The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia), C.S. Lewis (1955)

“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” Aslan

And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring….And when the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings.

magiciansnephewI read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW) a few years ago. I liked it and knew I would read the other books in the series. I didn’t know there is, what we would call a prequel, until I struck up a conversation with a woman in a bookstore who is an avid Narnia fan. Apparently, after Lewis published the LWW a friend asked him about the lamppost that appeared out of nowhere and in order to clear that up he wrote The Magician’s Nephew (MN). So does this mean the MN is really the first book? When I looked this up, I found Lewis scholars from the 1950s with various opinions that plague newer scholars and fans alike to this day. Chronological order (Lewis’s preference) puts the MN first. Published order puts it 6th or before the Last Battle the last released title. Being that the MN shows not only the origin of the lamppost, but the creation of Narnia by Aslan and how evil enters the Kingdom of Narnia, I believe chronological order is best. But I am only two books in; not the best authority.

I have to admit though, half way through I was very disappointed in the story. I found it dull, the magic not particularly, well, magical. Digory and Polly, neighbor children who are thrust into the void by the power of the magic rings invented by Digory’s Uncle Andrew land in a world made up of innumerable ponds and woods. Even the world that unleashes the Witch and the evil brought to Narnia did not hold my interest. Only the desire that I read all the titles forced me to continue. And then suddenly, Aslan appears and the book takes a most promising turn.

This world has a hopefulness the other worlds did not. It is a new world without flora or fauna, but that changes as a magnificent and glorious sound pierces the air and the children realize Creation is being sung into being before their very eyes!

There were no words. There was hardly even a tune….It was so beautiful he [Digory] could hardly bear it…Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count….The second wonder was that the blackness overhead all at once, was blazing with stars….a thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world….If you had seen and heard it, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing….The Voice rose and rose till all the air was shaking with it; the sun rose. You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up….the earth was of many colors; they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion and stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song….

These passages and the ones that speak about the creation of the animals and other two-legged beings, are the kinds of magic that moves me. Creation being formed out of Song and love and beauty by a Lion who is at once Creator and Sacrifice (LWW). Because, yes, one cannot but help to see that connection. Aslan is birthing the world through the sound of his Voice, bringing forth the first plants, the new starry heavens, the sun and wind and all the animals, birds and beings that will populate this new world.

Out of the trees wild people stepped forth, gods and goddesses of the wood; with them came Fauns and Satyrs and Dwarfs. Out of the river rose the river god with his Naiad daughters. And all these and all the beasts and birds in their different voices, low or high or thick or clear, replied. “Hail, Aslan. We hear and obey. We are awake. We love. We think. We speak. We know.

Aslan tells the animals and other sacred beings to guard and protect the land because evil has been let loose. The Witch followed Digory and Polly into Narnia, but for now she is headed for lands far away and won’t trouble Narnia for hundreds of years. In the meantime Narnia must be made strong. Aslan sends the children on a journey to find the fruit of a special apple tree that once planted in Narnia will reign over it against all evil. When they return Aslan tells Digory to throw the apple a certain distance and it settles into the soft mud. In the morning the tree is big and filled with fruit. Digory is certain an apple from this tree will help his mother’s cancer and Aslan gives him one to take home.

When Digory and Polly return to London, Digory’s mother eats the apple and is cured. Digory plants the core and a tree grows again overnight. As the years pass and the children grow up so does the tree which has a symbiotic relationship with the one of its origin: it wiggles a bit on days when it is windy in Narnia, even when there is no wind in London. But its shaking has weakened its roots, and one wind-filled day in London the tree topples over. Now middle aged and with unfaded memories of Aslan and Narnia and all he saw there, Digory cannot just chop up the tree for fire wood. So he takes part of the tree and builds a wardrobe which he puts in his house in the country….

The passages of Narnia’s creation, vocalizing it into Being, the animals talking to one another and back and forth with the children tick many of my fantasy-girl and spirituality boxes. I am so glad I stuck with this book. And I further learned I wasn’t so far off the mark when I wanted to set the book aside, because the arguments of Lewis scholars who say the books should be read as released, instead of chronologically with MN to be read first, stems partly from the fact that this IS a dull book up until Aslan’s entrance and children (and adults?) might be turned off by the dull first half and not want to read any further.

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My Edition
Title: The Magician’s Nephew
Author: C.S. Lewis
Publisher: Harper Trophy
Device: Paperback
Year: 1955
Pages: 221
Summary

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33 thoughts on “The Magician’s Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia), C.S. Lewis (1955)

  1. What a lovely review. I haven’t read TMN for many years, but you bring back memories that my feelings were pretty much the same as yours. It dragged for a while, but really revved up when those creation chapters happened. And didn’t Digory become the enigmatic Professor Kirk who opened his home to the Pevensie siblings?

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  2. I’ve watched the movies and enjoyed them but haven’t read any of the books yet. Somehow it’s another series I missed out on as a kid. I’m thinking that in 2019 I will at least start reading through this series. I think I will read in order of publication though because I want to be caught up in the magic of Narnia. 🙂

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  3. I so enjoyed your review, Laurie! Initially I read this series in chronological order and felt the same as you, not liking The Magician’s Nephew very much. But a few years ago I decided to read it in published order and oh, what a difference! It was almost like I was reading a different book and I really enjoyed it. I also found that it helped to read Lewis’ own thoughts on the series, where he explained that it wasn’t allegorical at all but based on “supposition”. And he also uses a number of Platonic references in this series. A children’s series but with many adult themes. It’s really one of my favourites! Here’s my review if you’re interested: https://classicalcarousel.com/the-magicians-nephew-by-c-s-lewis/

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    1. I appreciate your thoughts here and read your post. I find discussions on the backstory of a work as interesting as I do the work itself, so thank you very much for your input.

      I was curious about this, “Lewis believed that each one of our actions in life either took us one step closer to Heaven, or one step closer to Hell. Now, this didn’t mean that by doing something bad, you would go to Hell; Lewis wanted people to be aware that their actions matter. Our actions are what form our character and each action works either towards forming a good, trustworthy, amiable character, or a bad, prideful, self-centred character. ”

      I would like to read more about his fiction. Do you have any recommendations of where to start? His works and criticism about him are voluminous and a little intimidating for a newbie!

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      1. I would recommend, after reading the Narnia books, that you check out “Planet Narnia.” it’s pretty heavy-duty and analyzes all the fiction, so it may be better to save it longer, but there’s a light version called “The Narnia Code” (cringe!) that only covers those books. I have not read that one, but I’ve read Planet Narnia twice and it’s both interesting and persuasive.

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      2. With regard to the quote that you mentioned from my review, I remember Lewis sharing those same thoughts in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. I found those thoughts insightful in that by our actions we can either chose to make ourselves better or worse; the idea of it being a path/steps was helpful and made me more aware of my own behaviour.

        When you read Lewis’ works, it’s fun to see how his ideas (and he has a few favourites) are communicated throughout his writing. After his Chronicles of Narnia, if you want to stick with his fiction, I really enjoyed his Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet; Perelandra and That Hideous Strength) … all very different books and somewhat difficult to tweeze threads of similarity between them. I also really loved The Great Divorce and The Pilgrim’s Regress. For his non-fiction, it’s best to start with Mere Christianity or Surprised by Joy. Many of his ideas that you find in his other works stem from those two books. He also often draws on Plato as well.

        As for books about Lewis, I’ve heard that Planet Narnia is good but I would stick first to what Lewis wrote and when you start to get a feel for him, branch out from there. The Great Courses also has a very good “course” on Lewis taught by Louis Markos and it covers many of his works including The Chronicles of Narnia. I hope that helps a little and all the best in your journey with Lewis! 🙂

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      3. On another note, I’m trying to follow your blog but WordPress is messing up on me. Can you let me know if I’ve shown up in your followers? For some reason only about 20% of the people I try to follow show that I’m following, even though I’m clicking that button! Argh! The frustrations with technology!

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          1. I’m not sure what’s going on. When I click the WordPress following icon, I have another window pop up briefly that’s blank but nothing happens. It still says “follow” not “following”. It’s happened with other blogs yet I was able to follow another WordPress blog last night (that window did not pop up and the icon changed to say “following”). It’s a mystery. Perhaps you can look in your settings but if everything looks okay, I’m not sure what to suggest. It’s a mystery!

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    2. I am an absolutist on the question of publication order versus chronological order – publication order is the only way to go. The story unfolds in a much more organic and delightful fashion if you read it in the order that the books were published.

      I did a reread of the Chronicles of Narnia in 2014 with Cleo! It was very enjoyable.

      Thanks for the follow over on my All The Vintage Ladies blog – your blog is lovely and I am glad I found you!

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      1. Hi Christine! Well, I think the consensus here is to read the books in publication order. I think I am going to try and read the series next year starting with a reread of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and then read The Magician’s Nephew again when it comes in order of publication. I wonder if the beginning will read better for me?

        Anyway, I was happy to find your blog and look forward to looking around. The late 19th/early 20th centuries was my time. Born too late. 🙂

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  4. I am one of those who strongly feel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe should be read first, for some of the reasons you mention. Lewis answered somebody in a letter once saying the books should be read chronologically, but I don’t believe he was giving much thought to the question (the Narnia books, as one realizes reading them as an adult, were not given his full conscious attention). Anyway, his statement got taken as “gospel” without regard for the actual reading experience.

    To this book – I personally never found the first part boring, but I agree the scene of creation is one of the most magical in the series. I’m also glad you persisted and got to that point. And I hope you enjoy the rest of the series – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is probably my favorite.

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    1. I find the whole question of which book one should read first intriguing and I appreciate all the comments like yours from people who have read the whole series and have perspective.

      From what I can gather, up until 1980 when HarperCollins published each volume separately, they were published as Lewis wrote them. But with the Harper publication they numbered The Magician’s Nephew number one. And I remember being confused in the bookstore, because I had read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and thought THAT was #1!

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      1. It is confusing! My personal preference would be to stick with the original numbering – though mainly I think LWW should be read before this one. The others are ordered chronologically anyway, except for The Horse and His Boy (my least favorite), which could come anywhere.

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  5. I’m quite fond of MN, though I guess that’s true of all of them. As a kid, I found the attic passageway pretty exciting; it’s not technically fantasy, but it was certainly alien enough to a kid who’d never seen terraced housing. And, I always go for publishing order.

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  6. I saw a play based on this book at the Shaw Festival this fall, and it was fun. I think the joy of this story is kind of like the joy of reading fanfiction–it’s some of the backstory behind one you already know and love. I would never recommend that anyone read it before they’ve read the other Narnia books.

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    1. Oo , the Shaw Festival….I knew someone who went every year. Now a play of this book might be very nice to see.

      I liked knowing the backstory before I read any further, but I think that speaks to my personality. I found the arguments for and against so interesting to contemplate.

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  7. At some stage I will read and comment fully on each instalment of the Narniad, though to be honest I wasn’t thrilled with my read-through of the one-volume edition a few years ago. Having said that, I think you’re not alone with thinking MN less successful, and not just because it disperses some of the magic that LWW created in its opening chapters. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll persist, I’m interested to read what you’ll have to say about the other books!

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  8. I hand actually not read The Chronicles of Narnia. This is s reading omission that I intend to correct. I probably would read all the books in order around the same time.

    It is interesting that it took awhile for the story in this book to click for you. I have had the same experience with some books.

    I have actually read Lewis’s Space series. I thought that it hac s lot of interesting ideas and was worth reading.

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      1. That Hideous Strength is, in my view, the most interesting and effective of the three novels in the series: though, as I read these way back in the 70s, I may need to reread them to see if my initial reactions to them still apply. Like the Narniad I felt that the allegorical aspects weighed more heavily than the storytelling, to the latter’s detriment.

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          1. Yes, Perelandra et al very different in style and tone—I agree THS is like Williams grail novel, of a type with all those weird occultish fictions that were all the rage in the early to mid 20th century.

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