Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Chronicles of Narnia Re-Read Part 1, Prequels and Magicians

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It’s been a few years since I last listened to the Chronicles of Narnia CD series. Looking back, it was one things I loved to do nearly every day. I would get my Legos and listen to the audio books, making spaceships, houses, or robots. I listened to the books again and again, and even formed some favorites, like Horse and His Boy and The Silver Chair. When I listened, I had no idea about themes, tropes, or even implications. I just liked the stories. But you can only listen to the same story for so long before you move on to other things, like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. I outgrew the series.

I never would’ve thought about writing about these books, but with the wealth of re-reads and re-watches on this site, it seemed like a fitting time. The entire series was gaining dust like all of my old childhood stories. And my thoughts on the series are pretty old too.

So I’m making this retrospective series. I will revisit the world of Narnia, and look at now with my college-educated eyes. I will replicate the way I consumed it as a kid, though the audio books, in chronological order. I remember that it was very important that I read a story in order as a kid, so I guess it matters that I do that again. Let’s begin!

Fortunately I still have every entire printed anthology and audio book (except The Magicians Nephew, lost with some of my other childhood toys).

Only Dora can find it now.

Fortunately I have the technology and was able to find the narration though the power of the internet! This is the first book in the series chronologically, but the penultimate book published. It was, however, my first Narnia book, and introduced me to the entire series.

Impression of The Magician’s Nephew Before the Re-Read

My younger self, about at 10 to 12 years old at the time, felt neutral about The Magician’s Nephew. This is because the story is the shortest of all of the books, and I liked A Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader more. I remember liking that Digory grew up to be the professor in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Even my younger self enjoyed a series’ continuity. It was interesting to see the Witch in these and then again in the next book.

Impression of The Magician’s Nephew After the Re-Read

Well, I’ve grown a lot since I was older. I now know to give a damn about themes, characterizations, and tasteful representation, and I’m glad to say I’m really happy with how well the series has grown. I was expecting to dislike it; to be bored with the simple plot. Another expectation was that the religious symbolism would be a bit too much. But it wasn’t. I was even hooked. And I have a good understanding of why I enjoyed it so much.

For starters, I love how C. S. Lewis balances his small but varied cast. We’re first introduced to Polly, the girl, and then Digory a boy. And while the novel shifts its focus to Digory’s life and makes him the protagonist, the narrative never ditches Polly. It’s also nice how they act like kids but they’re still taken seriously by the story.

We’re also able to see how nature is compared to the industrial, and how magic used for one’s own gain is destructive. We have the empty city of Charn brought down by the deplorable word. This spell was used by the witch, Queen Jadis, without consideration for the effects it would have on her people. Uncle Andrew is similarly compared, as he tricks and lies in order to get access to magic. He too gives no damns about anyone else. It gets even deeper when we see the fate of these two magic users.

Jadis is said by Aslan to have become unhappy upon eating a magical fruit when she shouldn’t have; now she will hate the taste of the fruit. Uncle Andrew spends the rest of his days a kinder person who never uses magic for the rest of his life, becoming less selfish after misusing his magic. The novel shows us that using power for incredibly selfish interests will not only hurt others, but ourselves, and may even lead to us regretting it.

Compare this to Digory, and to some extent, Polly. They reluctantly use magic. But then Digory begins to be tempted by Jadis; he grows ever more enamored by her beauty and power. Instead Polly is completely unaffected, and keeps him in check. At the novels climax, it is Polly that helps Digory resist eating the fruit offered by the Queen, in a scene obviously paralleling the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Keep in mind, that’s the story with the implication that women were the original sinners and lesser than men inherently, yet here, Diggory the boy man is still tempted by the sinner, Jadis, the women, only to be is saved from her by a girl, Polly. And our Adam never eats the apple, with the help of Polly. I feel like this is how you do empowerment.

For the record, I grew up Christian and went to several different churches of different denominations. Being raised with all of these simplified bible stories, usually read from children’s books instead of an full version, I had the story of Adam and Eve shoved down my throat. I thought this book was going to be a rehash of the story, but instead C. S. Lewis simply borrows some of the symbolism. Unlike say Bible Man.

Not Shown: Subtlety

We have subtler comparison to the creation story than I anticipated. I’m interested to see if this trend continues in the other novels.

Another point to why C. S. Lewis’s writing is great because it never quite talks down to children, something that is often the hallmark of successful children’s media. The novel has some complex sentences, but they’re also so well written that it’s never confusing. This is especially impressive considering how The Magician’s Nephew was written nearly 50 years ago. The language never felt dated, bogged down, or overly long (staring slowly at The Lord of the Rings). I can’t think of a single line or even passage that didn’t add something to the story, whether it be sensual or plot important (staring intensifies). The desolate description of Charn is perfect for showing us that something terrible happened. In contrast we have his descriptions of the Wood Between Worlds, which is calm and thoughtful; the calming and rhythmic creation of Narnia.

Next time, I’ll be tackling the first ever published novel of the series, the famous The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Favorite Quote: “One good thing about seeing the two together was that you would never again be afraid of Uncle Andrew, any more than you’d be afraid of a worm after you had met a rattlesnake or afraid of a cow after you had met a mad bull.”

Bonus: I decided to make some Legos while listening like I would when I was younger. So here is my work in progress, also to be updated as we continue.


Cover Illustration by Pauline Baynes

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