The Magician's Nephew

by C. S. Lewis

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Digory and Polly live on a city block in London where all the houses share a common attic, from one end of the street to the other. It is while exploring this attic that they enter Uncle Andrew's study. The study is not particularly interesting, except that it has some rings in it that, when worn, can transport their wearers to other places. One place is the Wood between the Worlds, which is composed of trees and a scattering of pools of water. The pools seem shallow, but when a person steps in one, that person drops though onto another planet. "It's not the sort of place where things happen. The trees go on growing, that's all," says Digory about the woods, but pools that transport people to other worlds make the place seem active enough.

The world Digory and Polly first visit is Charn, a name probably taken from the word charnel, meaning a place for the dead, and Charn is virtually dead. Its immense buildings are devoid of people, except for a huge room filled with likenesses of kings and queens. It is in this room that Digory revives Jadis by ringing a bell, and Jadis turns out to be a person consumed by evil, because she murdered every living person on Charn in order to remain queen, and she seems to think it grand that she is supreme ruler of a deserted world. Eventually the pool that leads to Charn goes dry:

"When you were last here [the Wood between the Worlds]," said Asian, "that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That world is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning."

The Magician's Nephew was written soon after World War II, a war in which weapons of great power had killed millions of people. Charn may be an example of what can happen.

The most important place in The Magician's Nephew is the world of Narnia. Please note that the world is not itself called Narnia; the name Narnia belongs to the place first created in the world by Asian—a place that becomes the nation of Narnia. At first, the world is not inspiring. "This is an empty world. This is nothing," says Jadis,

And it [Narnia's world] was uncommonly like Nothing. There were no stars. It was so dark that they couldn't see one another at all and it made no difference whether you kept your eyes shut or opened. Under their feet there was a cool, flat something which might have been earth, and was certainly not grass or wood. The air was cold and dry and there was no wind.

This passage is probably inspired by Genesis 1:1-2:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (King James Bible)

But this empty world is about to be full of wonders. There is a great song, from which water arises and then plants such as grass and trees; then animals burst out of the ground:

Can you imagine a stretch of grassy land bubbling like water in a pot? For that is really the best description of what was happening. In all directions it was swelling into humps. They were of very different sizes, some bigger than mole-hills, some as big...

(This entire section contains 737 words.)

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as wheelbarrows, two the size of cottages. And the humps moved and swelled till they burst, and the crumbled earth poured out of them, and from each hump there came out an animal.

Compare this passage to Genesis 1:24: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so."

For a short time, the world of Narnia is filled with Aslan's creative power. Even coins dropped on it sprout into trees. The arm of a lamp post that Jadis throws at Aslan sprouts into a new lamp post with a light that never goes out. Mountains arise to the west and a forest full of spirits arises all around, and the Great River first begins to flow.

Literary Qualities

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Part of what Lewis wanted to do in The Magician's Nephew was explore the Godlike creation of an entire world. Therefore, he draws on the Bible for the pattern of creation. He begins with a world that "was uncommonly like Nothing," much as "the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." (Genesis 1:1) in the Bible. Genesis 1:2 says that "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Lewis imagines the movement of God's spirit as a song:

A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.

Lewis's effort, here, is to make concrete the somewhat abstract passage of the Bible and to fill in the details. After all, Digory, Polly, and others are witnessing firsthand the creation of Narnia, and Lewis needs to show his audience what they are experiencing.

The Bible's account of the creation of Earth is not always abstract. It can be vivid: "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. . ." (Genesis 1:14). In The Magician's Nephew, the passage is: "One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world." The reference to "our world" is Lewis's reminder that the world of Narnia is different from Earth, and the "brighter and bigger" objects in the sky are part of what is different.

In "The Chronicles of Narnia," the movements of stars and planets often portend important events in Narnia's world, and the centaurs are particularly good at reading the heavens, the "signs" mentioned in Genesis. Lewis also says, "If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves who were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing." This develops an idea from a wonderful line in Job: "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" 0ob 38:7).

As you and I have already seen, Lewis takes the idea of "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind. . ." (Genesis 1:24) and imagines a land so fertile that animals erupt out of it. He also has a man name the animals—"You shall rule and name all these creatures, and do justice among them, and protect them from their enemies when enemies arise," Aslan says to Frank the Cabby—much as God allows Adam to do in Genesis 2:19:

"And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof."

This suggests that human beings will be dominant over the animals, and indeed only sons of Adam and daughters of Eve are allowed to be the true kings and queens of Narnia.

One way the world of Narnia differs from Earth is in how evil is introduced into the world. In the case of Narnia's world, Digory brings evil from another world, Charn, in the form of Jadis, who, like Satan, will tempt Digory in the garden. Unlike Adam and Eve, Digory resists temptation and thus avoids the fall. Paul puts the situation this way in Romans 5:19: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." In the world of Narnia, it is Digory's obedience that allows for a magical tree to be planted to form a barrier between Narnia and Jadis, who is in the north. This is an example of fulfilling Aslan's mandate, "And as Adam's race has done the harm, Adam's race shall help to heal it." Again, the Bible is echoed: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead" (I Corinthians 15:21). The reward for obeying Aslan is as great as the penalty for disobeying God is harsh on the earth, for Narnia will know hundreds of years of freedom from evil before Jadis eventually overcomes the magical barrier and enters Narnia.

Social Sensitivity

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The Magician's Nephew can be read as a great adventure, and it is likely that the adventure is what appeals most to its readers. An undercurrent to the adventure is kindness and mercy. After Digory brings evil into Aslan's beautiful new world, he is given a chance to redeem himself, and in so doing, he brings peace and freedom from evil to Narnia. This is echoed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in which the traitor Edmund is redeemed by Aslan's sacrifice. Each case mirrors God's mercy and generosity, because in each case Aslan (representing Christ) provides a way for people who have done evil to be forgiven and to have access to life beyond death.

For Further Reference

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Beetz, Kirk H. Exploring C. S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia." Osprey, FL: Beacham Publishing, 2001. This book is intended for general audiences and covers Lewis's life and career and provides extensive details about the characters and themes in "The Chronicles of Narnia," along with original maps for all the settings and in-depth chapter-by-chapter analyses of each novel in the chronicles, as well as explanations of the biblical sources for some of the events in the novels.

Bingham, Derick. C. S. Lewis: The Storyteller. Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1999. An engagingly written fictionalized version of Lewis's life, intended for young readers.

Coren, Michael. The Man Who Created Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994. This is a well-illustrated and well-rounded account of Lewis's life, intended for young readers.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. A reference book for "The Chronicles of Narnia" geared towards adults rather than young adults. It is an alphabetical listing of characters and themes, with some sharp, insightful explanations of major issues.

Gormley, Beatrice. C. S. Lewis: Christian and Storyteller. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. In this spiritual biography of Lewis, Gormley traces Lewis's development as a Christian writer. It is best suited for teenaged readers.

Gresham, Douglas. The Narnia Cookbook: Foods from C. S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Namia." New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Gresham provides recipes for preparing foods mentioned in "The Chronicles of Narnia." Children should have adult supervision when they prepare the dishes.

Lewis, C. S. C. S. Lewis Letters to Children. Edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead. New York: Macmillan, 1985. Lewis had an extensive correspondence with children, who wrote to him from all over the world. He made a point of replying to every letter he received, although near the end of his life he needed his older brother Warnie's help. This book is a selection from his many letters written to young readers. He is charming, and he gives serious answers to serious questions.

Sibley, Brian. The Land of Narnia. New York: Harper Trophy (HarperCollins), 1989. Sibley finds the beginnings of Narnia in Lewis's childhood fantasies and includes some early drawings of "Animal-Land." It is well suited to young readers.

Swift, Catherine. C. S. Lewis. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989. This is an inspirational book that uses Lewis's spiritual journey as an example of how people can discover Christ in their lives.

Wellman, Sam. C. S. Lewis: Author of "Mere Christianity." Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour, 1996. This thoughtful book for young readers tells how Lewis tried to show how all Christians are united by faith.

Wilson, A. N. C. S. Lewis: A Biography. London: Collins, 1990. In this biography, Wilson sorts through the legend to uncover the real C. S. Lewis, explaining much of Lewis's private life as well as his public career.




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