A Forgotten Tale: Christian Lessons in C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair
C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair initially strikes the reader as one of the least exciting editions in The Chronicles of Narnia. It features none of the original four children that readers fell in love with in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe; and instead, tells the story of their cantankerous cousin Eustace and a new character named Jill. The principle Narnian character, Puddleglum, is neither a lost prince nor a valiant, sword wielding mouse; instead he appears to be an average citizen of Narnia chosen for the quest simply due to his knowledge of the territory. As the story progresses, however, Puddleglum proves to be one of the best examples of faith in the whole series and a model for Christians to follow. Unlike the children, Puddleglum had never seen Aslan in person but he holds onto Aslan’s words better than they do.
The story begins with Jill and Eustace being transported out of our world into Narnia. Aslan gives Jill instructions for their quest in the form of four signs, which he instructs her to take great care to remember “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.” This is reminiscent not only of of St. Paul’s urging the faithful to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess. 5:17), but also to the words of God regarding his commandments, “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” (Deuteronomy 6:7). This might seem excessive at first due to the simplicity of Aslan’s signs but the story reveals the necessity of this repetition.
In the early part of the journey Jill is faithful about repeating the signs. However, Jill and Eustace soon grew weary of their journey and are distracted by a rumor of a city where they could sleep in comfortable beds and eat hot food. Anxious to reach this city, the children hurry on and begin to neglect the signs. Puddleglum reminds them that this is their priority but, due to their preoccupation with the perceived comfort of the city, they ignore him. This causes them to initially miss an important sign from Aslan and nearly leads to their deaths.
After narrowly escaping death several times, the travelers arrive at an underground city and meet a prince who, in an apparent enchantment, asks them to free him from his bounds in the name of Aslan. All three of them remembered that Aslan’s final instruction was to do the first thing that was asked of them in his name. The children, however, hesitate. Freeing this prince, who they believe to be under a spell, appears to be suicidal. Puddleglum, by contrast, has no such uncertainty and says they must untie the prince, despite the fact that they have no assurance that doing so would not result in their deaths, telling the children “Aslan didn’t tell [Jill] what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the signs.” By saying this, Puddleglum shows he has much greater faith than either of his companions. He trusts in Aslan’s word, even when the wisdom of doing so does not seem apparent.
There are important lessons for Christians in this “children’s book.” First, when the children lose sight of Aslan’s commands, the thought of worldly comfort drives it from their minds. It was not an intentional neglect. They focused on the immediate rather than the important and Aslan’s instructions slowly faded from their minds. Although they intended to remember Aslan’s signs, they did not do enough to keep them in the forefront of their minds. Because their minds were consumed with thoughts of worldly comfort they were not attentive to things that should have called their attention to Aslan’s instructions.
Finally, Puddleglum’s trust in Aslan shows Christians how they ought to trust in God. He does not know what will happen if they free the prince but since Aslan commanded it, he knows he must do it. He does not need to calculate the prudence of this action because he knows one infinitely wiser than he ordered it. Christians should remember this when confronted with a Church teaching or scripture passage that does not make sense to them. We are not always commanded to understand, but we are always commanded to obey.