The book opens with Eustace from that book (though by now Eustace is “not a bad sort,” having changed from the negative, complaining boy he used to be) and schoolmate Jill Pole dealing with some bullies in the school. As Eustace tries to tell Jill about Narnia, they wonder if maybe they could ask to be taken there. Then they hear the bullies pursuing, make a run for a gate in a wall, and find themselves suddenly somewhere else. Eustace ends up falling over a cliff while trying to help Jill keep from doing so, but Aslan rescues him by sending him to land.
Jill is frightened by Aslan at first. She’s dreadfully thirsty, but Aslan is beside the stream, and Jill is hesitant to go forward. He invites her to come and drink. She wants to look for another stream, but he tells her there is no other. Parts of this conversation recall the invitation from Christ to come and drink and the fact that there is no other stream of living water that can be had other than His.
Jill does finally trust Aslan enough to come and drink. After dealing with her about her part in Eustace’s fall, Aslan gives her a task for the both of them but says it will be harder because of her actions. She and Eustace must find and bring home the young prince Rillian, Caspian’s son, who has been missing for ten years. Aslan gives Jill four signs and makes her memorize them, then sends her off to join Eustace.
She quickly “muffs” the first sign, which makes their task even harder than it would have been. With the help of some owls and Puddleglum, a Marsh-wiggle, they set off to find the prince. They are sent the wrong way by what seems to be a beautiful woman and a silent knight, run into some trouble with the next two signs, brush against great danger at a giant’s castle, and end up searching through an underground world to find a seemingly silly young man who has to be tied to a silver chair every evening during a fit of insanity. Or is that when he is truly sane?
Though I missed the Pevensie children, I did enjoy this foray back to Narnia. A repeated theme throughout the book seems to center around obedience and trust. When they don’t follow the first signs, their task gets that much harder. Then when things come to a crisis and the final sign seems to be before them, yet the circumstances are not what they thought they would be, Puddleglum says, “There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan…and he knew already all things that would” happen, and “Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do.”
Besides those already mentioned, there are other Biblical allusions, among them, the reminder from Aslan about how important it was to keep reminding oneself of his word, and his remark, when Jill wonders how he could have been calling them when they were the ones looking for a way to Narnia, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.” Though at first they fall into trouble by being more concerned with creature comforts, getting to a place where they could get in out of the elements, rest, and eat, though that place was a place of danger to them, later on they’re delivered from great temptation and disaster by reminding themselves of Aslan’s words and the bedrock truth they know.
I enjoyed some of the veiled humor sprinkled throughout the book as well, often aimed at the children’s school, known as the “Experiment House.” The best of those lines was when “the Head’s friends saw that the Head was no use as a Head, so they got her made into an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found out she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.”
I also read the chapter pertaining to The Silver Chair from The Way Into Narnia (linked to my thoughts. I had read it last year except for the chapters specific to the books I hadn’t read yet. It’s a great Narnian resource). He pointed out something that hadn’t dawned on me in the structure of the story, that it takes descending steps and then ascending steps. He felt the theme was freedom and obedience, or freedom through obedience, and I think I’d agree.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)