The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 15: Why We Read

Oh, Narnia. It’s here that we go our separate ways…for now. Books transport you into a whole new world, and the best part is, they can do it over and over again. Of course, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know that already. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I never actually read any of the books after Prince Caspian. Re-reading The Magician’s Nephew now makes me want to go back and read through the entire Narnia series. I think I’d like to go back and read the rest of the books and see what I missed. Aware, of course, of all the religious symbolism, racism, and sexism that I missed the first time around.

The final chapter is perhaps the most insightful; at the very least, it gave me the most to think about as a child. Aslan takes Polly, Digory, and the sleeping Uncle Andrew back to the Woods Between the Worlds and shows them a hollow in the grass.

‘When you were last here,’ said Aslan, ‘that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That would is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning.’

‘Yes, Aslan,’ said both the children. But Polly added, ‘But we’re not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?’

‘Not yet, Daughter of Eve,’ he said. ‘Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Emperor Jadis.’

This book was published in 1955, though it takes place before World War I. I can’t help but think that Aslan’s warning to the children about the Deplorable Word was a thinly veiled reference to the atomic bomb. I couldn’t have known that when I read this more than a decade ago, nor could I understand just how bad the world could really be.

Now I see that our world is a scary place, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a comfortable life. Perhaps the question I’ve asked myself the most over the past two years, the one that I can’t answer, is, “Is the world getting worse, or am I just paying more attention?”

Unfortunately, I’m usually an optimist.  I want to believe that there is more good than bad, that love will conquer hate. More and more, it seems like the opposite of that is true.

But there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

And that fight is terribly, terribly frustrating. Because everyday I want to change the world, but I’m just one person.

And that’s why we need books. Because Digory and Polly protect Narnia from the evil they brought into it; because Digory saves his mother with a magical apple. Because they give us simple solutions to our complex problems. Because the world is terrible, the characters we love go through endless trials and tribulations, and things turn out okay.

Because real life needs more happy endings.

Final Verdict: Keep

For now, anyway. This will likely make it to the collection of children’s books my mom has on the unlikely chance that I’ll ever give her a grandchild.

I’ll be taking next week off, but starting on May 30, I’ll be back with Angelic Layer by CLAMP, which just happens to be the first manga I ever read. Stay tuned!

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 11: Bit Characters and Other Matters

I’ve praised some of the ideas C.S. Lewis had, but there’s one thing that’s a little harder to get over: the chapter titles. Some of them are just so incredibly bland. Take a look:

Chapter 6: The Beginning of Uncle Andrew’s Troubles
Chapter 7: What Happened at the Front Door
Chapter 10: The First Joke and Other Matters

And we’ve finally reached Chapter 11: Digory and His Uncle Are Both in Trouble.

The first half of this chapter is nothing but the animals trying to figure out what, exactly, Uncle Andrew is. They eventually decide that he’s a tree, and plant him in the ground. It’s amusing, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the story. To be honest, I’m not even sure why Uncle Andrew even had to come to Narnia with the other characters. He’s been demoted from intriguing Magician to comic relief, by way of misfortune. At this point, he has nothing to do with the rest of the story. I also don’t like to see clever and brave Polly relegated to the background. She should have a much bigger part in the story right now; certainly, she deserves a bigger role than Uncle Andrew. Much more so than the Cabby as well, who has only just been given a name. Seriously, we learn his horse’s name before his.

Aslan decrees the Cabby, Frank, will be king of Narnia. This is presumably because Frank is the only human adult in the group who isn’t evil. This also begs the question why Aslan wanted a human to run the country in the first place. So far, Uncle Andrew, Jadis, and Digory (to a point) haven’t been shining examples of our species. All the sentient beings in Narnia are either animals or some kind of mythological creature, like dryads and fauns. Why not let one of its native people rule the country, maybe someone that Aslan specifically chose for his council? And how is Frank going to know what’s best for the animals, talking or otherwise? It reminds me of reading an X-rated fanfiction that was clearly written by a virgin. Maybe you know what’s supposed to happen, but it’s obvious to everyone reading it that you’ve got no clue what you’re writing about.

Do you think C.S. Lewis was pro-Imperialism?

Despite that head-scratcher, I’m kind of okay with Aslan’s reasons that Frank qualifies as king. Writing this during an election year, I wish politics really were this simple and straightforward.

“‘Begging your pardon, sir,’ he said, ‘and thank you very much I’m sure (which my Missus does the same) but I ain’t no sort of chap for a job like that. I never ‘ad much eddycation, you see.’

‘Well,’ said Aslan, ‘can you use a spade and a plow and raise food out of the earth?’

‘Yes, sir, I could do a bit of that sort of work: being brought up to it, like.’

‘Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering they are not slaves like the dumb beasts of the world you were born in, but Talking Beasts and free subjects?’

‘I see that, sir,’ replied the Cabby. ‘I’d try to do the square thing by them all.’

‘And would you bring up your children and grandchildren to do the same?’

‘It’d be up to me to try, sir. I’d do my best: wouldn’t we, Nellie?’

‘And you wouldn’t have favorites either among your own children or among the other creatures or let any hold under another or is use it hardly?’

‘I never could abide such goings on, sir, and that’s the truth. I’d give ’em what for if I caught ’em at it,’ said the Cabby.”

“And will you build a wall between Narnia and Archenland, and deport all Archenlanders who have not legally come to this country?”*

But between Uncle Andrew being planted in the ground and Frank becoming king, Aslan has to deal with Digory, as he was the one who woke Jadis and brought her into Narnia. Aslan says that Digory must find a magical tree far away, take one of its fruits, and plant it in Narnia. This tree will help protect Narnia from Jadis for hundreds of years. When Digory owns up to the role he had in waking Jadis, his exchange with Aslan is a little…disappointing.

“‘She woke up,’ said Digory wretchedly. And then, turning very white, ‘I mean, I woke her. Because I wanted to know what would happen if I struck a bell. Polly didn’t want to. It wasn’t her fault. I–I fought her. I know I shouldn’t have. I think I was a bit enchanted by the writing under the bell.’

‘Do you?’ asked Aslan; still speaking very low and deep.

‘No,’ said Digory. ‘I see now I wasn’t. I was only pretending.'”

But that was so cool! It was scary and intriguing and now you’re saying that the magic was all in Digory’s head?

Thanks for taking away the scariest part of the book, Aslan.

Digory, you broke Narnia. C.S. Lewis, you broke my heart.

*Please note that Donald Drumpf’s point of view does not reflect the author’s, and that Drumpf is a tool.**
**Though it is worth saying that the Calormenes are C.S. Lewis’s view of Muslims, and are not portrayed in a flattering light. So really, building a wall between Narnia and Calormen would make more sense for this predictable joke.

†Please don’t vote for Trump. Please, please, please.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 9: Uncle Andrew is “That Guy”

In this chapter we have the first appearance of Aslan, singing the world to life. We have the stars, a young sun, grass and trees…even after all these years, it’s still a magical moment. The thing that detracts from it most, however, is the characters. The children, the Cabby, and the horse all know that something important is happening, and that they are witnessing a rare and breath-taking event. Unfortunately, Uncle Andrew and Jadis can’t enjoy it, and they let everyone know.

The magic in Narnia is more powerful than Jadis’s own magic, but the real reason she can’t stand it is because she’s evil.  It doesn’t get any deeper than that. It’s disappointing, but I should have known to expect that by now.

I guess I just don’t appreciate it when children’s books treat kids like they’re idiots. Children are smarter than we give them credit for, I think; they can handle a little moral ambiguity. I remember reading books like The Giver and Tuck Everlasting when I was in elementary school. Books that dealt with pretty heavy themes–euthanasia, mortality, freedom–many of which would not necessarily be called “kid-friendly”. They didn’t always wrap things up in neat and tidy ways, and would leave me with questions. They challenged the way I usually thought (“Why does my teacher think that Winnie dying was a happy ending?”), and helped introduce us to new ideas. You see that the world doesn’t fit in nice, neat boxes, and those are the lessons–and the books–that make a real impact on you. It seems pretty obvious as I write this, considering how well I remember those books, and how much of The Magician’s Nephew I forgot over the years.

Don’t get me wrong–the Narnia books (at least the ones I’ve read) are part of a wonderful series that I hold close to my heart, and I’m really enjoying The Magician’s Nephew right now. But as an adult, I can now see flaws in the books that I overlooked before.

My favorite part of this chapter was probably when the animals came to life. They rose out of the ground, and Aslan selected two of each kind to be talking animals. Uncle Andrew, however, continues to ruin the birth of a new world by freaking out. He keeps trying to get Polly and Digory to use their rings to get out of Narnia and back to their world, leaving Jadis (and the cabby) behind in Narnia. Digory doesn’t want to leave, though, because he believes Aslan could help save his mother.

“Digory’s heart beat wildly; he knew something very solemn was going to be done. He had not forgotten about his Mother; but he knew jolly well that, even for her, he couldn’t interrupt a thing like this.”

Uncle Andrew could learn something from him.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 7: Drawbacks of Childhood

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.

Childhood logic.

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.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 6: Unexpected Plus One

We’re a third of the way through the book, and I’m getting pumped to go back to Narnia! Digory and Polly haven’t quite escaped the clutches of Jadis, but they’re able to escape back to the Woods Between the Worlds and…return to London?

Wait, when do they go to Narnia? No, seriously, I read this, I know Digory and Polly accidentally take the Witch to Narnia. Why are they going back to London?

Well, it turns out I forgot a lot more details in this book than I realized.

The children and Jadis wind up back in Uncle Andrew’s study, and it becomes immediately apparent that Uncle Andrew just got a lot more than he bargained for.

In Charn she had been alarming enough: in London, she was terrifying. For one thing, they had not realized till now how very big she was. ‘Hardly human’ was what Digory thought when he looked at her; and he may have been right, for some say there is giantish blood in the royal family of Charn. But even her height was was nothing compared with her beauty, her fierceness, and her wildness. She looked ten times more alive than most of the people one meets in London.

Maybe that description is a bit cliche now, but I love it. Jadis’s presence also puts Uncle Andrew in his place pretty quickly. I like the contrast between the two. When Digory and Polly see Uncle Andrew in the beginning of the book, they see him as someone fighting and powerful. Compared to Jadis, he’s weak and cowardly. And, it would appear, not too bright, either.

Children have one kind of silliness, as you know, and grown-ups have another kind. Uncle Andrew was beginning to be silly in a very grown-up kind of way.

I’ll give my compliments to Lewis for that one. Not only does he capture the magic of childhood, but also at least one true fact about adulthood as well: that we have no idea what we’re really doing, but pretend that we do.

We also see more of Uncle Andrew’s character; along with being totally unprepared to deal with the consequences of meddling with magic, it turns out he’s pretty lousy at being…well, being an adult. It’s not just the “silliness” of thinking that Jadis would fall in love with him, but you can see it in other details. In one side note, the narrator says that Uncle Andrew has blown through his own money, and quite a bit of his sister’s.

Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that Uncle Andrew ends up being this pathetic. He looks small, literally and figuratively, next to Jadis, and is something of a fraud when it comes to being a true Magician. But he was able to use magic to send the children to another world, and have them return (with an unexpected plus one). Using magic in a world where none exists is pretty awesome, even if he was a schmuck about it. But as soon as Jadis comes into the picture, everything interesting and intriguing about him is out the window.

I guess the moral here is: Playing with magic can be cool, but you’re a jerk and not as cool as you think you are.

That’s a strange lesson.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 5: The Queen Said One Word, You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next

I remember a fair bit about this book since I last read it. Digory and Polly wake up the evil witch Jadis, and they inadvertently take her to the new world of Narnia. I remember that it was Jadis’s spell that put everyone to sleep, and left Charn in ruins.

What I didn’t remember was how scary Jadis actually was before Digory and Polly found her. This chapter is dedicated to her backstory, and elucidates how Charn became frozen as it is now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give us an explanation as to why the people sitting outside her chamber start out looking kind and end up looking cruel. I suppose it was just used as a build-up to end in Jadis. That’s understandable, because this is a children’s book. I’m a little disappointed that there’s no (apparent) deeper meaning behind this, because I’m an adult reading a children’s book and expecting more depth than the author provides.

Jadis tells us that she and her sister were feuding for the throne,  giving us images that are a bit…graphic for a children’s novel.

‘I have stood here (but that was near the very end) when the roar of battle went up from every street and the river of Charn ran red.’

Holy hell. I know that children’s literature isn’t sunshine and roses all the time, but that’s pretty dark.

Like Uncle Andrew, Jadis’s backstory has a backstory, and holes that I desperately want filled in. It also shows us that she’s completely evil. I’ve been reading Clash of Kings, and some of the dialogue she has sounds like it would fit perfectly into the Game of Thrones series.

‘Then I spoke the Deplorable Word. A moment later I was the only living thing under the sun.’

‘But the people?’ gasped Digory.

‘What people, boy?’ asked the Queen.

‘All the ordinary people,’ said Polly, ‘who’d never done you any harm. And the women, and the children, and the animals.’

‘Do you understand?’ said the Queen (still speaking to Digory). ‘I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will? [. . .] You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules.’

It’s probably not fair to compare the two, but that mentality is basically the reason everyone in  A Song of Ice and Fire gets screwed over.

Jadis tells the children that there is a word–a “Deplorable Word”– that is so powerful it would end Charn. The Word itself is a deep, dark secret that only the most powerful magicians in Charn ever knew it. And while we’re comparing Narnia to things that Narnia shouldn’t be compared to, it reminds me of the Monty Python sketch about the funniest joke in the world, which is so funny, you’ll die when you hear it.

Most of Charn’s magicians refused to learn the Word, and it was forbidden to ever use. Jadis didn’t share their reluctance, and set out on an epic quest to learn the Word, and…

‘It was the secret of secrets,’ said the Queen Jadis. ‘It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word, which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it. But the ancient kings were weak and soft-hearted and bound themselves and all who should come after them with great oaths never even to seek after the knowledge of that word. But I learned it in a secret place and paid a terrible price to learn it.’

…Really? That’s it?

This entire chapter is the story of how Charn ended up in this state, and we don’t get to see the most interesting and intriguing part. Hell, we’re not even told why Jadis was fighting her sister. I would probably read a whole book on Jadis’s rise into power, her learning the Word, and killing Charn with it. That sounds like an awesome story. Or maybe a terribly generic one, but at least I’d get some of my questions answered.

Excuse me, I need to go and write a fanfiction now about Jadis’s backstory.