The Magician's Nephew, by C. S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia are short and easy reads. It is nice to get absorbed in Lewis’s fantasy world, especially after getting marred by Dostoevsky. These books are short enough, and enjoyable enough, that they can be read in a single sitting. The first book in the series, “The Magician’s Nephew,” provides the creation story for Narnia. At first, I expected the Narnia creation story to be similar to The Lord of the Rings creation story in the Silmarillion, which was a conglomeration of short stories and difficult to read. Lewis’s creation story is very different from the Silmarillion. It’s a single, easy to read narrative, and its plot parallels the creation story from Genesis.
In the beginning, Aslan created Narnia. But before that, a boy name Digory and a girl named Poppy wanted to go on an adventure. They went exploring in the tunnels that connected their houses. Accidentally, they entered the door that led to Uncle Andrew’s personal study. When the children were discovered by Uncle Andrew, he locked the door, effectively capturing the two children. He placed a yellow ring on Polly’s finger, and she disappeared. Next, Digory touched the yellow ring, and he disappeared also. Digory’s uncle vanished from view, and in the next moment he arrived in a wooded forest, and lying next to one of the trees was Polly.
The two children discovered that the yellow rings transport them from their home world, earth, to the magical “Other World.” In the Other World, also known as the “Wood between the Worlds,” the combination of rings and pools is used to move between all worlds. There are as many worlds as there are pools of water. To get to a world, one places a green ring on his finger, and jumps into a pool of water. To travel from a world to the Wood between the Worlds, one places a yellow ring on his finger. The Wood between the Worlds is an intermediate world between all other worlds.
In the first world that Polly and Digory visit, they meet the “White Witch,” Jadis. Digory, despite Polly’s warnings, rings a bell that awakens the frozen world from its slumber, which is what causes the queen to come to life. Jadis is the Queen of the World, she is tall, and she is stunningly gorgeous. Digory is immediately impressed with her being. She declares that Digory must take her to Uncle Andrew, the magician, so that she can conquer earth and rule as the queen in Uncle Andrew’s kingdom, because obviously Uncle Andrew used his great magical powers to summon the Queen. It becomes quickly evident that Jadis, despite her pleasing appearance, is evil. Her intentions are wicked and egotistical.
Using the magical rings, Digory, Polly, and Jadis return to earth and Uncle Andrew’s studio. From this point, a series of humorous and calamitous events ensue. Suffice to say that the Witch does not behave properly in London, and Uncle Andrew is greatly embarrassed by his guest. After these calamitous events, the rings are used to return the Witch to the Woods between the Worlds. However, more than just the Witch is brought to the Woods. Digory, Polly, Jadis (The Witch), Uncle Andrew, the Cabby, and the Cabby’s horse, Strawberry, are all delivered, because they were all in contact with one another when the rings were used.
The party enters another world, and here is where the real adventure begins. This world is dark and quiet. It’s blank. But from the darkness and silence, a beautiful voice emerges and light begins to illuminate the hills. As the light increased, the travelers could see the hills and mountains of the landscape. They also saw that the Singer was a Lion. The Lion sang, and the world formed. His music was causing the grass to grow and trees to emerge. Jadis was not pleased with the Lion nor the world, so she flung a broken lamppost at the Lion. The lamppost did not startle the lion, and it fell innocently to the ground. The Lion continued to sing, and the world continued to form. Even the broken lamppost grew into a full-sized lamppost. In Genesis, God creates earth and the universe simply by speaking. Similarly, Aslan creates Narnia by singing. The analogy to the Biblical creation story and the Garden cannot be missed. Even before the world was created, evil existed. The Witch, the devil – these beings existed before humanity.
The Lion sang varying tunes of the song, and as the tune changed, so did the created things. Animals arose from humps in the ground, and the world was filled with living beasts, and with the sounds of those living creatures. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be Digory, observing the creation of Narnia. Can you imagine watching God create an entire world? How amazing and mind-boggling that would be! To see animals emerge from the ground. To see trees grow a lifetime in just seconds. All from nothing. All from just darkness. The created animals all approached the Lion, and then the Lion spoke. He declared the world as “Narnia,” and he told the animals to love, speak, and think. To some animals, he gave knowledge and reason, but to other animals, he kept them dumb and refused the ability to speak. Thus, Narnia was created. Talk about power, and not being able to understand fully our awesome God. Every time that I read the creation story, my mind is blown, and I am impressed with God’s power.
After Aslan was done speaking, the animals noticed the queer looking humans. Digory mounted Strawberry, the Cabby’s horse, and approached Aslan. Poppy and the Cabby follow Digory. And then there is Uncle Andrew. Uncle Andrew was not pleased by Aslan’s song, and he was in a foul mood. His heart was hardened. He could not understand the animals’ speech. He heard only snarls and barks. When the creatures approached him to investigate, he thought they were attacking him. Uncle Andrew’s perception of the world was entirely misguided. He could not hear nor see. He was isolated because of his hardened heart. The scene with Uncle Andrew and the animals is very humorous. I found myself laughing out loud when the animals concluded that Uncle Andrew was a tree and tried to plant and water him. They buried his feet in the ground and poured water on his head. Eventually, they conclude that Uncle Andrew is not a tree, and they try treating him as a pet instead. They try feeding him, but Uncle Andrew refuses to eat the leaves, honey, nuts, worms and other vittles provided by the Narnia animals.
While the animals are playing with Uncle Andrew, Digory approaches Aslan. Digory is not shy, and he asks the great Lion for something that will make his mother well. Instead of answering Digory’s question, Aslan declares that the boy is responsible for bringing evil to Narnia. The Witch was introduced to Narnia by Digory. “Adam’s race” is responsible for introducing evil into the world, and therefore Adam’s race will be responsible for contending with that evil. Next, Aslan uses his power to retrieve the Cabby’s wife from earth, and Aslan declares that the Cabby and his wife are the first King and Queen of Narnia. Those who seem unimportant on earth will be great rulers in heaven. The Cabby was not a powerful figure on earth, but because of his faith, he inherited the kingdom of Narnia. On the other hand, Uncle Andrew can be seen as unrighteous and therefore unsanctified and therefore not a ruler in Narnia. Narnia, like God’s kingdom, is only for the saved.
To combat the evil in Narnia, Aslan sends Digory on a mission. Digory’s objective is to bring back an apple from the garden which is located on the other side of Narnia. To ease the expedition across Narnia, Aslan creates wings for the horse, Strawberry, and renames the winged beast to Fledge. Digory, Poppy, and Fledge traverse Narnia in pursuit of the garden. The garden itself was beautiful and obviously “private.” There was a sign at the entrance that warned visitors to only enter and take fruit for the good of others. Visitors should not climb the garden walls to gain admittance, nor should they eat the fruit for personal satisfaction, else they will find only despair. Digory heeds the garden’s warning and enters through the magnificent gate. Fledge and Poppy conclude that this garden is not meant for them to enter, so they remain behind. Inside the garden, Digory feels that it is very private indeed. He locates the apple tree in the middle of the garden that Aslan instructed him to pick from. He picks his apple, but notices that there is a bird in the branches watching him. What is the significance of this bird? I think there is also a bird in the “Paradise Lost” garden? And, I think it has something to do with the introduction of and pervasiveness of evil.
Then Digory spies the Witch, and he flees from her. The Witch assures Digory that she means no harm, and she tempts him to eat the apple. She promises life and vitality and power. She claims that Aslan is being selfish and only wants the apple for himself. She says that she ate some of the garden’s fruit, and as a result she is stronger and more beautiful than ever. Then she suggests that instead of taking the apple of life to Aslan, he should take the apple to his mother and save her life instead. Digory is faced with a choice – to return to Aslan, to eat the apple himself, or to bring the apple to his mother. Digory passes the test and delivers the apple to Aslan. This was the correct action.
Our characters all gather together. Aslan declares that Uncle Andrew is a sinner, deaf, and blind. Aslan coronates the King and Queen of Narnia. During the coronation ceremony, a tree is sprouted from the apple. The Tree will protect the Narnians from the evil Witch. The Witch will not come within 100 feet of the Tree, because the Tree represents everything that repulses her – joy, life, peace, fellowship. The Tree is our shield against the devil. Equip yourself with God’s armor, and the devil will flee. Just like the Witch will flee from the Tree. We all need protection from evil powers.
Next, Aslan explains what happens to those who eat the apple. The Witch ate the apple, and as a result, all of her heart’s desires will be granted. She did not lie. The fruit brings pleasure and satisfaction. But the satisfaction of the fruit is only temporary. It will bring only misery and despair for those who eat with an evil heart. The Witch will gain youthfulness and beauty in the present moment, but for eternity she will be miserable. The attraction of the apple is only fleeting. The obvious parallel here is to sin. Indulgence in worldly goods and pleasures brings happiness in the moment. But it does not bring eternal joy. The devil appeals to our worldly desires, he tempts us with what we want most in this world, but we must maintain an eternal perspective. Just like Digory repelled the Witch’s temptation in the garden, we must resist the devil’s temptations daily. The devil is wise, and he knows what we crave. His promises are tempting. The fruit looks appetizing. But heaven is greater. Therefore, shield yourself with the armor of God and flee on Fledge from evil. This reminded me of Philippians, in which Paul talks about striving forward towards eternity and avoiding the fleshly “dogs.”
In the last chapter, Aslan gives one warning and one command to Digory and Poppy. The warning is that the earth will be ruled by tyrants, worse than Jadis. The command is to bury the rings so that they can never be used again. Digory and Poppy obeyed Aslan’s command. They buried the rings, exactly as instructed, but with the rings they also buried the core of the apple that Digory returned to earth with. Fast forward many years, and the apple grew into a great tree. The apple tree was chopped into timber and a wardrobe was constructed from its lumber. This wardrobe lumber retained the magic from the apple and never forgot its origin. It will serve as the passage to Narnia in the subsequent novel.
Overall, what did I think of this book? I thought it was amazing! Obviously many parallels to Christianity and the Bible. But I also like how C. S. Lewis uses his authority as the novel’s author to add his own twists to the creation narrative. The creative twists are what make the story enjoyable. It makes us think about creation and the fall of man more deeply. To deviate from the Biblical story, the author must have a firm understanding of God’s word, so that he does not misrepresent any of God’s truths. This is was Lewis does. He has a firm Biblical foundation and then uses this foundation to weave an imaginary narrative that compliments the Biblical truth.