The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 14: All Allegories Aside, Though…

I thought the last two chapters of this book would be rather short, but it turns out they’re more substantial than I remember. Well, maybe not the first part of this chapter, which is all about Uncle Andrew. The animals have now put him in a home-made cage and have tried to feed him their favorite foods, which resulted in squirrels pelting him with nuts and a bear throwing a honey comb at him, for example. It’s kind of funny, but like the toffee dinner, just takes up too much time. I guess it’s his comeuppance for being disagreeable ant the beginning of the book, but now it just feels undeserved. Ever since Jadis arrived, he’s no longer scary or threatening. He’s already learned his lesson; cut the guy some slack. And now that I can’t unsee all the religious parallels, it’s obvious that Uncle Andrew represents atheism, as he simply refuses to hear the animals–and Aslan–talking.

I do like that the animals want to keep Uncle Andrew as a pet, though.

There was more time spent on Uncle Andrew’s treatment than there was on the coronation of the new king and queen of Narnia, wherein C.S. Lewis shows us how little he knows about blacksmithing. The dwarves make crowns for them right then and there, with apparently very little effort. I actually do know a bit about smithing (because college was a weird time), and I think it’s preeeetty doubtful that the animals were able to make a fire that would get hot enough in just a few minutes to make gold and silver crowns on. Whatever, I’ll give it a shrug and chalk it up to magic. I’m fairly certain that this is a point no one else cares about except me.

And while I’m sure that the coronation is terribly important for the history of Narnia, it may be the least interesting part of this chapter. It’s not Digory plants the tree that I really care about what’s going on. Aslan confirms what the Witch told him–that taking an apple from the tree would make him live forever, and heal his mother. However, Aslan also tells him

‘Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.’


And reveals yet another difference between myself now and the elementary school student who read this long ago. Back then, I couldn’t comprehend regret like that, nor could I understand why anyone would think they’re better off dead. I could only think of it as a curse, and use the irrational explanation of magic to comprehend something that wasn’t rational to me.

Now, unfortunately, I understand regret perfectly well, and can see why someone would rather be dead than alive.

Like I said, growing up is harsh.

To end on a lighter note, I’m glad that Digory is rewarded for his honesty, and loyalty to Aslan, by being allowed to take an apple for his sick mother. That’s probably the best message this book has for kids, whether or not it’s read as a religious allegory.

I really love the idea that the magical fruit itself is neither good nor evil, and it’s all about the person who takes the fruit. The tree would protect Narnia, whether or not its fruit was stolen, but the land it protected would change. Because Digory took the apple at Aslan’s bidding, Narnia will become a kind and gentle world. Had he stolen it, Narnia would have become cold and cruel. I really like the idea that the fruit will do its job, no matter what, but the intent of the one who takes it truly determines what happens. I wish my good intentions had that much power in real life.

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.