Eragon Chap. 17-18: An Orc By Another Name Still Stinks

Chapter 17 is full of great storytelling and characterization, and was such a gripping read that I had a hard time putting the book down. Or, you know, the opposite of that.

A lot of this book consists of the main characters traveling from place to place to place and having adventures on the way. Essentially, it’s a fantasy novel’s version of a road trip movie. Real-life road trips are usually pretty fun. Going to new places, meeting new people, singing along to the radio with your friends. The things that make road trips appealing and fun that we forget about all the massive inconveniences they entail. Things like getting lost, or sitting cramped in the backseat piled high with luggage, or constantly getting stuck in the middle seat with your seat on the hump, and your friends uncomfortable squished in on either side of you.

This chapter is dedicated to the parts of the road trip we’d rather forget. Like when I got really sick and wound up puking in a gas station parking lot. Most of this chapter consists of Eragon and Brom being miserable as they travel the plains, dealing with strong winds, thirst, and spending hours in the saddle. Even though this chapter doesn’t really reveal anything new about the characters or the plot, I at least appreciate that it’s not a comfortable trip. It does add a sense of realism, and it would be a pretty boring chapter if everything was nice and easy.

As a student glider pilot, I also enjoyed Saphira’s demonstration of how high winds and flying don’t mix. In the gales of a storm, Saphira has difficulty landing and her open wings caused her to keep getting blown away, including somersaulting in the as she tries to land. I’m not sure if it was meant to be comical, but I was amused by it nonetheless.

As much as I enjoyed watching Saphira try to land, and fail, a lot of chapter 17 felt like padding. The following chapter is much more interesting, when Brom and Eragon arrive in the town of Yazuac. I do feel a bit bad for Saphira, though. Because they have to keep her a secret, Saphira constantly gets left behind when Eragon and Brom go into a populated area. It makes sense, but I wish she had more screen time.

Their arrival in Yazuac is eerie, and the whole town is still and quiet. This is because, and Eragon soon finds out, the entire town is dead and has been put into one big pile of corpses. I didn’t really feel the horror that I should have when I read this, though maybe it’s because I knew it was coming. Eragon, at least, was horrified, and threw up. Which is a perfectly acceptable reaction to seeing a pile of dead bodies, if you ask me. I wonder if my indifference to this slaughter is also because “one is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. Maybe it’s the writing, or maybe it’s because I’m a bad person. Hm.

This is also the chapter where Eragon has his first run-in with Urgals. In other words, orcs with a different name. I know that every high fantasy book has to have some bland, low-level mooks for the hero to plow through, but is it too much to ask for something other than “huge men with horns”? In the sequel, Eldest, the Urgals are more fleshed out as a race with their own social order and customs. Watching humans and Urgals try to work as allies is way more interesting than having them as generic enemies. But we’re still stuck in Eragon right now, and don’t get to see that.

Eragon kills two Urgals, shooting his bow and calling out “Brisingr!” as he does. “Brisingr”, as we later learn, is the elvish word for “fire”, and Eragon has used magic for the first time.

It’s a little too convenient for me. Not that Eragon used magic without any guidance–I’ll accept that, it is a fantasy story, after all–but that he knew the word “brisingr”. He’s heard Brom say it once, and thought it was a swear. I kind of think he wouldn’t remember one word in a pretty tight spot. In high stress situations, expanding my vocabulary is not on the forefront of my mind. I mean, I had to stop writing for about a minute today because I couldn’t remember the word “inevitable” as I was about to type it. If I were fighting monsters, the only thing I might be saying is, “fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Eragon 6-7: Exposition for Two

When you’re writing something that doesn’t take place in the real world, you have to find some way to tell the audience the “rules” of the universe. There are two main ways authors do this: by directly stating what those rules are (The Hunger Games loves this) or Character A telling Character B explaining the rules. In most cases, Character B is some kind of newcomer–like Obi-Wan teaching Luke about the Force, for instance.

Most authors use a mix of both methods, which works well, but I prefer the latter. I think it helps the story flow more naturally, and helps keep the reader in the world a bit more easily. And then there are chapters like this.

Eragon goes into town, and meets with Brom the storyteller in a chapter that is nothing but exposition. Eragon, naturally, wants to learn more about dragons and the Dragon Riders, and has plenty of questions about both. The whole chapter is Eragon asking questions, and Brom giving him the answers. We learn about the history of the Riders, and more about dragons themselves. Even though I generally prefer this method of getting information to the readers, for some reason I don’t like it here. I can’t exactly pinpoint why. Part of it might just be that it feels lazy–Paolini couldn’t figure out how to wedge all this in, so he put it here. Or maybe it’s the length of the chapter that bothers me. It’s pretty long–longer than the last two combined. There’s not a lot of action, just a back-and-forth. I just don’t like large information dumps, and I wonder if cutting out some of the details of this chapter would have helped me like it better. Of course, this is also my second time reading the book, so I already know what Brom’s going to say. Obviously, this stuff isn’t going to be as interesting to me the second time around.

Well, whatever. I didn’t like the way the information was shoved down my throat. I also had one head-scratching moment, wherein Brom describes a war between the dragons and the elves. It was a huge war that left the land devastated, but it only lasted…five years? Okay, that’s a long time for a human war, but we’re talking about creatures that live for centuries. Five years seems a little short.

Moving on to the next chapter.

Chapter 7 is another unevenly short chapter, not quite four pages long. On their way back to the farm, Eragon’s cousin Roran announces that he’s accepted an offer of work in another town. Eragon doesn’t really want Roran to leave, and suggests he wait until spring. Roran disagrees, and says he will be leaving shortly while they’re waiting for winter. Even though this isn’t a book about the division of farm labor, I still need to ask: where the hell are all the farmhands? It’s only Roran, Eragon, and Eragon’s Uncle Garrow working on the farm. How do just the three of them manage to keep it running and productive? How did Garrow and his now deceased wife manage to do it before Eragon and Roran were old enough to help? And for that matter, why doesn’t Garrow have, like, ten other kids to do farm work?

It’s been said that when you’re writing science-fiction, you get one lie, and you have to then work within the confines of that lie. Everything else has to follow the rules. Fantasy, I think, is a little broader, but still follows that principle. f you’re writing about dragons, that’s fine, because dragons are mythological creatures and you can do what you want with them, as long as you follow the basic rules. Things like dragons fly, breathe something dangerous, and could kill you several times over.

Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing. I’m all for dragons and magic–that’s why I picked up this book in the first place. It’s the small, nagging details that bother me. You want to write about a dragon that flies and breathes fire? Cool. Go ahead. But if you’re writing about something that exists in real life, that readers know about, then you have to make it realistic. Realistic details in a fantasy setting make the world plausible. It’s not the fantasy elements that will drive readers away. What will turn them if is when they don’t see the familiar reflected in the extraordinary.

That was kind of an unexpected rant. Anyway, the dragon was finally named “Saphira”, surprising absolutely no one. First of all, she’s a bright blue dragon. Second of all, you know another Saphira was important to Brom, just from the way he said it.

Anyway, moral of the story? It’s cool if your main character can shoot fireballs from his hand or whatever, but if he, say…lived in the 21st Century and didn’t have an email account, I would seriously have to question both the author’s writing choices and their* perception of what is normal in the world.

 

*Strunk and White be damned, I’m totally okay with “they” as a singular gender neutral pronoun.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 15: Why We Read

Oh, Narnia. It’s here that we go our separate ways…for now. Books transport you into a whole new world, and the best part is, they can do it over and over again. Of course, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t know that already. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I never actually read any of the books after Prince Caspian. Re-reading The Magician’s Nephew now makes me want to go back and read through the entire Narnia series. I think I’d like to go back and read the rest of the books and see what I missed. Aware, of course, of all the religious symbolism, racism, and sexism that I missed the first time around.

The final chapter is perhaps the most insightful; at the very least, it gave me the most to think about as a child. Aslan takes Polly, Digory, and the sleeping Uncle Andrew back to the Woods Between the Worlds and shows them a hollow in the grass.

‘When you were last here,’ said Aslan, ‘that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That would is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning.’

‘Yes, Aslan,’ said both the children. But Polly added, ‘But we’re not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?’

‘Not yet, Daughter of Eve,’ he said. ‘Not yet. But 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 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 Emperor Jadis.’

This book was published in 1955, though it takes place before World War I. I can’t help but think that Aslan’s warning to the children about the Deplorable Word was a thinly veiled reference to the atomic bomb. I couldn’t have known that when I read this more than a decade ago, nor could I understand just how bad the world could really be.

Now I see that our world is a scary place, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a comfortable life. Perhaps the question I’ve asked myself the most over the past two years, the one that I can’t answer, is, “Is the world getting worse, or am I just paying more attention?”

Unfortunately, I’m usually an optimist.  I want to believe that there is more good than bad, that love will conquer hate. More and more, it seems like the opposite of that is true.

But there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

And that fight is terribly, terribly frustrating. Because everyday I want to change the world, but I’m just one person.

And that’s why we need books. Because Digory and Polly protect Narnia from the evil they brought into it; because Digory saves his mother with a magical apple. Because they give us simple solutions to our complex problems. Because the world is terrible, the characters we love go through endless trials and tribulations, and things turn out okay.

Because real life needs more happy endings.

Final Verdict: Keep

For now, anyway. This will likely make it to the collection of children’s books my mom has on the unlikely chance that I’ll ever give her a grandchild.

I’ll be taking next week off, but starting on May 30, I’ll be back with Angelic Layer by CLAMP, which just happens to be the first manga I ever read. Stay tuned!

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.’

…chilling.

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.

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.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 11: Bit Characters and Other Matters

I’ve praised some of the ideas C.S. Lewis had, but there’s one thing that’s a little harder to get over: the chapter titles. Some of them are just so incredibly bland. Take a look:

Chapter 6: The Beginning of Uncle Andrew’s Troubles
Chapter 7: What Happened at the Front Door
Chapter 10: The First Joke and Other Matters

And we’ve finally reached Chapter 11: Digory and His Uncle Are Both in Trouble.

The first half of this chapter is nothing but the animals trying to figure out what, exactly, Uncle Andrew is. They eventually decide that he’s a tree, and plant him in the ground. It’s amusing, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the story. To be honest, I’m not even sure why Uncle Andrew even had to come to Narnia with the other characters. He’s been demoted from intriguing Magician to comic relief, by way of misfortune. At this point, he has nothing to do with the rest of the story. I also don’t like to see clever and brave Polly relegated to the background. She should have a much bigger part in the story right now; certainly, she deserves a bigger role than Uncle Andrew. Much more so than the Cabby as well, who has only just been given a name. Seriously, we learn his horse’s name before his.

Aslan decrees the Cabby, Frank, will be king of Narnia. This is presumably because Frank is the only human adult in the group who isn’t evil. This also begs the question why Aslan wanted a human to run the country in the first place. So far, Uncle Andrew, Jadis, and Digory (to a point) haven’t been shining examples of our species. All the sentient beings in Narnia are either animals or some kind of mythological creature, like dryads and fauns. Why not let one of its native people rule the country, maybe someone that Aslan specifically chose for his council? And how is Frank going to know what’s best for the animals, talking or otherwise? It reminds me of reading an X-rated fanfiction that was clearly written by a virgin. Maybe you know what’s supposed to happen, but it’s obvious to everyone reading it that you’ve got no clue what you’re writing about.

Do you think C.S. Lewis was pro-Imperialism?

Despite that head-scratcher, I’m kind of okay with Aslan’s reasons that Frank qualifies as king. Writing this during an election year, I wish politics really were this simple and straightforward.

“‘Begging your pardon, sir,’ he said, ‘and thank you very much I’m sure (which my Missus does the same) but I ain’t no sort of chap for a job like that. I never ‘ad much eddycation, you see.’

‘Well,’ said Aslan, ‘can you use a spade and a plow and raise food out of the earth?’

‘Yes, sir, I could do a bit of that sort of work: being brought up to it, like.’

‘Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering they are not slaves like the dumb beasts of the world you were born in, but Talking Beasts and free subjects?’

‘I see that, sir,’ replied the Cabby. ‘I’d try to do the square thing by them all.’

‘And would you bring up your children and grandchildren to do the same?’

‘It’d be up to me to try, sir. I’d do my best: wouldn’t we, Nellie?’

‘And you wouldn’t have favorites either among your own children or among the other creatures or let any hold under another or is use it hardly?’

‘I never could abide such goings on, sir, and that’s the truth. I’d give ’em what for if I caught ’em at it,’ said the Cabby.”

“And will you build a wall between Narnia and Archenland, and deport all Archenlanders who have not legally come to this country?”*

But between Uncle Andrew being planted in the ground and Frank becoming king, Aslan has to deal with Digory, as he was the one who woke Jadis and brought her into Narnia. Aslan says that Digory must find a magical tree far away, take one of its fruits, and plant it in Narnia. This tree will help protect Narnia from Jadis for hundreds of years. When Digory owns up to the role he had in waking Jadis, his exchange with Aslan is a little…disappointing.

“‘She woke up,’ said Digory wretchedly. And then, turning very white, ‘I mean, I woke her. Because I wanted to know what would happen if I struck a bell. Polly didn’t want to. It wasn’t her fault. I–I fought her. I know I shouldn’t have. I think I was a bit enchanted by the writing under the bell.’

‘Do you?’ asked Aslan; still speaking very low and deep.

‘No,’ said Digory. ‘I see now I wasn’t. I was only pretending.'”

But that was so cool! It was scary and intriguing and now you’re saying that the magic was all in Digory’s head?

Thanks for taking away the scariest part of the book, Aslan.

Digory, you broke Narnia. C.S. Lewis, you broke my heart.

*Please note that Donald Drumpf’s point of view does not reflect the author’s, and that Drumpf is a tool.**
**Though it is worth saying that the Calormenes are C.S. Lewis’s view of Muslims, and are not portrayed in a flattering light. So really, building a wall between Narnia and Calormen would make more sense for this predictable joke.

†Please don’t vote for Trump. Please, please, please.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 10: C.S. Lewis is a Jerk

There was a sequence in this chapter that rather confused me as a kid: the first joke.

I like that Aslan included jokes and laughter in Narnia right away. Laughter is important. I know a lot of people will say that they’d like to die in their sleep; if I had a choice, I’d like to die laughing. Besides, I think most of us would agree that God has a sense of humor, and so it’s only fitting that Lion Jesus would, too.

As the Talking Animals pledge to Aslan that they will remain Talking Animals and not revert back to their mute counterparts, a jackdaw embarrasses himself, and everyone laughs.

“‘Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.’ [. . .]

‘Aslan! Aslan! Have I made the first joke? Will everybody always be told how I made the first joke?’

‘No, little friend,’ said the Lion. ‘You have not made the first joke; you have only been the first joke.'”

As a kid, I didn’t understand how the jackdaw was the first joke, and I re-read the passage several times before I figured it out. Now I think it’s just kind of mean. God is personally making fun of you. Of course, probably a lot of people feel like that…

Aslan selects his council of animals, saying they have much to discuss, because evil has already entered the new world. It makes me kind of sad that Narnia has always known evil, even though it was literally formed seconds ago. It was never a pure, incorruptible place, and never will be.

The other thing that caught my attention in this chapter was when Aslan called the animals for his council, he chooses “the chief Dwarf, and you the River-god, and you Oak and He-Owl, and both the ravens and the Bull-Elephant.”

There was something that bothered me about this when I was a kid, and there’s something that still bugs me about it now. Can you spot it?

The characters called into Aslan’s council are almost all male. The one exception is that Aslan called both talking ravens – a male and female – and we can probably make the assumption that a tree is genderless. The Narnia series – and C.S. Lewis – have both been called sexist. And…it’s not an unreasonable thing to say. For example, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Santa gives Susan her bow and arrows, he says that he hopes she never has to use it, because “battles are ugly when women fight.” I still remember that line perfectly, because it enraged me so much as a kid, and I was so happy that it was removed from the Disney adaptation. Susan’s treatment in The Last Battle is also questionable, as she gets booted from Narnia for…growing up? Becoming interested in nylons and lipstick? Susan’s fate isn’t exactly clear, and neither are the reasons why she was no longer allowed back in Narnia. This might be a comment on growing up, but the eldest Pevensie child is allowed back in Narnia. This can be interpreted in a couple different ways, one of which is that she’s kicked out for discovering sex.

Discussing just The Magician’s Nephew and no other books in the series, there are still some big problems. Reading the book as an allegory for the story of Adam and Eve, Jadis (who would become Lewis’s most iconic villain, the White Witch) represents both original sin, and the serpent. Her holy counterpart is represented by a male. Even without reading deeper into the text, the adult woman is still the antagonist. Upon returning from Charn, Polly is quickly shoved to the back, out of the action as well. The Cabby’s wife, Helen, also makes an appearance, and becomes the first Queen of Narnia, but she has a decidedly bit part in the story, to the point where I didn’t even remember she was in it.

On the other hand, Jadis is the most powerful character for a good portion of the book, and a true magician, unlike pathetic Uncle Andrew. Polly also seems to be a bit brighter than Digory, and they wouldn’t have woken up Jadis at all if he’d listened to her. Throughout the series, there are a number of female characters presented in a positive light–Lucy most notably comes to mind. It’s also worth noting that these books were all published in the 1950s, a time when women were supposed to get married, have kids, stay home and cook the roast. It may be that these books are just a product of their time. However, it’s disheartening to think that even in a fantasy world, personally built by God, women are not equal to men.

Thanks, C.S. Lewis.

Jerk.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 9: Uncle Andrew is “That Guy”

In this chapter we have the first appearance of Aslan, singing the world to life. We have the stars, a young sun, grass and trees…even after all these years, it’s still a magical moment. The thing that detracts from it most, however, is the characters. The children, the Cabby, and the horse all know that something important is happening, and that they are witnessing a rare and breath-taking event. Unfortunately, Uncle Andrew and Jadis can’t enjoy it, and they let everyone know.

The magic in Narnia is more powerful than Jadis’s own magic, but the real reason she can’t stand it is because she’s evil.  It doesn’t get any deeper than that. It’s disappointing, but I should have known to expect that by now.

I guess I just don’t appreciate it when children’s books treat kids like they’re idiots. Children are smarter than we give them credit for, I think; they can handle a little moral ambiguity. I remember reading books like The Giver and Tuck Everlasting when I was in elementary school. Books that dealt with pretty heavy themes–euthanasia, mortality, freedom–many of which would not necessarily be called “kid-friendly”. They didn’t always wrap things up in neat and tidy ways, and would leave me with questions. They challenged the way I usually thought (“Why does my teacher think that Winnie dying was a happy ending?”), and helped introduce us to new ideas. You see that the world doesn’t fit in nice, neat boxes, and those are the lessons–and the books–that make a real impact on you. It seems pretty obvious as I write this, considering how well I remember those books, and how much of The Magician’s Nephew I forgot over the years.

Don’t get me wrong–the Narnia books (at least the ones I’ve read) are part of a wonderful series that I hold close to my heart, and I’m really enjoying The Magician’s Nephew right now. But as an adult, I can now see flaws in the books that I overlooked before.

My favorite part of this chapter was probably when the animals came to life. They rose out of the ground, and Aslan selected two of each kind to be talking animals. Uncle Andrew, however, continues to ruin the birth of a new world by freaking out. He keeps trying to get Polly and Digory to use their rings to get out of Narnia and back to their world, leaving Jadis (and the cabby) behind in Narnia. Digory doesn’t want to leave, though, because he believes Aslan could help save his mother.

“Digory’s heart beat wildly; he knew something very solemn was going to be done. He had not forgotten about his Mother; but he knew jolly well that, even for her, he couldn’t interrupt a thing like this.”

Uncle Andrew could learn something from him.

The Magician’s Nephew, Chap. 8: Big Song Theory

Halfway through the book, and we’ve almost made it to Narnia!

Right now, I think Jadis is my favorite character. She’s certainly the most interesting. I suspect that the real reason C.S. Lewis decided to have her return to our world with Digory and Polly is because he wanted to see what would happen if he let someone like her romp around London. I wish we hadn’t had to watch Digory wait around in the previous chapter, because Jadis sounds like so much more fun. When she she finally returns to the house, it’s with score of people following her, including a Cabby, police officers, and a crowd of spectators. Jadis fully believes that she’s going to take over our world, and most of the people following her think this is the most entertaining thing they’ve seen in their lives. It takes her a minute to realize that her followers are actually laughing at her.

Digory – and Polly, who was finally allowed out of bed – finally spots a chance to take the Witch to the Woods Between the Worlds. Jadis was suffering when she last went to the Woods, probably because she’s evil and that place is pure good. Digory acknowledges that it would probably be awful to abandon her there, but he doesn’t know what else he can do. Digory does manage to grab Jadis and put on his yellow ring, but in the confusion ends up taking a few extras along for the ride: Polly, Uncle Andrew, the Cabby, and the Cabby’s horse, Strawberry.

Maybe the most satisfying part of this scene is Uncle Andrew, finally getting a taste of his own medicine and whining about it.

‘Oh, oh, is this delirium? Is it the end? I can’t bear it. It’s not fair. I never meant to be a Magician. It’s all a misunderstanding. It’s my godmother’s fault; I must protest this. In my state of health too. A very old Dorsetshire family.’

This reminds me of playing video games with my friends as a kid, and the sore loser’s cries of, “that’s not fair”, “you’re cheating”, “my controller’s broken”, and, the most desperate of all, “MY DAD WORKS AT NINTENDO!”

This is about as much character development that Uncle Andrew gets for the rest of the book. On one hand, it’s a little unfortunate. On the other, it’s kind of fun to see him miserable. He seemed like such a powerful figure when Polly and Digory first encountered him, but now he’s like a small, bratty child.

One thing really intrigues me as the group is in the Woods. Strawberry begins drinking from one of the pools of water, that as we know, is a doorway to another world. My question is, what would happen if Strawberry drank the whole thing? Would the world vanish, or would it just be impossible to get to? This is what I mean when I said I thought Lewis should do more with the Woods, because it’s just such a good idea. So many questions, so many possibilities, and we’ll never know the answers.

I volunteer myself to write a spin-off series that answers all the questions I have.

After a little more confusion, the all the characters leave the woods and we’re…finally…almost in Narnia. Sort of.

Instead, the characters are whisked away to Nothing. They’re in the dark, they’re alone, and the world they’ve stumbled into is empty. They’re not in Narnia, because Narnia doesn’t exist yet. It’s dark, and then they hear a noise; a song, rather.

Most of this chapter is occupied with describing this song. I remember being enchanted by this scene as a child, but I thought I would be bored reading it as an adult. I was — as I am about many things — wrong. The world of Narnia is being sung into life, beginning with the stars. When I was a kid, this made sense to me. I didn’t know how the world began, (there was something about a Big Bang, but also something about a Garden of Eden…) so why couldn’t it have started with a song? It made about as much sense as anything else.

Even if Lewis is on the “Eden” side of the road and I’m now a fan of the Big Bang, I still enjoyed this chapter. As I reflect on it here, I can actually see some similarities between the two. The both have the same theme: From Nothing, Something. And that Something started small and grew until it’s the Something that we know today. The difference is the time scale. Here might be a good place to put a creationsim vs. evolution debate, and discuss the obviously correct choice. But that’s a little weighty for discussing a children’s book, particularly a children’s book where one of the characters is Jesus with four legs and fur.