In the first chapter of The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis captures the magic and wonder of childhood. In the seventh chapter, it’s all about the helplessness.
Digory and Polly go on the adventure of their lives, but it involves a lot of waiting around. Polly has to go home, and her parents punished her for getting her shoes and stockings wet under circumstances she can’t quite explain, and is out of the picture for most of this chapter. Jadis ends up getting a horse-drawn cab and is taking a romp around the city with Uncle Andrew. Knowing how dangerous Jadis is, Digory contemplates going after them. However, he’s faced with several limitations. He doesn’t know where they are, and his Aunt Letty would never let him leave the house if he couldn’t tell her where he was going. Besides that, he doesn’t have any money to pay for trams to take him around the city.
When you’re a kid, it seems like everything you do is on someone else’s schedule. You have to depend on adults for just about everything. They’re supposed to provide for you and protect you. Even as we get older and more independent, we still rely on our parents, and (in theory) live by their rules. Driving home the point is Polly, punished and unable to help. It’s a little frustrating that Digory can’t go after Uncle Andrew and Jadis, even though he knows that’s what he should do. Watching Digory sit and wait for them to come back may not be the most exciting thing to read, but it is realistic.
Along with that, there’s another part of this chapter that gave me chills, when Aunt Letty briefly discusses Digory’s mother and her failing health.
‘What lovely grapes!’ came Aunt Letty’s voice. ‘I’m sure if anything could do her good these would. But poor, dear little Mabel! I’m afraid it would need to be fruit from the land of youth to help her now. Nothing in this would will do much.’ Then they both lowered their voices and said a lot more that [Digory] could not hear.
It wasn’t the talking about the obvious foreshadowing about fruit from the land of youth, but the part where the adults lower their voices so Digory can’t hear. I can tell you from experience that when you have a chronically sick relative, conversations like that are a big part of your life. My sister and I would overhear things that we weren’t supposed to, almost always worrying news. We almost never heard the end of those conversations. Either it would get quiet, or I’d become so uncomfortable that I’d somehow make my presence known. Hopefully in such a way that the adults wouldn’t realize I’d been listening in, though I might never know for sure. It turns out they’re a lot more perceptive than I thought. Of course, I used to sneak out of my bed and think that throwing a blanket over my head would prevent my parents from spotting me and sending me back upstairs.
I don’t know how other kids in similar situations handled things like this, but I was too anxious to ask my parents questions about what was going on. The information I got about my aunt was either from what they told me directly, and what was overheard. It’s funny, the things grown-ups will say when they think you’re not paying attention. And for something this big, I always paid attention.
Let’s not delve into childhood fear and sadness for a moment, though, and appreciate a very minor, nameless character: the maid. She has no idea what’s going on, and it’s something of a running gag in this chapter.
While Aunt Letty was hurtling through the air, the housemaid (who was having a beautifully exciting morning) put her head in at the door…
‘Oh, Master Digory,’ said the housemaid (who was really having a wonderful day)…
‘Sarah,’ she said to the housemaid (who had never had such a day before)…”
I don’t know why I like this so much. It just makes me smile.