The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

The best children’s books are the ones that adults can relate to the most. Like Charlotte’s Web, which though written for children, explains the sorrow of loss better than any book I know. Or, Flora and Ulysses which brings the trauma of divorce into high focus. But nobody takes on adult issues, and handles them so eloquently, as C. S. Lewis. And, it doesn’t matter how many times I read The Chronicles of Narnia, they speak to me afresh with each reread.

I just finished The Silver Chair this morning. It has all the things my son would love: swords and galleons, dwarfs and witches. But it has what I love, too: a way to look at things which make me sad that enables me to handle them.

Eustace Scrubb and Jill are sent on Aslan’s breath to fulfill a task he has for them. It is namely to find Prince Rilian, who has been bitten by a vicious worm, and bring him home. I won’t even go into the details of the story, the most obvious one being that the silver chair is a horrible enchantment of deception, except to dwell on the part with his father, King Caspian.

When the tasks are completed, and the Prince is finally home, his father’s ship comes into port. We are ready for a glorious reunion, and instead we sense that something is dreadfully wrong. King Caspian is brought forth on a bed, and he barely has time to greet his son before he dies. And I’m thinking, “What? All these tasks so bravely faced and courageously completed, for what?!”

But then C. S. Lewis takes us on Aslan’s breath to a new setting. To Home. And this is what we find:

Then he opened his mouth wide and blew. But this time they had no sense of flying through the air: instead it seemed that they remained still, and the wild breath of Aslan blew away the ship and the dead King and the castle and the snow and the winter sky.  For all these things floated off into the air like wreaths of smoke, and suddenly they were standing in a great brightness of summer sunshine, on smooth turf, among mighty trees, and beside a fair, fresh stream. Then they saw that they were once more on the mountain of Aslan high up above and beyond the end of the world in which Narnia lies. But the strange thing was that the funeral music for King Caspian still went on, though no one could tell where it came from. They were walking beside the stream and the Lion went before them: and he became so beautiful, and the music so despairing, that Jill did not know which of them it was that filled her eyes with tears. 

Then Aslan stopped, and the children looked into the stream. And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass…

Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion’s pad. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all redness you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. At the same moment the doleful music stopped, and the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned to grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he stood before them – a very young man, or a boy.

I know of no better way to describe the hope which I believe is ours. The hope from a Savior who loves us more than we can possibly imagine.

Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

“…an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.” (p. 15-16)
I have been practically raised on the teachings of C. S. Lewis. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the first chapter book I remember my mother reading to me, and it mattered not to her that I was only five years old and could barely grasp the story let alone the underlying truths. I think it mattered to her that she exposed me to the eternal, which C. S. Lewis is so masterful in presenting.
His books lined her shelves; not only the Narnia Chronicles but The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Four Loves. When Arti proposed I join her in reading Surprised by Joy for the Christmas season, I felt immediately compelled to do so. For Christmas stories around this holiday abound, but the best ones are the ones with substance. The ones which tell why Christ is so important.
C. S. Lewis didn’t believe his whole life. He speaks of a terrible longing which he tried to fill with learning. How ironic it is, perhaps, that the very scholars he studied brought him full circle to the faith he embraced.
“You might sum up the gains of this whole period by saying that henceforward the Flesh and the Devil, though they could still tempt, could no longer offer me the supreme bribe. I had learned that it was not in their gift. And the World had never even pretended to have it.” (p.172)
When we acknowledge a hole in our meaning, an unfulfilled Joy however it is that you define it, we generally come to discover that it cannot be easily filled. Love affairs do not completely satisfy our inner longings, any more than vices or philosophy. I think we yearn for what only He can give us.
The turning point of understanding this came for Lewis one night when he turned to a bookstall and “picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald…It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new. For in one sense the new country was exactly like the old. I met there all that had already charmed me in Malory, Spenser, Morris, and Yeats. But in another sense all was changed. I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness.” (p. 173)
Of course upon reading that passage I have since downloaded MacDonald’s famous Phantastes in my nook. I want to see what it was that moved Lewis so thoroughly. And yet, I know what it is. It is the call of the great I Am. He who created us, who longs to meet us.
“I did not then see what is now the  most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” (p. 221)

Find Arti’s thoughts on Surprised By Joy here. 

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader (novel, not film)

Although the third film in the Narnia series was released on Friday night, I have yet to see it. Perhaps I’m a bit reluctant to do so because I wonder how Disney can truly convey all that C. S. Lewis does in this novel for children adults.

I began reading it to my class about three weeks ago because I wanted them to know of the story from literature before the movie. I wanted them to hear what C. S. Lewis said fresh from his words rather than images filtered through the vision of Hollywood.

It was slow going at first. The vocabulary was a bit advanced for third graders, not used to sophisticated language such as I was when I read C. S. Lewis and E. B. White in my childhood. But, I explained it to them as we went along, and by the time sulky cousin Eustace was turned into a dragon my class was entranced.

We had such an interesting discussion about Eustace’s transformation. Before he became a dragon, they described Eustace as a whiner, baby, pain, complainer, crybaby and mean, selfish, or greedy boy. When he was a dragon they saw him as sad, hurt, confused, scared and lonely. After being de-scaled by Aslan, they noticed that he was happy, out of pain, and grateful. What brilliant children to see the changes that He brings to our human nature.

I loved Lucy going to the magician’s book in Chapter 10. Bravely, she crosses the corridor, ventures into the room where the big book is held, and lays her hand upon its pages.

It was written, not printed; written in a clear, even hand, with thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes, very large, easier than print, and so beautiful that Lucy stared at it for a whole minute and forgot about reading it. The paper was crisp and smooth and a nice smell came from it; and in the margins, and round the big coloured capital letters at the beginning of each spell, there were pictures.

As if that wasn’t enough, Lucy is tempted by the spells the book contains. First, there is an infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals. And later, after seeing Aslan’s face staring into hers from the page, she turns to a spell which would let you know what your friends thought about you…

What would you do, when confronted with the knowledge of secrets? Or, of knowing the future? What an awful temptation to fall under these spells, with awful consequences which could never be erased.

“Child,” said Aslan, “Did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?

There are so many lessons in the books of Narnia, so much on faith…

My favorite character in this book is Reepicheep because he is small, but brave.He never fails to address his fears and draw his sword, undaunted by his stature. May I possess the courage of that valiant mouse, while remembering the lesson from Lucy: trust the outcome without knowing what it will be for certain.

The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader Film and "Read-Along"

This poster is for the release of the film in Poland on October 6. It is not planned to be released in America until December 10, 2010.

Which gives me plenty of time to reread this classic Narnia tale. Would you care to join in? I’m thinking we could post at the beginning of December, whenever around that time frame that works for you.

I, for one, want to read it again before seeing the film.

Here is the trailer for The Voyage of The Dawn Treader to whet your appetite. (So to speak.)

  1. Bellezza
  2. Frances
  3. Sara
  4. Read The Book
  5. Shelley
  6. Linda

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

“Tirian stood holding his breath and wondering who would come out. And what came was the last thing he had expected: a little sleek, bright-eyed Talking Mouse with a red feather stuck in a circlet on its head and its left paw resting on a long sword It bowed, a most beautiful bow, and said in its shrill voice: ‘Welcome, in the Lion’s name. Come further up and further in.” (The Last Battle, p. 203)
Illustrations site for C.S. Lewis

I now understand why, with the exception of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew I did not work on completing the Narnia Chronicles until now.

They’re really not children’s books.

Rather, they are a treatise, albeit a gentle one resembling fairy tales, on Christianity. Perhaps this was the best venue to take when addressing such a complicated topic. Childlike faith, and all that…but, the books didn’t capture me when I was a child as much as now that I am an adult.

C.S. Lewis describes the plight of the unbeliever in the following way: “You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (p. 169)

This comes after the most hilarious description of the Dwarfs being served a sumptious feast which they can’t taste, in the most beautiful setting which they mistake for a stable.

My favorite part of this book is when the characters arrive in the New Narnia, and all the people and animals from all the books in the series are reunited. But, even better, is when Lewis describes the reunion that takes place with ones who have gone before us: “…before he had much time to think of this he felt two strong arms thrown about him and felt a bearded kiss on his cheeks and heard a well remembered voice saying: “What, lad? Art thinner and taller since I last touched thee!”

It was his own father, the good King Erlian: but not as Tirian had seen him last when they brought him home pale and wounded from his fight with the giant, nor even as Tirian remembered him in his later years when he was a gray-headed warrior. This was his father, young and merry, as he could just remember him from very early days when he himself had been a little boy playing games with his father in the castle garden at Cair Paravel, just before bedtime on summer evenings. The very smell of the bread-and-milk he used to have for supper came back to him.” (p. 204)

I love imagining such reunions with lost loved ones. And Lewis himself must have feasted on such imaginings, having lost his beloved mother, and his beloved wife of only three years, much earlier than he was ready to do.

What a marvelous book.

Till We Have Faces

I would love to tell you I completely understand this book, and it’s the best book I’ve ever read by C.S. Lewis.

Alas, that would be a lie.

I think I need to read it again to fully grasp all that he was saying. Whether that’s due to gaps in my knowledge of Lewis’ theology, or Greek mythology, I’m not quite sure.

However, here is what I do know:

This novel is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche which was first found in Metamorphoses by Lucias Apuleius Platonicius (born 125 A.D.)

The setting is in Glome, a fictional pre-Christian city much like Greece. The people there worship Ungit; “she is a black stone without head or hands or face, and a very strong goddess.” (p.4)

Our heroine is Psyche’s ugly sister, Orual. They, along with their sister, Redival, are daughters of the King of Glome. Orual is as terribly ugly as Psyche is beautiful. She consequently wears a veil to hide her face from all who might look upon her.

Orual is so emotionally close to Psyche that she cannot bear it when lots are thrown, and it is determined that Psyche has been chosen as the sacrifice to Ungit. When she goes to find Psyche, even if its only her remains, Orual discovers that Psyche was rescued by a god and lives with him in a great palace enjoying utter comfort and peace. Because Orual can see neither the god nor the palace herself, she doesn’t believe in their existence. In fact, Orual believes that Psyche has gone partly mad and will suffer to her death without shelter or food.

She coerces Psyche to light a lamp and look upon this god, to determine if he is real and good, even though Psyche has been given strict instructions never to do so. Psyche, against her wishes, does what her sister asks and is made into an exile from the wonderful life she had been given.

Orual, realizing that her own unbelief has caused terrible consequences for her sister, lives a life of shame because she is to be blamed for Psyche’s demise. Not until the end of the novel does she see how Psyche has truly fared. The rest of Orual’s life is spent in great mourning; not only is she incredibly lonesome for her sister, and guilty that she’s become an outcast, but Orual is accused of jealousy toward Psyche when she intended only to help to her.

So, perhaps one of the morals of the story lies in “the best intentions of man…” Certainly there is a lesson for the Christian not to let unbelievers stand in the way of faith.

But, I’m sure there’s more than that, if only I could fully grasp what Lewis wanted to convey. Maybe I’ll ask him if I ever see him face to face.

The Silver Chair (Once Upon A Time Challenge II Book 1)

(first edition cover)
“…the filling up of the cuts with rubble, has left only two words that can still be read. Is it not the merriest jest in the world that you should have thought they were written to you?”

This was like cold water down the back to Scrubb and Jill; for it seemed to them very likely that the words had nothing to do with their quest at all, and that they had been taken in by a mere accident.

“Don’t you mind him,” said Puddleglum. “There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant King caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.” (p. 154)

Just as in any good fantasy story, we find this sixth book of C.S. Lewis’ with Aslan giving Jill a quest: she must obey the four signs he gives her to seek a lost prince until she has either found him or died in the attempt.

Of course, once we are given a clear set of instructions what’s the first thing that’s bound to happen? We forget exactly what they are. Or, we doubt their veracity.

When Jill and Eustace meet the Prince he is disguised as a knight. He warns them that he is under an enchantment which causes him to turn into a serpent. When they seem him bound to the silver chair they must not, under any condition, release him no matter how much he pleads with them to do so. They agree to this, and then they see the spell come over him and hear him say after much entreaty, “Once and for all,” said the prisoner, “I adjure you to set me free. By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you-“

What are they to do? In one state he begs them not to listen to his pleas. In another, he begs them to release him. It’s a dreadful conundrum. Until they understand that they really have only one choice.

“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill.

“I think we do know,” said Puddleglum.

“Do you mean you thing everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.

“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole 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 sign.”

I can’t tell you what happens; that would only ruin the surprise of this powerful novel. I could hardly call it a children’s novel because the theology is so deep, and yet, it is presented in a childlike way for us all to understand.

In my journeys through the internet, I found this wonderful site which has announced that The Silver Chair will be made into a film by Disney in May, 2011. And surely by now every one has heard that Prince Caspian will be released May 16, 2008. So, hurry up! Read the books before they are spoiled by, I mean before you see, the movies.

C.S. Lewis always comforts me in my own personal Quest…