Rilian faces the same conflict his father did at the end of the last book – but unlike the last book, there are consequences to flirting with temptation.
This chapter begins with the tale of the Earthman from last chapter (Golg). He explains how the Earthmen were brought up from a land below Underland itself by the Queen, and enchanted to do her bidding (much like Rilian), an enchantment which was naturally undone when she was killed. The Earthmen were (or would have been, had they not been enchanted out of their senses) terrified at the idea of going out onto the Overworld, preferring the warmth of the land below, called Bism. Apparently a chasm to Bism is the source of the orange glow they were so worried about earlier.
A strong heat smote up into their faces, mixed with a smell which was quite unlike any they had ever smelled. It was rich, sharp, exciting, and made you sneeze. The depth of the chasm was so bright that at first it dazzled their eyes and they could see nothing. When they got used to it they thought they could make out a river of fire, and, on the banks of that river, what seemed to be fields and groves of an unbearable, hot brilliance – though they were dim compared with the river.
Golg invites them to visit “the bottom of the world”, and to Jill’s horror, Rilian seriously considers the offer.
“Yes,” said Golg. “I have heard of those little scratches in the crust that you Topdwellers call mines. But that’s where you get dead gold, dead silver, dead gems. Down in Bism we have them alive and growing. There I’ll pick you bunches of rubies that you can eat and squeeze you a cupful of diamond juice. You won’t care much about fingering the cold, dead treasures of your shallow mines after you have tasted the live ones in Bism.”
Also, apparently there are creatures called salamanders in Bism – which always confused me as child, since I was only acquainted with the real-life amphibians called salamanders, and hadn’t a clue that the name referred to anything else. Evidently Lewis is alluding to the sort of fire-elementals which Hoffmann used in at least one of his stories (so it actually helped me pinpoint him as an influence).
“Your Highness,” [Eustace] said. “If my old friend Reepicheep the Mouse were here, he would say we could not now refuse the adventures of Bism without a great impeachment of our honor.”
Congratulations, Eustace! You have completely misinterpreted Reepicheep’s motives. He would have been on Jill and Puddleglum’s side, because A) Your current mission is to rescue the Prince, not look for adventures and vacation spots, B) As Puddleglum points out, the King isn’t going to be alive much longer, so even if the sea weren’t LITERELLY FLOODING UNDERLAND, they wouldn’t have time to spare on “private adventures”, and C) Reepicheep was the first to tell Caspian that he mustn’t go to the very end of the world when there was no guarantee of getting back, because his subjects are counting on him to return.
When Rilian finally realizes that he needs to return to his father, time has already been wasted.
“Now,” said Puddleglum, “it’s ten to one we’ve already stayed too long, but we might as well make a try. Those lamps will give out in five minutes, I shouldn’t wonder.”
They end up lasting for a few hours, at least, but the lamps do eventually fail, leaving them to finish their journey in complete darkness – although that may actually be a blessing in disguise.
“Courage, friends,” came Prince Rilian’s voice. “Whether we live or die Aslan will be our good lord.”
“That’s right, Sir,” said Puddleglum’s voice. “And you must always remember there’s one good thing about being trapped down here: it’ll save funeral expenses.”
I love you, Puddleglum.
Seriously, though, the darkness turns out to be helpful, as they’re able to notice a very dim light which they may have missed with the lamplight. It just goes to show that sometimes all you can do is press forward, whether you can see a way out or not, because even in the darkness, Aslan is their good lord.
Next time: The Disappearance of Jill