Monday, 23 July 2012

The Silver Chair: Chapter 11

The Silver Chair

Reading chapters 11 and 12 got me thinking a lot about the witch’s motives and plans. What was she really after? And how did she expect to succeed?

I know a number of people, including me, have discussed before why Lewis chose the title he did for this book. The Silver Chair is seemingly one of the least significant things in the book and there are a number of other titles he could have used (including Night Under Narnia and Wild Waste Lands). But after reading these chapters, it’s made me wonder again. I think the Silver Chair is far more significant than we realise.

Rilian refers to it as “a vile engine of sorcery,” which is about the most information we are given on it. We don’t even know what it looks like, apart from it being silver. At a set time every night, Rilian is made to sit on it and tied up to it. He is told this is because of the fit of rage which comes upon him for that hour every night. He is tied to the chair because he becomes violent and it is a means of keeping him from harming anyone.

Yet we know that in actual fact, it is only during that hour every night that he is completely sane. Which made me wonder what kind of enchantment the witch had cast upon him? Usually, when people are bewitched to forget who they are, it is permanent; where does this one hour of sanity come from?

I’ve always thought it was the chair itself that made him sane - like some side effect of its working. While the witch used the chair to re-enforce the enchantment, it also meant that he would be sane while it happened. But thinking about it now, it makes more sense that the spell only lasts a day at a time. Every night it wears off, and has to be re-administered - by the chair itself. After an hour in the chair, the spell is restored and he forgets again who he is. A more basic spell by the witch (such as she tries to use on Puddleglum and the children), would not have been powerful or practical enough to keep Rillian under her authority all that time. The son of the King of Narnia, and someone known to Aslan would, sooner or later, have seen through her bewitchment and turned on her. Doubtless she could kill him should that happen, but she wants him alive.

And so somehow, she had made (or acquired) the chair. He needed to be kept in the chair for an hour every night for the curse to remain on him (it was like he needed a new dose of it every night to keep it in his system - like some kind of poison). Once the hour had passed, and the chair done its work, he had forgotten again and continued the next day under the witch’s spell.

I noticed something particularly interesting about when Rilian was in the chair (which I hadn’t thought of before). Although he claims to be “sane now”, he does not seem to remember everything of his past life. He does not even remember who he is. He knows only that

“Every night I am sane. If only I could get out of this enchanted chair it would last. I should be a man again. But every night they bind me, and so every night my chance is gone.”

In all his imploring that the companions release him, he doesn’t once claim that he is Rilian. This can only mean that he has not fully remembered his life before his enchantment, as those words, if any, would encourage them to release him if they were friends. Bu he doesn’t. Instead he continues to shout at them, even threaten them. His voice rises “to a shriek” and Eustace describes his behaviour as a “frenzy”. Perhaps this is partly because he is so desperate, but I think there is more to it. He threatens them and tells them if they do not release them they will make him their “mortal enemy”. These don’t sound like the words of a perfectly sane Prince Rilian. Despite having some degree of sanity, the chair is still working on him so that he only remembers something of who and what he is.

Thankfully, he remembers one of the most important things. Somehow, subconsciously, he remembers Aslan. He might not remember fully who Aslan is (for he does not call on him directly to save him), but in a last desperate attempt, he calls on the greatest powers he knows of to implore them to free him: “all fears and loves…the bright skies of overland, [and] the great Lion, Aslan himself”.

These are, as Eustace says, “the words of the sign”. Had Rilian been saner, and spoken to them more clearly, the decision to follow the sign would have been easier. But as Aslan had told Jill, “the signs… will not look at all as you expect them to look…pay no attention to appearances.” Thanks to Puddleglum’s wisdom, they choose to follow the sign no matter the consequences, “That fellow will be the death of us, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”

Only once they have released the prince, does he become fully sane and remember who he is. He starts by rushing on the chair with his sword and destroying it “lest your mistress should ever use you for another victim”. He knows more than the others how important the chair was in the witch’s scheme. I think we can be sure here that the chair was made of real silver, since a stronger metal would not have been so easily rent (even by a very good sword with the strength of revenge behind it).

Next he recognises Puddleglum as a Marshwiggle and tells them that he is Rilian, the son of Caspian X, King of Narnia. There are no further threats, or anger. His complete sanity is evidenced by the words:

“And the something wrong, whatever it was, had vanished from his face.”

Coming back to the witch’s scheme, I still wonder what she was up to. We know that she wanted Narnia and her kidnapping of Rilian was part of the plan. But how was it really to work? Surely once they broke through into Narnia he would be recognised as the lost prince. Unless the silver chair was taken with, she could not keep him under the spell forever. Rilian says that he would be freed from his “enchantment” once he was made king, but the witch could only have meant by this that he would be forever under her enchantment and there’d be no further use of the silver chair. But that seems to me like nonsense - why would her enchantment suddenly become permanent just because he was above the earth?

Did she plan to kill him once the kingdom was won? If so, why bother capturing him in the first place? Her plan was to marry him so she’d be queen, but Caspian was not quite dead yet. The Narnians would never allow it, and either rescue Rilian from her clutches or brand him as a traitor and usurper (since his father was still alive). Of course, the witch had all the earthmen on her side, so perhaps she would have succeeded in defeating the Narnians in battle (many of their best warriors were lost looking for the prince), but if she could win it by force, why did she need Rilian? I doubt her being married to him would make the surviving Narnians any more accepting of her authority. She would have been better off convincing Rilian to marry her and returning with him as his bride (peacefully) on the news of Caspian’s death. Why did she plan to make him take take by force what would one day be his by right?

Perhaps I’ve missed something; perhaps there are more clues as to her schemes later in the book that I have forgotten. Regardless, the witch’s plans seem rather strange to me.

In the end, she failed. Her silver chair, whatever its full purpose, was destroyed, as was she along with her plans. We’ll never know, thankfully, exactly what she was up to. But reading it this time round, I couldn’t help but be curious.

It is clear, though, that the silver chair was indeed important to her schemes. In destroying the chair, Rilian broke her spell. I find it interesting that she returns (unexpectedly early) almost as soon as it is destroyed, as if she instinctively knew something had gone wrong. Her response on seeing Rilian free and the chair destroyed is telling:

“She turned very white; but Jill thought it was the sort of whiteness that comes over some people’s faces not when they are frightened, but when they are angry. For a moment the witch fixed her eyes on the Prince. And there was murder in them.”

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