The Magician’s Nephew: Excellent addition to the Chronicles

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review The Magician's Nephew C.S. Lewis The Chronicles of NarniaThe Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew was the sixth book that C.S. Lewis wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia, although chronologically it is placed first in the series, as a prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This leads to many debates on when and where it is supposed to be read — but really, it doesn’t make much of a difference considering that all seven of the books are complete stories within themselves. However, if you take my advice and are new to the world of Narnia, I suggest reading The Magician’s Nephew after The Lion, as half the fun of reading it is to piece together the history of Narnia and how it fits into the rest of the books.

Digory Kirke is a young boy in London, living with his great aunt and uncle due to the fact that his father is abroad and his mother is deathly ill. Life is not treating him so well at the moment, but all that changes when he meets the next door neighbour Polly Plummer, who is rather curious about Digory and his somewhat mysterious household. The two come up with a plan to creep through the rafters in the attic and thereby reach an empty house at the end of the row of houses. But something goes wrong with their measurements, and they end up in the attic room of Digory’s own Uncle Andrew, who is surprisingly pleased to see the children there. Offering Polly one of several rows of lovely yellow rings, she reaches out to touch one, and to Digory’s horror completely disappears! Coaxed by the greedy Andrew to follow her, Digory dons his own yellow ring, along with two green ones that will transport him safely back home.

The adventures that follow take them to two different extremes: the dying world of Charn and the birth of the world of Narnia, both of which are filled with intrigue, suspense, and Lewis’s wonderful way of mingling the magical with the miraculous. The origins of the White Witch, the lamp-post, the wardrobe and the realm of Narnia is all here to discover, and Lewis fits it all in very well with what he has previously established about his world in other books. The introduction to Queen Jadis is done particularly well, and remains one of his strongest characters, capable to leave us in awe of her strength and beauty, and in fear of her power and mercilessness. Uncle Andrew also is presented as a rather milder form of evil, a man whose morale understandings are utterly overshadowed by his desire for fame, glory and the continuation of his experiments.

As always, Lewis adds a sense of Biblical allegory into his work, not so much as to overwhelm the plot or to be too preachy, but clearly enough so that readers are pushed in the right direction concerning what they’re actually reading. Here, Lewis deals with the themes of temptation, the apple, the fall and the redemption that follows. In the course of the story Digory gives into his curiosity and in doing so brings a great evil into the world — in order to rectify this mistake he is sent on a mission in order to redeem himself, and keep Narnia safe for generations to come.

My favourite parts of the books are the small moments of intrigue that are never really explained or explored, and don’t need to be either — to do so would destroy the mystery of them. For instance, Jadis describes the fall of Charn due to the war between herself and her sister, and vividly describes the final days in which her sister leads her army to the castle gates and comes so close that they look each other in the eye. What this woman’s name is, whether she was as evil as Jadis makes her out to be, and what the Deplorable Word that destroyed her was, we never learn — it remains elusive. Likewise, Andrew recounts the story of how he created the magic rings: with dust that came from the lost city of Atlantis, bequeathed to him by his aunt Lefay who was said to have fairy blood in her veins: another small pocket of fascinating detail and mystery that Lewis touches on and then leaves behind. His work is so full of ideas that there is enough material for many more books to be written.

The Magician’s Nephew is an excellent addition to the Chronicles, and has within it all the magic, mystery and meaning that one expects from the Narnia books. Surprisingly, Narnia does not appear in the story till almost halfway through, but there is plenty to make up for it beforehand. Digory goes on to appear as Professor Kirke in other books, and both he and Polly are present in the final book The Last Battle. And of course, there’s plenty of Aslan — how on earth could there not be?

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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