Editor’s Note: November 22, 2013, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death. On that day, he will be given a place in Westminster Abbey’s renowned Poet’s Corner. In commemoration of this event, all this week Christ and Pop Culture contributors will be writing about the works by C. S. Lewis that have been most personally significant to them.
There is no substitute for Lewis’s celebrated children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia: readers can delight in them as children and return to them afresh as parents or just as adults, always discovering new riches. I have many stirring Narnia memories, from being enthralled by the exploits of Shasta and Aravis in The Horse and His Boy when I was a child to watching my daughter dance around the room for joy at the conclusion of The Last Battle. But at this point in my life, I would count The Silver Chair as the most personally significant work in the series.
The Silver Chair is fundamentally a work about education: it begins and ends in a school, and Lewis contrasts the fuzzy, bland education of Experiment House with the pedagogy of Aslan. Early in the book, Aslan tells Jill Pole,
[R]emember the Signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the Signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the Signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the Signs and believe the Signs. Nothing else matters.
Lewis’s view of education draws heavily from Scripture, echoing God’s commands in Deuteronomy 6. It represents an approach to catechesis, teaching children precepts through memorization—not for the sake of rote knowledge, however, but so that the guidelines sink so deeply into children’s hearts that such commands become, in effect, a part of them. It is a combination of memory work and character formation that my wife and I have taken to heart in our own approach to teaching our children. In our daily life in this complex world—“off the mountain,” as it were—it can be easy to forget God’s statutes: the demands they make, but also their beauty and their savor. But if we can truly “remember the signs,” then, when the need arises, we will not lack for good counsel. That is my hope for myself, and it is my desire for my children as well; and short of the Bible itself, no text I know dramatizes this view of education so well as C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair.
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