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Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

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By Lin

A woman leaning against a metal silver chair reading the book The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

Our local library smelt like a church.  Housed in a tithe barn, something about its arching roof timbers and silence made browsing in the Children’s Section an almost reverential act.

The book I pulled from the shelves that particular day was The Silver Chair.  Instantly it pulled me, as good books do, into an altered state.  The first illustration hooked me absolutely: two improbably tall kids, desperate to escape an unhappy day at school, invoking an Other World.

It wasn’t the children I loved best though – in that, or any other Narnian tale that I read subsequently.  (And reread.  And reread again.)  Even as a 9-year-old in the 1960s, I found their buttoned-up, gung-ho ways a bit old-fashioned; at times it made them more alien than the Narnians.

My favourite Narnian in The Silver Chair was Puddleglum the Marshwiggle.  Just saying his name was pleasurable.  Otherwise, it’s curious that a terminal pessimist reeking of fish and bog should seem so appealing – particularly since his spindly limbs are likened to those of a large spider.  I was borderline arachnophobic, even then.

He does possess a quality that in adulthood I came to recognise easily: a lack of self-confidence which makes courage all the more remarkable.  Puddleglum is far from an obvious hero, yet he’s the one who does The Brave Thing: extinguishing the enchantress’s fire with his bare webbed foot just before they all irrevocably succumb to her incantations.  (Burnt Marshwiggle is not nice, but brings you to your senses, says Lewis.  Power of smell again.)

He’s clearsighted at other times, too: when the lure of creature comforts during a snowstorm supercedes the children’s allegiance to their mission, Puddleglum tries to stay true to the quest; his only problem is lack of enough self-assurance to insist.  By overruling him, the children put them in desperate danger – but Puddleglum berates only himself.

Puddleglum is widely feted, apparently, for his clumsily-expressed, stubborn allegiance to the faith when the Witch seeks to charm him into believing that hers is the only reality.  I’ll live by my own delusions, thankyou very much, says Puddleglum.  The Christian apologia underpinning Lewis’s books did make me squirm at times, even at 9, but the strength of his storytelling and the vividness of his landscapes was something I so yearned to enter into that I could forgive that – more easily here, at least, than in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.

As a child, I doubt I’d have explained Puddleglum’s appeal in such terms. I think I liked him more because he made me laugh.  At that age, being tipsy enough to muddle your words seemed very funny indeed, and Puddleglum’s proud but inebriated self-description as a ‘Reshpeckobiggle’ always got me giggling, no matter how often I reread the story.

And yes, he is relentlessly glum.  But he’s also loyal and loving and true as steel.  No wonder Lewis’s children are thrilled to meet him again in the afterlife.

The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum as part of its 26 Characters exhibition. The group have produced a collection of poems, and couldn’t resist being part of the gallery of favourite characters.

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