The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia #1
Publication: Harper Collins (first published 1955), Paperback, 221pg
Genres: Adventure, Children's, Fantasy, Fiction
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When Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory's peculiar Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens to the children when they touch Uncle Andrew's magic rings is far beyond anything even the old magician could have imagined.
Hurtled into the Wood between the Worlds, the children soon find that they can enter many worlds through the mysterious pools there. In one world they encounter the evil Queen Jadis, who wreaks havoc in the streets of London when she is accidentally brought back with them. When they finally manage to pull her out of London, unintentionally taking along Uncle Andrew and a coachman with his horse, they find themselves in what will come to be known as the land of Narnia. (from Goodreads)
The last time I read this book was years ago, and I liked it SO much that I decided it was my favorite Narnia book ever. Nowadays I can’t remember why that was, but I think it was because I really like Digory and Polly. They’re not as drippy as some of the other Narnia characters, and I particularly like how street-smart they are. Also, Jadis is a very fierce baddie, all the more so because she doesn’t really DO anything except steal a carriage and be really tall. All the really bad stuff she did in the past! And yet she’s still intimidating and overpowering.
According to the preface in my copy, C.S. Lewis meant this one to be read first, even before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense? Because in Nephew he mentions a lot of stuff that only makes sense if you’re read Witch first– specifically, Digory growing up to be the Pevensies’ crazy uncle. If you don’t know (or remember) that he’s the Pevensie’s crazy uncle, who cares about little future forshadowings like that?1
It DOES make sense to have the origin story be first, no doubt, but I still think it’d be more effective to read at LEAST Witch before this one. All the good stuff about Nephew is only good because it connects to the other books– like Jadis becoming the White Witch. Part of why she’s so scary is because she’s in her pre-Witch form; you know what she’s going to become and so it builds up a terrific sense of foreboding in her scenes. If you didn’t know she’s the White Witch, though? Still a pretty good villain, but you lose a lot of the tension.
I also didn’t like how things were tied into the next book in a really in your FACE kind of way. For example, C.S. Lewis explained exactly how the Wardrobe was created and where it came from and how it was magic. Fits with Witch, sure, but then it sucks some of the fun out of it, too. I liked it much better when getting into Narnia was mysterious and magical and not explained step-by-step.
On the other hand, and I know this is practically the opposite what I just said, I DO like how it ties into the larger Narnian canon. (Just go with it.)
It’s very neat, having a beginning and an end,2 and I suppose it works the Biblical stuff ever more firmly into the fabric of the Narnian universe. And if you ignore how it forces you to look at how it’s related to the other Narnian books, it’s a very good story on its own. It’s got lots of thrilling chases and scary stuff, mixed in with some stuff about friendship and responsibility.
As part of a series, it’s an enjoyable story. As an individual book, it’s too dependent on other stories to make it really good. I’d definitely still recommend reading it if you like the Narnia books, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with it (sorry, Mr. Lewis).
Read: June 4-7, 2013