MARKING THE BEGINNING OF THE ADVENTURES IN THE MAGICAL LAND OF NARNIA.
Regardless of whether it’s book one or book six, The Magician’s Nephew is an enjoyable but redundant tale.
The Magician’s Nephew
(The Chronicles Of Narnia, Book 1)
Genre: Children’s, High Fantasy
Format: Kindle Edition, 192 Pages
Date: 5th May 2009
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis is a book that requires little introduction. This children’s classic was the sixth book published in The Chronicles Of Narnia series in 1955, and is chronologically the first Narnia tale, pre-dating the events of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. It is arguably the weakest of the seven Narnia stories, and I believe this is principally due to its status as a prequel novel.
I have never understood the desire of any writer to write a prequel in order to answer questions that don’t require answers. Especially when those questions are ones that few, if any, people are asking. In this particular instance, I find it hard to believe that many readers of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe had a burning need to know where the lamp-post, that Lucy Pevensie found during her first visit to Narnia, came from. Yet Lewis decided that this was a question that warranted an answer, and a new tale with which to deliver it.
Obviously, I do not wish to imply that The Magician’s Nephew is the story of how a lamp-post found its way to Narnia. It is, in fact, the story of the genesis of Narnia; chronicling the very creation of that magical land at the hands (paws?) of Aslan the lion, and how the first human visitors to Narnia travelled there to bear witness to the event, as well as the origins of the White Witch.
The protagonists of the book are Digory Kirke, the titular nephew of the magician, and Polly Plummer, who befriend each other one fateful summer in 1900’s London. The story begins in earnest after Digory and Polly inadvertently stumble upon Digory’s uncle, Andrew, who has been secretly dabbling in magic. Uncle Andrew maliciously transports Polly out of this world with a magic ring that he has created, then subsequently coerces his nephew to embark on a rescue mission to bring Polly back.
Digory finds Polly in a wooded limbo land, dotted with pools, which serves as a portal to numerous other worlds. Before making the return trip back to our world, the duo decide to enter one of the pools of water in order to visit another world, first. They find themselves in a desolate city called Charn, in a seemingly long dead world. While exploring a ruined palace, Digory and Polly discover the lifeless bodies of several majestic, royal figures. Digory’s curiosity gets the better of him, and he mistakenly awakens Queen Jadis, who was actually responsible for the destruction of all life in that world. Upon realising the error of waking Jadis, Digory and Polly use their magic rings to flee, but unwittingly bring the Queen back to London with them.
Mayhem ensues, as Jadis wreaks havoc in London in her quest to conquer our world. In an effort to make amends for their mistake, Digory and Polly are compelled to undertake a daring plan of action to transport Jadis back to her own world, but things don’t go according to plan.
At the start of this review I stated that The Magician’s Nephew is arguably the weakest Narnia book; and it’s certainly my least favourite of the series. It’s not so much that I don’t like the story. I just really dislike the way it has been written. For one thing, there was too much levity in the story for my liking, which really isn’t in keeping with the tone of the other books of the series. But the thing that really put me off, is Lewis’ narration. Although he uses the third person, omniscient point-of-view (which is my preferred POV), Lewis constantly ruined my immersion into the story with unnecessary commentary about matters related to things he had written in the other Narnia novels. It almost felt like he was addressing me directly, with a knowing wink, that he is aware that I’ve read his other books, and that I will recognise all his references with fondness. I liken this approach to breaking the fourth wall.
For many decades, there has been a debate as to the most appropriate reading order for The Chronicles Of Narnia series; publication order, or chronological order? While I personally prefer to read the seven books in chronological order, the way in which The Magician’s Nephew is written is an argument against doing so. It is obvious from Lewis’ narration that the book was written with the assumption that the reader has read the previously published titles, especially The Lion, The With, And The Wardrobe. Certainly, there are numerous spoilers littered throughout the book. I think that the perfect compromise position to take in this debate, is that a prospective reader’s very first reading of the series should be in publication order. After that initial reading, chronological order is probably the best.
When critiquing Lewis’ Narnia series, many commentators make mention of the Christian allegories contained within, and The Magician’s Nephew has two very obvious Biblical parallels. Firstly the creation of Narnia is an allusion to the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Secondly, the theme of temptation, and the dangers and consequences of giving into temptation, alludes to the concept of Original Sin. The alleged use of Christian allegories in The Chronicles Of Narnia is not a bone of contention for myself, but I know that certain people do not particularly approve, and so don’t want children to read Lewis’ books. Frankly, these allegories will go over the heads of most children so I see know reason why any child should be denied the opportunity to enjoy these stories.
In conclusion, I’m rather neutral about The Magician’s Nephew. I don’t love it, and I don’t hate it. The story is enjoyable enough, though I consider it to be a completely unnecessary one, that didn’t need to be told. But if you are someone who absolutely needs to know where that lamp-post came from, then The Magician’s Nephew is essential reading. Also, for first time reader’s, I suggest that you follow the publication order and read this book sixth.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.