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The C.S. Lewis Files - The Magician's Nephew | Introduction to the Book

The C.S. Lewis Files - The Magician's Nephew | Introduction to the Book
Introduction to the Book

Lewis started writing The Magician’s Nephew shortly after the The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe was published and made early progress.  But it was not published until 1955, five years after The Lion. It is a prequel to the series since it explains the creation of the land of Narnia, and the origins of the witch, the lamppost and the wardrobe.   For that reason, publishers often treat it as the first of the Chronicles of Narnia even though it was actually the sixth out of seven to be published.

The story in a few words

The story is set in days when “Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street” and deals with the adventures of two children, Digory and Polly.  By means of magic rings, they travel to a dying world and where a foolish and impetuous act by Digory wakens Jadis, a wicked queen.   [Jadis reappears later as the witch in the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe].  Eventually, a small group which includes the two children, Jadis and a London cab driver find themselves in the new world of Narnia just as Aslan is breathing life into it.

There is a lot in the book for the Christian reader to enjoy and mull over:
  1. Lewis paints good and evil in their true colours.   You feel that good really is good, beautiful, desirable and strong.  Evil may entice and seek to seduce, but it will always lie and trick and disappoint.  Digory’s sin releases the power of evil into a good world – as in the Fall in Genesis – but Aslan is always in control and works redemption from the start.
  2. The story of the creation of Narnia in the middle of the book is a joy which is rich in imagery as Aslan calls the new world into existence and life by the power of his voice alone.  
  3. Lewis intended that his readers should know the real Jesus Christ better as - with their imaginations - we encounter and enjoy Aslan in the world of Narnia.   And we get something of this interplay between our world and Narnia when Aslan meets the London cabby who has found himself transported to Narnia:

“Son,” said Aslan to the Cabby.  “I have known you long.  Do you know me?”

“Well, no sir,” said the Cabby.  “Leastways, not in an ordinary manner of speaking.  Yet I feel somehow, if I may make so free, as ‘ow we’ve met before.”

“It is well,” said the Lion.  “You know better than you think you know, and you shall live to know me better yet.”

  1. Later in a scene which draws you back to Jesus’ tears at the tomb of Lazarus, we witness an intimate conversation between Digory (whose mother is at death’s door) and Aslan. 

“But please, please - won’t you - can you me something that will cure Mother?”

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in despair, he looked up at its face.  What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life.  For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes.  They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

  1. Another gem – which surely helps us grasp a key doctrine in the New Testament – is when we learn about a magic apple core (taken from Narnia) which is planted in the back garden of a house in London.  It grows into an apple tree but still retains some memory of its true home:

But inside itself, in the very sap of it, the tree (so to speak) never forgot that other tree in Narnia to which it belonged.  Sometimes it would move mysteriously when there was not wind blowing:  I think that when this happened there were high winds in Narnia and the English tree quivered because, at that moment, the Narnia tree was rocking and swaying in a strong south-western gale.

Surely this helps us to understand the meaning of the verse in Ephesians where Paul says that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”  Somehow the story helps us understand how we can be both rooted in our world and at the same time with Christ in the heavenlies.

  1. There is lovely piece in the book when Aslan calls the cabby’s wife from our world into Narnia.  The way in which this happens uncovers a truth which Lewis referred to his non-fiction work; which is that God never asks us to do something, without enabling us to do it (even though it may be difficult):

Aslan threw up his shaggy head, opened his mouth, and uttered a long, single note; not very loud, but full of power.  Polly’s heart jumped in her body when she heard it.  She felt sure that is was a call, and that anyone who heard that call would want to obey it and (what’s more) would be able to obey it, however many worlds or ages lay between them. 

  1. Power – good power and bad power and how they differ is another important theme.  Neither Jadis nor Digory’s uncle care how their desires might harm others.  When Polly challenges Jadis about the destruction of the people of Charn, the witch’s reply is dismissive.  In words with capture something of the pride and arrogance of all wicked leaders she explains that she is not subject to the same rules as others:

“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 would be wrong for you or 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.  Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”

But in complete contrast, when Aslan questions the cabby about his suitability to be King, he wants to be sure that the cabby will be a servant leader. 

“And if enemies came against the land (for enemies will arise) and there was war, would you be first in the charge and last in the retreat?

I’ve enjoyed the Magician’s Nephew, what’s next?

The second book in the Chronicles of Narnia, was actually the first to be written and is the most famous of the Chronicles.  It is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Time magazine included it in a list of the best young adult books of all time. You can read my blog about it here

The complete Chronicles of Narnia are available in a single volume:

Or as a Box Set of DVDs:

Christopher Simpson

Chris Simpson lives in Sheffield, UK, with his wife where they are members of Meadowhead Christian Fellowship. Chris is well-known for his interest in C S Lewis.

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