March’s books for the #Narniathon readalong of C.S. Lewis‘s Narnia stories is “The Silver Chair”, the fourth book in the series; you can read my thoughts on the first three here, here and here! Like those volumes, I felt I remembered “Silver…” reasonably well and was keen to see how I’d find it. Well, I loved it as much as my revisits to the first three books, although some elements stood out to me more this time round!

As the book opens, we find ourselves in a boarding school of the 1950s; this is no Blyton-style happy Malory Towers, though, as “Experiment House” is a progressive outfit where the older, bullying children appear to be in charge. Eustace Scubb (from “Voyage…”) attends the place and encounters a fellow student, Jill Pole, crying behind the gym as the bullies have been at her. Eustace has obviously changed since his adventures in Narnia, and as he comforts Jill they hear the nasties approaching. As they run off to escape, a portal suddenly transports them to Narnia. Having escaped their horrible surroundings in our world, will they find Narnia any better?

Well, yes and no. An encounter with Aslan does not go as planned, the children get separated and when they do meet up again they are off on a quest to rescue a lost prince, Rilian son of Caspian, in company with a very interesting character! This is Puddleglum, a Marsh-wiggle, who seems rather like a cross between a human and a frog, and he’s a wonderfully lugubrious addition to the story. The three protagonists have to journey north, through Ettinsmoor to Harfang and the ruined city of the giants, with only a series of four signs given to Jill by Aslan for guidance. However, there will by many perils on the way, not least encounters with a beautiful woman and a strange knight, and some rather alarming giants. And our three travellers will have to face their fears and journey deep into the underworld to bring their quest to fruition…

And out of that cave they passed into another, and then into another and another, and so on till Jill lost count, but always they were going downhill and each cave was lower than the last, till the very thought of the weight and depth of the earth above you was suffocating.

Interestingly, my memories of the book were mainly centred around the underground section of the story, and this may be because I’m a bit claustrophobic. However, the sections leading up to this soon came back to me as I was reading, and I was yet again seduced by Lewis’s storytelling skills – this is exactly the sort of book I loved to read as a child. His setting and landscapes are so wonderfully conjured (and there’s a lovely map at the start from Pauline Baynes). The different types the travellers encounter, from giants to the Earthmen who live down in the darkness, are all vividly painted and Lewis’s imagination was just stupendous!

Of course, this time round I could pick up more of the mythology involved, particularly with adventures like crossing an underground sea in a boat which was most evocative. The giants and their behaviour brought back fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and of course a prince being held captive by a sorceress is not a new idea! All of these elements were wonderfully mixed into Lewis’s story, though, and it was a treat to read.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I did find some elements more noticeable reading this book as an adult. The religious element is pretty obvious, with Aslan setting the children a task which goes wrong from the start in effect because the children were displaying negative elements (Jill was ‘showing off’). So the quest was a form of redemption it seems, and incorporated what as an atheist I see is an unnecessary complication of religion. Why create an imperfect race and leave them to make a mess of things, rather than create a nice world with nice people in it? Yes, there needs to be a quest to keep us interested in the story (and I *was* interested); but this is the first of the books where the Christian subtext seemed to me slightly too overt.

However, despite that, I did love my revisit to this Narnian tale. Jill and Eustace are a good pair of questers, Puddleglum is a perfect delight, with his constant looking on the negative side of things, and the writing is as good as ever. I’ve lost myself in each of these books, feeling as if I was living the story alongside the characters; part of this is, I expect, the fact that I’ve had a strong connection with them since childhood. But it’s also a tribute to C.S. Lewis’s ability to spin an absorbing and transporting story which works for me as an adult as well as for me as a child!

So once again I had a wonderful experience revisiting Narnia and its lovely cast of characters; the quest is engrossing, the setting unforgettable and the ending wonderfully satisfying. I must thank Chris for setting up the Narniathon as I’m sure I never would have revisited these books at the moment without that prompt, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. However, next month’s book is going to be extra intruguing (and is actually trailed in “Silver…” even though it hadn’t been published yet), as I remember little or nothing about it – watch this space to see how I get on…!