Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Magician's Nephew


Make no mistake: Narnia is not Middle-earth. Nor does it need to be.

Though C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were colleagues and, for a time, the closest of friends, the two writers had very different objectives in writing The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. A comparison of the two works might tell us a great deal about those objectives, about the authors as writers, as men and as Christians—and it might also tell us a great deal about ourselves, and our tastes in literature.

But such lessons are not the purpose of this introduction to Narnia. Instead, over the next seven months, we will be approaching each volume of Lewis’ Chronicles as Lewis intended: as an individual installment of an epic children’s fantasy, and as Christian allegory. We will be asking elemental questions of each of the seven books—What’s the basic story? How does it work as literature? What religious significance does Lewis intend? And rather than muddy the waters by stirring those answers together, we will address each question separately.

We begin not with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as did C.S. Lewis and his original audience, but with that book’s ‘prequel.’ Actually written as the sixth volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew documents the origins of Narnia, the magical land which the Pevensie children discover through the back of Professor Kirke’s fantastical titular Wardrobe.

Before documenting the End of the Tale in The Last Battle, Lewis thought it important to tell the Beginning of the Tale in The Magician’s Nephew. Honing in on this importance, the editors of some editions of The Chronicles of Narnia have even seen fit to publish The Magician’s Nephew as the first volume of the series.

Our purpose is pretty simple, however, as articulated by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” And so, as we will see, we start with the sound of music. The music of Narnia.

Story Synopsis: In The Beginning...

Digory Kirke has had to move with his terminally ill mother from a beautiful country home to his aunt and uncle’s house in London. His father is away in India; his mother is bed-ridden and expected to die soon. He is scared and lonely, and when Polly, a next-door-neighbor, pops up, he is delighted to have found a friend.

Now, Digory’s Uncle Andrew is, shall we say, unusual. He works alone in the attic much of the time, and his sister, Letitia (Aunt Letty), will not allow him to speak of his exploits to his nephew. Not surprisingly, Digory is curious, but his uncle’s strangeness helps him keep his distance.

One rainy day during an atypically rainy summer, Digory and Polly decide to do a little exploring, following a tunnel-like passageway between the houses in their row. A miscalculation causes them to enter Uncle Andrew’s attic room by accident, and thus their lives take an incredible turn.

Narnia6-1.jpgUncle Andrew, seizing the opportunity to use two human guinea pigs, woos Polly into reaching for a brightly colored ring—and she disappears. Cunningly manipulative, Uncle Andrew plays on Digory’s sense of propriety, pointing out that unless Digory goes after her (with two “return trip” rings), Polly is doomed to an unknown exile.

Digory angrily (but honorably) complies.

After putting on the ring, he emerges from a shallow pool into a peaceful, sleepy wooded place, where Polly is resting languidly by a tree. After a few moments of “remembering,” knowing each other and how they got there, they look around and discover myriad pools like the one from which they both entered the wood—and decide to explore the other pools to see if they connect to other worlds. After making sure they are able to return to London with the “return” rings, they mark the “London” pool, then don their rings and jump into a different pool, one through which they are transported to, yes, another world: Charn.

Narnia6-2.jpgThe world they enter is clearly not a happy place—the sun is old and tired-looking, giving off dim reddish light. It is cold, dry, stale, dusty. But our two little heroes are curious, and enter the first door they come to, which is filled with finely dressed statues of sorts. On a pedestal around which the figures are sitting, there is a small bell, with a similarly small hammer next to it. An inscription warns that both ringing the bell and not ringing the bell carry dire consequences, and Digory makes the crucial choice: he rings the bell.

There is movement and noise, and suddenly there is a giant, wickedly beautiful woman addressing them. She is Jadis, the queen of Charn, and the spell cast upon her world has been broken at the ringing of the bell. Believing the children to be spectacular magicians (having the power to enter her world and break the spell) she directs them to take her to their world, so she can conquer it as she has the dying world she wishes now to escape. Despite their best efforts to leave her behind, when Digory and Polly don their rings the witch-queen tags along, joining them in the Wood Between the Worlds.

Here, the powerful, amazingly strong Jadis undergoes a startling change: she becomes weak, and the children find themselves less intimidated by her. As they are about to don the “London” rings, Digory mercifully hesitates to abandon Jadis, which allows the ailing witch passage to London with them.

Yet another significant choice.

Upon emerging once again into Uncle Andrew’s attic laboratory with the fierce queen, chaos breaks loose. Jadis begins issuing demands of Andrew (whom she believes to be a Great Magician)—demands that Uncle Andrew, in his sycophantic way, is slobberingly happy to try to satisfy. Unfortunately, Jadis is an impatient woman, and when Andrew’s ineffectiveness annoys her, she takes the matter into her own hands.

After (literally) throwing Aunt Letty across the room, Jadis hijacks the horse-drawn cab Uncle Andrew has procured, and proceeds to go about her conquest—stealing jewelry, abusing the Londoners and such. Meanwhile, Digory is frantically formulating a plan to return the witch to her own world before she does more damage.

When the hansom cab returns, with Jadis riding more as a charioteer than as a carriage passenger, there is (not unexpectedly) a crowd in tow. Continuing her display of rage and domination, the queen wrecks the cab, rips off the iron arm of a lamppost, and bashes a police officer on the head with it. At just the right moment, Digory grabs the witch while Polly is touching both him and her ring, and together they snatch Jadis into the Wood Between the Worlds—along with Frank, the cabby; his horse, Strawberry; and a still-simpering Uncle Andrew.

Strawberry unknowingly steps into one the of the pools for a drink, and when Digory and Polly grab their green rings, the whole group is transported through the pool to a dark world—a world at the moment of its creation.

Narnia6-3.jpgThrough the magic of the rings, we are now privy to the very creation of Narnia—a world sung into being by Aslan, the great lion. For those whose hearts are open, the lion is singing the most beautiful song, and the plants and creatures coming forth are serious, but peaceful. For those whose hearts are less-than-pure, the lion’s voice is frightening, and the world coming into being is threatening. Jadis, in fear and anger, attempts to destroy Aslan by hurling the broken-off arm of the lamppost (which she has been carrying and threatening people with since they left London) at his head; though she makes solid contact, there is no evidence that the great lion even noticed the attempted assault. At that, Jadis flees, knowing that her power is nothing compared to that of Aslan. The lamppost arm proceeds to grow into Narnia's famous beacon of the Lantern Waste.

Meanwhile, Aslan has chosen certain creatures to be a council of speaking animals, and he explains to them that the humans present have brought evil into their brand new world. Digory, feeling terrifically ashamed, is yet hopeful that the great lion might hold the cure for his mother. He approaches Aslan, and when Aslan’s eyes fill with anguished tears over Digory’s pain and his mother’s condition, Digory allows himself to hope for a miracle.

Narnia6-4.jpgBut Aslan doesn’t grant his wish. Instead, he asks if Digory is prepared to undo the evil that he has brought into Narnia. At Digory’s affirmative reply, Aslan charges him with the task of retrieving the seed for the tree that will protect Narnia from the evil of the queen. And thus Digory’s quest to right the wrongs begins.

Digory and Polly mount the newly-winged Fledge (a.k.a. Strawberry) to find the—you guessed it—apple from which the seed for the protecting tree will be taken. Two days’ flight later, they arrive at a gated courtyard, with a tree bearing large silver apples awaits Digory. Upon entering the courtyard, he finds yet another warning poem—that he should take of the fruit only for others, not for himself, lest he find his “heart’s desire and find despair.” After plucking a single apple from the tree, he looks up to find Jadis, her mouth stained an unnaturally dark color from imbibing in as many apples as she pleases. She proceeds to tempt Digory himself, enticing him to take the apple straight to his mother, rather than back to Aslan. And Digory is tempted, but when the witch goes too far, and tries to convince him to leave Polly behind as well, Digory comes to his little-boy senses, shuts his ears to the wicked queen, and rides back to Aslan in determined obedience.

Narnia6-5.jpg“Well done,” is the great lion’s reply when Digory hands him the treasured apple. Digory hopes that Aslan will then allow him to take the apple back to his mother, but once again, his wishes are not granted. Instead, Aslan asks him to do the unthinkable—to throw the life-giving apple as far as he can. And he does.

The inhabitants of the new world are now invited to the coronation of the cabby and his wife (whom Aslan has brought to Narnia without needing any magic rings) as King Frank and Queen Helen of Narnia. Meanwhile, during the ceremony, the apple has become an enormous tree, complete with its own crop of silver apples. Aslan explains that the tree and its apples will keep Jadis away, for the apples that she ate in greedy willfulness have become simultaneously the thing she most loves and most despises. “All get what they want,” Aslan counsels: “they do not always like it.”

At this point, Digory sees the folly of his desires to take an apple to his mother—he understands that eating an apple from that tree for the wrong reasons at the wrong time will produce untold anguish and misery. And his hopes for his mother’s health are dashed.

However, Aslan is the creator of the apples, and an apple given by its creator is not the same as one taken by a created being. Thus the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is germinated: with a solitary silver apple that was mercifully granted to a boy to take back to London for his mother.

Magic: Characters and Lands

Perhaps it’s best that I’m taking on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series as a novice. The only volume of the series that I have read is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and that was many years ago. Given that I remember little of it, and because I have read none of the other stories, I have had the relative luxury of approaching The Magician’s Nephew without bias. That’s a luxury, you ask? Not a handicap? Yes—without prior knowledge or understanding of the series as a whole, my analysis is less likely to be colored by what takes place in the other stories. And I’m sure there will be other newcomers like me whose interest has been piqued by the release later this year of the Disney-produced movie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Like me, they may be venturing out on the Internet exploring for opportunities to learn more about the Narnia series and to share their observations.

Narnia6StudyE.jpgThis article specifically discusses how The Magician’s Nephew comes across as a piece of children’s literature in a time when the genre is dominated by the likes of Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket. To frame this discussion I’ll focus on what I see as the common denominator in the story—magic. We will look at the role magic plays for each of the main characters, how it affects each of them, and, finally, what it offers us, today’s readers.

Does this portrayal of magic have a chance of interesting us as much as the image of Harry Potter zooming around the sky on a magic broom during a rousing match of Quidditch? Perhaps not. I have to admit that, while I enjoyed The Magician’s Nephew, it was often because it felt peacefully nostalgic—not because I was anxiously turning the page to see what happened next. But then, I’m not a kid anymore, either.

But I do think it’s hard for The Magician’s Nephew to compete against Harry Potter. The magic used in this story is not as fantastic as that which children today are used to. A ring used to pop from one world to another is a bit of a yawn compared to what kids see every day in movies and TV programs now. In fact, the pace of the entire story is slow and rather quaint, with the narrator occasionally inserting himself like a friendly old uncle. The point here, though, isn’t the magic itself—and certainly not that friendly uncle. The point is that through the magic—perhaps in spite of it—the characters display their qualities, both good and bad.

So who has magic in The Magician’s Nephew? How is it used and who benefits from the use of it? In the story most of the characters are touched by magic. Many wield it to some degree or another.

Narnia6StudyC.jpgAndrew is the titular magician, but isn’t much of one. Only by means of inheritance has he come to possess the substance from which the magic rings are made. Intrigued by the potential benefits and profits of magic, Andrew is too much of a coward to experiment on himself with the rings and instead uses helpless animals and children. When faced with those who really do possess magic, however, he is helpless. He views Jadis with fear although he is attracted by her beauty and power. He sees Aslan only as Aslan physically appears, a wild beast, and Andrew has no perception of the power that Aslan wields.

Narnia6Study2.jpgThe children, Polly and Digory—portrayed at first as naïve and mischievous—grow during the story to become brave, noble, patient, and loving. They start out seeking adventure by attempting to explore an empty dwelling in their row of houses and wind up being forced to either grow or be overcome by the events that take place. The children also come to use the magic and are changed by it—not by the magic directly, as through some spell, but by the use and misuse of it by others in the story. Lewis portrays Digory as ultimately noble and brave although a bit impulsive. Polly is thoughtful and also brave. We quickly see that the two possess greater virtue in their innocence than does Uncle Andrew in his ‘maturity.’

When the children mistakenly enter Andrew’s attic room and he discovers them, Lewis plainly shows us Andrew’s greed, cruelty, cowardice, manipulation and vanity. Sure, Narnia6Study4.jpghe is a magician of sorts, who must be fascinating to the children, but his use of magic is cruel and greedy—as he demonstrates when he tricks Polly into putting on the ring, forcing Digory to logically see that he must follow after her. And this is precisely when Digory starts to show his mettle, and his behavior starts becoming an example for us.

The evil queen Jadis, whom Digory unwittingly brings back to life in the dying world of Charn, uses magic to give her power and through the use of it has destroyed her world. She is hungry to rule again. She is experienced in wielding magic and is overcome by the power of it. She does not have the strength of character to use it fairly for the greater good of all. She is only interested in using it in order to gain power and rule over as much and as many as possible.

Narnia6StudyB.jpgAslan wields the greatest magic in this story and possesses the greatest power. Aslan, alone, truly understands the power of the magic he wields. Although he does not appear to be the creator of the magic itself, he is very close to it. He creates Narnia and through his wise use of magic, it will be a wonderful, peaceful world for hundreds of years. But he also possesses a magical foresight seeing that Narnia will not be able to withstand the evil of Jadis forever. Eventually he will be forced to deal with her. His strength and fairness are always evident, but so is the weight of this burden upon him.

In addition to the characters, the worlds they inhabit effect and are affected by the magic in this story. Up to their disappearance from Andrew’s attic, the children have been in London and, although it is a different era from our own, it is still familiar to us. The rings, by contrast, transport the children to a place that is unfamiliar to them and us—the Wood Between the Worlds. It is quiet and warm and full of life, and they are very comfortable there but oddly unaware of themselves at first or where they have come from. They are overcome by the bliss of the place, and indeed it might be viewed as heaven—a blissful place where specific forms may be just a way to give an earthly reference to the minds of Polly and Digory (and to us).

The Wood is beyond earthly conceptions of good. It is a place where evil does not exist and cannot survive. When Jadis is brought here by accident by the children from her world she simply withers. She loses all strength and seems to have no knowledge of herself or what she was before she came there. The appearance of Jadis in our own world is an indictment of sorts, in that she finds her strength, if not her magic, once again when she is taken to Earth. She sees Earth as a place of opportunity and is eager to rule it.

Narnia6StudyA.jpgBut Lewis serves up an indictment of other worlds, too. The children discover Charn when they (or Digory, at least) decide to do some grander exploring than what they had in mind when they set out to investigate the empty house in their row back in London. They determine the proper use of the rings and jump into one of the ponds in the Wood, then find themselves in a ruined and apparently uninhabited city. The sun is a dim red. The buildings are old and crumbling. Lewis describes it as deathly silent, not the warm, rich silence of the Wood Between the Worlds. After some exploring, they enter a great hall. Here Digory is overcome by his curiosity and rings the bell that awakens Jadis. If Charn had ever been a fair and decent place, she and the people of Charn changed it into a place of power for power’s sake, and she destroyed it when threatened with the possibility of losing that power to her sister. Later in the story when they see that the pond that led to Charn is dried up, Aslan says that that world is ended as if it had never been. He warns that if the leaders of Earth do not change their path, Earth may have a similar fate.

Narnia fares somewhat better than Earth or Charn. We witness Narnia being created by the magic wielded by Aslan. When the entire group is transported to this world all is darkness. Aslan sings Narnia into existence. As they watch, light, mountains, rivers, trees, grass and animals all appear. Through this we begin to understand the true power of the magic and what Lewis is pointing to as the real source and meaning of it, both in the context of the story and metaphorically.

Of the characters, who understands the magic? Andrew is vain enough on Earth to suppose he is a great magician, but he understands it least of all. He wishes to use it for his own gain and is only a pretender. Jadis quickly sees this when she comes to Earth and drafts him to help her explore the new world she wishes to dominate. Andrew gains nothing from the magic and, if not for the strength of character of Polly and Digory and the beneficence of Aslan, he could easily have been destroyed by it.

Jadis understands the magic or, at least, that using it according to her will can make her very powerful as she was on Charn. But through the use of it she destroyed Charn and everyone living there. At the end of this story she remains in Narnia, but in a position, that, for now, exerts no influence; she is in exile.

Narnia6Study5.jpgAslan understands the magic and uses it for the good it was intended. He also understands its power and danger and that using it, while giving great power, also places great responsibility on those who use it. Jadis and Andrew did not know this or did not care; destruction (in the case of Jadis) and mishap (in the case of Andrew) followed.

Digory and Polly perhaps don’t understand magic, but they are at least open minded enough to see the dangers inherent in it. Digory craves it to save his dying mother, but is afraid to take it for his own use by stealing an apple. He doesn’t know exactly what would happen, but he believes it would displease Aslan and fears the consequences. Because of his bravery and obedience, Digory is nonetheless awarded an apple by Aslan and he is able to take it back to earth and miraculously cure his mother. Polly perhaps does not receive anything directly and serves mostly as a companion, but she grows much during the course of the story. In the end even Uncle Andrew is restored to Earth and over time becomes redeemed. He does not become heroic, but after returning to Earth he at least becomes benign and attempts no more magic.

The peril of this story may be much more nuanced (read: dull) than what children today may be used to, but the moral and virtues are much more evident than in today’s literature. Through the course of the story, the children grow, particularly Digory, and this prepares him for his greatest challenge. This challenge is not Jadis; she is merely one of the vehicles for it. The peril Digory faces is whether he can overcome the temptation to take one of the magic apples. This is made even more difficult because if it were only for himself he might easily overcome the temptation—but it is for his mother who is bed-ridden and dying back at their home in London.

Because he is able to overcome and win this battle with himself, we are presented with the lesson that selfless acts of strength and bravery can produce big rewards. In this case, Digory is given one of the magical apples and is able to save his mother. Through this trial and all that has happened before he has become a better human being. But in a world where we are accustomed to the sensory overload of physical peril we see in movies, television programs and even television news, we may have difficulty identifying emotionally with Digory’s peril even though the consequences of failure will result in his mother’s early death.

That is the problem for today’s reader. Will Digory’s triumph be appreciated or even understood in a world where the message of a story is easily overcome by the technology used to present it? I’m betting not.

A Journey Toward the Creator

Five characters—standing in darkness on something cold, firm and seemingly barren and void—bear witness to the creation of the magical land of Narnia. Drawn into the experience by the sound of an exquisite and almost eerie singing that defies recognizable definitions of music, Digory, Polly, the Cabby, Uncle Andrew, Jadis the Witch Queen and Strawberry the horse are about to encounter the Creator. Each of them will take a different spiritual journey based on an individual response to both the music and the physical presence of the great lion Aslan. What is the principal significance of this scene? And how does it help us interpret the spiritual signposts that author C. S. Lewis provides his readers as the journey progresses?

Narnia6Study8.jpgAlthough this episode does not occur until the mid-point of The Magician’s Nephew, it is truly where the journey begins. Through what they have experienced prior to this point, the characters have been given knowledge (or have recognized knowledge around them) that will determine their response to Aslan, the story’s personification of God. Some of them will embrace Aslan whole-heartedly while others will avoid him completely. Some will joyfully become devoted disciples who will freely follow and do his will even in the face of suffering and death, while others will make their own rules, carve their own paths, pursue their own aggrandizement and continually instigate conflict by fighting against Aslan and all he represents. This tension between obedience and rebellion becomes a metaphor for the desire to know from whence we came—and the choice of what to do about what we discover.

The Bible tells us that planted deep within every person is the desire to know God. Though we —like the characters in this book—may choose to believe what has been revealed to us or not, we would find it difficult to refute the seemingly universal and deep yearning to know why we exist and what our purpose is in life. How did we get here? Why were we put in this place and time? What are we supposed to do with this life? These are the questions that constantly beset and drive us through the days of our lives.

Digory, for example, in early conversations with the amoral and self-serving Uncle Andrew, shows himself to be a young moral and ethical apologist who quite reveals Uncle Andrew to be the villain that he is. How did Digory get this way? Was his conscience developed over time by equally moral and ethical parents? If so, where did they learn or from whom? One may argue nature and nurture or trial and error, but both intuition and science tell us that there is a beginning to all things—a point of creation. Thus, the search for the creator or “prime mover” begins.

As Digory and the others listen to the music and watch the creation of light in Narnia, they are stricken with an unexplainable recognition to which they just can’t quite give a name. This is the call of that inner yearning to know... the response to the creator’s voice planted deep within the soul. For Digory, Polly, the Cabby and Strawberry, this call is welcomed and brings great joy and a desire to know fully and more.

Jadis and Uncle Andrew, on the other hand, are horrified. Uncle Andrew wants to find a hole to crawl into and hide. Jadis is so angered by a power that seems far beyond hers that she would rather destroy all than endure existence in such a place.

Narnia6StudyD.jpgEach of these responses is typical of the God-given right we all have to choose what our relationship with the Creator will be. C.S. Lewis knew this journey intimately, having struggled well into adulthood before completing his discovery of that needed relationship on a dark and solitary walk one evening after years of debate with such devout men as J. R. R. Tolkien. Lewis recognized that this encounter with the Creator, shared by himself and his characters, begins the real journey.

Once this foundational journey is understood, we can pay true attention to other spiritual themes that Lewis builds into the pages of The Magician’s Nephew. The most easy to follow is Narnia’s metaphorical creation itself. Beginning with a dark void, Lewis faithfully follows the Genesis story as Aslan calls forth vegetation and animals. The story is a story, of course, and not meant to be a rote reiteration of the Biblical myth. Aslan names the Cabby and his wife (who is pulled out of her own world into Narnia) King Frank and Queen Helen, not Adam and Eve, and they are given dominion over Narnia and its inhabitants—and responsibility for naming the animals and plants just as God instructed Adam and Eve to do in Genesis. Aslan also commands King Frank to make his living from the earth, blesses Frank and Helen and their children and grandchildren, and promises that their offspring will be kings of Narnia and neighboring Archenland. The promises of Aslan echo the promises God makes to Abraham in Genesis—that he will be the father of offspring more numerous than the stars.

As a sidebar to the creation of Narnia, Lewis also notes mankind’s destructive tendency to misuse creation. Uncle Andrew looks at Narnia and sees the burgeoning life and beauty in terms of pounds and shillings. First on his agenda is the killing of Aslan so that he can possess and develop Narnia and possibly live forever.

Narnia6Study1.jpgLewis now has Aslan expand on another theme that has run through the book since the first pages—the existence of good and evil in the world and the resultant and inevitable conflict this creates. Just as the biblical God confronted Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit, Aslan turns to confront Digory, who is responsible for bringing the evil and powerful Queen Jadis from Charn—a dead world that she has ruled into destruction—into the beautiful, new, vibrant and perfect Narnia. At first, Digory attempts to refocus Aslan’s attention on Jadis, but Aslan quickly redirects Digory, reminding him that he is responsible for his actions and must now requite the wrong that he has committed. While God certainly never expects us to be responsible for another person’s wrongdoing, the sad thing we come to realize (as does Digory) is that our wrongdoing and poor choices may have far-reaching consequences for those around us and the world in which we live—just as the choices of others will also affect us. None of us lives in a vacuum. Despite the best of intentions, Digory’s own agenda—his own will and desire—has caused him to act impulsively without considering how this might affect others. He just had to ring that bell, just as Eve had to try that fruit!

Narnia6Study7.jpgBut how can we point a finger at Digory, or even Adam and Eve? We know, deep in our own hearts, that our desires and perceived needs—or just downright wants—drive us to make choices that we later recognize as ill-advised. How often have we heard out of our own mouths, “so-and-so or such-and-such made me do it?” And we also see that this is a typically human pattern. Digory’s choice in ringing the bell out of self-gratification and curiosity echoes Polly’s choice early in the book when she impulsively accepts the yellow ring from Uncle Andrew because the rings are the most beautiful and desirable objects that she has ever seen, and she covets them. Likewise, Uncle Andrew and Jadis are driven by their desire to possess and use power to their own ends. Their decisions are based solely on what’s in it for them, and the rest of the universe be damned! In addition, when Jadis is not present, Uncle Andrew forgets his fear of her and reverts to his own path of treachery and cunning. He is proof of our own inclination to dismiss the cost of making the wrong choice when any consequence seems far away or nonexistent. Lewis helps us realize that conflict comes from many quarters, even from within. What might the choices we make today do to or for our world and those around us tomorrow?

But wait, you say. Digory’s motives are driven by his deep love for his mother and his desire to save her. Isn’t this noble and right and selfless? Yes, and Aslan recognizes this in Digory, but even Digory sees that part of himself also houses a dark side—a side that desires to take control and go its own way without regard for consequences. Aslan reminds Digory that he must think and count the cost before acting, no matter how noble the deed.

Narnia6Study3.jpgAslan assures Digory that good will eventually triumph but that Narnia will have to struggle through the battle between good and evil. The reality is that evil is present in the world, not as God ordained or desired, but as invited by the free choices made my mankind. Digory mourns even as we say, “if only...” But ifs are not what are real. God is not a puppeteer. He wants us to seek Him and meet Him without strings attached. No one is forced to know God.

What of this god, Aslan? What do we see in his character that draws Digory, Polly, the Cabby, and Strawberry the horse—yet repels Uncle Andrew and Queen Jadis? The answer is found in Aslan’s first command to the newly created world and inhabitants of Narnia. As Aslan awakens Narnia, the first directive he gives them is to love. The characters who are drawn to Aslan recognize that this command grows out of a foundational attribute deeply ingrained in the Creator. Primarily through Digory’s interaction with Aslan, we witness the love that he has for all that he has made and knows. When Digory has the courage to look into Aslan’s eyes after asking that his mother be cured, he sees that Aslan’s tears for his pain (and hers) is even deeper than his own.

Those who are repelled by Aslan, however, have no love save that of self-preservation. Their hearts are so hard that they find his song discordant and grating and only seek to run in the opposite direction. Again, none is forced to respond; Jadis and Andrew are allowed to make their own choices.

Narnia6Study9.jpgJustice is also an attribute of this Narnian god. Though he has the power to destroy evil with a single breath, he allows Jadis to remain. There will be an ultimate confrontation between this all-powerful good and her venomous evil, but it will come in Aslan’s time, according to his plan, and dependent upon his will. He will allow circumstances to develop in Narnia until the time is ripe to bring a new reality. He alone will choose the time and place where he will take on the task of redeeming Narnia. And he has determined that Adam’s race (mankind)—having brought the evil in through personal choice—must help to correct this wrong.

God’s right to decide and do as He pleases with His creation (referred to as His sovereignty, His kingly and royal prerogative) has always been a thorny issue with humans. As Lewis demonstrates with Uncle Andrew, we all have a strong desire to direct our own lives and have our own way and mete out our own justice. Thus the eternal conflict within us: be god, or let God be god?

Lewis also does a thorough job of exploring temptation in The Magician’s Nephew. Within the first few pages of the book, we are aware of a room in Digory’s house that, according to Aunt Letty, must never be entered. Just as God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Uncle Andrew has forbidden anyone to enter the room where he works to perfect his magic. Of course, this is immediately intriguing to Digory and Polly: temptation number one. And even though they do not intentionally set out to seek this particular room, their errant mathematics—used to determine the distance to the empty house through the connected attics—gain them access, by their own choice to open the door in the brick wall. Polly allows her curiosity to overcome her and chooses to be the first to enter the room even though she knows that this is not the abandoned dwelling they were seeking.

Narnia6Study6.jpgTemptation number two: stay and explore, or get out. Digory knows that it is wrong to remain, but Polly has spotted the gorgeous yellow and green rings and her desire to know more about them moves her into the role of leader: temptation number three. She leads Digory far enough into the room that Uncle Andrew (who has been biding his time waiting for them) is able to lock both doors and entrap them.

Through flattery and deceptive logic, Uncle Andrew manipulates each child just as the serpent in the Garden of Eden manipulated Eve. He recognizes that the moral force in Digory may be hard to overcome or take too long to develop, so he focuses on Polly and her natural attraction to the rings. Just as the snake encouraged Eve to pick the fruit, Uncle Andrew entices Polly to touch one of the rings and wham! she is spirited out of her world.

Following a many-paged discussion of morals and ethics (Digory has them, Uncle Andrew does not) Digory is led into his own personal temptation to rescue Polly because Uncle Andrew assaults his honor. Won’t Digory rescue the lady, as is the manly thing to do? His choice to go after her (and who would not make that choice with him?) begins the story that Lewis ultimately took seven books to complete.

In the land of Charn, Digory is also tempted out of defiance and competition to strike the bell. And finally, in a certain garden at the top of a certain hill in Narnia, Digory faces the ultimate temptation.

Aslan has sent Digory to obtain the special apple that, when planted in Narnia, will produce a tree that protects the land with one hundered years of peace. Jadis, just as the serpent did with Eve, entices Digory to take the life-giving apple to his mother—to use the rings, forsaking all in Narnia to return to her and his world. And this time, Digory really understands that many of the events he has been a part of have been outcomes of his choice, and with the maturity of experience he makes the choice for Aslan and not Jadis—the choice for good rather than evil—even though the path for good will be harder to tread than the path of evil.

From encounters with the Creator to temptation and the nature of good and evil in the world, The Magician’s Nephew provides a great and entertaining foundation for the discussion of spiritual topics, with children and with adults. Written in a vernacular that they can enjoy and couched in the genre of fantasy that they love, the book brings forth profound and deep topics that should not be ignored in childhood yet are often are shunted aside because an adult doesn’t know where or how to begin the discussion. And, although there is more than enough to talk about in this book, six more are waiting to entertain and enlighten.

Aslan closes the first story with a promise to Digory. Because he has made the correct choice, Digory will see his mother healed—not for eternity in their world, but for the length of her life. Aslan also promises redemption for Narnia—the price of which Aslan himself will pay. But that is were the journey continues...


The Magician's Nephew

Chapter 1
  • Coiner. An alchemist, one able to turn lead to gold: to mint one's own coin. In this context, a magician of sorts.
  • Ginger Beer. A non-alcoholic carbonated refreshment made from lime and ginger root. The carbonation is derived from yeast. Similar to Root Beer.
  • Dark Lantern. A lantern with a single closable opening, rather than open all around. Figures prominently in Poe's "Tell-tale Heart."
  • The Drains. The plumbing in London's early row houses were notoriously clogged, and the resulting seepage was credited with the spread of typhus. The explanation Polly's father offers about the vacant home, then, is that it was closed for health reasons.
Chapter 2
  • Adept. A psychic operator, similar to a medium; but where a medium passively channels spirits, an adept actively controls them.
  • White Feather. A sign of cowardice. During WW I in Britain, white feathers were given to young men who had not joined the army. It was intended as an insulting gesture.
Chapter 6
  • Pax. Latin for "peace." Children today might say "truce" or "time out."
  • Hansom. A particular type of horse-drawn cab in which the driver sat high up behind the cab. These are still in use today as a novelty.
Chapter 7
  • Sal Volatile. Smelling salts. Used to revive the fainted.
  • Bow-window. A curving window case set out from the wall, allowing a view down each direction of the exterior wall. Also "Bay Window."
  • Butcher's Boy. A young man or boy employed to assist in a butcher's shop with various tasks, including the task of deliveries.
  • Mutton. Not merely sheep's meat, but the meat of a fully grown and usually tough sheep. A poor meat for poor folks, known for its particularly strong, greasy smell.
  • Old Cove. A fairly common British euphemism for an elderly person, much like "old bat." Usually intended as an insult.
  • Brick. A helpful, reliable person. Solid, dependable.
  • Charger. A swift horse trained for use in the cavalry.
Chapter 9
  • Pawn. To exchange personal proper for money as a secured loan. A pawn shop sells unclaimed pawned goods. Glenn Miller famously pawned his trombone several times before making good.
  • Yeomanry. Historically, the yeomanry were neither serfs nor nobles, but free craftsmen, cotters, soldiers, etc. In Medieval times, they represented a large middle class already accustomed to self discipline in small businesses and trades. The class included blacksmiths, archers, shoemakers, chandlers, etc. Later, "the Yeomanry" became the title of a particular branch of the British military.
Chapter 12
  • Fledge. To grow a covering of feathers, which is what Strawberry, in a way, does.
  • Rum Go. Strange luck. In British vernacular, "rum" generally means "odd" or "bad."
Chapter 13
  • Saffron. A spice of yellow-orange color, harvested from crocus blossoms. The spice is also used as a dye.