The Magician’s Nephew was published in 1955. It was the penultimate book in the Chronicles of Narnia that C. S. Lewis wrote but chronologically, it is the first in the series because it describes the events leading up to the creation of Narnia. If we imagine that the Chronicles make up the Bible, then The Magician’s Nephew would be the book of Genesis.
The book title refers to Digory whose Uncle Andrew likes to meddle in magic. Digory befriends Polly, the girl next door, and the two find themselves entangled in Uncle Andrew’s affairs when he decides to use them as unwitting guinea pigs for his latest experiment: to test the magical rings that he had invented to transport people to different worlds. This triggers a series of events that would have repercussions not just for Digory, Polly and Andrew but for the whole land of Narnia whose creation they are to witness.
If, like most people, your first visit to Narnia is with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the first Chronicle to be written and published), The Magician’s Nephew will answer some questions you may wondered about. Where does the White Witch come from and why does she never get old? Why is there a lamp post in the middle of the forest in Narnia? Why is Professor Kirke so quick to believe the children about Narnia when most adults would doubt them? And, most importantly, why does the wardrobe have the ability to act as a portal to Narnia?
Comical and Serious
In many cases, The Magician’s Nephew has a lighter tone than the rest of the books in the series. It relates some of the joys and innocence of childhood and it portrays some truly comical moments such as Jadis’ attempts to conquer London and her mistaking Uncle Andrew for a powerful sorcerer. But The Magician’s Nephew has several serious themes as well. How far would you go to cure your dying mother? Should you risk everything just to satisfy your curiosity? What price are you willing to pay for immortality?
Taking responsibility for your actions and atoning for your sins are explored in a way that brings contrast to the joys, optimism and freshness that the creation of a new world generates. We see Aslan the Great Lion create light and sings the trees and the animals to existence. But behind all of this, we see the birth of evil as well and the steps that must be taken to safeguard the world, newly born though it is, against it. It is Digory who inadvertently brings evil to Narnia and it is his responsibility to protect it.
There is just one continuity error that somewhat spoils an otherwise beautiful instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which describes events taking place after The Magician’s Nephew), Mr Tumnus the Faun tells Lucy that before she and her siblings came, no human had ever set foot in Narnia. I have read somewhere that C. S. Lewis intended to re-edit the Chronicles but he died before he managed to do this. Perhaps this particular continuity error was one of the details he wanted to revise.
But this mistake is easily overlooked and readers will see The Magician’s Nephew for what it is: a magical adventure you will want to read more than once. Taken as a part of a seven-book fantasy series, it may not be the strongest entry, but taken on its own, it is a unique and uplifting adventure story that reminds us that new beginnings are possible and that no matter what you may have done, redemption is within reach if you want it. It is not often that readers are invited to witness the creation of a whole new world, the coronation of its first king and queen, or share in the first flight of a flying horse. The Magician’s Nephew offers all these delights and more.