Revisiting a beloved book
When my book club chose “The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis for our next book, I was unsure. How were we adults supposed to enjoy this book, and stretch discussion out over several weeks? Isn’t the book for children?
It may have been written for children, but the book has so much to offer on second reading as an adult. Our first meeting (which I had to miss due to a cold) was devoted to talking about just chapters 1 and 2. In them we meet the children at the heart of the story: Polly and Digory, and Digory’s wretched Uncle Andrew, who entices them into a magical land far away. In those first two chapters Lewis builds out the characters of each child, and Uncle Andrew with careful descriptions. The children are written as children, who after meeting each other find an empty attic to explore, with a long corridor over their attached rowhouses. Lewis writes their daring and egging each other on to explore as anyone who remembers their tweens would:
“Shall we go and try it now?” said Digory.
“All right,” said Polly.
“Don’t if you’d rather not,” said Digory.
“I’m game if you are.” said she.
Uncle Andrew thinks so highly of himself he tells Digory:
“Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”
…while Diggory shows his native 12-year-old smarts as he “saw through Uncle Andrew’s grand words:”
“All it means, he said to himself, is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”
Lewis closes each chapter with a cliffhanger designed to keep even his youngest reader following the story. At the end of Chapter One Polly vanishes; at end of Chapter Two, Diggory follows. And the pattern continues; at the end of one, Lewis ends with the characters thinking the trouble was over, “but they had never been more mistaken in their lives.” The depictions of the different worlds are so rich that it was easy for illustrator Pauline Baynes to create the beautiful artwork in the book (2001 HarperCollins edition.) The descriptions are not only visual; you can almost hear the songs that created Narnia as you read the chapter “The Founding of Narnia.” And to find what becomes of Uncle Andrew – that is a delight!
If I had one quibble with this book it is the description of Aslan. The description isn’t as rich, or full, as the careful description that Lewis gives Aslan in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” It makes sense that Lewis would describe Aslan more fully in the that book – since it was the first time he’d written about Aslan. To me, that is an indicator that the reader should start with “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” then read all the other books in the publication order. No matter that Lewis himself said that he preferred the chronological order, which makes this Book 1 in the series. I’ll always prefer the introduction to this wonderful world in that first published book.
One thought on ““The Magician’s Nephew””
We read through most of the Narnia books last year with our kids. Very interesting both to experience it through their eyes and with the mind of experience. CS Lewis was a treasure.
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