This book is the sixth in the chronological order of the Narnia books, but was the fourth to be written.
Eustace Scrubb, introduced in the previous instalment, reappears, this time without his cousins, as he teams up with Jill Pole, who is being bullied at school. Jill almost right away notices that Eustace, who started off as an obnoxious brat, has changed considerably.
After Eustace tells her of his visit to Narnia, the two children find their own way to Narnia, escaping the bullies. Eustace almost immediately falls off a cliff, but is saved by Aslan, who tasks Jill with remembering four signs as part of their quest to rescue the kidnapped Prince Rilian.
Rilian is also the son of King Caspian, who was one of the main characters in previous books. Last seen as a young man, he is now elderly, due to the fact that time in Narnia passes a lot faster than in our world.
This sets off a standard adventure story, with the children joined by Puddleglum, the marsh wiggle (basically, a race of people with webbed hands and feet who live in the marhses); Puddleglum provides some comic relief, mostly through being interminably pessimistic (he's similar in character to Marvin from the HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy Books).
Like the other Narnia books, this contains a lot of Christian symbolism, and this book has a lot of significance to avoiding distractions or forgetting your true purpose, as Jill constantly fails to spot the signs, and they fall way to temptation by staying with a race of giants instead of getting on with their quest. The Bible has a lot of light and dark metaphors (basically, the idea that Jesus is the light of the world and the fact that the light reveals things, but lots of people are metaphorically "in the dark". This seems to be the symbolism that occurs in the latter part of the book, with a journey underground where a race of gnome-like people live.
Also, while the main villain of the book hardly appears, she is shown to be quite powerful and has the power to cloud peoples' minds; she is also said to be related in some way to the White Witch, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In 1990, when the BBC dramatised this book, they made it more obvious by casting the same actress who had played the White Witch two years earlier. They also cast Tom Baker (famous from Doctor Who) as Puddleglum, Warwick Davis as Glimfeather the owl and while the underground sequences could have been off a cheesy 1970s science fiction show, they managed to feature gnomes that were creepier than the way the book described them.
This was also the only time that I watched a Narnia adaptation before reading the book that it is based on, so I was surprised when I noticed that the pacing was a bit different from the book - most notably, they made more things out of the climactic scenes, and took out a lot of stuff from the last few chapters.
I love the fact that this book has a neat twist; it is also the only moment in the story that features the silver chair - spoilers ahead:
[Spoiler (click to open)]
The journey underground takes the children and Puddleglum to an encounter with a knight, who is married to "The Lady of the Green Kirtle", and says he can't remember how he got there, just that he and his lady are going to invade Narnia.
You might guess the twist before it happens, but it turns out that this is Prince Rilian; I loved the irony of how the main characters meet him about half way through the book but have no idea who he is as he is in a suit of armour with the visor down. It turns out he's been brainwashed by "his lady".
Where the silver chair comes in is the fact that Prince Rilian is tied to it every night because this is when he remembers who he is.
Reading the book did clarify a few things that weren't made clear in the TV adaption, such as the fact that the Green Lady was in cahoots with the giants (who also intend to eat the travellers). Also, the TV version had a sequence at the end where the goblins started diving into a pit of fire for no reason that was clear. The book makes clear that the Green Lady took them out of their own land further below the surface to work for her, and they are returning to where they came from. This leads to some comic relief when they reveal that this dark world is too light and too close to the surface for them.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I like the fact that they hint at things to come, including one of Aslan's lines close to the end, and also a scene involving "Old Father Time", who will awake when the world ends. It seems to be a throwaway moment that has no relevance in this book, but it does become significant later in the series.
Another moment I spotted reading through again was a reference to "The Horse and His Boy", which was the book written subsequent to this one. Here, it is told as a Narnian legend, and I liked the fact the CS Lewis expanded on it as a full length book.
Personally I think this is one of the better titles in the Narnia series, and the ending is one of the most hilarious, dramatic and satisfying of all.
Next book: City of Thieves (Cyrus Moore)