The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 13: Does This Remind You of Anything?

There’s apparently a lot I’ve forgotten about this book, but some parts I remember vividly. Chapter 13 has one of those scenes. Recalling the disappointment of re-reading the previous chapter, though, I approached this one with caution.

Polly, Digory, and Fledge all find what’s simply called “The Place”, where the magical tree is growing. It has high walls and golden gates, warning against climbing the walls or stealing the fruit from one of the trees. Digory goes into the garden alone, and there’s a few paragraphs dedicated to that decision.

Near the end of a lot of fantasy stories, the main character finds often her or himself facing off against their main antagonist alone. I’m never sure how I feel about this trope, because if their allies are readily available, then they should also join in the fight. There should be a reason given as to why the protagonist has to go it alone. If the supporting cast is busy fighting a dragon, and the main character is the only one that can kill the sorcerer, fine. If you go it alone for drama, or tradition’s sake…that’s sort of dumb. The movie Labyrinth probably has the weakest excuse, with Sarah facing off against Jareth (and his mighty crotch) by herself because, “that’s the way it’s done”. I understand that it’s an important moment for the character to stand up to something to face their fears, but sometimes doing it alone out of choice is impractical.

In this case, the only reason Digory goes into the grove alone is because Polly and Fledge can see that it’s a “private place”, somewhere you wouldn’t want to walk into unless you’ve been invited. I’m actually okay with this. Maybe it’s the way this scene was written, or maybe it’s because even from the air, all three characters could feel that this place was special. I’m also okay with this because Digory isn’t in any apparent danger, nor has he been since Jadis ran off.

This chapter was probably the most memorable in the book, and holds up very well even now.  Digory is sorely tempted to take one of the apples for his own, and tries to rationalize eating one for himself. Just like we all do, when we want something really badly but know that we shouldn’t. It also shows us the magical quality of the fruit, that he had been planning on returning it to Aslan right away, until he smells it. This passage was as difficult for me to read, because I love fruit, and they all sounded so delicious.

The most important part of the chapter, (and the novel, if you ask me), is Digory finding Jadis in the garden, happily eating one of the apples. It’s made her stronger, but also made her skin and hair completely white, setting her up as the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s obvious she hasn’t been invited into the garden and that she’s stolen the apple for herself. She tries to convince Digory to eat one as well and become strong and immortal like her. When he refuses, she aims below the belt.

‘Do you not see, Fool, that one bite of the apple would heal her? You have it in your pocket. We are here by ourselves and the Lion is far away. Use your Magic and go back to your own world. A minute later you can be at your Mother’s bedside, giving her the fruit. Five minutes later you will see the color coming back to her face. She will tell you the pain is gone. Soon she will tell you she feels stronger. Then she will fall asleep–think of that; hours of sweet, natural sleep, without pain, without drugs.  Next day everyone will be saying how wonderfully she has recovered. Soon she will be quite well again. All will be well again. [. . .] And what would your Mother think if she knew that you could have taken her pain away and given her back her life and saved your Father’s heart from being broken, and that you wouldn’t–that you’d rather run messages for a wild animal in a strange world that is no business of yours?’

Holy shit.

This is the reason I’ve remembered this chapter so well. Growing up with a sick aunt and chronic illness as a backdrop in everyday life, I would have given just about anything for an apple like that. I remember holding my breath while this scene was read to me. Of course I wanted Digory to take the apple back to Aslan. That was the right thing to do. I hoped that Aslan would be able to heal Digory’s mother, but what if he couldn’t? The Witch said that it was Digory’s only chance at eternal life–what if it was the only way to heal his mother?

I connected with this passage, this dilemma so well. I was such a shy and straight-laced kid, always doing what I was told. If I were in Digory’s shoes, though, I may have very well stolen an apple for my sick aunt. It’s a test of faith; how loyal Digory feels towards Aslan, or how much he wants to save his mother. He hesitates, though, giving Jadis an opportunity to remind him that she’s evil. The reminder is all Digory needs to refuse, and leave with Polly and Fledge to return to Aslan with the magic fruit.

I chose to read The Magician’s Nephew again for a few reasons. It was the first in the Narnia series I ever read; I thought I remembered the basic story well enough and…

Well, this last one just makes me sound silly.

It took me awhile to come around to the “Aslan is Jesus” allegory. Sure, it made sense–Aslan comes around at Christmas, is killed for Edmund’s sake and  is then reborn (which just about made me cry)…it’s not a difficult connection to make. I never liked it all that much because it sort of demystified this really cool, powerful character. When I was a child, it made Aslan feel less approachable. As an adult, it’s because I’m not terribly religious, and don’t enjoy having religion shoved down my throat, even if it’s in the form of a fuzzy lion. Because, c’mon, you can’t watch the Disney Narnia movies and tell me that you don’t want to cuddle with Aslan.

But back to the point…I chose The Magician’s Nephew because I thought it wouldn’t be overly religious.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The scene that I remembered the best was nothing more than a gender-swapped Garden of Eden story. How the hell did I miss that? If it were any more transparent, this book would be made of glass.

Aslan help me, I’m an idiot.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 12: Strawberry’s Disappointing Adventure

This was a chapter that I was really excited to get to. I remembered it being so magical. Aslan gives Strawberry wings, and he becomes Fledge, Narnia’s first flying horse. He takes Polly and Digory on an adventure, flying far above Narnia. They explore the world, eat toffees, and have a marvelous time. What more could a child want in a story?

As an adult, however, it turns out that this chapter leaves a lot to be desired. I expected that my childhood memory of this chapter wouldn’t hold up to the reality, and I was right. I just wasn’t aware of how right I was actually going to be. It starts promising, with Digory agreeing to find the magical tree that will protect Narnia. There’s also a very sweet part where Aslan grieves with Digory about his ill mother.

‘But please, please–won’t you–can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself.

But this chapter is mostly description, like Digory describing the land to Aslan. When Polly and Digory are riding on Fledge’s back, most of the narrative is description of what they’re flying over. The “adventure” isn’t so much a story, as it is a nice sight-seeing tour.

On the other hand, they’re the first humans to ever see all this, so I guess that’s exciting. Of course I would have loved to be riding on a flying horse through a brand-new world. But I don’t get that thrill from reading this. It’s like going through a photo album of someone else’s vacation. You try to care, you really want to, but you just can’t make yourself.

Man, growing up sucks.

There’s also a disproportionate amount of time dedicated to the children having dinner. There are two pages that are just Digory and Polly trying to figure out what they’re going to eat when they stop flying for the night. Polly has some toffees in her pocket, so they decide that will be their meal.

The little paper bag was very squashy and sticky when they finally got it out, so that it was more a question of tearing the bag off the toffees than of getting the toffees out of their bag.

Okay, great, but what about the adventure?

Some grown-ups (you know how fussy they can be about that sort of thing) would rather have gone without supper altogether than eaten those toffees.

No, I still eat candy for dinner sometimes. So about this adventure…

There were nine of them all told. It was Digory who had the bright idea of eating four each and planting the ninth; for, as he said, ‘if the bar off the lamp-post turned into a little light-tree, why shouldn’t this turn into a toffee-tree?’ So they dibbled a small hole in the earth and buried the piece of toffee.

Man, the word toffee sounds weird now. You ever notice how you say a word a lot, and it loses its meaning? Toffee, toffee, toffee…

At least there’s still magic, when the toffee does grow into a toffee tree overnight. That’s pretty cool.

There is one small detail in this chapter that I still really like. When Polly and Digory go to sleep, Fledge spreads his wings over them to keep them warm at night. It sounds cozy, and of course I would love to have a pegasus to snuggle with at night. In fact, a great deal of my wish-fulfillment stories I wrote in sixth grade were based on that exact premise.