Well, we’re up to book 6 of the Narniathon, and I’m quite pleased with myself for sticking to this particular event. Of course, it does help that the books are quite short, but it’s been such an enjoyable experience! Anyway, this month’s episode in C.S. Lewis‘s Narnian adventures, “The Magician’s Nephew” contains what you might call the creation myth of that land, and it was always one of my favourite stories; so I was keen to see how I found it nowadays!

Of course, as we are reading in publication order, some might protest that we should have read this book first. However, the opening paragraph convinces me again (if I needed it) that reading in publication order is the way.

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows all the comings and going between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

Now for me, that opening presupposes a knowledge of Narnia and all that had gone before in the previous books. If I’d read this first, I would have been most puzzled indeed. I expect there are plenty of opposing arguments which could be flung at me, but I shall stick to my guns and am happy to have re-read in what I think is the correct order!

Anyway, to return to “Magician’s…” Lewis goes on to set his scene quite wonderfully, stating:

In those days Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nice; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.

Polly will be one of the main protagonists of this story, along with her next door neighbour, Digory Kirke; the latter is staying with his aunt and uncle, the brother and sister Andrew and Letty Ketterly, and things are not going well. Digory’s mother is also staying and she’s very poorly. If that wasn’t bad enough, Uncle Andrew is a strange and unpleasant man, and frankly Digory is having an awful time. Polly proves to be a good friend, and the children decide to explore the attic of their houses; as they live in a row of terraces, these are all joined and so the children in theory can walk from one end of the terrace to the other. However, they miscalculate and leave the attic into Uncle Andrew’s study.

Here, the real adventures begin, as this most peculiar man has been meddling with magic he really doesn’t understand and has made some magic rings. Having tested them on disappearing guinea pigs, he now wants a more communicative subject to try them out and tricks Polly into putting one on and vanishing. Digory is forced to go after her to try to rescue her, and they find themselves in The Wood Between the Worlds, a tranquil place full of ponds. Using the magic rings, the children can jump into those ponds and be transported away to new worlds. From here they explore other lands, encounter a sinister witch and then witness a world being born. However, evil and temptation are threatening them and the new land of Narnia; will the children have the strength to do the right thing, can they get back to their own world, and will Digory’s mother survive?

As I thought back over the plot of this book, I realised just how much Lewis had incorporated into his story, how engrossing it was and how the pace never flags for a moment!! The sheer richness of the book is mightly impressive, and there are so many wonderful elements – the rampages of the witch, Jadis, round Victorian London; the treatment of Uncle Andrew by the talking animals of Narnia; the darkness and bleakness of Charn; and all of these are enhanced by Pauline Baynes’ marvellous illustrations. The book succeeds in mingling elements of classic Victorian children’s fiction with its adventures, and the magical world of Narnia, and it’s a marvellous read from start to finish.

I found the religious elements quite noticeable in this story, but again this wasn’t a problem; the ‘Adam and Eve’ figures of the new world, the temptation of the apple, the opposing evil figure are all familiar from biblical stories. Yet Narnia has an identity of its own, and some of the writing is so beautiful; the sequence where Aslan literally sings the world into being is stunning and moving. The story ends with happy resolution and what is perhaps a warning from Lewis about the way our world is developing into a dead land like Charn:

… you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware.

“The Magician’s Nephew” is a wonderful, powerful piece of storytelling, and as you can probably tell I absolutely loved revisiting it after all these years. I don’t know about Aslan, but Lewis’s world-building skills are just marvellous – Charn, The Wood Between the Worlds, London in the past and Narnia itself are brilliantly realised and it was a wrench to leave this story. The last few pages link the story back to “Lion…” in a way that would only make sense if you’d already read the book; and I suspect I may end up after the next instalment wanting to go back to the beginning of the Narnia stories and read them all over again, just like I always feel with the “Lord of the Rings” books. The Narniathon really is a most wonderful experience!