It's been years since I read the Chronicles of Narnia and I decided last week to pick them back up. There's a debate over which order to read them in: in terms of publishing order, The Magician's Nephew is actually the penultimate of the series published in 1955, but in terms of the chronology of the action it is the first. I decided, without that much thought, to read it chronologically:
- The Magician's Nephew (1955)
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
- The Horse and His Boy (1954)
- Prince Caspian (1951)
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
- The Silver Chair (1953)
- The Last Battle (1956)
As you can see it was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that came first and I've actually nearly finished it: four children, exploring a professor's house, find a wardrobe that transports them to the magical world of Narnia ruled over by the tyrannous White Witch, Jadis. But how was it the wardrobe came to be enchanted? This is one of the questions answered in The Magician's Nephew.
This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.
In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won't tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.
One day Polly meets Digory Kirke: it is he who is the magician's nephew. His uncle Andrew is a magician: a cheap sort really, dealing with various tricks apart from his magic rings. Whilst exploring the attics in their terraces houses Digory and Polly stumble on Andrew, who tricks Polly into touching one of his yellow rings. Immediately she vanishes, and Andrew, too scared to retrieve her, makes Digory take the second of the yellow rings as well as two green rings that will transport them back. He follows and discovers her in the "Wood between the Worlds", a Dante-like forest filled with ponds, each of which can transport them into another world. Rather than returning to Uncle Andrew's study the two decide to explore. They soon encounter Jadis, the Queen of Charn, who returns with them to Uncle Andrew's study. Uncle Andrew, unsurprisingly, is very flattered to be in the presence of royalty and leaps at the opportunity to take her out. He soon realises what the children knew from the start, she is evil, and, having attempted to rob a jewellery shop a kerfuffle ensues and Jadis, Uncle Andrew, Polly and Digory, as well as several others are transported with the rings to the Wood between the Worlds. They attempt to return the queen to Charn however instead they go to another world where they witness its creation by Aslan, the lion. Narnia is born.
What follows is almost a re-writing of Genesis: by bringing Jadis to Narnia he has brought evil to the world and to atone he must travel to a far away garden, take an apple, and return it to plant in Narnia. He is warned not to steal from the garden and though tempted by Jardis he resists and returns the fruit. A beautiful enchanted tree grows, and anyone who eats the fruit is granted their wish however the wish becomes repulsive to them: Jadis has eternal life, but it will be miserable. Aslan allows Digory to take an apple home with him to cure his mother who is very ill. The cure works, and he plants the core in the garden. A tree grows, and Digory, as an adult, uses the wood to build a wardrobe, which of course is the wardrobe that will transport Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy to Narnia.
The Magician's Nephew, like the other books of the series, is full of religious undertones but primarily it is a children's book to entertain. It is absolutely magical, and shows the great imagination of Lewis. For now I just want to enjoy that magic: at the end of reading all of the books I'll look a little closer at the symbolism. As I said earlier I'm almost at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I'm very excited to carry on and read The Horse and his Boy.