Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Loving "The Silver Chair" All Over Again

Don't know about anyone else, but for some reason, parts of C.S. Lewis' "The Silver Chair" just didn't hit as hard as other books. In a fit of wakefulness on Sunday, after eight cups of coffee (they can really add up when you have them everywhere you go!), I re-read it. And found some gems.

Have always loved Puddleglum, but the appreciation is deeper now. My parents can sometimes seem to look on The Dark Side of Life in complete contrariness to the immortal Monty Python boys' advice ("always look on the bright side of life!"). And life is such, on this sin-saturated world of ours, that they're quite often right. However, they are the people that you lean on in times of real trouble, just like Jill and Eustace.

"Many have taken ship at the pale beaches," replied the Warden, "and -"
"Yes, I know," interrupted Puddleglum. "And few return to the sunlit lands. You needn't say it again. You are a chap of one idea, aren't you?"
The children huddled close together on either side of Puddleglum. They had thought him a wet blanket while they were still above ground, but down here he seemed the only comforting thing they had.

Puddleglum is one of those characters that you grow to love. First he's irritating with his constant string of 'what-ifs' that always tend to disaster. Then he's a solid rock on which to lean, though he tends to rub a bit raw. Then he's a rock in a tossing sea, and you can depend on him to do the hard things like put his foot in a magical fire in order to save his unappreciative friends from enchanted doom. He is loyal, he is steady, and the only time he really gets excited is when there's a test of his serious view of life.

The Prince has been harder to appreciate. Although I've read this book more than ten times, and have some passages memorized, he seems one of those characters that I ought to love and appreciate, and it just didn't quite hit the heart strings yet. He did strike me as more like Hamlet in character than appearance - overfond of soliloquy and his own voice, knowingly egotistical, and foolhardy in his acceptance of adventure. Some of that could be put down to enchantment of the green serpent, but he was foolhardy in his independence before he became enchanted. Altogether, he didn't seem like a proper replacement for his father, Prince Caspian the Seafarer.
Until today.

His speech to the Witch is a masterpiece of kingly courtesy - politely asking for good treatment at the hand of an oppressor takes a lot of courage. That kind of courage means that you are requiring of yourself the inability to sink to the level of the torturer; they will be given fair words until strong ones are required. They must prove themselves evil in the presence of other witnesses. "Please it you to grant me and my friends safe conduct and a guide through your dark realm." Rilian starts to take leadership naturally, and it is seamless, but these great words have escaped me til now.

[On his formerly enchanted shield, the Lion now figures brightly.] "Doubtless," said the Prince. "This signifies that Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die. And all's one, for that. Now, by my counsel, we shall all kneel and kiss his likeness, and then all shake hands one with another, as true friends that may shortly be parted. And then, let us descend into the city and take the adventure that is set us."

By this cheerful acceptance that his life is in Aslan's hands, the Prince is more than saying that he is just as able to live or die at Aslan's command. What he's really saying is that whether he is buried alive (and no one hears of him ever again), or gets out and rules Narnia, his life is not wasted. It is hard, sometimes, to believe that your continued life will be of any use if no one knows the sacrifices you made, or if your goals were not met - what would be the point of a life that no one sees? Rilian is affirming an ancient Christian principle: whether one dies or lives, in poverty or in great blessing, it is good that the Lord do with you what He wishes. Hamlet struggled long with the idea that a life cut short by his own hand ("to die! To sleep! no more") would be better than living in pain. Rilian accepts that Aslan might have called three noble people out of their own lives to wander about the countryside, beset by cannibalistic giants and serpents disguised as beautiful enchantresses, just for all four of them to perish underground in an attempt at freedom. (Yes, insert Braveheart music here.) And here is an end of the matter:

"Friends," said the Prince, "when once a man is launched on such an adventure as this, he must bid farewell to hopes and fears, otherwise death or deliverance will both come too late to save his honour and his reason."

This post is dedicated to my mum and my sisters, the bravest women I know. :)

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