The Silver Chair

by C. S. Lewis

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Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1351

Jill Pole is the main character of The Silver Chair. She is one of Lewis's most puzzling yet most realistic characters, a person made up of the contradictions of good and bad that are typical of the human condition. This makes her adventure in The Silver Chair a passionate account of a person's climb out of darkness into enlightenment, out of sadness into joy. At first, she seems to be a victim, someone in need of aid against a gang of bullies and a school administration that encourages the beating up of children. Yet, when she is in Asian's Country, her thoughts are focused on showing up Eustace, who is afraid of heights, and while showing off, she sends him plummeting over the edge of a cliff.

At that moment, it is hard to tell whether she is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character. The answer, revealed through her adventures, is that she is both. Like many people, she has aspects of personality that are best kept to herself, but like most people, she has strengths that, when encouraged, make her admirable. This is part of her characterization's significance in The Silver Chair: people have within them the capacity to do great deeds in the service of good. It is Lewis's view that good people must fight evil, even in small ways, so the driving away of the bullies at Experiment House at the end of The Silver Chair is important, just as rescuing Rilian from an enemy of Asian is important.

Jill is accompanied on her adventure by Eustace Scrubb, a schoolmate who was introduced to "The Chronicles of Narnia" in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," in which he began as a servant of evil and ended as a pilgrim striving to find Asian. It is he who befriends Jill while she hides from a gang that wants to beat her up just for the sake of hurting her, and it is he who suggests calling out to Asian for help. The air of Narnia's world has the effect on him that it has on any Earth child returning to Narnia, making him physically more like he was at the end of his adventure in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," stronger, more agile, skilled with a sword.

Although Eustace consciously tries to live the life Asian would want him to, he has not shaken off all of what his miserable upbringing has made him into. He still is sarcastic and prone to bickering. Thus, his adventures in The Silver Chair are a continuation of the spiritual growth begun in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader." Eustace learns how to better work with people than before, how to endure prolonged hardship, and how to motivate himself without outside influence.

Jill and Eustace are accompanied by the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum on their journey north as well as on their journey in the Underworld. He has long legs but a small torso, a long, sad face, and hair that is flat rather than round. Like other Marsh-wiggles, he is committed to the serious contemplation of life, although other Marsh-wiggles consider him too gay and cheerful. It is hard to tell whether he is supposed to be parent or companion to the children; perhaps he is both. He tries to persuade them to stop bickering and focus on their task. However, he treats them as equals and consults with them as he might consult with adults. The children's ideas about how to escape Harfang are accepted by him as sound advice from proven adventurers.

His grand moment in The Silver Chair is when he defies the magic of the Queen of Underworld, the Green Witch. When she weaves her seductive magic around Rilian, Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum, he debates with her, denying her flawed logic. She speaks the words of atheism, telling him that there is no Asian, that, in fact, there is no world other than the one in which he finds himself. There is not even a sun. Her words paint a picture of a world that has no meaning but that which she chooses to give it; it is no wonder the Earthmen are so sad. Yet, in the midst of confusion in which the Witch's argues against the existence of any world but hers, Puddleglum says, "Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Asian 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." These words of defiance stand for a world in which good and evil matter, defying a world like that of the Green Witch where nothing is moral and nothing particularly matters.

Puddleglum steps one of his feet into a fire because "There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic." Shocked out of the Witch's charming magic, he is able to help the others come to their senses, and the Queen of Underworld reveals her true self. She is a satanic figure. Like Satan, she corrupted a garden and took the form of a serpent, and like Satan she is God's enemy. Having used lies and magic to have her way, building a kingdom of slaves—the Earthmen—and captivating Rilian, she has also committed murder, having killed Rilian's mother. When her foolish arguments fail her, she turns into a green serpent and attacks Rilian and the adventurers. Killing those who dispute her is easier than refuting their arguments.

In The Silver Chair, Asian is determined that Jill and Eustace learn from experience, giving them signs for guidance but insisting they fulfill their quest on their own. This does not mean that he abandons them; he gives Jill a dream, while she sleeps in Harfang, that will help her remember one of the signs and will strike her when she looks out a window and sees the words from the dream: "UNDER ME." He shows his presence in other ways. For instance, after Rilian slays the serpent, he finds his shield and it is changed. "'Look friend. . . . An hour ago it [the shield] was black and without device; and now, this.' The shield had turned bright as silver, and on it, redder than blood or cherries, was the figure of the Lion." This is a reference to Romans 13:12, which says, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light." With the help of Puddleglum, the darkness of the Witch's magic has been cast off, and the Lion on the shield represents Asian, just as the Lion on High King Peter's shield in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe represented Asian. It is a sign of Asian's presence, as Rilian notes: "This signifies that Asian will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die." Rilian's observation stems from Romans 14:8, which declares, "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's."

Thus, Asian has been present all through the adventure. He was even aware of the fix Jill and Eustace were in at Experiment House before their adventure began. He says to Jill, "You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you." This is an allusion to "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful," from Revelation 17:14. In the context of The Silver Chair, it means that Asian had planned on giving Jill and Eustace the mission of rescuing Rilian. To take the matter a bit deeper, it also suggests that he not only intended to rescue Rilian but to help Jill find his stream and to help Eustace and her mature by overcoming hardships.

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