“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ~ C. S. Lewis
There is an endless bounty of amazing quotes from the brain of C.S. Lewis. I’ll choose an appropriate one for each book in the series as I fondly work my way through with the other participants in the Narnia Read-Along, hosted by Whitney at her elegant blog, She Is Too Fond Of Books.
As you can see by the edition I’ve included in this post (the celebrated edition of the first edition, complete with the original illustrations!), C.S. Lewis meant for the Chronicles of Narnia to be read by children. Judging by the quote at the beginning of this post however, C.S. Lewis hoped for the Chronicles of Narnia to be enjoyed by non-children as well.
The Magician’s Nephew is the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, though it was published five years after it, and was the second last book to be published in the seven-part series. I don’t think it matters really, whether you read the books in chronological order of Narnia’s events (starting with The Magician’s Nephew) or in order of publication (starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Either way brings immense reading pleasure.
The Magician’s Nephew provides a wider landscape and a new dimension to the Narnia we’ve come to know and love. English children Polly and Digory are neighbours who fast become friends upon meeting, and happen to stumble across Digory’s uncle’s private study. As fate would have it, Digory’s uncle is something of a tinkering scientist who is power mad (of course) and hates the idea of having children in his private working area. Sensing an opportunity to test out his latest experiment, however, he lures Polly into choosing a pretty ring, which, when Polly touches it, transports her into another world. A very frightened and angry Digory is forced to follow and rescue her from wherever she’s gone, and so begins the adventures of Narnia.
I have mentioned before that this is among my favourite books of the series, if not THE favourite. The story explains the origins of how the White Witch came to discover Narnia, over which she would later enjoy dictatorial rule. The story also explains the origins of Narnia itself, through a recreation of the Christian story of the Garden of Eden, and the creation of a world in seven days. Readers are often dismayed to discover the Christian symbolism underlying their favoured childhood fantasy story, but I think the passion of C.S. Lewis for his religion enriched his storytelling ability. After all, one doesn’t need to be of the Christian faith to enjoy a wonderfully engaging story of good versus evil.
You may be wondering where Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan are in this book. The truth is, because The Magician’s Nephew is the tale of the creation of Narnia, it takes place many, many years (Narnia time) before Lucy pulls back the fur coats to discover a snow-covered world in a magic wardrobe. In our world, nowhere near as much time has passed, though Polly and Digory could be Lucy’s grandparents. And in fact Digory plays an interesting mentor role later on, not only to the children who discover Narnia by playing hide and seek, but also to the reader, who is wondering whether to believe Lucy’s story of finding a world in a wardrobe:
“Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister [Lucy] is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”
– Professor Kirke, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Chapter 5.
I love The Magician’s Nephew more every time I read it: I love it for its humour, its magic, and its lively characters; its willingness to flesh out what we already know about Narnia and to make us question the role of choice in Fate – it is an apt beginning to a set of books letting you know that anything is possible, as long as you’re open to it.
And then there is the added bonus of a FLYING HORSE.
Year of Original Publication: 1955.
Year of My Own Publication Copy: 1988.
Number of Pages: 173.
Book Challenges: The Chronicles of Narnia Read-Along 2011.