The Cranky Old Reader

I'm a Goodreads refugee, looking for a new home. Old books for children, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and humor are my main areas of interest. I've little interest in books that were written after 1975 or so, and prefer books that are older still. There are, however, a few still-living authors that I respect.

The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 6)

The Silver Chair - C.S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

Once again C.S. Lewis went beyond the borders of Narnia for another "Narnian" book - and once again, he came up with a new character with enormous humor and appeal for children.


In this case, the character is Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle. He guides Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb as they "follow the signs" on a quest given them by Aslan. They must rescue the lost Prince Rilian, son of Prince Caspian.


There are several points at which characters are irritatingly oblivious to the obvious, throughout the book. I'll give no spoilers, but they're rather obvious. And Aslan comes off as something of a nagging wanker; what's with the mysterious "signs"? Jerking people around with hints and confusing portents may represent some sort of divine test of their moral fiber, but in my book it's just irritating. As Lewis himself seems to realize, since Aslan says at the end "I shall not always be scolding."


It's towards the very end of the book that we get a flash of that imagination that made The Voyage of the Dawn Treader such a refreshing change in the Narnia series. The deep land of Bism sounds quite interesting, and I wish Lewis had set a Narnia story there.


All in all, The Silver Chair is quite an exciting and well-told story. It's clear that Lewis' considerable talents as a writer continued to develop over time. The later Narnia books are better than the earlier ones, although The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe does have a special quality that makes it particularly memorable.


(As always, I must note that recent editions have been burdened with an incorrect ordering by the publisher. The books should be read in the order in which they were written and published, NOT the order indicated by the numbering of modern editions. The publisher's recommended order spoils many of the nicest surprises, and I regard it as pure idiocy.)


One small point, however: there are a number of rather dated Briticisms which have changed greatly in meaning since the original publication of The Silver Chair, at least in the United States. I had a hard time keeping a straight face while reading some of them aloud.


For example, within seven pages I found these three gems:


"Gay," said Puddleglum with a deep sigh. "That's what we've got to be. Gay." ...


"All right. Gay's the word," said Scrubb. "Now, if we could only get someone to open this door. While we're fooling about and being gay, we've got to find out all we can about this castle."




She made love to everyone - the grooms, the porters, the housemaids, the ladies-in-waiting, and the elderly giant lords whose hunting days were long past them. She submitted to being kissed and pawed about...




...the children soon took no more notice of it than you would of hooters outside the window...


It is, of course, dreadfully unfair of me to take these quotes out of context. They had quite a different meaning back when C.S. Lewis wrote them, and in context, they're quite innocent. Still, they were a bit unsettling to come across when I read them aloud. (as I recall, I changed "made love to" to "made friends with" on the fly).There are similar examples in some of the other Narnia books, but The Silver Chair is the most extreme case.


I might also mention the BBC television adaptation of this book. It featured Tom Baker (best known as the fourth Doctor Who) in the role of Puddleglum, and he did his usual outstanding job. But some of his best lines were cut, which surprised me - particularly since my rendition of them while reading to my son earned me some very enthusiastic laughs.

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