Saturday, December 26, 2009

Narnia nostalgia part 4 – The Silver Chair on BBC TV

In November and December of 1990, BBC TV released The Silver Chair in 6 weekly half-hour episodes. These were later edited into a feature-length film on VHS, and later, DVD (now available online in secondary markets like eBay and Amazon Marketplace). The teleplay was written by Australian playwright Alan Seymour.

Those who only have knowledge of The Chronicles of Narnia through the two Walden/Disney movies will not be familiar with Eustace Scrubb, the main character linking The Silver Chair with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustace is a cousin to the Pevensie children, and was pulled into Narnia along with Lucy and Edmund in the previous story

Eustace attends a “progressive” boarding school, and has befriended Jill Pole. He confides in her about his adventures in the other world. Both are brought to Narnia by Aslan, who has a quest for them to accomplish. They are to find the lost Prince Rillian, the only son of the now very old King Caspian.

There are two main themes in the book which are also emphasized in the series. These are the importance of following the four signs which Aslan gives, and learning to overcome deception.

Aslan gives Jill four signs which she is to repeat to herself every day. These signs are important for the quest. This is reminiscent of the instructions God has given about the importance of scripture, such as the words to Joshua after he takes the leadership mantle of Israel upon Moses’ death.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8 NKJV)

Throughout the story, we see how the children get off track whenever they do not follow the signs. They are also much more easily deceived.

Though a series of events, and with the help of the pessimistic but lovable Puddleglum, they eventually find their way to the Underworld, which is ruled by the Lady of the Green Kirtle. She is the Green Witch who has Prince Rillian under a spell.

As the trio are about to escape with the Prince, the Green Witch finds them, and tries to convince them using her enchantments that there is no Narnia to escape to – that only her world is real. Many see in this a parallel to Plato’s Parable of the Cave, which is an allegory about the nature of reality.

Puddleglum’s logic and quick thinking help them break free from the Witch’s deception, and they eventually make their way back to the surface where Rillian is gladly received as Prince.

The movie follows the book very closely, editing mostly for time and updating of idioms in the dialogue. There is one strange inclusion of a dragon not mentioned in the book, and the “deeper kingdom” of Bism (admittedly a rather confusing interpolation) is left out.

Although the film continues to suffer from special effects antiquated by today’s standards,* the acting is much improved. The three main protagonists, Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole, and Puddleglum, are especially well played by David Thwaites, Camilla Power, and Tom Baker.

While we are waiting for Walden, partnered now with Fox, to release The Voyage of the Dawn Treader a year from now, the BBC versions of Dawn Treader and Silver Chair are the only videos of those two stories available. The BBC captured the major themes, but the costuming and special effects can be distracting, to say the least. But, for young children, these videos are not a bad way to introduce your children or grandchildren to this part of the series.

*See Narnia nostalgia part 2 - lion, witch, and wardrobe on BBC TV, including note 2 at the end of the article, for a few words about the limitations of the special effects in the BBC movies.

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