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The Magician's Nephew

From Academic Kids

The Magician's Nephew is a fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis. Although not the first in The Chronicles of Narnia series, it is the first in the internal chronology.

It is an early example of a prequel. There are many links to the later The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, most notably Digory himself, who, as Professor Kirke, is the owner of the house containing the Wardrobe in the later story.

Readers familiar with Genesis will recognise the parallels to it in Lewis's work.

Synopsis

The story begins in London with two children, Digory and Polly, meeting as neighbours. Digory tells Polly that his Mother is dying, and the two become friends over the course of the summer. One day, while playing together in the attic which is common to all the adjoining houses in their block, they take the wrong door and surprise Digory's Uncle Andrew in his study. Uncle Andrew, a bumbling self-taught magician, tricks first Polly, then Digory, into putting on a magic ring, which transports the children into a wood with many pools of water. Initially, the pools appear to be just shallow puddles. However, when the ring is worn, the pool of water translates the wearer to a different world. This Wood between Worlds is thus a kind of switching-station for gateways between many worlds.

The first world they visit is the ruins of the old city of Charn. They find a bell and a sign warning them not to ring it. Digory does anyway and it brings the evil queen Jadis back to life. She tells them how she spoke the Deplorable Word to destroy all life in Charn except herself. The children try to escape back to the Wood, but the queen comes with them. She follows them to our world where she leads Uncle Andrew on a wild chase through London. Polly is sent to her room for being naughty, but gets out and joins Digory in his efforts to get the evil queen out of London. Ultimately, through use of the magic rings, not only the queen but also a cab driver, his horse, Andrew, Digory and Polly end up back in the Wood.

Next they enter another world that is completely dark until a lion begins to sing and the stars begin to shine and the sun rises. Aslan the lion breathes life into the world as animals, plants, and the world itself are created from nothing. Jadis attacks Aslan but cannot kill him, and so runs away. Aslan selects some animals to become intelligent talking beasts, giving them authority over the dumb beasts. Aslan sends Digory on a journey to get a special apple to atone for bringing the evil queen in the new world of Narnia. Polly, Digory, and the horse (turned by Aslan into a winged horse) fly to a far away mountain to get the apple from a walled garden. The queen arrives also and tempts Digory to eat the apple and gain eternal youth, and to take an apple to cure his dying Mother. The queen has eaten an apple herself, thus becomes immortal. Although tempted, Digory keeps his promise to Aslan and travels back to give him the apple.

Aslan tells Digory "well done", instructs him to plant the apple in the ground, and holds a ceremony to crown the king and queen of Narnia (the cab driver and his wife) while a new tree grows. Aslan explains that this tree will protect Narnia from the Witch: since she took the apple from the original tree in a selfish way, its fruit is now abhorrent to her, and Narnia will thus enjoy an innocent Eden-period. Aslan gives an apple from the tree of protection to Digory to take to his mother to cure her of illness, and sends the children and Uncle Andrew back to the Wood between the Worlds, whence they return to London. Digory gives the apple to his mother, who is cured, and buries the apple core in his back yard, along with the magic rings, which Aslan has instructed him to safeguard to prevent future misuse. The apple core grows into a tree, and years later it is blown down in a storm. Digory can't bear to have the tree cut up into firewood so he has it made into a wardrobe, linking the end of the narrative to the first Narnia story, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Commentary

Just as in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Lewis illustrated the mysteries of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, with themes of betrayal and redemption, The Magician's Nephew illustrates, at a similar level, the themes of creation, primal innocence, the Garden of Eden, original sin, and temptation. A nine year old who has heard the Biblical account of creation should have little difficulty following the story; the parallels with the first chapter of Genesis are obvious, with the Biblical forbidden fruit represented by an Apple of Life, for example. However, readers who are not familiar with the Bible creation story can still enjoy the book as a pure fantasy story.

The story includes the divine establishment of a royal and aristocratic social system in which an English couple and their descendents (the cabby and his wife) are set in authority over an empire consisting of Narnia and its adjoining countries. The reader is also left in no doubt about the precise social class of each of the English characters, with the implication that this matters to God; the cabby is of common origin and his wife is a washerwoman. At the end of the book, Digory's father, who was working in India (then, like Narnia, under British rule), inherits money and a large house, and this sudden wealth and country landlord status is stated to be a good thing. We may assume that these aspects owe less to the Bible than to Lewis' own attitude, which tended to be shared by most English people at the time of writing. The reference to the Deplorable Word and Aslan's comparison of this to the atomic bomb is another non-Biblical thread, also reflecting popular fears at the time of this book's writing.

The characters are well drawn, engaging, and developed through a series of moral choices, particularly Digory. Polly is more than a mere sidekick but is assigned to a supporting role in the drama. Uncle Andrew, initially a very sinister and manipulative presence, collapses into a figure of fun, while Jadis (the White Witch) provides the real portrayal of evil. Aslan acts in the role of the Creator. There is no reference to the distant "Emperor over Sea" who had been paralleled with God previously in the series. Presumably this was a deliberate simplification by Lewis to keep the complexity at an appropriate level.

The Chronicles of Narnia
C. S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe | Prince Caspian | The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair | The Horse and His Boy | The Magician's Nephew | The Last Battle
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