I think I’ve been a bit too hard on Jill, and that’s probably because I actually do (or did) relate to her. You see, when I was growing up, I had what might be called a “low self-esteem”, and I also had difficulty expressing myself (partly due to being the youngest of three by a few years, and partly due to various other issues which I needn’t delve into here). Looking back as an adult, I can see that I tended to project my self-hatred onto characters which happened to share my flaws. While I did genuinely relate to Lucy, she mostly served as a positive role model, not really facing any of my own personal struggles (for whatever reason, I never struggled with body image, which was Lucy’s only obvious issue). But if The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was focused on the beauty of creation, then The Silver Chair is focused squarely on the messiness of the human condition. As such, its characters are forced into situations which tend to bring out the worst in them (pride, vanity, fear, etc.), and Jill suffers the most because of it. Within Narnia itself, Lucy always had someone around to help her and guide her, or at least her faith in Aslan to fall back on. Jill has no such luxury. She’s trapped in a strange world, set on a quest that she has no investment in beyond the knowledge that she must complete it or die in the attempt, with only the help of a boy she barely knew or cared about the day before and a strange creature that’s constantly pointing out everything that could possibly go wrong. I really can’t blame her for not being a paragon of virtue under the circumstances, but when I was younger, it was hard not to.
It was good, springy ground for walking, and a day of pale winter sunlight. As they got deeper into the moor, the loneliness increased: one could hear peewits and see an occasional hawk. When they halted in the middle of the morning for a rest and a drink in a little hollow by a stream, Jill was beginning to feel that she might enjoy adventures after all, and said so.
“We haven’t had any yet,” said the Marsh-wiggle.
When they encounter an enormous bridge spanning a ravine in the middle of the Waste, Puddleglum immediately assumes that it must be a “sorcerer’s” bridge and a trap.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, don’t be such a wet blanket,” said Scrubb. “Why on earth shouldn’t it be a proper bridge?”
“Do you think any of the giants we’ve seen would have sense to build a thing like that?” said Puddleglum.
“But mightn’t it have been built by other giants?” said Jill. “I mean, by giants far cleverer than the modern kind. It might have been built by the same ones who built the giant city we’re looking for. And that would mean we were on the right track – the old bridge leading to the old city!”
Jill’s theory seems to be confirmed when they reach the other side of the bridge safely and find a similarly-built giant road, but they’re distracted by two riders of “normal grown-up human size” approaching them. One of them is a beautiful and gracious lady on a lovely white horse, the other a knight in full black armor on a black horse. Puddleglum is cautious, but the lady says that the ancient road leads to Harfang, home of the “Gentle Giants” who would be glad to take them in; the two riders then leave them, crossing the bridge in the opposite direction.
“Well!” said Puddleglum. “I’d give a good deal to know where she’s coming from and where she’s going. Not the sort you expect to meet in the wilds of Giantland, is she? Up to no good, I’ll be bound.”
He has a point, of course, but after weeks of travelling in an unforgiving wilderness, Jill and Eustace become dead set on Harfang and all its luxuries. They chide Puddleglum for his rudeness, instinctively trusting the Lady, or at least trusting her advice. Again, they believe what they want to be true, rather than comparing it to what they know must be true. Honestly, that’s what made me realize that I wasn’t all that different from Jill, once upon a time. I loved horses, and (as is confirmed later on) so does Jill; if I had ever encountered a pretty horse with a pretty, well-mannered, and well-dressed rider under the same circumstances, I doubt I could have done much better. But remember that other rider?
“I was wondering,” remarked Puddleglum, “what you’d really see if you lifted up the visor of that helmet and looked inside.”
“Hang it all,” said Scrubb. “Think of the shape of the armor! What could be inside it except a man?”
“How about a skeleton?” asked the Marsh-wiggle with ghastly cheerfulness. “Or perhaps,” he added as an afterthought, “nothing at all.” I mean, nothing you could see. Someone invisible.”
“Really, Puddleglum,” said Jill with a shudder, “you do have the most horrible ideas! How do you think of them all?”
That’s a question that might get a fascinating answer! Anyhow, after much debate, the children get their way, with Puddleglum reluctantly signing off on the Harfang plan under the condition that none of them speak of their quest to the Giants without his explicit permission.
Whatever the Lady had intended by telling them about Harfang, the actual effect on the children was a bad one. They could think about nothing but beds and baths and hot meals and how lovely it would be to get indoors. They never talked about Aslan, or even about the lost prince, now. And Jill gave up her habit of repeating the signs over to herself every night and morning. She said to herself, at first, that she was too tired, but she soon forgot all about it.
That’s definitely something I can relate to.
Until next time…