While you may not have gleaned it from my meandering Sunday Salon post (which, of course, is the day everyone on Facebook decides to check out what their friendly neighborhood Clare is doing), yesterday was the kick-off for Narnia Week, a celebration and exploration of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. For some book bloggers, this week is the time to post their thoughts on The Chronicles of Narnia and books like Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book, about the author’s relationship with the series. For yours truly, this week is time for a mad dash through Narnia, experiencing much of it for the very first time. After each day of the challenge, I’ll write up a little report on my reading so far–with a review of the series at the end of the week.
- Book: a 1994 HarperCollins copy of The Magician’s Nephew, although I’ll be using the 2001 HarperCollins The Chronicles of Narnia omnibus for the rest of the week and the statistics below.
- Books Read: 1/7
- Pages Read: 105/767
Yesterday morning, I knocked out The Magician’s Nephew–I occasionally don’t start my Sundays without having finished a book first, which is a good way to start a week. Like The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew isn’t considered part of the core story involving the Pevensie children. In fact, The Magician’s Nephew was published before The Last Battle, although Lewis started it shortly after The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the novel with which it has the most overlap–events and characters central and not so central to that book are explained and given a backstory here.
The Magician’s Nephew concerns the childhood of Professor Digory Kirke, the gentleman the Pevensie children live with during The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Digory and his deathly ill mother have moved in with her siblings, including Digory’s Uncle Andrew, who he is kept away from. He makes friends with Polly Plummer, the girl next door, but they soon discover why Digory is protected from Uncle Andrew–he wants to use the children as guinea pigs for his magical experiments. he uses a magic ring to send Polly into an Otherworld. Digory, of course, goes to save her–only to discover the Wood between the Worlds. As the two go exploring, they unwittingly unleash Jadis, the last of the tyrannical Queens of the dead world Charn, onto the newborn world of Narnia.
The Magician’s Nephew initially reminded me of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, Boy, which I read over and over again as a kid–it starts off reminiscing over turn of the century London, particularly sweets. The tone feels both paternal and indulgent, although it sobers up during darker portions, such as when, in an obviously allegorical scene, Jadis tries to tempt Digory to eat an Apple of Life he’s not supposed to. In fact, it can feel a little too paternal; naturally, I compared it to the tone of The Hobbit, where Tolkien breezily informs children that golf was invented by hobbits who decapitated a goblin. Uncle Andrew is a big drinker, and Lewis describes brandy as a “nasty, grown-up drink” instead of anything else. While it’s not showstopping at the moment, I’m going to keep an eye on it. (Of course, then you run into the problem of reading the novels chronologically instead of the order they were written in. Hmm.)
I enjoyed The Magician’s Nephew, although a great deal of the humor with the animals was too slapstick for my tastes. I vastly preferred the whimsy of the explanation behind the lamppost in Narnia–during the creation of Narnia, part of a lamppost fell in the soil and a lamppost grew out of it because it was just so fertile. There were some moments of real beauty (such as the creation of Narnia through lionsong) and real horror–basically whenever Jadis, the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is in her element. But the occasional slapstick humor can make Jadis less terrifying at times, making it hard to figure out how you should see her–she’s powerless in our world, but commandeers a hansom cab to comic effect.
I also liked the relationship between Polly and Digory. Perhaps it’s because of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, but I’m fond of male/female friendships at the moment that are only friendships. Polly is a spirited young lady, and the novel often points out her fascination with clothes and jewelry. Digory is a boy prone to feeling sorry for himself and who feels powerless in the face of his mother’s life-threatening illness. There’s an element of authorial wish fulfillment here; Lewis’ mother passed away from cancer when he was ten, and here, Digory gets to not only grow as a human being, but rescue his mother.
All in all, it’s a good start to the week. Today, I’ll be tackling The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and perhaps The Horse and His Boy if I can manage it. If not, I’m going to drop that one or read it on Saturday. Onto the Pevensies!
Oh, and because Jadis is described as “dazzlingly beautiful” and I am secretly twelve:
If you’re participating in Narnia Week, don’t forget to add your posts to the Mr. Linky! And don’t forget about the #narniaweek hash tag on Twitter. Thanks!