Challenge: Narnia Week, Day 1

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.

Status Report

  • 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
  • Progress: 

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!

15 thoughts on “Challenge: Narnia Week, Day 1

  1. I didn’t know there was such a thing as Narnia Week! Cool! It’s been so long since I’ve read these books, I only remember bits and pieces. Because I was really young, I refused to read The Last Battle because I was disturbed by the cover it had – a unicorn with blood on its horn. I haven’t read them since I first read them as a kid. I don’t have them with me to re-read right now, but maybe I should one day.

  2. I think actually The Magician’s Nephew is my favorite Narnia book, and it always confuses me when people hate it. So I’m glad you liked it! I think it’s a lot of fun and really exciting and scary and it sort of reminds me of a John Bellairs book, a bit. It DOES, however, make a lot more sense if you read TLTW&TW first. As do most other things.

  3. I finished the first one. Off to read the second. I’m going to read The Magician’s Nephew at the end of the week. I have never read Boy by Roald Dahl, but I bought it for my kids. Maybe I’ll have to sneak it off of their bookshelf and read it myself.

  4. You made me snort water up my nose with that picture.

    I think that in parts, The Magician’s Nephew is easily as good as anything C.S. Lewis is written, but to me it’s uneven. The early scenes — Diggory and Polly meeting the rings for the first time, them both in the hall with the statues that ends with Jadis — are hella tense. I always felt for poor Polly, with Jadis pulling her hair and all. I have lots of hair, and people were always pulling it when I was a kid. Dislike.

  5. Oh no…I must have missed the original post about this one. I so wanted to participate too. Well, it won’t stop me from trying to fit in a few books anyway! 🙂

  6. That’s a good point about Diggory and Polly being just friends. I’m currently all growly-face at the romantic emphasis in most modern YA and children’s lit. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when characters fall in love (especially if it takes them forever and a day to actually get together; yay, tension!), but I wish it weren’t the default setting. I wish there were more stories like this, where people have a marvellous adventure without coming to feel anything romantic for each other, even once they’re a bit older.

  7. Pingback: The Magician’s Book (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

  8. I am so behind with Narnia Week! It’s Thursday and I’m only half way through my third book. I was supposed to be back at home on Monday morning, but an impromptu visit with my sister extended my Thanksgiving holiday to Wednesday night, at which point I was so tired I promptly fell asleep. I’m really enjoying what I’ve gotten through so far, though: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and half of The Horse and His Boy (I’m going in the order they are in the collection I’m reading). I’m saving the rest of your posts for when I’ve finished, which I hope will be only a little late! In the meantime…go, go, go!

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