The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 2: Ethics Review Board

We’ve made it the second chapter, and we’re on the cusp of the true adventure. Digory’s the nephew, and we at last get to meet the Magician. His name is Uncle Andrew, and he’s as close to a mad scientist as the Narnia series gets. He’s got crazy, fly-away gray hair, everyone around him thinks he’s mad, and is, in fact, something of a genius. Before wardrobes and strange cupboards at school, Uncle Andrew figured out a way to send people to someplace…else. He doesn’t quite know what that other place is, but he’s more than willing to use Digory and Polly as his human guinea pigs.

Most of the second chapter is dedicated to Uncle Andrew explaining how he was able to make magic rings that could travel between the worlds. He received an ancient box from his godmother (who was said to actually have fairy blood), containing dust from Atlantis. After many years of study, learning everything he could about magic, he created several yellow and green rings. The yellow would send anyone who touched it to the “Other Place”, and the green ring would, in theory, bring them home again. Before Polly and Digory accidentally found their way into his study, Uncle Andrew had only tested the yellow rings on literal guinea pigs. They all vanished, but none of them returned. Unsuspecting Polly became his first human test subject, when she takes a yellow ring, and disappears from the study, and the universe altogether.

I remember not liking this chapter very much. To me, it cemented Uncle Andrew as a villain in the story (and what nine-year-old likes villains?), and the attention was all on him. When I read it now, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I wanted more.

‘Meanwhile,’ continued Uncle Andrew, ‘I was learning a good deal in other ways (it wouldn’t be proper to explain them to a child) about Magic in general. [. . .] I had to get to know some–well, some devilish queer people, and go through some very disagreeable experiences.’

Okay, so we’re in London, in a world without magic. Uncle Andrew has found a way to use magic to send people to other worlds, and it’s suggested that the way he learned things was not on the up-and-up. Tell me that backstory doesn’t intrigue you. Who are these people, what are these disagreeable experiences? I want to know!  C.S. Lewis should have just skipped writing The Horse and His Boy and given us Uncle Andrew’s story instead.
There’s no room for moral ambiguity in the Narnia series, though, so he wouldn’t be an acceptable Lewis protagonist. And it’s made very clear that even though Uncle Andrew is, in fact, “beastly” for sending Polly to another world without telling her what she’s getting into.

This is exactly the reason why we have ethics review boards. Sure, they might stop you from doing some of the really fun social experiments, but at least you won’t wind up in a different universe when you’re filling out questionnaires with Lickert scales.

Wait, is there actually an experiment out there that can send me to a magical world? SIGN ME UP!

Unless you’re sending me to Westeros.

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