Goodreads: The Magician’s Nephew
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia #1
Summary: When Digory’s magician uncle trick him and his friend Polly into wearing his magic rings, the children find themselves in place they believe is the gateway to a number of new worlds. Wonder turns into worry, however, when they visit a dying world and unwittingly release an ancient evil that will follow them home to their world and then to the newly created Narnia.
When I first read The Magician’s Nephew in fourth grade, I was not impressed. After the excitement of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this book seemed pretty tame. The main character was, first of all, a boy (Polly has always seemed a bit ancillary to me) and a lot less happens, in terms of action. Digory and Polly accidentally release a crazy sorceress and then, what? Watch a world get born. Half the time, the crazy sorceress is not even around; she is off ruining the lives of people who are not the main characters.
Re-reading has slowly changed my opinion. In the first place, I have grown to believe that watching a world come into being is interesting after all. There is the obvious enjoyment that readers learn a few fun facts from this book, such as where the lamppost and the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe originate, but there is also a more subtle pleasure to be had in watching Aslan bring Narnia to life. The connections between Aslan and God are fairly obvious here; he is the Creator, he is both terrifying and wonderful, and he knows everything about you. Watching Lewis’s imagining of how a Creator might operate is fascinating. The Magician’s Nephew, then, is a bit more about the experience of art and creation than about an exciting plot.
Nonetheless, the book does have entertaining moments. Digory’s Uncle Andrew is a schemer with no backbone to support his plans, and it gets him into some hilarious situations when he must interact with people of stronger personalities. Likewise, the Talking Animals Aslan creates get into lots of scrapes while exploring the new world around them. And, yes, there is the rampaging evil Sorceress. While these moments have never struck me as comprising the bulk of the book, they do add lots of life and fun.
Finally, this is Narnia and it is Christian allegory, so of course there are moral lessons. However, Lewis manages to incorporate them into the plot; it is Digory learning the lessons, and then the reader tangentially, so it never sounds preachy. As a child, I never felt Lewis was talking down to me or purposely trying to instruct me from his vantage as a wise adult, and I never get that sense from re-reading.
The Magician’s Nephew is a quieter book than some of the other Chronicles, but it is imaginative and ultimately charming. It also helps complete the circle of Narnia’s existence by presenting its origin, and I think portraying a world from start to finish is a beautiful concept for a series.
One thought on “The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis”
I agree that The Magician’s Nephew seems to speak best to adults and I think that may be in part because it has so many more adult characters than the other books. I suppose Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Mr. Tumnus, Trumpkin, etc. have the years behind them, but they never come across as adults, do they? You read about a friendly beaver and you kind of want to hug it–you don’t consider it as a family friend or a teacher or any other role that adults typically fill.
The Magician’s Nephew, however, despite its title, really focuses on the Magician. Uncle Andrew’s pride, his ambition, and his vanity drive a lot of the plot. Digory may have brought evil into Narnia, but Uncle Andrew did a lot to aid him. And why? Not just the rings. His infatuation with this beautiful, though clearly cruel, woman. I don’t know that I really understood that interaction as a child. His treatment of his sister when this horrible woman came in troubled me (and I still wonder a lot about Digory’s poor, probably long-suffering aunt), but I didn’t have the knowledge about human nature to see anything in that scene besides a very silly and annoying man.
The Sorceress gets a lot of attention, too, which is interesting because she seems so different from the Witch the Pevensies will meet later. She really does rampage–and it seems so undignified for someone of her status! How does she expect anyone to take her seriously when she’s doing stuff like tearing up lampposts? (I grant it would be terrifying in real life, but the clear lack of self-control would detract from the respect she’s trying to gain.)
It’s all so over-the-top and I don’t know why. I don’t want to say the typical line about humor making a children’s story less frightening. Look at The Last Battle. Not frightening, but awful and gut-wrenching and ugly. Lewis didn’t seem to have much interest in sparing the feelings of his readers. So why the comical chase through the streets of London? Why the ridiculous uncle and the rather ridiculous Sorceress? Maybe it’s significant that Narnia began in comedy and ended in tragedy. Maybe that’s why the two books were published next to each other–so the contrast becomes more apparent. But I still don’t know where to go with this thought.