The Magician's Nephew  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"In C. S. Lewis's novel The Magician's Nephew, there is a word, referred to as the deplorable word, which ends all life on the planet on which it is spoken." --Sholem Stein

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Magician's Nephew is a fantasy novel for children written by C. S. Lewis. It was the sixth book published in his The Chronicles of Narnia series, but is the first in the chronology of the Narnia novels' fictional universe. Thus it is an early example of a prequel and includes many references to the previously published books, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In more recent republications, the books have been re-ordered with The Magician's Nephew as book one. See The Chronicles of Narnia entry for more information on the ordering of the books in the series.

This book is dedicated to "the Kilmer family".


Plot summary

When a scheming old magician sent his nephew, Digory, and Polly into the woods between the Worlds, a new dimension in fantasy was started. The two children stepped from one world to another, each more fantastic than the last. And when the witch Jadis insisted on returning to England with them, there was all sorts of trouble. In trying to whisk her back to her own world, the magic got slightly mixed-up, and Digory, Polly, and the wicked witch all landed in Narnia instead. There they witnessed Aslan, the solemn, gracious lion, blessing the animals with human speech. The witch ran from Aslan in horror and went into hiding-but, as readers of the other books about Narnia well know, her evil nature could not be hidden forever.


Readers familiar with Genesis will recognise the parallels to it in Lewis's work. With respect to Creation, it also has some core similarities with Ainulindalë, the Song of the Ainur, the story of creation in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, due, presumably, both to drawing on the Biblical accounts for some of their material and to the close professional relationship between Tolkien and Lewis, who may have discussed together some themes such as a song of creation seen in both Ainulindalë and The Magician's Nephew but not in the Bible.

The story includes the divine establishment of a royal and aristocratic social system in which an English couple (the cabby and his wife) and their descendants are set in authority over an empire consisting of Narnia and its adjoining countries. The reader is also left in no doubt about the precise social class of each of the English characters, but with no implication that this matters to God; the cabby identifies himself and his wife as "both country folks, really." At the end of the book, Digory's father, who was working in India (then under British rule), inherits money and a large house, and this sudden wealth and country landlord status is stated to be a good thing. We may assume that these aspects owe something to Lewis' own attitude, which tended to be shared by most English people at the time of writingTemplate:Fact; the standard expectations are skewed a little, however, by having Mr. Kirke suddenly come into his inheritance, not to mention by the fact that King Frank and Queen Helen were of so lowly stature in their own world.

Another of Lewis's own attitudes is that God might have a sense of humour, evident by "The First Joke." Soon after Aslan makes the Talking Animals to speak (in pairs of their species, biblically reminiscent of Noah's creatures on his Ark), a talking jackdaw makes himself the butt of a joke by accident. When he sees that all the other talking animals are laughing at "his joke", he says to Aslan, "Have I made the first joke?". Aslan responds, "No, you have only been the first joke", and they laugh all the harder, even the Jackdaw.

The characters are developed through a series of moral choices, particularly Digory. Polly is more than a mere sidekick but is assigned to a strong supporting role in the drama; she has more practical common sense than Digory and is not deceived by Jadis. Uncle Andrew, initially a very sinister and manipulative presence, collapses into a figure of fun at the end, while Jadis, the White Witch, provides the real portrayal of evil and temptation not at all far from Christian belief in how Satan works.

Of the seven Narnia books, The Magician's Nephew is one of the only two that does not feature the Pevensie children (the other is The Silver Chair). However, Lucy is mentioned twice in this book (though she is unnamed) in connection with her discoveries of the wardrobe and of the lamppost in the forests of Lantern Waste. It is also the only book in the series where a significant amount of the storyline involves the reader's world.

There are also several allusions to the novels of H. Rider Haggard. The character of Jadis is very similar to that of She: a queen who regards herself as the absolute owner of her people and as superior to the demands of morality, and who will do anything to obtain the occult knowledge which brings immortality. The hall of mummified images may owe something to the cave of buried rulers in King Solomon's Mines. (See his essay "The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard", in Of This and Other Worlds.)

The book explains in accordance to the second novel in the chronological series how the White Witch had come to power, how Narnia was founded, why there was a magical wardrobe in the Professor's (that is, Digory's) mansion—as well as how he came to own a mansion— and why there is a lamppost in the middle of the forest on Narnia's outskirts.

The basic story of The Magician's Nephew was included in the 2005 film version of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Viewers who observe carefully will see the story pictorially represented in the carvings on the face of the wardrobe.

Deplorable Word

The Deplorable Word is a magical curse which, when uttered with the "proper ceremonies", ended all life in the world of Charn except that of the one who speaks it. Lewis does not explicitly link the Deplorable Word to nuclear weapons, but he certainly makes allusions to the power of humanity to destroy itself. Writing in 1955 at the height of the Cold War, Lewis has Aslan say to Digory and Polly, who are from the Victorian era:

"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 of 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. That is the warning."

When Jadis is awakened, she tells Digory and Polly of a worldwide civil war she fought against her sister. Jadis' armies were defeated, having been made to fight to the death of the last soldier, and her sister claimed victory. Then Jadis spoke the horrible curse which her sister knew Jadis had discovered but did not think she would use. A moment later, Jadis says, she was "the only living thing beneath the sun".

The children are shocked by this account, but Jadis has no remorse or pity for all the ordinary people who were killed as a result of her actions; in her eyes, they only existed for her to use, and she blames her sister for, in her view, leaving her with no choice but to invoke the curse. The past rulers of her race, not always evil, knew of the Deplorable Word's existence but not the word itself, and had vowed that none of them, nor their descendants, would seek to discover it. Jadis said she had "learned it in a secret place and paid a terrible price to learn it", though she did not say what the price was. The exact word is never revealed.

Christian parallels

Template:Original research Just as in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis illustrated the mysteries of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, with themes of betrayal and redemption. The Magician's Nephew illustrates, at a similar level, the themes of creation, primal innocence, original sin, and temptation. There are a few obvious parallels with events in Genesis, such as the forbidden fruit represented by an Apple of Life.

Aslan acts in the role of the Creator. There is no reference to the distant "Emperor-Over-the-Sea" who had been paralleled with God the Father previously in the series. It corresponds with the New Testament's teaching that Jesus (God the Son) was the agent of Creation; e.g. "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made," (Gospel of John 1:3 NIV, see also Epistle to the Hebrews 1:10 and Colossians 1:15–16). Aslan's personal selection of many of the wild beasts in Narnia to be made into Talking Animals is also reminiscent of the book of Genesis, since both Aslan and Noah chose two of some kinds of animals for their purposes. The flash from the stars when they are given the ability to talk represents the "breath of life" of Genesis chapter 2, as well as (possibly) the scholastic concept of the divine active intellect which inspires human beings with rationality. (In the view of Avicenna and Maimonides, intellectual inspiration descends through ten angelic emanations, of which the first nine are the intelligences of the heavenly spheres and the tenth is the Active Intellect.) The beautiful, but wicked and powerful Queen Jadis is analogous to the Biblical character of Satan (much more so than CS Lewis's other satanic character, Tash) being a demonic creature who introduces the very concept of evil into Narnia. Aslan describes her as the first evil brought into the land. Jadis later tempts Diggory to eat one of the forbidden apples in the garden, allegorical of Satan, disguised as a serpent tempting Adam and Eve into eating a forbidden apple. Unlike Adam and Eve however, Diggory rejects Jadis's offer. Jadis's satanic elements are particularly evocative of the image of Satan in Islam in which Satan, under the name Iblis is portrayed as one of the race of the Djinn, the same race as Jadis. Like most portrayals of Satan in world mythologies, Jadis is portrayed as being highly narcissistic.

Parallels may also be found in Lewis' other writings. Jadis' continual references to "reasons of State", and her claim to own the people of Charn and be superior to all common moral rules, represent the eclipse of the medieval Christian belief in natural law by the political concept of sovereignty, as embodied first in royal absolutism and then in modern dictatorships. (See chapter 1 of Lewis' History of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century.) Uncle Andrew represents the Faustian element in the origins of modern science. (See The Abolition of Man.)

Film, television, or theatrical adaptations

Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media currently retain the option to make The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew in the future. Designs for a winged horse resembling Strawberry can be seen in the book The Crafting of Narnia: The Art, Creatures, and Weapons from Weta Workshop.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Magician's Nephew" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools