The Silver Chair and The Wolf that Ate the Moon

I was up early again this morning to check out another astronomical wonder: a total lunar eclipse.

Apart from the faint blood hue towards sunrise, a casual observer wouldn’t have noticed too much difference from an ordinary moon. Except for the first fifteen minutes, that is, when it really did look as if a huge bite had been taken out of it. No wonder the Vikings of old believed a ravening wolf was chasing the moon.

They called the moon, Mani, and considered it to be one of those giants I’ve looked at in earlier posts in this series. One of the stories about Mani tells how he captured a pair of children, Hjúki and Bil, who had gone to a well to fetch some water. They carried a bucket on a pole laid across their shoulders. This tale of Hjúki and Bil is sometimes said to be the origin of our nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill.

The Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology says nineteenth century mythographers considered Jack and Jill were two asteroids captured by the moon. Imagine—a world in which the moon was circled by two moons of its own! And then somehow, in some ancient cataclysm, they were drawn into earth’s gravitational well and spun out of control to a watery splashdown in one of earth’s oceans. Through most of the twentieth century, this scenario was regarded as verging on impossible within historical times—but in the twenty-first, it’s coming into favour again.

Jill Pole is, of course, one of the major characters in The Silver Chair. She arrives in a watery splashdown, dropping into Narnia after an astronomical fall. Perhaps I should retract my assertion The Silver Chair is about giants, Jupiter and Thursday, rather than—as Michael Ward suggests in Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis—the moon.

However to back my assertion still further, I’m going to examine the name Jill. It’s said to be short for Gillian, said to be the medieval English feminine form of Julian. The latter comes from the Roman name Iulianus, Julius, which may be derived from the Greek ιουλος downy-bearded or downy-haired. Alternatively, it could be from the god Jupiter. Or from the patrician family of Rome, who claimed descent from the mythological Julius, son of Aeneas, and whose most notable member was Julius Caesar.

What more could an author ask in a name? A combined reference to both Jupiter and Aeneas—fantastic!

In fact, the reference to Aeneas, founder of Rome, visitor to the underworld and exile from Troy is all over the history of the name Jill. In medieval times, various mazes and labyrinths existed in the landscape across Europe. There are numerous examples of a Julian’s Bower, a turf-cut maze, in England. They are also called July Park, Julian’s Castle, Gillian Maze and many other similar names. Also called Troytown mazes, these grass, hedge or stone-lined paths are thought to have been named from Julius, son of Aeneas.

As I research the meaning of names and the propensity of writers to struggle with their own identity as it is encoded in their own names, I find this fascinating. Gillian Rubinstein’s novels are frequently about mazes and labyrinths—including Beyond the Labyrinth and Skymaze.

Jill Dempsey’s recent YA novel, My Spinning Jupiter, is another work that explores the deeps of the author’s own name as much as it does the odd quirks of a young girl entering womanhood.

This raises the question of why CS ‘Jack’ Lewis would be writing a story about Jill. But why not? As a Jack, ultimately it’s another navigation of the myth of his own name which he began in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lewis, after all, comes from Llew, lion—the name of the Celtic god of light—Llew Llaw Gyffes, the lion of the steady hand.

Jack is the traditional name for a satyr or faun in English folklore.

Here are two significant elements from the first of the Chronicles of Narnia: faun and lion.

What Lewis does with his name is a transformation as extraordinary as the wrestle between Jacob and the angel at the ford of Jacob. There, Jacob the deceiver became Israel, a prince with God. And here, Lewis in a very real spiritual dynamic shifted the sense of his name from lion of the steady hand to Lion of Judah.

The whole idea that names are labels, that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, is a misconception. Once we see the link between names and an author’s common motifs, we quickly realise how powerfully names are encoded in many books.


  1. When you say that the asteroids may have been there “within historical times”, what period are you thinking of? I take it that implies within (semi-)recorded history?

    • The period that immediately springs to mind is that prior to 537 AD. Mike Baillie, the dendrochronologist who wrote Exodus to Arthur seems to be of the belief that the years of catastrophic climate collapse after 536 AD are due to a meteoric impact in the Celtic Sea.

      • So you’re actually talking about fairly recent recorded history? _ I was thinking Bronze age or earlier originally by the tone of the text…

        • I actually was thinking that there was a probability that the story might be older than the sixth century: more Bronze Age than Iron Age. However, the key element of the Jack and Jill story is that they landed in water, not on land. (And if it were an impact other than water, it’s an entirely different story because water tends to remove evidence in a way that earth doesn’t.)

          The reference to Hjúki and Bil occurs in the Prose Edda of the thirteenth century. So in a certain sense, it could be any time up to that. In fact, a story from the late twelfth century (which has an Australian and New Zealand connection) might just be relevant. Rather than go into it here, I might write on it in the next post.

  2. Alison Collins

    LOVE the fire rose picture. Seems like there is no escaping the destiny wrapped up in a person’s name. Do you think a lot of people run away from this, and would this indicate that it’s probably closer to the truth of who we are?


    • I don’t think that it’s so much that people run away from it as that, even if people are passionately interested in the meaning of their own name, it’s difficult to get beyond the few words in a dictionary of baby names.

      Right at the moment, I’m talking to three different women who want to know what Katherine (or its Irish or Hungarian variant) means. All of them know that the meaning is “pure” according to every book they have consulted. All of them are dissatisfied but don’t know where else to look.

      Fortunately, in this instance, there are three people, none of whom know each other, all willing to compare notes.

      • I see that you are saying most people don’t know what their destiny is, (that which is encoded in their name). I understand that, what I’m curious about is (like most of us chickens)is do most people unconsciously run from their destiny do you think, or do we stumble around in the dark, partly living it out anyway?

        • I think most people desperately want to achieve their destiny. Nonetheless anyone who hasn’t run from it (at some time or other) doesn’t understand the enormity of what they’re called to become and how far they will have to transcend themselves.

  3. I can understand all too well, that most people don’t know what their destiny is, as encoded in their name. My own name, (Lynette) according to one book on the entomology of names is “a variant of ELUNED, who, in the Mabinogion (a collection of tales from Welsh myth), was a servant of the Lady of the Fountain who rescues the knight Owain. The name my parents were originally going to call me was Robin, which, according to the same book means: “A medieval diminutive of ROBERT, which came from the Germanic name Hrodebert meaning “bright fame”, derived from the Germanic elements hrod ‘fame’ and beraht ‘bright’.” All wonderfully interesting, but considering I’ve never rescued a knight, I’ve done nothing famous and I shy away from the limelight where does that leave me? In a word, “in the dark.” Okay, that’s three words, but you get my drift 🙂

    • Hi Lynne

      Interesting that you should use the expression ‘in the dark’ when there is a sense of exactly the opposite. Eluned is said to mean, among other things, eidolon or icon – that is an object that represents something else. One idea of an icon in religious representation art is as a ‘window to the divine’ through which light (or perhaps enlightenment) pours.

      On the other hand, an eidolon can conceal as much as reveal. That is, the representation can hide the truth. Helen of Troy is said in one legend to have gone to Egypt, while only an eidolon of her appeared at Troy. (Helen, by the way, is sometimes cited as another source of the name Lynette.)

      Just yesterday, however, I found an interesting possibility for Lynne, especially in terms of its often-suggested Welsh origin. The word llen means a mantle. Although Eluned does not own a mantle in Arthurian legend, she is frequently coupled with someone who does: Tegau Eurfon. And mantles are significant in any culture; even today, long after mantles disappeared as a common item of clothing, we talk of ‘passing the mantle’.

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