “under the moon” as a vague synonym, like our “under the sun”, for “everywhere”, when in reality it is used with precision... When Chaucer’s Nature says
Ech thing in my cure is
Under the Moone that mai wane and waxe
...she is distinguishing her mutable realm from the translunary world where nothing grows or decreases.
The Discarded Image pp. 108–109
The Silver Chair’s plot revolves around the layering of the Narnian world. First Jill and Eustace, beginning in Our World, step upward through a barrier to reach Aslan’s Country.
“If only the door was open again!” said Scrubb as they went on, and Jill nodded...
Jill and Eustace, now both very hot and very grubby from going along bent almost double under the laurels, panted up to the wall. And there was the door, shut as usual.
“It’s sure to be no good,” said Eustace with his hand on the handle; and then, “O-o-oh. By Gum!!” For the handle turned and the door opened...
They had expected to see the grey, heathery slope of the moor going up and up to join the dull autumn sky. Instead... the sunlight was coming from what certainly did look like a different world – what they could see of it...
Although she had been longing for something like this, Jill felt frightened. She looked at Scrubb’s face and saw that he was frightened too.
“Come on, Pole,” he said in a breathless voice.
“Can we get back? Is it safe?” asked Jill.
There they find a tremendous height separates them from Narnia proper.
Imagine yourself at the top of the very highest cliff you know. And imagine yourself looking down to the very bottom. And then imagine that the precipice goes on below that, as far again, ten times as far, twenty times as far. And when you’ve looked down all that distance imagine little white things that might, at first glance, be mistaken for sheep, but presently you realize that they are clouds – not little wreaths of mist but the enormous white, puffy clouds which are themselves as big as most mountains. And at last, in between those clouds, you get your first glimpse of the real bottom, so far away that you can’t make out whether it’s field or wood, or land or water: farther below those clouds than you are above them...
“What are you doing, Pole? Come back – blithering little idiot!” shouted Scrubb. But his voice seemed to he coming from a long way off. She felt him grabbing at her. But by now she had no control over her own arms and legs... Jill was too frightened and dizzy to know quite what she was doing, but two things she remembered as long as she lived... One was that she had wrenched herself free of Scrubb’s clutches; the other was that, at the same moment, Scrubb himself, with a terrified scream, had lost his balance and gone hurtling to the depths.
Fortunately, she was given no time to think over what she had done. Some huge, brightly coloured animal had rushed to the edge of the cliff. It was lying down, leaning over, and (this was the odd thing) blowing... At last she saw, far away below her, a tiny black speck floating away from the cliff and slightly upwards. As it rose, it also got farther away. By the time it was nearly on a level with the cliff-top it was so far off that she lost sight of it. It was obviously moving away from them at a great speed. Jill couldn’t help thinking that the creature at her side was blowing it away.
So she turned and looked at the creature. It was a lion.
Something about that description always bothered me, and I’ve just lately figured out what it is. If the clouds look tiny from above, and if the ground is further below them than the reader is above them, then they should look even tinier from the ground, not “as big as mountains”.
At one point the protagonists wander away from their quest. Aslan comes to Jill in a dream to remind her.
And then it was not a toy lion, but a real lion, The Real Lion, just as she had seen him on the mountain beyond the world’s end. And a smell of all sweet-smelling things there are filled the room. But there was some trouble in Jill’s mind, though she could not think what it was, and the tears streamed down her face and wet the pillow... And Aslan took her up in his jaws (she could feel his lips and his breath but not his teeth) and carried her to the window and made her look out. The moon shone bright; and written in great letters across the world or the sky (she did not know which) were the words under me. After that, the dream faded away, and when she woke, very late next morning, she did not remember that she had dreamed at all.
The world or the sky? Jill can’t tell because she is under the spell of Luna, the boundary sphere. Shortly she and her companions descend another level:
“The question is,” came Puddleglum’s voice out of the darkness ahead, “whether, taking one thing with another, it wouldn’t be better to go back (if we can) and give the giants a treat at that feast of theirs, instead of losing our way in the guts of a hill where, ten to one, there’s dragons and deep holes and gases and water and – Ow! Let go! Save yourselves. I’m—”
After that all happened quickly. There was a wild cry, a swishing, dusty, gravelly noise, a rattle of stones, and Jill found herself sliding, sliding, hopelessly sliding, and sliding quicker every moment down a slope that grew steeper every moment. It was not a smooth, firm slope, but a slope of small stones and rubbish. Even if you could have stood up, it would have been no use. Any bit of that slope you had put your foot on would have slid away from under you and carried you down with it... And the farther they all slid, the more they disturbed all the stones and earth, so that the general downward rush of everything (including themselves) got faster and louder and dustier and dirtier... And now she was going at a furious rate and felt sure she would be broken to bits at the bottom...
“We can never get up that again,” said Scrubb’s voice.
“And have you noticed how warm it is?” said the voice of Puddleglum. “That means we’re a long way down. Might be nearly a mile.”
From there they glimpse, though they don’t visit, a still lower one – the land of Bism.
A strong heat smote up into their faces, mixed with a smell which was quite unlike any they had ever smelled. It was rich, sharp, exciting, and made you sneeze. The depth of the chasm was so bright that at first it dazzled their eyes and they could see nothing. When they got used to it they thought they could make out a river of fire, and, on the banks of that river, what seemed to be fields and groves of an unbearable, hot brilliance – though they were dim compared with the river. There were blues, reds, greens, and whites all jumbled together: a very good stained-glass window with the tropical sun staring straight through it at midday might have something the same effect.
They climb from Underland back to Narnia by their own efforts, but it takes divine intervention to return them to Aslan’s Country.
“I wish I was at home,” said Jill.
Eustace nodded, saying nothing, and bit his lip.
“I have come,” said a deep voice behind them...
“Please, Aslan,” said Jill, “may we go home now?”
“Yes. I have come to bring you Home,” said Aslan. Then he opened his mouth wide and blew. But this time they had no sense of flying through the air: instead, it seemed that they remained still, and the wild breath of Aslan blew away the ship and the dead King and the castle and the snow and the winter sky. For all these things floated off into the air like wreaths of smoke...
Michael Ward argues that Aslan never leaves his Country in this book at all; instead of taking them “Home”, he brings it to them upon Jill’s wish. Aslan cannot leave Heaven. In previous books Lewis made Narnia itself partly Heavenly, with gods living in it incognito. Here the symbolism is different.
But if Aslan is to remain non-Incarnate, then in Lewis’s Christian theology he must represent the God of the “Old Testament”. To make him Christ again, Lewis has to insert this uncomfortable scene towards the end of the story.
“Son of Adam,” said Aslan, “go into that thicket and pluck the thorn that you will find there, and bring it to me.”
Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier.
“Drive it into my paw, Son of Adam,” said Aslan, holding up his right fore-paw and spreading out the great pad towards Eustace.
“Must I?” said Eustace.
“Yes,” said Aslan.
Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion’s pad. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King... His white beard turned to grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether... and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them – a very young man, or a boy.
As so often, Lewis here decorates Christian concepts with pagan mythological images – though both would have been more aptly communicated if the blood sacrifice could have taken place in the Underworld.
Hades is neither Heaven nor Hell; it is almost nothing... a world of shadows, of decay. Homer (probably far closer to actual beliefs than the later and more sophisticated poets) represents the ghosts as witless. They gibber meaninglessly until some living man gives them sacrificial blood to drink... The grim impulse has sometimes crossed my mind to wonder whether all this was, is, in fact true; that the merely natural fate of humanity... is just this – to disintegrate in mind as in body, to become a witless psychic sediment. If so, Homer’s idea that only a drink of sacrificial blood can restore a ghost to rationality would be one of the most striking among Pagan anticipations of the truth.
Reflections on the Psalms pp. 36–37
Here Aslan plays the same Jovial role he did in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Ward would have it that elsewhere in this book he embodies the character of Luna’s heavenward side. I’m not sure I agree. He does appropriate one major Lunar attribute, as we’ll see. But Luna’s job is to stand between the light and the darkness, and Aslan’s is to be the light; the light of Sol.

Female Brightness

Lewis creates the atmosphere of The Silver Chair in large part by quietly tracking changes in the level of sunlight.
They had expected to see the grey, heathery slope of the moor going up and up to join the dull autumn sky. Instead, a blaze of sunshine met them. It poured through the doorway as the light of a June day pours into a garage when you open the door.

The sun which had been high overhead when she began her journey was now getting into her eyes. This meant that it was getting lower, ahead of her.

Through a cleft in those mountains which Jill had seen far inland as she approached the land, the sunset light was pouring over a level lawn.

[The marsh] would have been a depressing place on a wet evening. Seen under a morning sun... there was something fine and fresh and clean about its loneliness.

It was good, springy ground for walking, and a day of pale winter sunlight...

Overhead was a sunless sky, muffled in clouds that were heavy with snow...

The darkness was so complete that it made no difference at all whether you had your eyes open or shut.

...when [Jill] noticed that she was lying on a bed of heather with a furry mantle over her, and saw a cheery fire... and, farther off, morning sunlight coming in through the cave’s mouth, she remembered all the happy truth.

...and suddenly they were standing in a great brightness of mid-summer sunshine, on smooth turf, among mighty trees, and beside a fair, fresh stream.
Then they saw that they were once more on the Mountain of Aslan, high up above and beyond the end of that world in which Narnia lies.
The bewitched Gnomes of Underland have a single proverb, which they repeat at every opportunity.
“Many fall down, and few return to the sunlit lands,” said the voice. “Make ready now to come with me to the Queen of the Deep Realm.”

“Many come down, and few return to the sunlit lands.”

“Many sink down, and few return to the sunlit lands.”

“Many have taken ship at the pale beaches,” replied the Warden, “and—”
“Yes, I know,” interrupted Puddleglum. “And few return to the sunlit lands. You needn’t say it again. You are a chap of one idea, aren’t you?”
I haven’t measured or counted, and the theory may well be influencing my reading of the book rather than vice versa, but I have the impression that Lewis alludes more often in The Silver Chair to the events of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Solar book, than he has done with any two Narnia books previously. First, he brings back the new protagonist introduced in the latter – though he’s more often referred to as “Scrubb” than as “Eustace”, because we see him through Jill’s eyes and that’s what she calls him.
“Why were you so different last term?” said Jill presently.
“A lot of queer things happened to me in the hols,” said Eustace mysteriously.
“What sort of things?” asked Jill.
Eustace didn’t say anything for quite a long time...
“Could you believe me if I said I’d been right out of the world – outside this world – last hols?... Supposing I told you I’d been in a place where animals can talk and where there are – er – enchantments and dragons – and – well, all the sorts of things you have in fairy-tales.” Scrubb felt terribly awkward as he said this and got red in the face.
Next, he retraces the journey over the Eastern Sea.
Staring at the blue plain below her, she presently noticed that there were little dots of brighter, paler colour in it here and there. “It’s the sea!” thought Jill. “I do believe those are islands.” And so they were. She might have felt rather jealous if she had known that some of them were islands which Scrubb had seen from a ship’s deck and even landed on; but she didn’t know this.
Here’s the first we see of Narnia proper.
On the far side of the lawn, its weather-vanes glittering in the light, rose a many-towered and many-turreted castle; the most beautiful castle Jill had ever seen. On the near side was a quay of white marble and, moored to this, the ship: a tall ship with high forecastle and high poop, gilded and crimson, with a great flag at the mast-head, and many banners waving from the decks, and a row of shields, bright as silver, along the bulwarks.
Ramandu’s daughter doesn’t get a name even in death, but we are reminded of where she came from.
They carried the dead Queen back to Cair Paravel, and she was bitterly mourned by Rilian and by the King, and by all Narnia. She had been a great lady, wise and gracious and happy, King Caspian’s bride whom he had brought home from the eastern end of the world. And men said that the blood of the stars flowed in her veins.
Eustace himself has good memories of his time on the Dawn Treader.
“I suppose all you chaps – owls, I mean,” said Scrubb, “I suppose you all know that King Caspian the Tenth, in his young days, sailed to the eastern end of the world. Well, I was with him on that journey: with him and Reepicheep the Mouse, and the Lord Drinian and all of them... And what I want to say is this, that I’m the King’s man; and if this parliament of owls is any sort of plot against the King, I’m having nothing to do with it.”
His part in the climactic battle is reminiscent of his first.
Meanwhile Scrubb and Puddleglum had drawn their weapons and rushed to his aid. All three blows fell at once: Scrubb’s (which did not even pierce the scales and did no good) on the body of the snake below the Prince’s hand, but the Prince’s own blow and Puddleglum’s both on its neck.

Eustace... now did the first brave thing he had ever done. He was wearing a sword that Caspian had lent him. As soon as the serpent’s body was near enough on the starboard side he jumped on to the bulwark and began hacking at it with all his might. It is true that he accomplished nothing beyond breaking Caspian’s second-best sword into bits, but it was a fine thing for a beginner to have done.
Which is also the first thing Caspian remembers when he returns to his youth.
“Why! Eustace!” he said. “Eustace! So you did reach the end of the world after all. What about my second-best sword that you broke on the sea-serpent?”
When the Witch tries to persuade the protagonists that Underland is all there is, Puddleglum clings to the memory of Sol.
Puddleglum was still fighting hard. “I don’t know rightly what you all mean by a world,” he said, talking like a man who hasn’t enough air. “But you can play that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won’t make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld too. We’ll never see it again, I shouldn’t wonder. You may have blotted it out and turned it dark like this, for all I know. Nothing more likely. But I know I was there once... I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness.”...
“Can you tell me what it’s like?” asked the Witch...
“Please it your Grace,” said the Prince, very coldly and politely. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room; and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.”
Jill, meanwhile, remembers Aslan. Lewis hammers the comparison rather hard.
For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:
“There’s Aslan.”
“Aslan?” said the Witch, quickening ever so slightly the pace of her thrumming. “What a pretty name! What does it mean?”
“He is the great Lion who called us out of our own world,” said Scrubb, “and sent us into this to find Prince Rilian.”
“What is a lion?” asked the Witch.
“...Have you ever seen a cat?” [said Eustace.]
“Surely,” said the Queen. “I love cats.”
“Well, a lion is a little bit – only a little bit, mind you – like a huge cat – with a mane... And it’s yellow. And terrifically strong.”
“Yellow, and terrifically strong.” Aslan’s Country and Aslan himself are Solar, and Narnia is Lunar in comparison:
They turned and saw the Lion himself, so bright and real and strong that everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.
—just as the Moon looks pale and shadowy in a sunny sky. Luna’s proper domain is the darkness of night. And there is plenty of darkness in The Silver Chair.

Melancholy Pale

The shadow of Saturn, the bringer of old age, falls on the story early.
The gang-plank was laid to [Caspian’s ship], and at the foot of it, just ready to go on board, stood an old, old man... There was a thin circlet of gold on his head. His beard, white as wool, fell nearly to his waist. He stood straight enough, leaning one hand on the shoulder of a richly dressed lord who seemed younger than himself; but you could see he was very old and frail. He looked as if a puff of wind could blow him away, and his eyes were watery.

“I wish to goodness we’d never come,” [said Eustace.]
“Why on earth?” [said Jill.]
“I can’t bear it,” said Scrubb. “Seeing the King – Caspian – a doddering old man like that. It’s – it’s frightful.”
“Why, what harm does it do you?”
“Oh, you don’t understand. Now that I come to think of it, you couldn’t. I didn’t tell you that this world has a different time from ours.”
“How do you mean?”
“The time you spend here doesn’t take up any of our time. Do you see? I mean, however long we spend here, we shall still get back to Experiment House at the moment we left it... And when you’re back in England – in our world – you can’t tell how time is going here... And now apparently it’s been about seventy years Narnian years – since I was here last. Do you see now? And I come back and find Caspian an old, old man... oh, it’s frightful. It’s worse than coming back and finding him dead.”
At the end Caspian succumbs to his baleful influence.
Then four Knights, carrying something and going very slowly, appeared on deck. When they started to come down the gangway you could see what they were carrying; it was the old King on a bed, very pale and still. They set him down. The Prince knelt beside him and embraced him. They could see King Caspian raising his hand to bless his son. And everyone cheered, but it was a half-hearted cheer, for they all felt that something was going wrong. Then suddenly the King’s head fell back upon his pillows, the musicians stopped and there was a dead silence. The Prince, kneeling by the King’s bed, laid down his head upon it and wept.
Lewis’s characters are seldom vivid or memorable, compared to his descriptions of scenes, but Puddleglum stands (along with Reepicheep) as an exception. Puddleglum is of course benevolent; he helps the children and he follows Aslan. But this marks a major departure from Lewis’s previous habits, because Puddleglum’s personality – said to be a portrait of Lewis’s gardener and chauffeur, Fred Paxford – is decidedly Saturnine. He is solemn, pessimistic, contemplative, and suspicious.
“Now,” said Puddleglum. “Those eels will take a mortal long time to cook, and either of you might faint with hunger before they’re done. I knew a little girl – but I’d better not tell you that story. It might lower your spirits, and that’s a thing I never do. So, to keep your minds off your hunger, we may as well talk about our plans.”
“Yes, do let’s,” said Jill. “Can you help us to find Prince Rilian?”
The Marsh-wiggle sucked in his cheeks till they were hollower than you would have thought possible. “Well, I don’t know that you’d call it help,” he said. “I don’t know that anyone can exactly help. It stands to reason we’re not likely to get very far on a journey to the North, not at this time of the year, with the winter coming on soon and all. And an early winter too, by the look of things. But you mustn’t let that make you down-hearted. Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we’ll hardly notice the weather. And if we don’t get far enough to do any good, we may get far enough not to get back in a hurry.”
Both children noticed that he said “we”, not “you”, and both exclaimed at the same moment. “Are you coming with us?”
“Oh yes, I’m coming of course. Might as well, you see. I don’t suppose we shall ever see the King back in Narnia, now that he’s once set off for foreign parts; and he had a nasty cough when he left. Then there’s Trumpkin. He’s failing fast. And you’ll find there’ll have been a bad harvest after this terrible dry summer. And I shouldn’t wonder if some enemy attacked us. Mark my words.”
His name has both Lunar and Saturnine elements. It is comical and watery, but on the other hand it suggests gloom, and it hides an allusion to the classical Underworld and its River Styx.
[John Studley] uses more often than his fellows that diction which, whether “low” in his own day or not, cannot now be read without a smile – “frostyface”, “topsy turvy”, and (for Tacitae Stygis...) “Stygian puddle glum”.
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century p. 256
As Sol retreats, Saturn advances. The weather gets colder. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had winter scenery, but we never felt the cold this keenly:
There is no denying it was a beast of a day. Overhead was a sunless sky, muffled in clouds that were heavy with snow; underfoot, a black frost; blowing over it, a wind that felt as if it would take your skin off. When they got down into the plain they found that this part of the ancient road was much more ruinous than any they had yet seen. They had to pick their way over great broken stones and between boulders and across rubble: hard going for sore feet. And, however tired they got, it was far too cold for a halt.
At about ten o’clock the first tiny snow flakes came loitering down and settled on Jill’s arm. Ten minutes later they were falling quite thickly. In twenty minutes the ground was noticeably white. And by the end of half an hour a good steady snowstorm, which looked as if it meant to last all day, was driving in their faces so that they could hardly see.
The protagonists descend into the gloom of the Underworld. The enslaved Gnomes are utterly joyless.
Jill found herself blinking and staring at a dense crowd. They were of all sizes, from little gnomes barely a foot high to stately figures taller than men. All carried three-pronged spears in their hands, and all were dreadfully pale, and all stood as still as statues. Apart from that, they were very different... But in one respect they were all alike: every face in the whole hundred was as sad as a face could be. They were so sad that, after the first glance, Jill almost forgot to be afraid of them. She felt she would like to cheer them up.
“Well!” said Puddleglum, rubbing his hands. “This is just what I needed. If these chaps don’t teach me to take a serious view of life, I don’t know what will. Look at that fellow with the walrus moustache – or that one with the—”
We’ve already noted how The Silver Chair looks back to the Solar Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It also looks forward to the Saturnine Last Battle.
The floor was soft with some kind of moss and out of this grew many strange shapes, branched and tall like trees, but flabby like mushrooms. They stood too far apart to make a forest; it was more like a park. The light (a greenish grey) seemed to come both from them and from the moss, and it was not strong enough to reach the roof of the cave, which must have been a long way overhead...
Here they passed dozens of strange animals lying on the turf, either dead or asleep, Jill could not tell which. These were mostly of a dragonish or bat-like sort; Puddleglum did not know what any of them were.
“Do they grow here?” Scrubb asked the Warden. He seemed very surprised at being spoken to, but replied, “No. They are all beasts that have found their way down by chasms and caves, out of Overland into the Deep Realm... It is said that they will all wake at the end of the world.”
His mouth shut like a box when he had said this, and in the great silence of that cave the children felt that they would not dare to speak again.
And in case you were still in any doubt, in a surviving typescript of The Silver Chair the following passage appears with just one change: “That is old Father Time” was previously “That is the god Saturn”.
...a smaller cave, long and narrow, about the shape and size of a cathedral. And here, filling almost the whole length of it, lay an enormous man fast asleep. He was far bigger than any of the giants, and his face was not like a giant’s, but noble and beautiful. His breast rose and fell gently under the snowy beard which covered him to the waist. A pure, silver light (no one saw where it came from) rested upon him.
“Who’s that?” asked Puddleglum. And it was so long since anyone had spoken, that Jill wondered how he had the nerve.
“That is old Father Time, who once was a King in Overland,” said the Warden. “And now he has sunk down into the Deep Realm and lies dreaming of all the things that are done in the upper world... They say he will wake at the end of the world.”
Wait a minute. Saturn is a Titan, that is to say an Elder God. An Elder God who “lies dreaming” in a subterranean space...? I don’t know of any direct evidence that Lewis ever read H. P. Lovecraft...
In the Witch’s castle, the protagonists meet a troubled young man.
A young man with fair hair rose to greet them. He was handsome and looked both bold and kind, though there was something about his face that didn’t seem quite right. He was dressed in black and altogether looked a little bit like Hamlet.
“Welcome, Overworlders,” he cried. “But stay a moment! I cry you mercy! I have seen you two fair children, and this, your strange governor, before. Was it not you three that met me by the bridge on the borders of Ettinsmoor when I rode there by my Lady’s side?”
“Oh ... you were the black knight who never spoke?” exclaimed Jill.
The Prince’s backstory, as well as his appearance, is a little bit like Hamlet.
After a time the Queen felt sleepy, and they spread cloaks for her on the grassy bank, and Prince Rilian with the rest of the party went a little way from her, that their tales and laughter might not wake her. And so, presently, a great serpent came out of the thick wood and stung the Queen in her hand. All heard her cry out and rushed towards her, and Rilian was first at her side. He saw the worm gliding away from her and made after it with his sword drawn. It was great, shining, and as green as poison, so that he could see it well: but it glided away into thick bushes and he could not come at it. So he returned to his mother, and found them all busy about her. But they were busy in vain, for at the first glance of her face Rilian knew that no physic in the world would do her good. As long as the life was in her she seemed to be trying hard to tell him something. But she could not speak clearly and, whatever her message was, she died without delivering it...
The Prince took his mother’s death very hardly, as well he might. After that, he was always riding on the northern marches of Narnia, hunting for that venomous worm, to kill it and be avenged. No one remarked much on this, though the Prince came home from these wanderings looking tired and distraught.
Lewis once addressed a Shakespeare Society on Hamlet. The play and the character both have Lunar aspects, and naturally, that’s the connection Michael Ward chooses to make here.
The method of the whole play is much nearer to Mr [T. S.] Eliot’s own method in poetry than Mr Eliot suspects. Its true hero is man – haunted man – man with his mind on the frontier of two worlds, man unable either quite to reject or quite to admit the supernatural, man struggling to get something done as man has struggled from the beginning...
“Hamlet: the Prince or the Poem?”, Selected Literary Essays p. 102
But that was a secondary point. The main meat of Hamlet is a Saturnine matter.
Macbeth has commerce with Hell, but at the very outset of his career dismisses all thought of the life to come. For Brutus and Othello, suicide in the high tragic manner is escape and climax. For Lear death is deliverance. For Romeo and Antony, poignant loss. For all these... death is the end; it is almost the frame of the picture. They think of dying; no-one thinks, in these plays, of being dead. In Hamlet we are kept thinking about it all the time, whether in terms of the soul’s destiny or of the body’s. Purgatory, Hell, Heaven, the wounded name, the rights – or wrongs – of Ophelia’s burial, and the staying-power of a tanner’s corpse; and beyond this, beyond all Christian and all Pagan maps of the hereafter, comes a curious groping and tapping of thoughts, about “what dreams may come”. It is this that gives the whole play its quality of darkness and of misgiving.
“Hamlet: the Prince or the Poem?”, Selected Literary Essays p. 99
Even in Underland, however, Saturn doesn’t have it all his own way. Saturn is cold, but Underland is warmed from beneath by the fires of Bism. Once the spell is broken, the Gnomes turn out to be cheerful, jolly people.
“My name is Golg,” said the gnome. “And I’ll tell your Honours all I know. About an hour ago we were all going about our work – her work, I should say – sad and silent, same as we’ve done any other day for years and years. Then there came a great crash and bang. As soon as they heard it, everyone says to himself, I haven’t had a song or a dance or let off a squib for a long time; why’s that? And everyone thinks to himself, Why, I must have been enchanted. And then everyone says to himself, I’m blessed if I know why I’m carrying this load, and I’m not going to carry it any farther; that’s that. And down we all throw our sacks and bundles and tools...”

The whole party set out. The Prince remounted his charger, Puddleglum climbed up behind Jill, and Golg led the way. As he went, he kept shouting out the good news that the Witch was dead and that the four Overlanders were not dangerous. And those who heard him shouted it on to others, so that in a few minutes the whole of Underland was ringing with shouts and cheers, and gnomes by hundreds and thousands, leaping, turning cart-wheels, standing on their heads, playing leap-frog, and letting off huge crackers, came pressing round Coalblack and Snowflake. And the Prince had to tell the story of his own enchantment and deliverance at least ten times.
Wait a minute again. The Green Witch is dead and happy Gnomes are celebrating, and our heroes are four travellers including a girl and a scruffy fellow with straw-like hair...? No. No, I refuse to make the connection.

With Chrism of Dews

But if I were going to make the connection, I’d say it’s a nice coincidence that the Wicked Witch of the West met her fate courtesy a bucket of water. Because, in case the excerpt from The Planets at the top of this post, and the scenes I’ve been holding up as “Lunar imagery” for the last four Narnia articles, haven’t given you a clue, Luna has special dominion over water. Since there is a perfectly real correlation between the tides and the phases of the Moon, every culture based anywhere near a coast has made the connection. Oddly, however, Lewis almost always associates her with fresh water.
“Oh, Lor!” said the boy, sitting down on the grassy bank at the edge of the shrubbery and very quickly getting up again because the grass was soaking wet.

Suddenly the land opened right ahead of her. She was coming to the mouth of a river. She was very low now, only a few feet above the water. A wave-top came against her toe and a great splash of foam spurted up, drenching her nearly to the waist.

What they found outside was quite unlike the bit of Narnia they had seen on the day before. They were on a great flat plain which was cut into countless little islands by countless channels of water.

At about nine o’clock next morning three lonely figures might have been seen picking their way across the Shribble by the shoals and stepping-stones. It was a shallow, noisy stream, and even Jill was not wet above her knees when they reached the northern bank.

If you can swim (as Jill could) a giant bath is a lovely thing. And giant towels, though a bit rough and coarse, are lovely too, because there are acres of them. In fact you don’t need to dry at all, you just roll about on them in front of the fire and enjoy yourself.

They tried various doors and found (what they very badly needed) water for washing and even a looking glass. “He never offered us a wash before supper,” said Jill, drying her face. “Selfish, self-centred pig.”

“Look, look!” said the Prince. “The ship is already far this side of the harbour – it is in the street. Look! All the ships are driving into the city! By my head, the sea’s rising. The flood is upon us. Aslan be praised, this castle stands on high ground. But the water comes on grimly fast.”

It would have been nasty enough at the bottom even five minutes later for the tide was running up the valley like a mill-race, and if it had come to swimming, the horses could hardly have won over. But it was still only a foot or two deep, and though it swished terribly round the horses’ legs, they reached the far side in safety.
Jill and Aslan’s first conversation takes place near a stream. Aslan is mostly Solar, but he does take on this one Lunar quality.
“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking...
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion...
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion...
It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.
Water is a metaphor for God’s bounty in many places in the Bible, presumably because most of it was written in the dry environment of the Middle East. As a child reading The Silver Chair, this passage reminded me of the spiritual we sang in Sunday School, “There’s a River of Life Flowing Out From Me”. Spirituals also frequently use the Jordan, a coded reference to the Mississippi, as a metaphor for death and release from the woes of this world. Similar imagery presumably explains why Caspian turns up in the stream after he has died.
Then Aslan stopped, and the children looked into the stream. And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass. His long white beard swayed in it like water-weed. And all three stood and wept.
The Marsh-wiggles, invented for this book, are a race deeply connected with water. Puddleglum is frequently compared to a frog.
The fingers of his hands were webbed like a frog’s, and so were his bare feet which dangled in the muddy water. He was dressed in earth-coloured clothes that hung loose about him.

They came down to the river... far below the last bridge (which is at the snug, red-roofed little town of Beruna) and were ferried across in a flat barge by the ferryman; or rather, by the ferry-wiggle, for it is Marsh-wiggles who do most of the watery and fishy kinds of work in Narnia.
I don’t want to begrudge Lewis the creation of Puddleglum, I really don’t. But the sudden, unheralded existence of Marsh-wiggles in Narnia raises problems of continuity (more serious ones than the fact that that bridge was destroyed in Prince Caspian) – and also problems of prejudice.
Marsh-wiggles, we’re now given to understand, do all the watery work in Narnia. Then why weren’t there a dozen or more of them on the Dawn Treader? It can’t have just been that some of the sailors were Marsh-wiggles all along and we weren’t told, because then Eustace would know what they were.
“Where on earth are we?” asked Jill.
“In the wigwam of a Marsh-wiggle,” said Eustace.
“A what?”
“A Marsh-wiggle. Don’t ask me what it is. I couldn’t see it last night. I’m getting up. Let’s go and look for it.”
Slightly dopey name aside, Marsh-wiggles are a wonderful concept. That’s why I’m so conflicted about them. Oh, I can see why Lewis invented them. He needed a guide-and-mentor character to help Jill and Eustace along. Not a human, because that’s not what we come to Narnia for. Not a Talking Beast or a Giant, because either would change certain dramatic scenes in the House of Harfang. And to match the Lunar look-and-feel of this book it had to be a water-themed race, so not a Centaur or a Faun or a Dwarf. And so you get this new race appearing out of nowhere, and Lewis might as well have written in a flashing light saying retcon alert! But I suppose he must have realized he had no choice. After all, he didn’t have any other race to go with, did he?
...and there a most delightful person was called to look after Jill. She was not much taller than Jill herself, and a good deal slenderer, but obviously full grown, graceful as a willow, and her hair was willowy too, and there seemed to be moss in it.
So if a Dryad could be a lady-in-waiting, why couldn’t a Naiad be the guide and mentor? I’m afraid there is a reason, and it’s not pretty. We’ll get to it.

Sharp-Feathered Light

Luna is often identified with Artemis (Diana), the virgin goddess of the hunt, perhaps because moonlight is useful for hunting by. Hunting accordingly returns as a theme throughout The Silver Chair. The protagonists are both hunters and hunted. At the beginning, Jill is being hunted by “Them”.
At that moment a voice from the other side of the gym was heard shouting out, “Pole? Yes. I know where she is. She’s blubbing behind the gym. Shall I fetch her out?”
Jill and Eustace gave one glance at each other, dived under the laurels, and began scrambling up the steep, earthy slope of the shrubbery at a speed which did them great credit. (Owing to the curious methods of teaching at Experiment House, one did not learn much French or Maths or Latin or things of that sort; but one did learn a lot about getting away quickly and quietly when They were looking for one.) After about a minute’s scramble they stopped to listen, and knew by the noises they heard that they were being followed.
The protagonists’ mission is to hunt for Prince Rilian.
“Far from here in the land of Narnia [said Aslan] there lives an aged king who is sad because he has no prince of his blood to be king after him. He has no heir because his only son was stolen from him many years ago, and no one in Narnia knows where that prince went or whether he is still alive. But he is. I lay on you this command, that you seek this lost prince until either you have found him and brought him to his father’s house, or else died in the attempt, or else gone back into your own world.”
With the underground city in confusion around them, they go and catch a Gnome to tell them what’s going on, rather than fight their way through a whole city full of them.
“Hark you! [said Rilian.] Let us ride forth close by the edge of yonder house. And even as we reach it, do you slip off into its shadow. The Lady and I will go forward a few paces. Some of these devils will follow us, I doubt not; they are thick behind us. Do you, who have long arms, take one alive if you may, as it passes your ambush. We may get a true tale of it or learn what is their quarrel against us.”...
The Marsh-wiggle slipped off into the shadow as quickly as a cat. The others, for a sickening minute or so, went forward at a walk. Then suddenly from behind them there broke out a series of blood-curdling screams, mixed with the familiar voice of Puddleglum, saying, “Now then! Don’t cry out before you’re hurt, or you will be hurt, see? Anyone would think it was a pig being killed.”
“That was good hunting,” exclaimed the Prince...
On the journey they hunt to eat. This might recall similar scenes in Prince Caspian, but there, under Mars, the bear they skinned and ate had attacked them first. Here the question of whether their prey are Talking Beasts is brushed off.
The Owl snapped at something which Jill couldn’t see.
“Oh, don’t, please!” said Jill. “Don’t jerk like that. You nearly threw me off.”
“I beg your pardon,” said the Owl. “I was just nabbing a bat. There’s nothing so sustaining, in a small way, as a nice plump little bat. Shall I catch you one?”
“No, thanks,” said Jill with a shudder.

“I’m trying to catch a few eels to make an eel stew for our dinner,” said Puddleglum. “Though I shouldn’t wonder if I didn’t get any...”
Presently the Marsh-wiggle joined them. In spite of his expectation of catching no eels, he had a dozen or so, which he had already skinned and cleaned.

They travelled across Ettinsmoor for many days, saving the bacon and living chiefly on the moor-fowl (they were not, of course, talking birds) which Eustace and the wiggle shot... Jill thought that when, in books, people live on what they shoot, it never tells you what a long, smelly, messy job it is plucking and cleaning dead birds, and how cold it makes your fingers.
How could they tell the birds they were shooting at couldn’t talk? We know Talking Beasts can wander out of Narnia and keep talking, because two Horses did it in the previous book. No solution is offered.
And Lewis then goes out of his way to raise the issue. The Giants of Harfang are keen hunters:
The giants were all on foot, for there are no giant horses in that part of the world, and the giants’ hunting is done on foot; like beagling in England. The hounds were also of normal size. When Jill saw that there were no horses she was at first dreadfully disappointed, for she felt sure that the great fat Queen would never go after hounds on foot; and it would never do to have her about the house all day. But then she saw the Queen in a kind of litter supported on the shoulders of six young giants. The silly old creature was all got up in green and had a horn at her side. Twenty or thirty giants, including the King, were assembled, ready for the sport, all talking and laughing fit to deafen you; and down below, nearer Jill’s level, there were wagging tails, and barking, and loose, slobbery mouths and noses of dogs thrust into your hand.

They had lunch in the great hall at a little table of their own, near the fireplace. At a bigger table, about twenty yards away, half a dozen old giants were lunching. Their conversation was so noisy, and so high up in the air, that the children soon took no more notice of it than you would of hooters outside the window or traffic noises in the street. They were eating cold venison, a kind of food which Jill had never tasted before, and she was liking it.
Suddenly Puddleglum turned to them, and his face had gone so pale that you could see the paleness under the natural muddiness of his complexion. He said:
“Don’t eat another bite.”
“What’s wrong?” asked the other two in a whisper.
“Didn’t you hear what those giants were saying? ‘That’s a nice tender haunch of venison,’ said one of them. ‘Then that stag was a liar,’ said another. ‘Why?’ said the first one. ‘Oh,’ said the other. ‘They say that when he was caught he said, Don’t kill me, I’m tough. You won’t like me.’” For a moment Jill did not realize the full meaning of this. But she did when Scrubb’s eyes opened wide with horror and he said:
“So we’ve been eating a Talking stag.”
This discovery didn’t have exactly the same effect on all of them. Jill, who was new to that world, was sorry for the poor stag and thought it rotten of the giants to have killed him. Scrubb, who had been in that world before and had at least one Talking beast as his dear friend, felt horrified; as you might feel about a murder. But Puddleglum, who was Narnian born, was sick and faint, and felt as you would feel if you found you had eaten a baby.
Giants who don’t scruple to avoid eating Talking Beasts might be expected to lack other scruples also, and this indeed proves to be the case.
Just in front of her was a clean wide table with two clean pie-dishes on it, and an open book. They were giant pie-dishes of course. Jill thought that she could lie down just comfortably in one of them. Then she climbed up on the bench beside the table to look at the book. She read:
Mallard. This delicious bird can be cooked in a variety of ways.
“It’s a cookery book,” thought Jill without much interest... It was arranged alphabetically; and at the very next entry her heart seemed to stop beating. It ran
Man. This elegant little biped has long been valued as a delicacy. It forms a traditional part of the Autumn Feast, and is served between the fish and the joint. Each Man—
but she could not bear to read any more... Scrubb was still reading about how to cook Men when Puddleglum pointed to the next entry below it. It was like this:
Marsh-wiggle. Some authorities reject this animal altogether as unfit for giants’ consumption because of its stringy consistency and muddy flavour. The flavour can, however, be greatly reduced if—
It is at this point that the three travellers become prey.
The distance to the City Ruinous seemed longer than Jill would have believed possible. But bit by bit they were covering it. Then came a noise. The other two gasped. Jill, who didn’t know what it was, said, “What’s that?”
“Hunting horn,” whispered Scrubb.
“But don’t run even now,” said Puddleglum. “Not until I give the word.”
This time Jill couldn’t help glancing over her shoulder. There, about half a mile away, was the hunt returning from behind them on the left.
They walked on. Suddenly a great clamour of giant voices arose; then shouts and hollas.
“They’ve seen us. Run,” said Puddleglum.
Jill gathered up her long skirts – horrible things for running in – and ran. There was no mistaking the danger now. She could hear the music of the hounds. She could hear the King’s voice roaring out, “After them, after them, or we’ll have no man-pies tomorrow.”
She was last of the three now, cumbered with her dress, slipping on loose stones, her hair getting in her mouth, running-pains across her chest. The hounds were much nearer. Now she had to run uphill, up the stony slope which led to the lowest step of the giant stairway. She had no idea what they would do when they got there, or how they would be any better off even if they reached the top. But she didn’t think about that. She was like a hunted animal now; as long as the pack was after her, she must run till she dropped.
Though Michael Ward was the first person to discover the astrological schema for the whole Narniad, others before him had noticed planetary themes in particular books, including the Lunar resonances in The Silver Chair. I have to wonder whether Narnia illustrator Pauline Baynes was among them in this instance. Lewis trusted her imagination and gave her few directions (which is why Lucy has dark hair in all depictions, clean contrary to the description at the end of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Not only does a clearly Lunar face appear on Baynes’ map of the Northern Lands, but the first illustration of Prince Rilian shows a hunting scene – without any warrant from the text – on the large tapestry behind him.

Changing Sometime a Mind to Madness

Another of Luna’s attributes gave us the English words lunacy, lunatic, and loony. A study featured in New Scientist some years ago found no correlation between the full moon and antisocial behaviour, but they also said that the association is found in so many different cultures that perhaps it used to have an effect, via light levels and sleep patterns, in the days before streetlights.
Aslan gives Jill a warning:
“Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly; I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”
The first two Narnians she and Eustace speak to are both slightly confused. Glimfeather the Owl has only just woken up. As a nocturnal Beast, daylight (i.e. Sol) makes him sleepy.
“We were sent here by Aslan,” said Eustace in a low voice.
“Tu-whoo, tu-whoo!” said the Owl, ruffling out its feathers. “This is almost too much for me, so early in the evening. I’m not quite myself till the sun’s down.”
Trumpkin the Dwarf cannot understand what’s being said to him because he’s gone deaf from old age (i.e. Saturn).
“The girl’s called Jill,” said the Owl, as loud as it could.
“What’s that?” said the Dwarf. “The girls are all killed! I don’t believe a word of it. What girls? Who killed ’em?”
“Only one girl, my lord,” said the Owl. “Her name is Jill.”
“Speak up, speak up,” said the Dwarf. “Don’t stand there buzzing and twittering in my ear. Who’s been killed?”
“Nobody’s been killed,” hooted the Owl.
“Who?”
Nobody.”
“All right, all right. You needn’t shout. I’m not so deaf as all that. What do you mean by coming here to tell me that nobody’s been killed? Why should anyone have been killed?”
“Better tell him I’m Eustace,” said Scrubb.
“The boy’s Eustace, my lord,” hooted the Owl as loud as it could.
“Useless?” said the Dwarf irritably. “I dare say he is. Is that any reason for bringing him to court? Hey?”
“Not useless,” said the Owl. “Eustace.”
“Used to it, is he? I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m sure. I tell you what it is, Master Glimfeather; when I was a young Dwarf there used to be talking beasts and birds in this country who really could talk. There wasn’t all this mumbling and muttering and whispering. It wouldn't have been tolerated for a moment. Not for a moment, Sir. Urnus, my trumpet please—”
Blinded by the weather, the protagonists pass right by their goal. The brief reappearance of Sol the following day signals a return of clarity.
In order to understand what followed, you must keep on remembering how little they could see. As they drew near the low hill which separated them from the place where the lighted windows had appeared, they had no general view of it at all. It was a question of seeing the next few paces ahead, and, even for that, you had to screw up your eyes...
When they reached the foot of the hill they caught a glimpse of what might be rocks on each side – squarish rocks, if you looked at them carefully, but no one did. All were more concerned with the ledge right in front of them which barred their way. It was about four feet high... There were four of these ledges altogether, at quite irregular intervals.
As they struggled on to the fourth ledge, there was no mistaking the fact that they were now at the top of the flat hill. Up till now the slope had given them some shelter; here, they got the full fury of the wind. For the hill, oddly enough, was quite as flat on top as it had looked from a distance: a great level tableland which the storm tore across without resistance... And, indeed, in many places, the surface was almost as smooth as ice. But to make matters worse it was crossed and crisscrossed with curious banks or dykes, which sometimes divided it up into squares and oblongs...
Fighting her way forward with hood up and head down and numb hands inside her cloak, Jill had glimpses of other odd things on that horrible tableland – things on her right that looked vaguely like factory chimneys, and, on her left, a huge cliff, straighter than any cliff ought to be.

The sun was shining and, except for a few drifts, the snow had been almost completely washed away by the rain. Down below them, spread out like a map, lay the flat hill-top which they had struggled over yesterday afternoon; seen from the castle, it could not be mistaken for anything but the ruins of a gigantic city. It had been flat, as Jill now saw, because it was still, on the whole, paved, though in places the pavement was broken. The criss-cross banks were what was left of the walls of huge buildings which might once have been giants’ palaces and temples.
One bit of wall, about five hundred feet high, was still standing; it was that which she had thought was a cliff. The things that had looked like factory chimneys were enormous pillars, broken off at unequal heights; their fragments lay at their bases like felled trees of monstrous stone. The ledges which they had climbed down on the north side of the hill – and also, no doubt the other ledges which they had climbed up on the south side – were the remaining steps of giant stairs.
At a critical juncture Puddleglum temporarily loses his wits out of fondness for drink.
But the giant [who had given him the drink]... roared with laughter and said, “Why, Froggy, you’re a man. See him put it away!”
“Not a man ... Marsh-wiggle,” replied Puddleglum in a somewhat indistinct voice. “Not frog either; Marshwiggle.”
At that moment the door opened behind them and the younger giant came in saying, “They’re to go to the throne-room at once.”
The children stood up but Puddleglum remained sitting and said, “Marsh-wiggle. Marsh-wiggle. Very respectable Marsh-wiggle. Respectowiggle.”
“Show them the way, young ’un,” said the giant Porter. “You’d better carry Froggy. He’s had a drop more than’s good for him.”
“Nothing wrong with me,” said Puddleglum. “Not a frog. Nothing frog with me. I’m a respectabiggle.”

“And what’s that?” asked the King, pointing to Puddleglum.
“Reshpeckobiggle,” said Puddleglum.
“Oh!” screamed the Queen, gathering her skirts close about her ankles. “The horrid thing! It’s alive.”
The troubled young man who looks like Hamlet is quite witless.
“...I remember no time [said the Knight] when I was not dwelling, as now, at the court of this all but heavenly Queen; but my thought is that she saved me from some evil enchantment and brought me hither of her exceeding bounty... And this seems to me the likelier because even now I am bound by a spell, from which my Lady alone can free me. Every night there comes an hour when my mind is most horribly changed, and, after my mind, my body. For first I become furious and wild and would rush upon my dearest friends to kill them, if I were not bound. And soon after that, I turn into the likeness of a great serpent, hungry, fierce, and deadly... I myself know nothing of it, for when my hour is past I awake forgetful of all that vile fit and in my proper shape and sound mind – saving that I am somewhat wearied... Now the Queen’s majesty knows by her art that I shall be freed from this enchantment when once she has made me king of a land in the Overworld and set its crown upon my head... with her to guide me and a thousand Earthmen at my back, I shall ride forth in arms, fall suddenly on our enemies, slay their chief men, cast down their strong places, and doubtless be their crowned king within four and twenty hours.”
“It’s a bit rough luck on them, isn’t it?” said Scrubb.
“Thou art a lad of a wondrous, quick-working wit!” exclaimed the Knight. “For, on my honour, I had never thought of it so before. I see your meaning.” He looked slightly, very slightly troubled for a moment or two; but his face soon cleared and he broke out, with another of his loud laughs, “But fie on gravity! Is it not the most comical and ridiculous thing in the world to think of them all going about their business and never dreaming that under their peaceful fields and floors, only a fathom down, there is a great army ready to break out upon them like a fountain! And they never to have suspected! Why, they themselves, when once the first smart of their defeat is over, can hardly choose but laugh at the thought!”
The nightly madness is, in fact, a burst of uncontrollable sanity. His one lucid memory, as well as being properly watery, is significantly upside-down.
The Knight was moaning. His face was as pale as putty, and he writhed in his bonds. And whether because she was sorry for him, or for some other reason, Jill thought that he looked a nicer sort of man than he had looked before.
“Ah,” he groaned. “Enchantments, enchantments ... the heavy, tangled, cold, clammy web of evil magic. Buried alive. Dragged down under the earth, down into the sooty blackness ... how many years is it? ... Have I lived ten years, or a thousand years, in the pit? Maggot-men all around me. Oh, have mercy. Let me out, let me go back. Let me feel the wind and see the sky ... There used to be a little pool. When you looked down into it you could see all the trees growing upside-down in the water, all green, and below them, deep, very deep, the blue sky.”
He had been speaking in a low voice; now he looked up, fixed his eyes upon them, and said loud and clear:
“Quick! I am sane now. Every night I am sane. If only I could get out of this enchanted chair, it would last. I should be a man again. But every night they bind me, and so every night my chance is gone. But you are not enemies. I am not your prisoner... Have they told you that if I am released from this chair I shall kill you and become a serpent? I see by your faces that they have. It is a lie. It is at this hour that I am in my right mind: it is all the rest of the day that I am enchanted. You are not Earthmen nor witches. Why should you be on their side? Of your courtesy, cut my bonds.”
So perhaps his true identity is not all that surprising really.
“What?” he cried, turning to Puddleglum. “Do I see before me a Marsh-wiggle – a real, live, honest, Narnian Marsh-wiggle?”
“Oh, so you have heard of Narnia after all?” said Jill.
“Had I forgotten it when I was under the spell?” asked the Knight. “Well, that and all other bedevilments are now over. You may well believe that I know Narnia, for I am Rilian, Prince of Narnia, and Caspian the great King is my father.”
The muddle and madness are even present in England.
This is not going to be a school story, so I shall say as little as possible about Jill’s school, which is not a pleasant subject. It was “Co-educational,” a school for both boys and girls, what used to be called a “mixed” school; some said it was not nearly so mixed as the minds of the people who ran it.

And then the Head (who was, by the way, a woman) came running out to see what was happening. And when she saw the lion and the broken wall and Caspian and Jill and Eustace (whom she quite failed to recognise) she had hysterics and went back to the house and began ringing up the police with stories about a lion escaped from a circus, and escaped convicts who broke down walls and carried drawn swords. In the midst of all this fuss Jill and Eustace slipped quietly indoors and changed out of their bright clothes into ordinary things, and Caspian went back into his own world. And the wall, at Aslan’s word, was made whole again. When the police arrived and found no lion, no broken wall, and no convicts, and the Head behaving like a lunatic, there was an inquiry into the whole thing.
We’ve already seen a couple of positive manifestations of Saturn: Puddleglum’s wisdom, and Father Time’s noble beauty. In previous books Saturn has been an entirely negative influence. Here the accustomed values of Narnia turn topsy-turvy. Some races have Saturnine strains in their nature, and that’s OK. Owls prefer darkness to day, Marsh-wiggles find Puddleglum over-cheerful, Gnomes prefer to live underground. (The last of these is a particularly daring reversal – Bism appears to be nothing less than a positive version of Hell.)
“...If this owls’ parliament, as you call it, is all fair and above board and means no mischief, [said Eustace,] why does it have to be so jolly secret – meeting in a ruin in dead of night, and all that?”
“Tu-whoo! Tu-whoo!” hooted several owls. “Where should we meet? When would anyone meet except at night?”
“You see,” explained Glimfeather, “most of the creatures in Narnia have such unnatural habits. They do things by day, in broad blazing sunlight (ugh!) when everyone ought to be asleep. And, as a result, at night they’re so blind and stupid that you can’t get a word out of them. So we owls have got into the habit of meeting at sensible hours, on our own, when we want to talk about things.”

“Don’t you lose heart, Pole,” said Puddleglum. “I’m coming, sure and certain. I’m not going to lose an opportunity like this. It will do me good. They all say – I mean, the other wiggles all say – that I’m too flighty; don’t take life seriously enough. If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We’re only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.’ That’s what they say. Now a job like this – a journey up north just as winter’s beginning, looking for a Prince that probably isn’t there, by way of a ruined city that no one has ever seen – will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.” And he rubbed his big frog-like hands together as if he were talking of going to a party or a pantomime.

“...And now, [said Rilian,] one question more. Do you know the way to those new diggings, by which the sorceress meant to lead out an army against Overland?”
“Ee-ee-ee!” squeaked Golg. “Yes, I know that terrible road. I will show you where it begins. But it is no manner of use your Honour asking me to go with you on it. I’ll die rather.”
“Why?” asked Eustace anxiously. “What’s so dreadful about it?”
“Too near the top, the outside,” said Golg, shuddering. “That was the worst thing the Witch did to us. We were going to be led out into the open – on to the outside of the world. They say there’s no roof at all there; only a horrible great emptiness called the sky. And the diggings have gone so far that a few strokes of the pick would bring you out to it. I wouldn’t dare go near them.”
“Hurrah! Now you’re talking!” cried Eustace, and Jill said, “But it’s not horrid at all up there. We like it. We live there.”
“I know you Overlanders live there,” said Golg. “But I thought it was because you couldn’t find your way down inside. You can’t really like it – crawling about like flies on the top of the world!”
Since we know Lewis’s first purpose when he embarked on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was to rehabilitate Jove to the modern mind, the scenes at Harfang are perhaps even stranger. At Cair Paravel at the beginning of the story, and at the Snow Dance at the end, the protagonists enjoy real Jovial hospitality. Harfang is superficially more Jovial still. Note the royal figures; no King, so-called and not a usurper, has been evil in Narnia before. Note the colour red, the repeated references to feasting. (Then again, it’s a mouth that’s red, which might remind you of the Wolf and the Witch in the first book.) Here, Saturnine old Puddleglum is right to be suspicious.
...they soon entered the great doorway of the main castle – both their hearts beating faster than usual – and, after pattering along several corridors at a trot to keep up with the giant’s paces, found themselves blinking in the light of an enormous room, where lamps glowed and a fire roared on the hearth and both were reflected from the gilding of roof and cornice. More giants than they could count stood on their left and right, all in magnificent robes; and on two thrones at the far end, sat two huge shapes that appeared to be the King and Queen...
The giant King and Queen looked at each other, nodded to each other, and smiled in a way that Jill didn’t exactly like. She liked the King better than the Queen. He had a fine, curled beard and a straight eagle-like nose, and was really rather good-looking as giants go. The Queen was dreadfully fat and had a double chin and a fat, powdered face – which isn’t a very nice thing at the best of times, and of course looks much worse when it is ten times too big. Then the King put out his tongue and licked his lips. Anyone might do that: but his tongue was so very large and red, and came out so unexpectedly, that it gave Jill quite a shock.
The Green Witch is at the heart of the disorientation. Her plan is to invert the whole world, bringing the Gnomes up out of Bism to conquer Overland. Exactly what she wants Rilian for, given she has an army of mind-controlled Gnome slaves, is never explained. Confronted with the freed Rilian, she first tries to convince the protagonists that there is nothing beyond Underland, and when that fails, she inverts reality itself by changing shape.
The instrument dropped from her hands. Her arms appeared to be fastened to her sides. Her legs were intertwined with each other, and her feet had disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid, and seemed to be all one piece with the writhing green pillar of her interlocked legs. And that writhing green pillar was curving and swaying as if it had no joints, or else were all joints. Her head was thrown far back and while her nose grew longer and longer, every other part of her face seemed to disappear, except her eyes. Huge flaming eyes they were now, without brows or lashes. All this takes time to write down; it happened so quickly that there was only just time to see it. Long before there was time to do anything, the change was complete, and the great serpent which the Witch had become, green as poison, thick as Jill's waist, had flung two or three coils of its loathsome body round the Prince s legs. Quick as lightning another great loop darted round, intending to pinion his sword-arm to his side.
I know I said in the introductory post that I wasn’t going to remark upon all the allusions to Spenser and Milton and Dante. But I am going to flag this Milton one.
His Visage drawn he [Satan] felt to sharp and spare,
His Armes clung to his Ribs, his Leggs entwining
Each other, till supplanted down he fell
A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone,
Reluctant, but in vaine: a greater power
Now rul’d him, punisht in the shape he sin’d...
Paradise Lost X 511–516
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Eustace turned into a dragon involuntarily, in a scene recalling the voluntary transformation of Fafner in the Ring cycle. Here the Green Witch turns into a serpent voluntarily in a scene recalling the involuntary transformation of Satan in Paradise Lost.

Enchants Us – the Cheat!

As an aspect of her maddening influence, and because she is not perfect like the other planets, Luna leads travellers astray.
“Well, children,” she said, “you have a wise, solemn old guide with you. I think none the worse of him for keeping his own counsel, but I’ll be free with mine. I have often heard the name of the giantish City Ruinous, but never met any who would tell me the way thither. This road leads to the burgh and castle of Harfang, where dwell the gentle giants. They are as mild, civil, prudent, and courteous as those of Ettinsmoor are foolish, fierce, savage, and given to all beastliness. And in Harfang you may or may not hear tidings of the City Ruinous, but certainly you shall find good lodgings and merry hosts. You would be wise to winter there, or, at the least, to tarry certain days for your ease and refreshment. There you shall have steaming baths, soft beds, and bright hearths; and the roast and the baked and the sweet and the strong will be on the table four times in a day.”
Having killed Rilian’s mother in serpent form, the Green Witch ensnares Rilian himself.
Then in good time on the next day they saddled their horses and rode a great gallop into the northern woods and alighted at that same fountain where the Queen got her death... And there they rested till it came to high noon: and at noon Drinian looked up and saw the most beautiful lady he had ever seen; and she stood at the north side of the fountain and said no word but beckoned to the Prince with her hand as if she bade him come to her. And she was tall and great, shining, and wrapped in a thin garment as green as poison. And the Prince stared at her like a man out of his wits. But suddenly the lady was gone, Drinian knew not where; and the two returned to Cair Paravel. It stuck in Drinian’s mind that this shining green woman was evil.
Here the plot problems begin in earnest. Naturally the Witch would know that the passages down to her realm begin from the City Ruinous. Presumably part of her motive here is to deflect them from their purpose, and of course that works like a charm—
...whatever the Lady had intended by telling them about Harfang, the actual effect on the children was a bad one. They could think about nothing but beds and baths and hot meals and how lovely it would be to get indoors. They never talked about Aslan, or even about the lost prince, now. And Jill gave up her habit of repeating the signs over to herself every night and morning. She said to herself, at first, that she was too tired, but she soon forgot all about it. And though you might have expected that the idea of having a good time at Harfang would have made them more cheerful, it really made them more sorry for themselves and more grumpy and snappy with each other and with Puddleglum.
—but she must be pretty sure of herself, to send them right past their actual goal towards her trap. What if it had been a clear and frosty day when they’d found the City? Perhaps, as a manifestation of Luna, the Green Witch controls the weather in this region. But then why not simply dump enough snow and freezing wind on them to kill them outright? She evidently has some kind of relationship with the Giants of Harfang, and I can see how it works for them, but what’s in it for her? Even if she suspects or knows that the protagonists are looking for Rilian, she’s got an army of mind-controlled slaves to get in their way, and she can’t be all that concerned about people finding out about him or she wouldn’t take him out for walkies.
For that matter, seeing as she has an army of mind-controlled slaves who don’t seem to need to be tied to magic chairs for an hour a day, what does she need Rilian alive for?
With the three travellers and the freed Rilian loose in her castle, the Witch resorts to drastic measures.
“Narnia?” she said. “Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia.”
“Yes there is, though, Ma’am,” said Puddleglum. “You see, I happen to have lived there all my life.”
“Indeed,” said the Witch. “Tell me, I pray you, where that country is?”
“Up there,” said Puddleglum, stoutly, pointing overhead. “I – I don’t know exactly where.”
“How?” said the Queen, with a kind, soft, musical laugh. “Is there a country up among the stones and mortar of the roof?”
“No,” said Puddleglum, struggling a little to get his breath. “It’s in Overworld.”
“And what, or where, pray is this ... how do you call it ... Overworld?“
“Oh, don’t be so silly,” said Scrubb, who was fighting hard against the enchantment of the sweet smell and the thrumming. “As if you didn’t know! It’s up above, up where you can see the sky and the sun and the stars. Why, you’ve been there yourself. We met you there.”
“I cry you mercy, little brother,” laughed the Witch (you couldn’t have heard a lovelier laugh). “I have no memory of that meeting. But we often meet our friends in strange places when we dream. And unless all dreamed alike, you must not ask them to remember it.”
I’ll give Lewis this: of all his attempts to integrate theology with storytelling, this is the one that works best. The Witch here represents atheism, scepticism, rationalism. Lewis’s answer to the question of evidence is the same as every other supernaturalist’s: if we didn’t have direct evidence of the world we do know, that wouldn’t make it not exist.
“You see? [said the Witch.] When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”

The Witch shook her head. “I see,” she said, “that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You’ve seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it’s to be called a lion. Well, ’tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world... There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan...”
Lewis answers through Puddleglum’s mouth.
“One word, Ma’am,”... [said Puddleglum to the Witch.] “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 thing more 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... Then... 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.”
I feel you, Lewis, I do. I know how cold and dead and cramped the physical universe seems when you’re used to a worldview that contains God and souls and angels. I know how pointless and flat the theory of natural selection feels if you start from the idea of a loving Designer. But I also know that once you realize you had no sensible reason to expect the souls and the angels and the Designer in the first place, the disappointment gives way to awe and wonder and – you’ll find this paradoxical – gratitude. Because, if you don’t mind my saying so, my view of which world licks whose one hollow is quite the opposite.
...to look out on the night sky with modern eyes is like looking out over a sea that fades away into mist, or looking about one in a trackless forest – trees forever and no horizon.
The Discarded Image p. 99
Whereas, to me, the mediaeval cosmos which Lewis showcases explicitly in The Discarded Image and cryptically in the Narniad is as confining as the blue-painted dome of The Truman Show; with the central Earth taking the place of the unwittingly central Truman. It is the modern concept, not the old one, that makes the sky a “great emptiness” to horrify Gnomes. You might remember this little detail from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
And of course, as it always does in a perfectly flat place without trees, it looked as if the sky came down to meet the grass in front of them. But as they went on they got the strangest impression that here at last the sky did really come down and join the earth – a blue wall, very bright, but real and solid: more like glass than anything else. And soon they were quite sure of it. It was very near now.
If I said that to Lewis, he’d point out (he often did) that the Ptolemaic universe was not as small as it’s made out to be. He’d likely add that the Earth was believed to be the centre of the universe only in the sense of being the bottom of the universe.
For ages men had believed the earth to be a sphere. For ages... men had realized that movement towards the centre of the earth from whatever direction was downward movement. For ages men had known, and poets had emphasized, the truth that earth, in relation to the universe, is infinitesimally small: to be treated, said Ptolemy, as a mathematical point... Nor was it generally felt that earth, or Man, would lose dignity by being shifted from the cosmic centre. The central position had not implied pre-eminence. On the contrary, it had implied... “the worst and deadest part of the universe”, “the lowest story of the house”, the point at which all the light, heat, and movement descending from the nobler spheres finally died out into darkness, coldness, and passivity.
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century pp. 2–3
But this sense of Earthly centrality is just as wrong as the other; someone who thinks the entire world disdains them is as misguided in their self-concern as someone who thinks the entire world admires them, if more worthy of compassion. Lewis disliked the modern idea of “space” and turned to the mediaeval “heavens” for a corrective:
[Ransom] had read of “Space”; at the back of his thinking for years had lurked the dismal fancy of the black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness, which was supposed to separate the worlds. He had not known how much it affected him till now – now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for the empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it “dead”; he felt life pouring into him from it every moment... No: space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens – the heavens which declared the glory – the
happy climes that ly
Where day never shuts his eye
Up in the broad fields of the sky.
He quoted Milton’s words to himself lovingly, at this time and often.
Out of the Silent Planet p. 34
Again, the horror depends on us first feeling entitled to the universe. The proper lesson is not “space is deadly” but “humans are hot-house flowers”. Much the same could be said of the notion that a cosmos without aliens or angels – without, that is, creatures that are just like humans with a few superficial details changed – would be “boring”. Of course the human mind is adapted to deal with other human minds, which is where gods and demons come from (and why gratitude is one of the things I feel about reality even though there is nobody to thank).
The layered conception has one more virtue, from Lewis’s point of view: it is fundamentally hierarchical. Everything has a place ordered from highest to lowest. There is no equality. I’m afraid that really was the kind of world he wanted to live in, and it is the remaining major theme of The Silver Chair.

Metal Maidenlike

Aslan, as we saw, becomes an “Old Testament” God in this book, where “Old Testament” means “pre-Christian Judaism as seen by a Christian”. Compare this
“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.”
with this:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
At least we’re getting clear instructions for a change. So what are these Signs?
“These are the signs by which I will guide you in your quest. First; as soon as the Boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend. He must greet that friend at once; if he does, you will both have good help. Second: you must journey out of Narnia to the north till you come to the ruined city of the ancient giants. Third: you shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you. Fourth: you will know the lost prince (if you find him) by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan.”
The “old and dear friend” is Caspian, whom Eustace doesn’t recognise because he’s so old.
At that moment Aslan and the signs rushed back into her mind. She had forgotten all about them for the last half-hour.
“Scrubb!” she whispered, grabbing his arm. “Scrubb, quick! Do you see anyone you know?... Don’t you see some old friend here? Because you’ve got to go and speak to him at once.”
“What are you talking about?” said Scrubb.
“It’s Aslan – the Lion – says you’ve got to,” said Jill despairingly. “I’ve seen him.”
“Oh, you have, have you? What did he say?”
“He said the very first person you saw in Narnia would be an old friend, and you’d got to speak to him at once.”
“Well, there’s nobody here I’ve ever seen in my life before; and anyway, I don’t know whether this is Narnia.”
“Thought you said you’d been here before,” said Jill.
“Well, you thought wrong then.”

“Then the King was an old friend of yours!” said Jill. A horrid thought had struck her.
“I should jolly well think he was,” said Scrubb miserably. “About as good a friend as a chap could have. And last time he was only a few years older than me...”
“Oh, shut up,” said Jill impatiently. “It’s far worse than you think. We’ve muffed the first Sign.” Of course Scrubb did not understand this. Then Jill told him about her conversation with Aslan and the four signs and the task of finding the lost prince which had been laid upon them.
“So you see,” she wound up, “you did see an old friend, just as Aslan said, and you ought to have gone and spoken to him at once. And now you haven’t, and everything is going wrong from the very beginning.”
Sorry, what did Aslan say again? “Eustace must go and greet the King at once”? Or was it “he will meet an old and dear friend, except he will have no way of recognising him so on second thoughts that’s not too helpful, tell you what, get him to go and talk to the King”? How is it Jill’s fault that she misses this cue?
Jill and Eustace can perhaps be called out for missing the City Ruinous when they’re walking right through it – though at a stretch, given the conditions. Then this happens:
Suddenly [Jill] skidded, slid about five feet, and found herself to her horror sliding down into a dark, narrow chasm which seemed that moment to have appeared in front of her. Half a second later she had reached the bottom. She appeared to be in a kind of trench or groove, only about three feet wide. And though she was shaken by the fall, almost the first thing she noticed was the relief of being out of the wind; for the walls of the trench rose high above her. The next thing she noticed was, naturally, the anxious faces of Scrubb and Puddleglum looking down at her from the edge...
Jill stood up and explained that she was all right, but they’d have to help her out.
“What is it you’ve fallen into?” asked Scrubb.
“It’s a kind of trench, or it might be a kind of sunken lane or something,” said Jill...
“What happens farther on?”...
It proved, however, a disappointing exploration. They went round the right-hand turn and straight on for a few paces. Here there was a choice of ways: straight on again, or sharp to the right. “That’s no good,” said Scrubb, glancing down the right-hand turn, “that would be taking us back – south.” He went straight on, but once more, in a few steps, they found a second turn to the right. But this time there was no choice of ways, for the trench they had been following here came to a dead end.
When they see the City from the Harfang window the following afternoon,
To crown all, in large, dark lettering across the centre of the pavement, ran the words under me.
The three travellers looked at each other in dismay, and, after a short whistle, Scrubb said what they were all thinking, “The second and third signs muffed.” And at that moment Jill’s dream rushed back into her mind.
“It’s my fault,” she said in despairing tones. “I – I’d given up repeating the signs every night. If I’d been thinking about them I could have seen it was the city, even in all that snow.”... What I don’t quite understand... is how we didn’t see the lettering? Or could it have come there since last night. Could he – Aslan – have put it there in the night? I had such a queer dream.” And she told them all about it.
“Why, you chump!” said Scrubb. “We did see it. We got into the lettering. Don’t you see? We got into the letter e in me. That was your sunk lane... So it’s no good, Pole. I know what you were thinking because I was thinking the same. You were thinking how nice it would have been if Aslan hadn’t put the instructions on the stones of the ruined city till after we’d passed it. And then it would have been his fault, not ours. So likely, isn’t it? No. We must just own up. We’ve only four signs to go by, and we’ve muffed the first three.”
Except... how were they supposed to read the words under me while walking about in them? How were they supposed to realize that the trenches were letters at all? How, except by climbing to a handy vantage point overlooking the City, such as, oh, I don’t know, Harfang, and looking down?
“We had been told to look for a message on the stones of the City Ruinous,” said Scrubb. “And we saw the words under me.”
The Knight laughed even more heartily than before. “You were the more deceived,” he said. “Those words meant nothing to your purpose. Had you but asked my Lady, she could have given you better counsel. For those words are all that is left of a longer script, which in ancient times, as she well remembers, expressed this verse:
Though under Earth and throneless now I be,
Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me.
From which it is plain that some great king of the ancient giants, who lies buried there, caused this boast to be cut in the stone over his sepulchre; though the breaking up of some stones, and the carrying away of others for new buildings, and the filling up of the cuts with rubble, has left only two words that can still be read. Is it not the merriest jest in the world that you should have thought they were written to you?”
This was like cold water down the back to Scrubb and Jill; for it seemed to them very likely that the words had nothing to do with their quest at all, and that they had been taken in by a mere accident.
“Don’t you mind him,” said Puddleglum. ”There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant King caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.”
Which being the case there can be only one conclusion: Aslan meant Jill and Eustace to miss the first three Signs. Somewhat unfair, then, to be so stern about it.
As usual Lewis puts in a moment where a character suffers horrible pain for their own good. I don’t object to Puddleglum’s act of courage, and I can follow his reasoning – God is good and all-powerful, God allows pain, therefore pain must be necessary for something. But knowing his predilections, the bit about pain dispelling enchantments is just a little bit skeevy.
But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn’t hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and cold-blooded like a duck’s. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.
First, the sweet heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone’s brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.
Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice... called out, “What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I’ll turn the blood to fire inside your veins.”
Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum’s head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.
Insufficient pain is a problem in The Silver Chair. Here is Lewis’s theory of school bullying:
These people had the idea that boys and girls should be allowed to do what they liked. And unfortunately what ten or fifteen of the biggest boys and girls liked best was bullying the others. All sorts of things, horrid things, went on which at an ordinary school would have been found out and stopped in half a term; but at this school they weren’t. Or even if they were, the people who did them were not expelled or punished. The Head said they were interesting psychological cases and sent for them and talked to them for hours. And if you knew the right sort of things to say to the Head, the main result was that you became rather a favourite than otherwise.
And here is how the problem is solved at the end, in what must be the single most disgusting scene in the Narniad:
“Sir,” said Caspian, “I’ve always wanted to have just one glimpse of their world. Is that wrong?”
“You cannot want wrong things any more, now that you have died, my son,” said Aslan. “And you shall see their world – for five minutes of their time. It will take no longer for you to set things right there.” Then Aslan explained to Caspian what Jill and Eustace were going back to and all about Experiment House: he seemed to know it quite as well as they did.
“Daughter,” said Aslan to Jill, “pluck a switch off that bush.” She did; and as soon as it was in her hand it turned into a fine new riding crop.
“Now, Sons of Adam, draw your swords,” said Aslan. “But use only the flat, for it is cowards and children, not warriors, against whom I send you.”
“Are you coming with us, Aslan?” said Jill.
“They shall see only my back,” said Aslan.
He led them rapidly through the wood, and before they had gone many paces, the wall of Experiment House appeared before them. Then Aslan roared so that the sun shook in the sky and thirty feet of the wall fell down before them. They looked through the gap, down into the school shrubbery and on to the roof of the gym, all under the same dull autumn sky which they had seen before their adventures began. Aslan turned to Jill and Eustace and breathed upon them and touched their foreheads with his tongue. Then he lay down amid the gap he had made in the wall and turned his golden back to England, and his lordly face towards his own lands. At the same moment Jill saw figures whom she knew only too well running up through the laurels towards them. Most of the gang were there – Adela Pennyfather and Cholmondely Major, Edith Winterblott, “Spotty” Sorner, big Bannister, and the two loathsome Garrett twins. But suddenly they stopped. Their faces changed, and all the meanness, conceit, cruelty, and sneakishness almost disappeared in one single expression of terror. For they saw the wall fallen down, and a lion as large as a young elephant lying in the gap, and three figures in glittering clothes with weapons in their hands rushing down upon them. For, with the strength of Aslan in them, Jill plied her crop on the girls and Caspian and Eustace plied the flats of their swords on the boys so well that in two minutes all the bullies were running like mad, crying out, “Murder! Fascists! Lions! It isn’t fair.”
I was bullied at school, as was Lewis. And I did, initially, buy the idea that it was because the bullies weren’t being punished enough. Back then, this scene felt right to me. But I can’t have been more than halfway through high school when I realized that, of the schools I’d been to, the one with the strictest discipline also had, far and away, the worst bullying problem.
After that, the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.
This is another idea ultimately derived from Digory’s Aunt Gertrude in the Lefay Fragment, that early draft of what was to become The Magician’s Nephew:
His Aunt, whose name was Gertrude, was not at all a nice person. Years ago she had been a schoolmistress and bullied the girls. Then she became a headmistress and bullied the mistresses. Then she became an inspector and bullied headmistresses. Then she went into Parliament and became a Minister of something and bullied everybody.
Walter Hooper, Past Watchful Dragons p. 48
Schools are never good in the Narniad. Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe became a bully following “his first term at that horrid school”; Aslan and Bacchus destroy two schools, as institutions of Telmarine oppression, in Prince Caspian; Eustace’s weakness of character was hinted to be due to his school’s lack of corporal punishment in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Officialdom, as distinct from royalty, also comes in for a kicking. Here Parliament is the natural home of bullies (in the Lefay Fragment) and useless people (in The Silver Chair). I fear this has nothing to do with the fact that Parliament is an authority, and everything to do with the fact that it’s selected by the people. A proper ruler, in Lewis’s book, is a king like Rilian emerging from Underland.
No one doubted for a moment who he was. There were plenty of Beasts and Dryads and Dwarfs and Fauns who remembered him from the days before his enchanting. There were some old ones who could just remember how his father, King Caspian, had looked when he was a young man, and saw the likeness. But I think they would have known him anyway. Pale though he was from long imprisonment in the Deep Lands, dressed in black, dusty, dishevelled, and weary, there was something in his face and air which no one could mistake. That look is in the face of all true kings of Narnia, who rule by the will of Aslan and sit at Cair Paravel on the throne of Peter the High King. Instantly every head was bared and every knee was bent; a moment later such cheering and shouting, such jumps and reels of joy, such hand-shakings and kissings and embracings of everybody by everybody else broke out that the tears came into Jill’s eyes.
Evidently he didn’t have that look about him when the travellers first met him in the Witch’s castle. Now read the following exchange, and meditate on the fact that the Head of Experiment House “was, by the way, a woman”.
“In ruling that land, [said the Knight, not yet revealed to be Rilian,] I shall do all by the counsel of my Lady, who will then be my Queen too. Her word shall be my law, even as my word will be law to the people we have conquered.”
“Where I come from,” said Jill, who was disliking him more every minute, “they don’t think much of men who are bossed about by their wives.”
“Shalt think otherwise when thou hast a man of thine own, I warrant you,” said the Knight, apparently thinking this very funny.
The Seven Planets cosmology was devised millennia before anyone thought to worry about gender balance. Five of the seven are male, including the four we’ve looked at in the previous Narnia posts. Here for the first time Lewis is writing a Narnia story under the auspices of a goddess. Lewis has put Lucy and Aravis in the point-of-view seat before, but he’s never let a girl sit there for a whole book, and up until now the first character named and the first to speak have always been boys. In The Silver Chair all those honours go to Jill. So you might be forgiven for expecting a benevolent female leader figure to show up at some point. But no: the Head of Experiment House, the Queen of Harfang, and the Green Witch are all you get, and that list is ordered by evil as well as by competence. The good leaders are Aslan, Caspian, Trumpkin, Puddleglum, and Rilian – male, male, male, male, male.
That of course is why Puddleglum couldn’t have been a Naiad. Naiads are female. You can’t have a female mentor character, especially not guiding a boy. That would invert the natural hierarchy of the universe. Many people give Lewis a free pass for his sexism on the grounds that it was normal for his time:
He’s also charged with misogyny. I don’t think this is quite fair – he was born in 1898, didn’t get married for fifty years, and I’d say he had far less than the average level of casual sexism for his time. If he really hated women, he wouldn’t have made so many of them into main characters in his books.
Mark Rosenfelder, What was Susan’s sin?
I think this argument does legitimately apply to the racism and colonialism that we see in the Narniad now. Writing in his own voice, Lewis condemned both (particularly in The Four Loves). Not so the sexism. He became less dogmatic about the inferiority of the feminine in his later years, but he never disowned his earlier stance. The Silver Chair is evidence that his views had not really changed even as late as 1953.
And that might, just possibly, help explain why he had so much trouble writing the Narnia book dedicated to Venus – since Venus is an altogether more positive and authoritative deity than Luna. He’d started on it soon after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was sent to the publisher; four books later he finally had something he was happy with. That something was The Magician’s Nephew.

18 comments:

  1. Hahaha, so you spent all this time attempting to discredit timeless classics that have brought joy to countless children and adults, on a blog that apparently no one reads which i happened to stumble upon. You're far too comical to warrant addressing your critique; suffice it to say, a happy life methinks you do not have.

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    1. You know, C. S. Lewis belonged to -- indeed helped found -- a Socratic Club at Oxford, where they subjected one another's ideas to rigorous debate. He was also a literary critic himself, and as such wrote and read an awful lot of searching criticism on various works. I think he could have handled what I'm doing here.
      But you? A sneer without substance? I know what "you're far too comical to warrant addressing your critique" means. It means you have no answer to my challenges. I think Lewis would have been insulted to be supported by such as you.
      By the way, to clarify, I have a two-part policy for trolls on this blog. People who come here to troll me, will be pointed and laughed at. People who come here to troll anybody else, will be deleted.

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    2. No, it means that, though I do find what you're doing here comical, I literally don't have time to take on your tome of a criticism point by point. Though i do appreciate the response :)

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    3. Yet somehow you have time to troll.

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  2. And do delete my second comment, as you were in fact courteous enough to publish my sneer...

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    1. No, I don't think I'll be doing that. I don't feel any obligation whatever to save trolls from embarrassment.

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    2. Oh I'm not embarrassed a bit, publish away! You really should re-read Critique of Pure Reason btw...i think keeping this blog up would be a bit embarrassing, but that's just me. And i've always got time to mock what deserves mocking; time to type up the amount of nonsense i read above? I wish.

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  3. Oh, and you meant to say *whatsoever in your latest comment. But seriously, you racked up some comments for this post eh? A new record!

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    1. That is comment #8, so this is comment #9. The post below this one has, as of now, 12 comments. "Whatever" is widely used as a synonym for "whatsoever" by, among others, C. S. Lewis.
      I'm not clear what your goal is in continuing to post here. If it is to make me feel that I have no life, in contrast to you, it is a magnificent failure.

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  4. Man your comment section is hopping, sure you want me to quit posting? :p

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  5. Dan, never far: you are doing significant work ;)

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    1. *fear
      Seriously, don't mind this troll. Clearly you are reaching a wide audience with your incredibly profound critique of the Narnia books. Keep at it, worldchanger!

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  6. Hi Daniel,
    I think you may have misread the bit about the clouds being as big as mountains: Lewis says they "are themselves as big as most mountains," talking not about how big they look from the ground, but their actual physical volume. Mountains on the horizon look pretty small (we saw Mount Cook as we drove to and from Christchurch, along the coastal road, so we know!)
    On the other hand, clouds that size in our world tend to start lower down than Lewis' description implies. He may not have had a very good grasp of meteorology, or maybe he decided that Narnia could have very large clouds at very high altitudes if he wanted it to be so, since he was making the place up.
    I was amused by your troll, by the way. I wonder if he/she realises how funny he/she is. (I suspect 'he', though I couldn't say why...)

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    1. The phrasing is "not little wreaths of mist but the enormous white, puffy clouds which are themselves as big as most mountains". To me, the wording suggests that Lewis is trying to remind us of something we're already familiar with -- "oh, right, *that* kind of cloud, the big kind." In which case they would have to look big from the ground for us to recognise them as such.

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    2. i wonder if you realize that you misspelled realize? Not the brightest of bulbs, eh Anna?

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    3. I personally use the Z spelling for the "-ize" suffix because, in this case, the American spelling better reflects the words' history (except in "recognise" and in those words where the root is in fact "-lyse"); but to use the (20th-century) British "-ise" is not an error as such. Not compared to failing to capitalize "I".

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    4. Your puny linguistical justifications amuse me. You amuse me. ;)

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    5. The contrast between your evident burning need to feel superior to someone, and your pathetic choice of means for doing so, entertained me at first. It is now ceasing to do so. If you can't come up with a new way to embarrass yourself I shall start deleting your comments.

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