Eustace Scrubb finds Jill Pole behind the gym at their school, crying and hiding from bullies. And when they are found and pursued again, they open a door that has always been locked and find themselves in Aslan’s Land. Aslan gives them a mission to find a lost prince, and together they face giants before venturing into the Underland, where a beautiful evil witch reigns.
When I read the Narnia series as a child, I resented The Silver Chair for being the first book without any of the Pevensie children (particularly Lucy). Now, I find this volume to be as good as The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Eustace and Jill are not perfect little kids, but they learn their lessons and apologize for their mistakes, even without the intervention of Aslan. Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, their guide, is a well imagined companion, a wet blanket with a hidden side of bravery, who stands in contrast to all previously encountered Narnian creatures. The giants, both the dumb and the smart ones, are fearsome creatures. The descent into the Underland is a terrifyingly claustrophobic adventure. The enchanting smoke the witch uses to make you think your real life is an illusion is dangerously surreal. Combine a plot that successfully builds suspense and danger with a super-satisfying resolution, and you’ve got a near-perfect Narnia book.
Jill is a strong, funny protagonist, who gets tired and scared. In many ways she’s a more relatable character than Lucy. But it’s uncomfortable to read how challenging a mixed-gender school in Britain was for Lewis, as well as a headmistress who was a woman. It’s also difficult not to read into the idea that Jill is rather bad at directions because Lucy and Susan were as well. In comparison to the other books, the sexism is minimal, so I’m looking past these critiques and appreciating the book for it’s amazing qualities noted above.
Recommended for anyone who was bullied at school!
“Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘You’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and ell pie. You want something to sober you down a bit. We’re only saying it for your own good, Puddleglum.’ That’s what they say. Now a job like this –a journey up north just as winter’s beginning looking for a prince that probably isn’t there, by way of ruined city nobody’s ever seen– will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.”