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A novel by C.S. Lewis
(2005, Harper Collins)
[original copyright 1952])

The Chronicles of Narnia, book 6

Transported to Narnia to find the missing Prince, Eustace and Jill encounter strange beings, giants and underground peoples on their hunt.


+ -- First reading (paperback)
November 20th to 26th, 2021


The stories in this series are getting much better, and are much easier to read. If I ignore Aslan’s biblical signs, this book actually had a decent plot and rarely descended into condescension. My favorite character by far was the marsh-wiggle Puddleglum. He sounded a lot like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, always assuming the worst, and that their hopes would never materialize –and he was considered too optimistic! Jill and Eustace were typical children from old Britain, with attitudes about what was proper, and whining all the time. Both grow up by the end of the book, which was a nice evolution of their characters. The time among the giants was a little slow, but probably necessary to ensure their task wasn’t too easy, and to show how evil the giants were. The author still takes on way too condescending an attitude in many places, and I personally hate when the author breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience, so those parts really turned me off. Fortunately, the adventure kept me interested, and the pace moved nicely after they departed Aslan’s land.

Spoiler review:

I want to finish the Chronicles of Narnia, even though I find it a sub-par series, and I actively disliked half the stories I’ve already read. I think I may have rated some of the earlier books too high, simply on the fact that they were improving as the series advanced. But the ratings I’ve given these books do not match what I would give other, more serious books of the same calibre. These books were meant for children, so I tend to rate them a little differently.

Eustace was in the previous book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He started out as a lazy, whiny boy, and ended up a good friend of Prince Caspian and Aslan. Here, he and a fellow student start out in our world being bullied by their schoolmates, and Eustace tells Jill about Narnia. As the bullies approach, they escape through an open door to the school and are transported to Aslan’s world. It seemed that they only thought of Narnia because Aslan wanted to prime them and bring them there to rescue Caspian’s son from an evil witch. Aslan, like Gandalf, always works through others, putting the young and innocent in harm’s way. It could have been done without Aslan’s guidance, the divine intervention. Still, it doesn’t harm this story much because while Aslan gives them some signs to watch for, they miss them all until it’s almost too late, following their own instincts, which often turn out wrong, ensuring they go on an adventure of sorts.

Aside from the overt religious tones, which bother me only because they are so overt and overbearing, what bothers me most about this series, and why I stopped reading it for a while, was the extreme condescension the author brings to the narrative. He’s always talking down to the children who would be reading this book. I also don’t like when an author breaks the fourth wall, so to speak, such as when he’s comparing Narnia to what he expects children might be experiencing in our world. That may hold true to Britain some seventy years ago, but it doesn’t allow for the world to change, and his view of the world was very narrow. He also reassures the audience at some points, which is not necessary at all. Some of this is done in The Hobbit, and I suppose it was just a product of Lewis and Tolkien’s upbringing. At least Tolkien evolved the narrative form in The Lord of the Rings.

The children arrive as King Caspian is leaving on what he believes is his final voyage. If he’s such a good king, why is he leaving the lands without naming a successor? He’s ready to die, and everybody knows it, yet it takes Aslan’s intervention to bring back Prince Rilian. How good can he have been as a King? I assume Aslan doesn’t allow people to remarry, even if their spouse is murdered, which is something we find in The Silmarillion also, and is it maybe an early Christian tenet, too? Still, the same tenets should have had him sire a huge number of children just in case others died. Otherwise they risked going back to the dark ages before Prince Caspian.

We don’t spend a lot of time in Narnia, just enough for the owls to take them away so they could start their mission from Aslan. The owls bring them to the home of the marsh-wiggles, of which Puddleglum was hilarious in his dour mood. He helps them set off towards the lands of the giants, where they are welcomed with open arms. It’s obvious that the giants want to feast on them. Still trying to be polite, the children try to sneak off, but have to endure a couple of meals with the giants, one of which consists of a talking animal, which turns their appetites sour.

From her window, Jill sees writing on the old ruins at the foot of the giants’ stronghold, which reminds her of Aslan’s signs. During a hunt by the king of the giants, they manage to escape, but somehow the giants are coming back by then –what a short hunt! The children are discovered and chased to a tight cave, and we never hear of the giants again. The trek in the dark didn’t do anything for me, and it was obvious the man they encountered was Rilian –but he was under an enchantment by a witch who wanted to take over the world of Narnia.

Why does everybody want to rule Narnia? Hopefully it will be revealed in the last book, but I suspect this witch is just another manifestation of the witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and maybe even the one from The Magician’s Nephew. They all seem to have the same goal –to destroy all free people. The Prince is tied to the titular Silver Chair every night, which renews his enchantment, but Eustace and Jill don’t listen to the rules, and sneak back out to see Rilian as he supposedly rants and raves. They recognize suddenly that he’s Rilian, and free him, even against his own advice from earlier. He takes a sword and destroys the chair, and when the witch comes in, he kills her, too, in snake form. The witch was able to subdue them all with her spells and a potion that she thrust into the fireplace, but Puddleglum was able to put out the fire to clear their heads. Her arguments made no sense, but her suggestions were powerful, kind of like the Voice of Saruman.

When the witch is killed, the ground rises up, and the earthmen, or gnomes, are also freed of her spell, and try to escape back to their lair deep underground. It was interesting to hear them speak of the world beneath the one they were inhabiting, which was beneath our own. They are all agoraphobic, and can’t imagine how anybody could live on the surface! The witch was delving a tunnel to lead the spellbound gnomes to the surface, an army to take over Narnia. As the last of the gnomes escape down a crevice that seals shut, Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum and Rilian make their way up the tunnel and manage to escape back to the surface.

Caspian turned his ship around, and is reunited with his son at his death. When the mission is accomplished, Aslan appears, and brings the children back to his land beyond time, where they have a final conversation with the dead Caspian, returned to his youth for their benefit. Then Aslan joins them in our world, and scares the bullies, and even the administration, so that the old people are removed and the school becomes a place of learning and happiness. While I liked the tone this set, I’m not sure things can really be that simple.

As the penultimate Narnia novel, this one was better than most. It even mentions The Horse and His Boy, an old tale of the southern lands, which I still think is probably the best of these books. This one comes in second, as it is much better written and flows much better –making much better sense than the previous Narnian books. On to the finale!


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