I read The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis for Carrie‘s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. It’s the fifth book in order of publication but the first book in the Narnian time line. I liked reading it as the fifth book very much, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.
The story opens with two children, Digory and Polly, meeting. Polly lives in London, and Digory has just come there to stay with an aunt and uncle because his mother is very ill and his father is in India. Digory is not happy about leaving his pony and nice home in the country to come to London, and he is concerned about his mother, but after his meeting with Polly gets off to a shaky start, they become friends.
Digory’s uncle is thought by some to be mad, but if he’s not exactly mad, he’s at least strange. One day Digory and Polly go exploring in an attic corridor that seems to run along the length of the row of houses (the description of stepping on the rafters reminds me of a description of Lewis doing the same thing when he has a boy in a biography I read years ago – I don’t remember which one). They’re trying to get to an empty house to explore, but they miscalculate and find themselves in Uncle Andrew’s attic room. He dabbles in magic and has made some rings which he thinks sends people to other worlds – at least that seems to be what’s happened to the guinea pigs he has sent through. He suddenly sends Polly through and then manipulates Digory into going after her.
The children find themselves in what looks like a land of ancient ruins, where Digory inadvertently awakens an ancient evil, which follows them to London and causes a ruckus. In trying to get everyone back where they belong, they end up in an uninhabited world, and witness the creation of Narnia, beautifully and wonderfully described.
But they’ve brought the evil with them into the brand new world on its first day, which Aslan predicts will cause further evil later, but he promises to “see to it that the worst falls upon myself,” an echo of Christ’s taking the punishment for our evil on Himself.
More of those echoes to Biblical truth are found when Aslan breathes life into his creatures, when Aslan questions Digory as to how the evil came to be in Narnia, and Digory finds that Aslan won’t let him fudge the truth at all, when Digory concludes “the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with,” with the freedom of choice that might lead to evil and its consequences, when Digory is sent to retrieve a particular apple from a particular tree enclosed by a particular gate and reads a sign that one must come through the gate, that stealing or climbing over the wall will lead one to despair, when Digory is tempted by forbeidden fruit, when Aslan welcomes him back from his quest with “Well done,” and probably in other ways as well which I am not remembering. With this book as well as the others, as Aslan told the children in Voyage of the Dawn-Treader, “You were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
I’m leaving our great chunks of the story on purpose so as not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet. But this book as well as the others leaves me with an appreciation of its underlying truths and a wistfulness for Narnia.
And personally, I think I got so much more out of this book reading it at this stage rather than the beginning because of the thrill and anticipation when I recognized certain connections – realizing just who the children were waking up, recognizing the lamppost in the woods as that lamppost, finding out who Digory turns out to be, etc.. If I had read this book first I think I would have had a hard time caring much about what was going on with Digory and Polly at the beginning: I even had to almost fight to care this time, even knowing, from having read the book before, where their adventures were going to lead. But I suppose people who read this book first might experience the same thrill of recognition when they get to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s just hard for me to fathom experiencing these stories without starting there.
I ended up loving this book much more than I thought I would at the beginning, and I’m very much looking forward to The Last Battle next.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)