Christian Themes and Imagery in C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair

I recently revisited my childhood and cracked open C.S Lewis’s The Silver Chair, the sixth book in his acclaimed Chronicles of Narnia series. As a child the book was a personal favorite of mine – I always appreciated its straightforward adventure plot (boy and girl set out to rescue an enchanted prince from an evil witch) and the haunting setting of Underland, a sunless kingdom beneath Narnia’s surface. Though written for children, reading The Silver Chair as an adult revealed many concepts I’d missed when I read it years ago. Lewis’s second book in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is more renowned for containing Christian morals and imagery (as well as being more popular in general, especially since it came to the big screen in 2005), however, The Silver Chair is full of Christian ethics and allusions to scripture that we can learn from. 

Garden of Eden and the Fall 

Right from the start as the two protagonists, Jill and Eustace, enter Narnia we’re presented with a scene that closely parallels one of the most famous stories of the Bible: the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Adam and Eve. Our heroes find themselves on top of a mountain towering above the rest of Narnia. On the mountain is a forest of tall, cedar-like trees that lack undergrowth, suggesting the area is well kept, or even planted. Peering over a cliff’s edge, Eustace is understandably frightened by the sheer elevation, while Jill seeks to show her bravery, standing close to the edge and giggling at Eustace’s cowardice. Fearing she is going to fall, Eustace leaps to grab her, but slips and plunges off the edge, hurdling toward Narnia below (he’s unharmed thanks to Aslan’s help).

This scene is a physical representation of Adam and Eve’s prideful behavior in the garden, and subsequent expulsion. Eustace’s literal fall mirrors Adam’s metaphorical fall from grace, and both events are initiated by their female companion’s actions. The children’s time on the mountain takes place at the beginning of the novel, soon after the children enter Narnia and before any trials befall them, paralleling humanity’s innocent state immediately after creation; once Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden into the “real” world, humanity’s adventure begins.

God’s Guidance and Grace, Satan’s Deceit

After Eustace’s fall, Aslan appears to Jill and sets her on her mission (after a mild scolding for causing the whole incident). Before sending her onward, he gives her a list of signs that will help her on her journey to find the lost prince.

“First; as soon as the Boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend. He must greet that friend at once; if he does, you will both have good help. Second; you must journey out of Narnia to the north till you come to the ruined city of the ancient giants. Third; you shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you. Fourth; you will know the lost prince (if you find him) by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan.”

Aslan, The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Aslan’s signs can be interpreted as the Lord’s guidance as we journey on earth, given to us through scripture, Church teaching, or private revelation. If we choose to follow his signs, our path to heaven will certainly be easier; contrarily, as the children soon find out, not following the Lord’s good guidance can lead to hardship.

Despite Aslan’s instructions, the children either ignore his signs, or are misled into disobedience by the novel’s antagonist, the Green Witch, a devil-like figure throughout the novel. On their first encounter with the witch, she tells them of a friendly castle of Giants where they may rest, though their companion Puddleglum warns against it: 

“The Lady laughed: the richest, most musical laugh you can imagine “Well, children,” she said, “you have a wise, solemn old guide with you. I think none the worse of him for keeping his own counsel, but I’ll be free with mine. ………..This road leads to the burgh and castle of Harfang, where dwell the gentle Giants.”

Puddleglum, The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

The children are easily tricked by the enchantress’s charming demeanor and honeyed words, and, being tired and hungry, they fall into her trap. They quickly find that the giants are unfriendly and act exactly how one expects giants to act – by imprisoning the companions and attempting to eat them. This encounter illuminates Satan’s attempts to ensnare us with the alluresof the material world, often doing it while we are most vulnerable. What appears enticing at first leads us down a path of hardship and ruin.

The children’s refusal to follow Aslan’s signs and the ease with which they are tricked eventually reveals the Lord’s ever-loving presence in our lives despite our failures — God’s grace. Although the children fail to follow the first three signs, they still find their way to the prince through unexpected circumstances and recognize the final sign as the prince calls upon the name of Aslan. Aslan’s willingness to see that the children are successful in their goal despite their failings illustrates God’s guiding hand throughout our lives even when we are disobedient to him. God desires that we will come back to him and act in accordance with his will. If we do, He will grant us his grace. Our protagonists are successful with their mission and remain unharmed throughout the novel despite only following the last sign. Additionally, the children’s willingness to continue their journey regardless of their previous failures demonstrates perseverance, a quality that we are called to have as Christians. We are commanded to “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) despite our imperfections, while striving to become more perfect.

Facing Doubt and Uncertainty

The Silver Chair offers some practical advice for Christians, spoken poetically by Puddleglum, who usually serves as the voice of doubt throughout the novel. Puddleglum often assumes the worst in the situations that befall the companions, though his fears never realize. After the companions free the prince from his imprisonment in Underland, the witch casts a spell on them which clouds their minds with doubt and forces them to question their reality. The witch uses her magic to convince them that their memories of Aslan, the sun, and Narnia are nonsense and that those things don’t exist. The companions wrestle with the doubt that what lies before them – the dark, cold, sunless Underland – is the real world, and that to believe in anything else is wishful fantasy. 

The doubt the children face here can be interpreted as general doubts of the validity of Christianity; in Lewis’s time materialism was gaining popularity throughout the western world, and many began to doubt the central role of God and Christianity in society (materialism is still popular today). One claim of materialism is that nothing exists apart from what we can touch, see, taste, hear, or smell i.e. nothing exists outside of the physical world. Like the witch in Underland, materialism necessitates that ideas of God, heaven, and the spiritual realm are not real since they can’t be seen or measured. Lewis’s response to this way of thinking is communicated through, surprisingly, Puddleglum, who says:

“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” 

Puddleglulm, The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Puddleglum’s advice to live like a Narnian even when there isn’t any Narnia can be translated to our lives: “live like a Christian even when you doubt the claims of Christianity”. I’ve often heard that a helpful strategy to overcome doubt is to simply “do what Christians do,” i.e keep a regular prayer life, attend Church, go to Bible study etc. It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as our beliefs are bolstered by our actions. A poor decision a person could make while facing doubts is to step back and abandon normal Christian ritual. In this case the secular way of thinking would be reinforced by habit. This scene serves as an acknowledgment of the doubts we face at some point in our lives, and Puddleglum gives us a helpful remedy we can use to assuage this doubt. 

A Second Look

There are plenty more Christian themes and allusions throughout the novel that I didn’t touch on here, and countless more throughout the Narnia series, so I encourage you to go back, wipe some dust off those children’s stories and give them a second look. You may be surprised at what you learn, and reading them again will reinforce the need to pass on these books to our children. 

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