This is altogether a darker and drearier tale than the rest. Instead of travelling through green lands (or snow-covered forest), our heroes – Eustace again (a completely different character to the annoyance he originally was), and a new character called Jill – walk through a seemingly endless barrenness, much like how I imagine the worst possible school camp. And it’s cold, too. Their companion is a creature called a Marshwiggle, and he is one of the greatest characters in the entire series (see the free sample for a taste).
In some ways this book is the most mature of the series – it is a classic quest (for a lost prince, the only heir of an elderly king), with a very clear set of instructions which immediately go awry. One of my favourite things about The Lord of the Rings is that it so often seems that all hope is lost, and the quest is doomed. This book has that same quality, which means that any good result feels deeper and more satisfying. For Christians, there is an even deeper and more satisfying implication – that God’s seemingly random instructions will actually make sense at some point, and that our own failures haven’t doomed us after all.
This book also contains some of the most peculiar and inventive aspects of Narnian life. CS Lewis certainly didn’t stop at a British landscape and talking animals.
Free sample (the marshwiggle, Puddleglum, is advising the children at the beginning of their journey):
“I don’t know that anyone can exactly help. It stands to reason we’re not likely to get very far on a journey to the North, with the Winter coming on soon and all. And an early Winter too, by the look of things. But you mustn’t let that make you down-hearted. Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we’ll hardly notice the weather. And if we don’t get far enough to do any good, we may get far enough not to get back in a hurry.
Both children noticed that he said “we”, not “you”, and both exclaimed at the same moment. “Are you coming with us?”
“Oh yes, I’m coming of course. Might as well, you see. I don’t suppose we shall ever see the King back in Narnia, now that he’s once set off for foreign parts; and he had a nasty cough when he left. . .”
Rating: PG. I’d call it absolutely G and safe for anyone, but one character is a close parallel to Jesus Christ (in one of the later books this character clearly states that he exists on Earth as well, is known by a different name there, and that the children have been brought into Narnia so that they can more easily recognise him on Earth), and some atheists have found that offensive. The books do focus on the adventures, rather than allegory about 95% of the time.