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Matt Mikalatos

Living Water, Resurrection, and Aslan’s Golden Back: Biblical Allusions in The Silver Chair

People come to Narnia from many different places. Some find the religious metaphors overwhelming, others don’t notice them at all. Some people love them because of the spiritual underpinnings. When we started this series, one thing I wanted to do was make the many allusions to Christian theology a little clearer for those who don’t come from a Christian background. In this article we’re going to look specifically at the moments when Jesus, uh, I mean Aslan, shows up in The Silver Chair.

There are a lot, and I mean a lot of Biblical allusions in this book. When Aslan walks in, Lewis piles them on top of each other until you could feel like you’re reading Bible fanfiction. This is no particular surprise, as Lewis loves to cobble together his mythology from a variety of places, and in Silver Chair we have references to Plato, Dante, Arthurian legends, Shakespeare (Rilian looks “a little bit like Hamlet”), and I’m guessing a whole lot more that I didn’t catch.

[It all starts when Eustace and Jill do a little magic spell…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Saving the Lost: Quests, Signs, and Unclear Instructions in The Silver Chair

The battle against the forces of darkness is, first and foremost, a rescue operation. Or so Jill Pole is told. Aslan advises her that her quest is to seek the lost Prince Rilian, “until either you have found him and brought him to his father’s house, or else died in the attempt, or else gone back into your own world.”

Her job is not to destroy the Lady of the Green Kirtle—Aslan doesn’t even mention her—or to prevent war in Narnia, or to bring justice for those talking beasts who have been eaten by giants. Jill has one clear job, and Aslan has specifically called her and Eustace here to do it.

[Let’s talk about Aslan’s four “signs”…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Who We Fight Against: The Silver Chair and Knowing Your Enemies

In a battle we must know our enemies.

Lewis tells us unapologetically that the core idea of The Silver Chair is “war against the powers of darkness,” and since this is war, it would be interesting to make sure we know who these powers of darkness are, exactly. There are people we think are allies but are not in this story, as well as those who we assume to be our adversaries but turn out to be fellow victims. If we are to be effective warriors against the powers of darkness, surely we need to be able to discern who is an ally and who an enemy.

Let’s start with the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Lewis gives us contextual clues, drawn from some of his favorite classical work, hinting at who or what the Green Lady is.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Silver Chair: The Lady of the Green Kirtle, Fake News, and Enchantment

Poor Prince Rilian. His mother—the still unnamed wife of King Caspian—is killed by a serpent “green as poison” and when he sets out to find the foul worm to destroy it, he finds instead the Lady of the Green Kirtle. She is “the most beautiful thing that was ever made” according to Rilian, though our old friend Drinian can’t help but notice that she is dressed in a thin garment as green as poison and, “It stuck in Drinian’s mind that this shining green woman was evil.”

I know the first question in everyone’s mind: what exactly is a kirtle? The short answer is that it’s women’s clothing, either an underdress or an overdress depending on the years we’re talking about and the social status of the woman wearing it. We will soon learn that this particular Lady is of high status indeed: a Witch Queen from the far Northern parts of the world who intends, of course, great harm to Narnia.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Silver Chair: War Against the Powers of Darkness

The Silver Chair was the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia to be published, but the fifth Lewis wrote, and the sixth chronologically (whew!). I had almost no memories of this book from reading it when I was a kid (they started to come back as I read), which is pretty on-brand for the themes of The Silver Chair. Having said that, I enjoyed it! It’s a straightforward adventure novel with some fun moments along the way, and the confrontation with the main villain in particular resonated with me.

The Silver Chair starts out in a terrible school (all of Lewis’ schools are terrible) called Experiment House, where we find a poor, bullied young woman named Jill Pole. Someone comes along to check on her, and it’s none other than our newly chivalrous and kind-hearted Eustace Scrubb, who gets up the guts to do something the Pevensies never really did: he tells a stranger about the beautiful world of Narnia, and how maybe they could escape the cruelties of their world to go there. He leads her in a magical incantation (a sort of prayer, really) that opens a gateway to Narnia, just as the bullies come running up on them.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“Eustace Was a Dragon All Along”: Aslan and Spiritual Growth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about our spiritual journey, and the transformation we experience along the way—nowhere is this clearer than in the changes in Eustace Scrubb. As we learn in the first sentence: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” And in the last, “…back in our own world everyone soon started saying how Eustace had improved, and how ‘You’d never know him for the same boy’.”

Lewis believed that humans could continue to improve spiritually until they became something “like God” or could devolve spiritually until they ceased to be human at all. In Dawn Treader we see both the potential pitfalls of the spiritual life and the potential victories. And all of them, it turns out, have one thing in common: Aslan.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Seven Gifts of Aslan: Sacraments in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Did you ever wish that Father Christmas would show up in the middle of an adventure and give you the exact gifts you needed for the road ahead, just like he did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? That pretty much exactly aligns with the Christian concept of the sacraments—there are seven sacraments in the teaching of the Anglican church (the church C.S. Lewis attended), and all seven appear in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Lewis told us that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about spiritual journeys. At the core, it’s a book about how human beings grow. How do we become better people? There are places where Aslan shows up and helps the characters to progress (we’ll look at these in two weeks), and there are gifts that Aslan has given us that help along the way, too.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

On Grief, Joy, and Saying Goodbye: Reepicheep and Aslan’s Country

In the end, Reepicheep dies.

That’s something I didn’t understand when I read Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a kid. Lewis wouldn’t—indeed, didn’t—say it that way. In fact, he says the opposite, right in the text of the novel: While no one can claim to have seen Reepicheep from the moment he crested the great wave at the end of the world, Lewis says, “my belief is that he came safe to Aslan’s country and is alive there to this day.”

This particular article was originally meant to be the last in our series on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, rather than the second, but in the unique space we find ourselves at this moment, I decided to write it early. This novel is, in many ways, about the preparations we make for the moment when we reach world’s end, and Lewis’s ideas and thoughts about it may be helpful for us.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The World Beyond Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my least favorite Narnia book as a kid, but on this re-read it climbed the charts toward the top. I even shed a few tears before closing the book.

My problem with Dawn Treader as a kid was, well, nothing really happened. The Pevensies (plus one) appeared in Narnia, ran around on a ship for a while, then went home. There were adventures, sure, but it felt like one of my school buddies reciting their oral report at the end of summer break: I went here and this happened, and then I went here and saw this thing, and then I went home.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Narnia’s Mouse Knight: Reepicheep and the Dual Nature of Chivalry

Reepicheep! One of the greatest of fictional mice, though he is real in our hearts! Chivalrous leader of the talking mice of Narnia (or at least all the mice we see in Prince Caspian)!

Over the course of the last few essays, we’ve been exploring how the dueling narratives of Prince Caspian show us both the “Lord of Victory” and the “Lady of Peace.” There are conjunctions of seemingly conflicting values throughout the novel. When they come together, though, they bring restoration, healing, and a purging of those who brought corruption into Narnia. In Reepicheep, we find yet another example of dueling natures holding together to make a unified whole.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

“Too Old for Narnia”: Belief, Fandom, and the End of Wonder

Not too long ago, my eldest daughter decided it was time for my youngest daughter to join her in one of her favorite fandoms: Jurassic Park. Toward the end of the movie, my youngest got deeply agitated and asked, “Does it hurt the actors when those dinosaurs bite them?” No, we explained, those are just special effects. Robots and computer generated drawings. “Well,” she asked, “Does it hurt when the robots bite them?” All of us older folks had a good laugh about that. She was so young and full of wonder, and the world was full of living dinosaurs and strange things.

At the end of Prince Caspian, Peter announces that he will not be returning to Narnia, and neither will Susan, because Aslan has told them they are too old. As a kid this upset me, because I worried that I wouldn’t find a portal to Narnia before I aged out. As an adult, this had gotten all wrapped up in a variety of questions about what exactly Lewis means by this declaration, and especially how it connects to that big question that is lurking out in front of us in this series: What exactly happened to Susan Pevensie that she wasn’t invited into Narnia for the Last Battle?

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

We Are All Kings and Queens in Narnia: Prince Caspian, the Son of Adam

Imagine, if you will, a political climate in which truth has been completely discarded. Even the history books are full of falsehoods that advance the narrative of those ruling the nation. Stories of the past have been ignored, abused, or outlawed. In the midst of this political rule, certain classes of people have been persecuted, harmed, sent into hiding.

That is the world of Narnia during Prince Caspian.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

We Should Probably Talk About That Time Susan and Lucy Attended a Bacchanal in Narnia

When the Pevensie children return to Narnia, their castle is in ruins, and the Golden Age of Narnia is all but forgotten. Talking animals and trees, dwarves and giants and satyrs are all considered to be myths or old wives’ tale. The death and resurrection of Aslan is scarcely remembered at all, and at one point Caspian’s Uncle Miraz not only denies Aslan, he says there’s no such thing as lions. Every true thing we readers know from the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been forgotten or corrupted. This sets the stage for Prince Caspian, a novel about—as Lewis once wrote in a letter—the “restoration of the true religion after corruption.”

There are strange, dueling narratives unfolding throughout the book. The Pevensies appear for three chapters, followed by four chapters of flashbacks about Caspian. Then four more with the Pevensies, and then another split, as the male characters dive into preparations for war and Susan and Lucy head off to attend a cultic Mystery feast.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

A Thousand Years Later — Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

Jack Lewis’s publisher didn’t expect The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to be a smash success. In fact, he was concerned that it would do poorly and damage Jack’s reputation. But one thing he knew for sure was that, if it was going to be a children’s book, it would need to be a series. So before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe even came out, Jack turned his attention to writing a second book.

This story was completely disconnected from most of the characters of the first book. It was, in fact, a prequel, telling the story of how the lamppost in the Narnian woods came to be there. But Jack got stuck partway through the writing, and his publisher agreed with him that it wasn’t coming together in the best way, yet. So he turned his attention to another idea—this one about a magician who pulls a group of children into Narnia to help him fight a war. The book was called Drawn Into Narnia, and Lewis finished it quickly, writing the last words in 1949, before The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe hit bookshelves.

[This is, of course, the book which became known as Prince Caspian…]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Father Christmas: Narnian Adventurer, Bringer of Gifts, and Jovial Prophet of Aslan

Well, my friends, it is winter here where I live and Christmas is well on its way. The trees are up (we have two, a tradition that started because my family fought over which one we should cut down), the lights are hung inside and outside the house, and for the first time ever we have a brightly lit reindeer on the roof. The kids are making plans to bake cookies with Grandma, and the radio is recycling seventy-five years of Christmas tunes.

C.S. Lewis built the perfect kid-friendly metaphor to describe the horrors of the White Witch’s winter rule: It’s always winter, but never Christmas. While we adults might get caught up in the everyday concerns (How will the Narnians grow food? Will they get enough Vitamin D? Do they have to shovel their driveways every day?), children are faced with the real horror: Santa will never arrive with their gifts. The celebration never comes.

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Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

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