Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1490

The Magician's Nephew features a complex interaction among its characters, but Digory Kirke is the main character. At the start of the novel, Digory and his mother are living with his aunt, because his mother is deathly ill and cannot care for him. One important aspect of The Magician's Nephew is how Digory matures from chapter to chapter. At the start of the novel, he is impulsive and determined to have his own way, even when having his own way hurts others. When on Charn, he actually hurts Polly in order to ring the bell that revives Jadis.

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On the other hand, Polly, who lives down the block from Digory, is not as driven in her behavior as Digory. After all, her mother is not dying. She just wants to make friends, and crawling through the attic to the abandoned house does seem like a fine adventure, but she is too trusting of grownups. Digory's Uncle Andrew persuades Polly to touch one of the magic yellow rings: "And immediately, without a flash or a noise or a warning of any sort, there was no Polly."

With this event, positive characteristics in Digory begin to show. For one thing, he has enough understanding of people's characters to know that Uncle Andrew is "a wicked, cruel magician." Further, he is loyal to a friend. He is quick to decide that he must follow Polly to help her. In this, he shows courage, because there is no telling what evil he might face when he touches a yellow ring and disappears. Later, he shows imagination and intelligence when he explains how the Wood between the Worlds works, comparing it to the common attic of the block of houses he and Polly have left:

"It isn't a room in any of the houses. In a way, it isn't really part of any of the houses. But once you're in the tunnel you can go along it and come out into any of the houses in the row. Mightn't this wood be the same?"

He realizes that the pools are like doors, and the worlds they lead to are like houses, a fairly profound insight.

There is a pair of villains in The Magician's Nephew: Uncle Andrew and Jadis, though Uncle Andrew, a fool, is not as thoroughly corrupt as the Queen of Charn. In Andrew are echoed some of the characteristics of despots that may have particularly angered Lewis after World War II. Uncle Andrew insists, "Men like me who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules." This is his excuse for experimenting on Polly, and it is a cover for his actual cowardice; if he were anxious to know where a person would go after touching a yellow ring, why not go himself instead of sending a child? Uncle Andrew's justifications become even more menacing when they are echoed by Jadis.

"I, Jadis, the last Queen, but the Queen of the World," she says of herself. Her sister had led a revolt against her and very nearly succeeded, but Jadis knew "the Deplorable Word." She tells Digory, "It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it." She annihilates all life on her world in such a manner. In the sheer depth of her evil, she believes ruling an unpopulated world to be better than not being the ruler, and she insists that "what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I."

One of the themes of The Magician's Nephew is the difference between practicality and good. At first Jadis speaks only to Digory: "In Charn, she [Jadis] took no notice of Polly (until the very end) because Digory was the one she wanted to make use of," however, once "she had Uncle Andrew, she took no notice of Digory. I expect most witches are like that. They are not interested in things or people unless they can use them; they are terribly practical."

For Jadis and Uncle Andrew, the price of being practical before being good...

(The entire section contains 1490 words.)

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