In my rereading of The Chronicles of Narnia, I just finished book six and am onto book seven, so might as well begin my reviews. C.S. Lewis doesn’t disappoint. He has such great ways of describing things and was also such a thinker of his time, but also a forward, big picture, thinker. Both are reflected in his writing.
The Magician’s Nephew
Copyrighted 1955. This is actually the second book Lewis wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia, but in order of the series timeline, the first. It is the creation story of Narnia. This one has always been in my top three of the Narnia books and even now, I’m still not sure if I like this or The Silver Chair better. This is the story of how Digory and his neighbor Polly run into Digory’s wicked uncle and end up in fantasyland.
Although there’s something about this story that always feels unformed to me, I think it works in the series as a whole, for on the one hand the plot is merely a precursor to the the next book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, in it’s own right The Magician’s Nephew deals very well with sin and evil. As the series is a Christian allegory, the sins of Digory, Uncle Andrew, and the rest are fully on display here, echoing the fall of humanity into sin in the Garden of Eden. It’s a good foreshadowing of more mistakes, temptations, and evil to come with the rest of the series, but also the promise that Aslan, a stand-in for God, or more specifically, for Jesus Christ, will reconcile everything and make it good again.
The magic green and yellow rings always fascinated me in this book, as did the long row of houses and how Polly and Digory move from one to the other in the attics and accidentally find Uncle Andrew’s office. Speaking of him, Uncle Andrew is seriously creepy! It’s an entirely different experience looking at him from an adult perspective rather than the child and young adult I was when I first read the series. He’s a gamma if there ever was one, even later thinking that the witch, Jadis, would fall in love with him. What a riot! Even to the end, he calls her a “dem fine woman.” Today he would totally be a male feminist. Uncle Andrew’s also so proud to be a super special secret magician, not once considering that just because one can do something, doesn’t mean that should do something. He perfectly embodies the mad scientists of today with their gain of function research and other monstrous experiments. Ironically, Uncle Andrew is important. Without him, the rest of the series wouldn’t have happened. Just as if Adam and Even hadn’t fallen, our great awesome salvation story wouldn’t have happened? Well, it’s interesting to think about, anyway.
The dying world Jadis comes from is interesting in its emptiness and of course Digory just has to ring that bell. I would be the same. It would be too tempting. As for the new world just beginning, I love the way Lewis describes Aslan and the creation of Narnia here. It’s a cool way to picture what the creation of our own world might have looked like.
Jadis is a haughty, evil diva. She is a more worthy opponent than evil guys like Uncle Andrew. She is through and through a villain. So is Andrew, but he’s so pitiful, one would rather just avoid him. Okay, now I can’t decide which kind of evil is worse, the one one you know you should confront right away, or the one that is awful, but doesn’t seem worth fighting, at least at first. Both have their place and both have been used throughout the world’s history.
I also like how Lewis embraces fantasy–really embraces it with all the weird creatures, not thinking them bad or wrong, but they could possibly exist. God could/could have create/d the and that would be just fine. Great, even. He can embrace it, because he has a good root, a sure faith in the real world and truth. I also like how humble people like cabbies can become kings. And what an awesome origin story for the lamppost!
As for the overly religious part: I like how Lewis deals a bit with the Tree of Life and how later Aslan tells Digory that if he had given some to his mother both would have regretted it. We don’t often really seriously think about what would have happened if Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Life after Eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Imagine the constantly degrading world, constantly decaying, one’s body decaying and giving out and then not even being able to die. A whole different ball of wax than what we have now. In The Magician’s Nephew, Digory ultimately resists the temptation. This is a test from Aslan, a way to right Digory’s wrong of bringing Jadis to this world. I am happy he passes the test. I wish we could all pass the tests given to us, but it takes great faith, courage, and humbleness. The sacrifice of God necessary to truly atone for sin, Lewis leaves, or rather, wrote first in the second book that introduces us to the future kings and queens of Narnia: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.
And, cooly, Lewis slips in that Digory is The Professor in the next book and how the wood from Narnia was made into the magical wardrobe from The Lion, the Witch, and the….