While I was hammering my way through Middlemarch this past week, I knew I needed a break, and when I really need a break from big heavy reading, nothing quite does it as well as children’s literature! And, looking at my original list of 250 titles, there aren’t very many children’s literature selections. With those perameters in mind, I’m excited to be reading my with through the Narnia books in the background of all the other reading I’ve got going on!
According to the ever-trusty Wikipedia, The Magician’s Nephew was originally published as the sixth book out of the seven that make up the series, although it’s essentially a prequel, as it tells the story of how Narnia came to be. One wet summer in London, Polly Plummer meets her next door neighbor Diggory Kirke and, through a series of adventures, the two end up using magic rings invented by Diggory’s uncle to make their way to the Wood Between the Worlds. From here, they venture through a pool of water in to the destroyed land of Charn, where an evil witch queen named Jadis once destroyed everything while preserving herself in a kind of coma-like state. And, you guessed it, Diggory and Polly wake her from this state and inadvertently bring her back with them to London. All kinds of hijinks ensue, until, in their efforts to return her to her own world, Polly, Diggory, Jadis, Diggory’s uncle Andrew, and an unfortunate horse and cab driver make their way in to a world that is at that moment being created and turned in Narnia by Aslan. As you can probably guess, Jadis goes on to become the White Witch of Narnia in the next book, and we see Aslan again in almost all the books. So this is, truly, the beginning of the story.
So…I don’t really like this book. There. I’ll say it. I mean, yeah, it’s cute. And it’s the first book in a series that, other than this first volume, I absolutely love! But this book is just, well, boring. Most of it is, anyway. Even as a child I can remember not exactly enjoying this book, but I always made myself read it when I was reading the series because, well, I’m Type-A and we’re rules followers, and not reading the first book was basically cheating and meant I couldn’t really say that I’d “re-read the series”. Yep. I was one of those kids.
Anyway, as you probably already know, C.S. Lewis was also a theologian who emphasized work in Christianity. And those of you who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (or had to read it as a part of a church youth program like this blogger did) can see that there is quite a bit of Biblical allusion going on here. And let me tell you – boy do you see it in this book too! I mean, come one, the “world” of Narnia has just been born, and already there is an evil “born” in to it by Diggory leading the witch in to the land, where she then escapes her captors. And yes, Aslan goes on to give a speech pretty much exactly like this. As a child, I didn’t necessarily notice, but this time it basically smacked me in the face. And while I’m a Christian and don’t mind allusive or theological-bent literature, BUT DEAR SWEET JESUS (no offense or pun intended). This is ridiculous! It’s basically Genesis told in London, with God played by a giant friendly Lion.
It wasn’t a bad reading experience, I’ll say that at least. I sped through it, and I knew through the reading that I was reading about the creation of one of my favorite fictional/mythical locations. It was fun to see the tie-ins with other works (not just like how the White Queen came to be, but in smaller details that show Lewis’ true skill: for example, when Diggory takes a piece of magic, healing fruit back with him, he plants the seeds and it grows in to a tree, a tree which is then cut down and turned in to a certain well-known wardrobe) as well as to think about why Lewis decided to write this book before finishing the seventh volume, especially when it serves to start the plot rather than further it along. Definitely not my favorite work, but now that it’s out of the way, I’m enjoying it a lot more!