The Psychology of The Silver Chair
Posted by SciAwakening
I’m no longer a Christian but I’m still a big fan of The Chronicles of Narnia. I was practically raised on the books of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien took great pains to let everyone know that he wrote The Lord of the Rings with no allegorical intentions whatsoever. C.S. Lewis on the other hand was very open in declaring that his books were full of allusions to Christianity. But that doesn’t really bother me. Literature is a form of art and we can interpret art in many different ways. Also, Christians can write some very enthralling and entertaining fantasy fiction, I wonder why that is? (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
One of the ideas from the Chronicles of Narnia that keeps popping into my head again and again is the concept of “the silver chair”. The Silver Chair is the fourth book in the original (and correct) ordering of the series. In this tale, Aslan (a Christ-like figure in the series) transports the children Eustace and Jill to Narnia on a special mission to save Prince Rilian. Prince Rilian is the long missing heir to the throne of Narnia. Eustace and Jill eventually end up in the underground kingdom of the imaginatively named Queen of Underland (sorry Clive, had to take a shot at you there). When the kids arrive in the underground city the Queen is away for a bit and they meet a young man about the same age as Prince Rilian (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), serving at the right hand of this wicked witch. He tells a tale of the queen rescuing him from an evil enchantment and dines with the children.
Soon, the young man informs the children that he must be placed in restraints, for the enchantment still has a small hold on him. For an hour each day they restrain him, he succumbs to the spell, and becomes delirious. The queen in her grace and wisdom is using her magic to slowly purge him of these spells, but for now the queen’s servants come to restrain the young man and he willingly goes with them.
The unsupervised children decide to watch the spectacle and enter the room with the lone man secured to a silver chair. As the spell comes upon him he beseeches them to intervene:
Quick! I am sane now. Every night I am sane. If only I could get out of this enchanted chair, it would last. I should be a man again. But every night they bind me, and so every night my chance is gone. But you are not enemies. I am not your prisoner. Quick! Cut these cords.
Have they told you that if I am released from this chair I shall kill you and become a serpent? I see by your faces that they have. It is a lie. It is at this hour that I am in my right mind; it is all of the rest of the day that I am enchanted. You are not Earthmen nor witches. Why should you be on their side? Of your courtesy, cut my bonds.
Now you can save me; when this hour has passed I shall be witless again – the toy and lapdog, nay, more likely the pawn and tool, of the most devilish sorceress that ever planned the woe of men. And this night, of all nights, when she is away! You take from me a chance that may never come again.
He then invokes the name of Aslan, essentially invoking the name of Jesus, and this sign, foretold by Aslan, compels the children to free the prince. He sprints across the room, draws his sword, and lays waste to the enchanted chair:
Lie there, vile engine of sorcery, lest your mistress should ever use you for another victim.
Freed from the spell, he reveals himself as Prince Rilian and the party escapes from the underground lair and return to the sunlit lands as the underworld crumbles.
So over the past few years I’ve been thinking about the concept of the silver chair in regards to my social anxiety disorder. For most of my life I felt like I was in a haze of anxiety and depression and every once in a while I would have a “silver chair moment” when I was able to rise above it and perceive reality in a more accurate way than I normally do.
It’s been a year now since I’ve started taking the appropriate medication for my condition and physiology and it has caused a sea change in my subjective experience. My neurotransmitters are far more balanced now and it shows in my mood and in my general outlook on the world. I feel as if the medication freed me from the bonds of the silver chair of social anxiety disorder and allowed me to pick up the sword and destroy that “vile engine of sorcery” once and for all. The main difference is that I did not come under the spell of this chair, I was born into it. And of course I know that the analogy is imperfect in other ways. If I stop taking the medication, the spell of constant anxiety will certainly return. Also, there may come a time when the medication will no longer work for me in the same way it does now. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now I’m enjoying the life I should have been able to enjoy for the past thirty years.
In general I’ve thought about silver chair moments as those sudden moments of clarity that you get when you finally get a glimpse of the true nature of reality after spending most of your life in a subjective haze. This is also a useful concept when thinking about conservative religion. The former Christian who becomes an atheist sees the silver chair as the conservative and repressive religious dogma that held him in bondage for the early part of his life. The atheist who becomes a Christian sees the chair as a haze of godless unbelief until he awakens to the power and love of Christ. Our perception of the silver chair depends on our underlying temperament, beliefs, and experiences.
Have you had any “silver chair moments” lately? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.
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Posted on March 17, 2012, in Books, Mental Health, Personal, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion and tagged atheism, books, C.S. Lewis, Christianity, psychology, religion, social anxiety disorder, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.