8.16.2011

The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis.  Friend of Tolkien.  Biblical scholar.  Spiritual philosopher.  Author of perhaps the best series of books for young people.  Ever.

That's right.  I'm throwing down the gauntlet.  And I've only read 2 of the 7 in the series (apparently).  And I am a diehard Harry Potter fan.  And I have just recently been gushing over the Little House books.  And I absolutely adore Anne of Green Gables and the rest.  Nevertheless, I am coming out with that bold proclamation based solely on how good The Magician's Nephew is.  As I mentioned earlier, I have long-loved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so it should not surprise me that this one is as good.  But somehow it did.  And perhaps it is because I read it for the first time as an adult.  Perhaps I'm able to see the breadth and depth of it more than I would have been able to as a child.  It is a gorgeous, entertaining, funny, and provocative beginning to the world of Narnia and to the series of books that will allow us to spend more time there.

I do take issue with the current trend to place the book first in the series.  Though it is the chronological beginning, it was written later and published sixth, I believe.  Apparently, Lewis never intended to write any more books beyond The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but someone asked him how the lamppost came to be in Narnia, and he began work on The Magician's Nephew as a means of solving that puzzle.  I can see how it makes a better narrative to read it after reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It just feels like it should come second or later.  Now that I know all that, I'm going to have to decide how to read them with the children.

I presume it is not a spoiler to note the heavy biblical allusions employed throughout the series?  If that doesn't sound familiar to you, you might want to stop reading.  It was completely familiar to me, and as a believer, it is one of the reasons this book was so tremendously powerful.  But even knowing Lewis' intentions beforehand did not prepare me for Aslan's genesis of Narnia.  Honestly, the Biblical creation story doesn't do much for me from a literary standpoint (although I do like the version in The Message), but this telling of Creation moved me beyond words.  It is just so fully alive and joyful and artful.  Here's an example:
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.  They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices.  The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars.  They didn't come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening.   One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out. (107)
Another thing that makes this book so amazing is Aslan.  In a mere 2-3 pages, the reader gets an immediate understanding of who and what Aslan is and cannot help but be inspired by him.  When Digory asks Aslan to heal his mother, Aslan's tender response bears witness to God's enduring love for us.  I love this exchange as well:
"Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals," said Digory.
"I'm sure Aslan would have, if you'd asked him," said Fledge.
"Wouldn't he know without being asked?" said Polly.
"I've no doubt he would," said the Horse (still with his mouth full).  "But I've a sort of idea he likes to be asked." (163)
Such a quiet reminder, an answer to anyone who has ever wondered why we pray.

Though I loved this book's connections to my faith, it would still be magical and wonderful if you didn't make any of those connections.  And that is why I think I can say it is the best: because it can so successfully be so much to so many.

PS: A quick Google search told me that this book might be the next in the film series.  I haven't seen any of them, but they look great.  Anybody read and seen them and have an opinion on the adaptation?

5 comments:

  1. I whole-heartedly concur with your sincere admiration of C. S. Lewis. I've been raised on him, probably the first 'real' book my mother ever read to me before I could read myself, and my dearest friend down the street still quotes me passages from The Horse and His Boy. It never fails to thrill the class I'm teaching when I read them something from Narnia. You just can't miss a good book when you hear it. You know, I'm sure, that Lewis and Tolkein were good friends? Can't you see them chatting at the pub together? How I'd like to eavesdrop on that conversation!
    Bellezza

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  2. Yes, Bellezza! I would love to have been a fly on the wall when these two got together. I think there are some good resources out there about their friendship, but I haven't yet read/seen/heard them.

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  3. Did you ever decide in which order to read them to your kids? My daughter and I are taking a break from the Little House series (she's four, so I wanted to give her a little time before we got into Mary's blindness and Jack dying) and were thinking of the Narnia books.

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  4. Phaedosia, we had to do the same thing - not because of Mary's blindness and Jack, though. We just completely stalled out on the second half of the book. I think it was because of Laura's beautiful but slow-moving descriptions of EVERYTHING to Mary. My kids just weren't quite patient enough with it.

    As for the Narnia books, we haven't started them (the kids are in a reading separately stage right now), but I still think The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is the place to start. Then, you can do The Magician's Nephew before continuing to Prince Caspian - OR do PC and then TMN. Thanks for reminding me of the joy this book brought me. I'm definitely going to go hunting for my copy of TLTWaTW and start prepping the kids for the next series.

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  5. Yeah--we stalled a bit with Farmer Boy and the in-depth descriptions of farming. We finally powered through at the end of the summer and were rewarded by the home alone sequence when their parents go off visiting for a week. We both got a kick out of that.

    Thanks for the advice, I'm checking The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe out of the library today. That book is still vivid in my mind from my childhood, but I don't remember much about the rest, so it will be fun to re-read the series.

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