The 1970 version and a more recent one (right)
The Silver Chair is my favorite Narnia book. The protagonists travel across and into many worlds — the mountains of Aslan’s country, the swamp of the marsh-wiggles, the bleak moors and the bleaker ruins of the giants; then the cavernous underworld and the subterranean city of the green witch, followed by the molten world of Bism. In this respect it’s like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But unlike that book, the kids, Pevensie cousin Eustace and his friend Jill Pole, have a more clear-cut quest, even though Jill, the most tested and most hard-ridden of the series’ child protagonists, manages to louse that up, for perfectly valid, human reasons. The dangers, she faces, too, are more immediate and life-threatening: a city of giants that wants to bake them into pie, a long fall into a dark cave, the threat of brainwashing, attack by a lunatic, earthquakes. It’s Lewis’s penultimate Narnian adventure. The peril has an immediacy in this book that was lacking in all the others put together. Whimsy is rare. A new seriousness makes itself known.
In fact, there are so many different elements to the book illustrators have a hard time choosing which one to put on the cover. I’ve seen a chair, a serpent, a chair and a serpent, Rilian and the serpent fighting, Rilian as the Black Knight, with or without the green witch; an owl and a castle, a scene from the underworld, Jill on Glimfeather’s back, the city of Harfang, or, most creatively, Rilian writhing on the chair shown in shadow as Puddleglum and kids cower in the doorway. This last is the most clever, considering the witch’s Platonic speech about shadows that she gives when Rilian is freed.
But to my mind the most iconic image is of the Silver Chair itself, being smashed, as in the cover illustration of the book to the left above. It was done by Roger Hane, who did all the other covers in the Collier boxed set of the books. The second cover shows Rilian taking aim at the chair, but not smashing it. It’s a far less dynamic image. He also looks about 14, far younger than he is in the book.
The book also has that most fun, and problematic of archetypes: woman as serpent / dragon. An adult reading the book would egg on right away that the witch keeps the prince as her lover by spell and guile, like a combination of Circe and Snow Queen. She’s the most poisonous femme fatale of the series and a perfect bookend for the White Witch.
The seducing serpent, the Lilith, Lamia, Laidly Worme, goes back a long way as an archetype. Even Rudyard Kipling drew on it for his children’s tale of Rikki Tikki Tavi wherein Nagaina is far worse and maleficent a cobra than Nag, her mate.
The kids’ journey from Narnia back to the real world is epic also. The two visit first Aslan’s country where Caspian is restored to youth, then the three of them set upon the bullies at Eustace’s and Jill’s school and thump them soundly, an incident which embarasses the administration enough to make changes for the better.
There were some parts of the book I didn’t like as much as the others. Puddleglum, for example. As a kid I always wanted to tell him to STFU. As an adult, however, I appreciate his conclusion. (And no actor could ever make a better Puddleglum than Tom Baker.) His plainspokeness contrasts well with the flowery High Medieval speech of the enchanted Rilian and the green witch, which becomes more and more obnoxious as the story goes on, providing a foil for the earlier heroic declarations of Reepicheep, which are meant to be admirable. Ah! That came to me right now as I was typing this, and just proves what a wonderful writer Lewis really was.
The other thing that annoys me even now is the kid’s concern about freeing Rilian and trying to trust he won’t murder in his madness. It seems belabored. I mean, they have Puddleglum to defend them and there are swords in the room, which they grab later to hack apart the serpent.
Nevertheless, Chair is still my Narnia apex.
How might it have been named in some other dimension?
Variations on The Silver Chair
|The Silver Staff
The Slivered Chair
Silver Key and Golden Key
The Copper Splice
The Silver Sextant
A Seed of Silver
A Chair with Silver Cushions
The Silver Flag
The Silver Twins
The Silver Chalice