The Silver Chair

The author in this article asked a lot of leading and reflective questions about Lewis’ 4th book in the Chronicles of Narnia: “The Silver Chair”. Even though I’ve read all the Chronicles many times and fancy myself something of a ‘Narniaphile’, I was still unable to answer some of the authors’ questions about this book - and also some of the insights were interesting and new to me. Maybe it’s been too long since I last enjoyed them too … some of my memories may be fading. It’s also fascinating to me how each of the seven books corresponds to one of the seven medieval planets: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. And even without needing to look it up, the planets associated with most of the books seem pretty obvious now, on reflection … though I’m wavering on a couple of them and will cheat by looking that up here in just a moment.

[…and my guesses were right on! I know I’ve seen that theory before, so perhaps faint memory was shining through … but more likely yet, each of the Chronicles does seem to carry its distinct planetary flavor even I can’t explain my intuition. Some are pretty obvious, though.]

In the meantime … it might be fun to see how others here would answer the authors’ questions. Perhaps I should paste those in this thread. But for now you can just use the link and have a look-see for yourself.

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I assume you’ve read Planet Narnia by Michael Ward? That’s a fascinating book that I’d recommend to any Narnia fan, and it also involves Lewis’s Space Trilogy. I was skeptical of the idea at first, but now it does seem so clear that each book displays the themes of one of the planets.

I like the questions here, and the differences between this book and the others – how in Dawn Treader, the climax of the story happens at Aslan’s country, while Silver Chair starts there.

This part was also interesting: “the first time that the solution to the novel’s problems were actually solved by our main characters, rather than Aslan swooping in to take care of things.”

I sometimes see this one as the book where the heroes do almost everything wrong – because Jill has a hard time with some of the signs (if I remember correctly, following the “under me” directions was pretty much by accident), and Puddleglum pretty much saves the day.

I really want to re-read this series soon. My oldest kid is old enough to have them read aloud, but I think my husband will get to do the honors since I do almost all of the other educating. :wink:

Actually … I don’t think I ever have, though I had heard of it, and saw plenty of references to it just now as I was looking it all up again. That may need to get added to my summer reads here. I am in the middle of reading Lewis’ very last written work: “Discarded Image” which has its own commentary on popular medieval conceptions of cosmos.

Does anybody else around here remember “the nine names of Aslan”? I don’t.

I was intrigued by his question about why the witch was using an unnecessarily complicated plan to conquer the overworld rather than “using the pieces she already had in place.” Other than that obviously none of any plan of hers worked out in the end, I don’t think I have any good answer for the question.

The author speaks of the significance of the many references back to Dawn Treader. I’m not remembering any of those off the top of my head either. I wish I had some children or grandchildren around to start reading these again!

[Oh - and he asks who the real ‘bad guys’ are. If it isn’t the green witch (obviously!) then I would be at loss … the underworldlings who she ruled over were, as I recall, quite glad to be out from under her iron fist. So they probably don’t qualify. The giants on the moors? The bullies back at school in England?]

No, that was one that intrigued me – I’ll have to pay attention next time I read.

I remember as a kid being so freaked out by the giants and their intentions for the kids and Puddleglum… much more so than by the bullies. But I guess it could be either.

Now I know I’ve never read it because I would remember something like this if I had. I haven’t (yet) purchased it, but did (the next best thing?) instead and watched this video interview of Michael Ward - by a “Socrates In The City” series. And was riveted for nearly the entire hour and a half! (You can start 5 to 6 minutes in if you want to skip past the opening welcome - though the talkative host is himself quite entertaining throughout - the interviewee exhibited quite admirable patience, I thought, at being interrupted at nearly every turn; but such patience is rewarded throughout in the great conversational banter they then enjoy.)

I can’t believe this video isn’t much more widely viewed! They reach broad and ranging topics around CSL (including the Elizabeth Anscombe ‘legend’ which I always kind of wondered about). Does this video give a good taste of what his book has on offer?

[And is the subsequent work: “The Narnia Code” another worthy investment in addition to the original book? - have you read it too? The reason I ask is that I wonder if the latter work builds on the former, or includes all of the former while perhaps expanding on it.]

Ooooh… I had never heard of that one! But reading the description on GoodReads, the last part says “Originally a ground-breaking scholarly work called Planet Narnia , this more accessible adaptation will answer all the questions.” And reading reviews it looks like this is basically just a “popular” version of the previous book. So probably no new information, which is too bad… I found Planet Narnia quite accessible on its own, but I’m an English major, so if this helps get it into the hands of more fans then I’m sure it’s a good idea.

But yes, I love the details that Ward throws in, including word origins and mythology – that’s what made the book so fascinating – all the many different ways that Lewis weaves his themes into each story. I’m enjoying the video. :smiley: I probably won’t get a chance to finish it today, but thanks for recommending it!

I love how thorough Ward is – when I first read the description of the book I thought it was just some crazy fan theory, akin to the many different crazy views on Revelation – but he completely convinced me.

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For entertainment I might name “The Magicians Nephew” as my favorite in this series (many others give “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” as their favorite for that). But for theological discussions “The Silver Chair” wins hands down.

I have particularly found the dialog between Aslan and Jill in the beginning when she approaches stream to be one of the best explanations of the “fear of God” and the submission of Christian piety.

“Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
“I am 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.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“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.”

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Thank you for this, Mitchell. I had to get the book out to enjoy the rest of that conversation too that you provided. And then reading on, I was reminded of how the lion had warned Jill that the signs he taught her (just after her desperate drink) would be more difficult to remember aright as she entered the lower world. That answers another one of the challenges that Dr. Ward spoke of: noticing the function of altitude in this story: the lower one gets, the more muddle and confusion they suffer. In the medieval world, the moon serves as the separator between confused airs below it, and perfect (unchanging) heavens above it. Chaos and evil reign more and more in the “sublunary” regions, whereas God’s reign of order is perfectly followed above the moon.

I’m not sure if I can avoid re-reading the entire book forthwith … how much more of this might I gain a new appreciation for? Thanks, Laura and Mitchell!

[And bless me if I didn’t go and leave out one of the main observations I had intended to make spurred on by Mitchell’s comment about theology! I love it when Jill, now in conversation with the Lion, is thinking to herself that the Lion must be mistaking her for someone else - He seems to think that he summoned her, but she knows that she and Eustace were the ones trying to get there. After drawing out her thoughts, the Lion informs her that she and Eustace “would not have been calling to me unless I had been calling to you.” …both/and … both/and … never the simplistic either/or. Beautiful stuff]

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A theme also appearing in “Out of the Silent Planet” in the Space Trilogy.

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After a quick “re-enjoyment” of the Silver Chair I now see at least one reference to the “nine names of Aslan” though it is only as a teaser and without actually listing any of them. At the end of the story as Pole and Eustace are privileged to ride the centaurs back toward the harbor, we get this description of their conversation:

The Centaurs were very polite in a grave, gracious, grown-up kind of way, and as they cantered through the Narnian woods, they spoke … of herbs and roots, the influences of the planets, the nine names of Aslan with their meanings, and things of that sort.

Are those “nine names” actually given in any of the other books? I suspect this was just a teaser reference, but knowing Lewis (as now further revealed by Ward, he probably did actually have such names squirreled away.)

[Also noticed the theme of “lunacy” more now, reading this with the planets in mind. That label even gets explicit mention at the end when referring to the headmaster at the English school. And on a related note, has it struck anybody else how much cultural movement we’ve experienced within our own lifetimes on issues of racism and gender? Stuff that didn’t even spark a notice in me when I read these decades ago, now bothers me as being inexcusably sexist now - the way Lewis makes it a point to highlight that the headmaster was a woman; as well as other sorts of condescension that now pokes through in such stark contrast to where we are today. Of course none of that is any surprise - we know Lewis and his time. But it saddens me that these sorts of taints may keep some sensitive young parents today from wanting their kids to be exposed to the more important and enduring ideas. And what a loss that would be for them.]

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Yes, I wonder how you and others address that sort of thing. We sometimes run into this while reading books to our kids in the evening. Sometimes, I skip over things that are overtly unkind (this happens even in wars), disrespectful, or un Christlike–and that slips into misogyny and racism as being strong “no no’s.” I hesitate to drop some authors entirely–but I do often wait on them till my kids are older, so that they can understand things better. G K Chesterton’s “Father Brown” series is another example that struck me again. I enjoy the mysteries and some spiritual aspects, but he had some xenophobic, racist attitudes as significant blind spots. It’s ironic that I can see it even more easily as some of his ire is directed to Protestants, and coming from a Protestant background, I feel the jabs more keenly–which in turn alerts me to the duty of looking out for prejudice in other directions. I still get a lot out of Chesterton. It’s interesting that his debating style was reportedly usually good humored, and he wound up being friends with his opponents, as I recall reading. I wonder how many of my own current attitudes will be criticized by my grandchildren.

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Yes, that is unfortunate. I remember it most in The Last Battle, which for a while was my favorite of the series, but may not be so once I read it again. That will be interesting to consider how to address that when reading it to kids…

I wouldn’t be surprised – that would be a good thing to keep a lookout for during a re-read of the entire series. I wonder what the significance of the number 9 would be…

I remember after reading Ward for the first time, how I began to understand why some people accused Lewis of mixing Christianity with pagan myth, and why that might have bothered them. I always assumed that had to do with the presence of witches and fauns and things of that sort, but I realize it goes a lot deeper. Not that it bothers me now, but it was interesting to get an idea for how deep his knowledge of myths was.

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I haven’t much … yet. I.e. My kids are young adults now, so it was probably ~20 years ago when I read these to them - and I don’t remember feeling any need to sanitize them then - maybe I did and have forgotten. But in any case, the approach you mention of just waiting till kids are older so that you can discuss such things with them is probably wise. My first impulse might be to sanitize, but on further reflection - I would hate to have children get excited about a story … later talk it up with friends; but then discover for themselves any ugly bits their parent left out. That might leave a much more rotten taste in their mouth (not to mention then, the wondering of what else mom or dad saw fit to ‘protect’ them from…) than if we just let the author show forth, gems, warts, and all; and use the warts as a good platform for discussion. That strikes me as the more healthy approach to take - even with (especially with) young kids.

We can also charitably think what sort of person Lewis might be like if he were among us today. While I can’t imagine him having much patience with the present cultural obsessions of either left or right, I nonetheless think he would not be entirely unsympathetic with modern movements either - and certainly not oblivious to them.

Our family really loved the TV show representation of that series! I haven’t read all those books, so I’m suspecting that the xenophobic bits you are remembering must have been sanitized out of that for its recent TV rendering. In any case, the show struck me as a bit anachronistically modern in its cultural sensibilities - because the character Father Brown seemed suspiciously progressive to me. In any case, I love how his approach to criminals was to reach out and even cultivate relationships with them. Such a breath of fresh air compared to typical crime dramas.

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yeah … and did you notice the little “influences of the planets” phrase thrown in there?! Now that we’ve got this planet idea in our heads, it seems to be poking out everywhere … as if Lewis wasn’t trying all that hard to hide anything. I wonder if he spent most of his years since writing these with an eager ear out to see if anybody would “find his Easter egg”?

I think Lewis can serve as such a valuable bridge precisely because of his willingness to see the world in ways that would resonate with conservatives (his unapologetic Christo-centric views) and yet also resonate in so many ways with the left (his refusal to see any enmity between science (real science) and faith - and to be unafraid of ‘pagan’ influences, etc.). And yet with our situation now where left and right seem hell-bent on running farther apart from each other, the widening chasm spanned by this ‘Lewisian bridge’ may be stretching it beyond the bounds of its elasticity. If people on the left find the sexism too intolerable and won’t read Lewis as a result … the people on the right, I suspect were finding him intolerable for entirely different reasons. And then he is lost to both. Which I maintain is a tragedy - and an unfortunate loss for the partisans of both sides.

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I have not yet purchased “Planet Narnia”, @Laura, and so may be treading on territory that Ward has likely well-traversed there. But I feel like I’m on a “pre-discovery” adventure of my own with my ‘fortuitous’ reading of Lewis’ “Discarded Image” which was his last completed work, published posthumously in 1964. So it should be (was, I’m sure) fertile ground for Ward’s Thesis. Indeed, as hard a slog as it is for me to read, I’m still seeing definite themes emerging. Look over the extended quote below …don’t let obscure (to me) architectural details slow you down … just look for the theme - and especially the last paragraph.

The planets look down from the capitals in the Doge’s palace, each surrounded by his ‘children’, by the mortals who exhibit his influence. At Florence they meet us again, strangely disguised by the influence of Saracenic iconography, in Santa Maria del Fiore; and again in Santa Maria Novella, paired off, after the manner of the Convivio, with the Seven Liberal Arts. The Salone (Palazzo della Ragione) at Padua is, in a different art, a close parallel to Spenser’s Mutability cantos. We have the planets, their children, the Zodiacal signs, the Apostles, and the labours of men all arranged under their appropriate months. And just as the planets are not merely present in the Testament of Cresseid but woven into the plot, so in the buildings the cosmological material is sometimes woven into what we may call the plot of a building. One might at first suppose that the constellations depicted on the cupola above the altar in the old sacristy of San Lorenzo at Florence were mere decoration; but they are in the right positions for 9 July 1422 when the altar was consecrated. In the Farnesina Palace they are arranged to suit the birth-day of Chigi for whom the work was done. And the Salone at Padua is apparently designed so that at each sunrise the beams will fall on the Sign in which Sol would then ride.
The lost art of Pageant loved to re-state similar themes. And it has lately been shown that many Renaissance pictures which were once thought purely fanciful are loaded, and almost overloaded, with philosophy.

Lewis, C. S… The Discarded Image (pp. 149-150). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Lewis is here admiring among medieval works, what he himself apparently did with his own published Narnian Chronicles - loaded his apparently ‘fanciful’ stories with philosophical themes - even (and especially) to the point of following the cosmological model!

Lewis goes on to write in that chapter (Ch. 8), about how the medieval author was not trying to “be original” in the sense that modern authors strive to be. To them, the highest striving of an author was not to produce a story of one’s own (why would one be so desperate to resort to one’s own paltry offerings when reality itself has such grand themes on offer that are so much higher and better!) - no they were in the mindset of rehearsing the great cosmic model of reality already on display.

Lewis at one point states that they aspired to do this in ways that none of their successors ever would for a long time after. I’m wondering if Lewis, penning those words, was not himself one of those so aspiring.

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Thanks for that suggestion. I talked about it with my wife tonight, and we agree with it that it’s wise.
I guess it is a bit case-specific. For example, we both choose to avoid violent films (we don’t watch them on our own, either). We both love the Tolkien books, “Lord of the Rings,” but feel the films glorified violence a bit more (I know, that’s not the case for many here!). However, we told our 12 year old he could watch the Peter Jackson films with us, as long as he read the books first (we feel he’ll get more out of them that way) He’s just finished “Fellowship of the Ring,” and watched the movie with my wife today. They reviewed the violent portions verbally, but my wife skipped some of them. Now, my wife actually does better with violence and movies than I do (I can’t even sit through Anne of Green Gables at a stretch any more; I took care of our 2 younger children this afternoon to free them up for the showing). Maybe we will wind up sitting through the entire movie with each of our kids, as time goes on. However, I agree that we don’t want to suppress something without a good explanation. I’m still not entirely sure where to go with this–but that’s a very good point.

My wife has watched many of the most recent series of Father Brown (and I’ve seen some). Yes, they are quite a bit more progressive than GK Chesterton was–but he laid some groundwork in his books that I think would have been helpful to his eventual expansion there, too. What is it with Catholic priests and mysteries, by the way? Father Dowling, and another of our favorite detectives, Don Matteo, an Italian priest–all of them are pretty good stories. In Don Matteo, by the way, he’s amazingly empathetic. You usually end up understanding where the culprit comes from emotionaly, even if you don’t agree with him–and through wisdom and love, Don Matteo always gets the bad guy to confess and repent by the end!

Thanks for your insight.

I can’t help but wonder if Lewis would counter by claiming this as an example of what he called “chronological snobbery”… the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realisation that our own age is also ‘a period’, and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

:open_mouth:

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Or maybe not even be aware of their existence … the very cultural air we breath. It takes a foreigner visiting to ask us what that smell is in our air. What smell?

“He who marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”
-William Inge

To which I might now give reply … yes, but one must either be dead or a marooned hermit if they have no notion of where all those spirits are currently congregating, and at least take some critical stock of the situation.

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Fair enough, but I would point out that those current spirit of the age of radical gender egalitarianism certainly fits the description of an cultural assumption “that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend

Back to The Silver Chair, I’ve always loved this quote. It’s from right after Puddleglum heroically resists the witch’s spell & stomps out the fire into which she had thrown the magic potion. It’s perhaps the most stinging rebuke of scientism/philosophical naturalism that I’ve read anywhere:

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

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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