Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Silver Chair

I picked up C.S. Lewis' "The Silver Chair" again the other day. As a novel, it's probably my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia. It's also the one where the child character I most identify with of the six who visit Narnia from England is introduced. It has these fabulous themes of journeying, of light and dark, good and evil, and the whole process of learning how to discern the voice of God amidst the confusing onslaught of a journey.  What follows is one of my all-time favorite passages in literature, just for the profound way it has always moved me.

To give context, Jill and Scrubb (Eustace) have found themselves suddenly in a strange land, and on the edge of a cliff. In the midst of the confusion and excitement at this new place, Jill is showing off at the edge of the cliff, and Eustace falls over the edge in an attempt to pull her back. A lion shows up, and Eustace is carried far away on the breath of the lion, leaving Jill behind, stunned. The lion then turns and disappears, and Jill bursts into tears.


~~~

Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later and the you still have to decide what to do. When Jill stopped, she found she was dreadfully thirsty. She had been lying face downward, and now she sat up. The birds had ceased singing and there was perfect silence except for one small persistent sound which seemed to come a good distance away. She listened carefully and felt almost sure it was the sound of running water.


Jill got up and looked round her very carefully. There was no sign of the Lion; but there were so many trees about that it might easily be quite close without her seeing it. For all she knew, there might be several lions. But her thirst was very bad now, and she plucked up her courage to go and look for that running water. She went on tiptoes, stealing cautiously from tree to tree, and stopping to peer round her at every step.

The wood was so still that it was not difficult to decide where the sound was coming from. It grew clearer every moment and, sooner than she expected, she came to an open glad and saw the stream, bright as glass, running across the turf a stone's throw away from her. But although the sight of the water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn't rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: just on this side of the stream lay the Lion.

It lay with its head raised and its two fore-paws out in front of it, like the lions in Trafalgar Square. She knew at once that it had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away - as if it knew her quite well and didn't think much of her.

"If I run away, it'll be after me in a moment," thought Jill. "And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth." Anyway, she couldn't have moved if she had tried, and she couldn't take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the Lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.

"If you're thirsty, you may drink."

They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. Fro a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. The the voice said again, "If you are thirsty, com and drink," and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realised that it was the Lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.

"Then drink," said the Lion.

"May I - could I - would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

"Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion - no one who had seen his stern face could do that - and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

(C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair)

2 comments:

tea said...

That is a great passage! I love the chronicles of narnia! Thanks for sharing this. :)

(..My favorite is a horse and his boy, with the voyage of the d.t. in a close second. ..But they are all so good.)

Lisa said...

They are all good... but I really do think The Silver Chair is my favorite!