The Magician’s Nephew: Genesis in Narnia (Chronicles of Narnia #6)

 

“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…”

This story of the creation of Narnia actually precedes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as it begins in the early 1900s when two children, Digory and Polly, stumble on the hidden room of Digory’s uncle Andrew.  A magician, Andrew has a set of yellow and green rings which will transport, when touched, a person to another world.  Andrew is curious about these worlds, but in his cowardice to go himself, tricks Polly and Digory into grabbing the rings.  They are transported to a way station between worlds, magical woods dotted with ponds, each a doorway to a different world.  The children jump into one of the ponds, landing in Charn, a dead world. They find a hall filled with statues, and near the statue of a beautiful but cruel-looking woman, a bell with the inscription that tempts them to ring it. When Digory impulsively rings the bell, the statue comes to life: it is Queen Jardis, who caused the destruction of Charn. As the terrified children seek to escape, Jadis grabs onto them, following them through the pondey portals first back into the wood, then back to London.

While in London, Jadis turns Uncle Andrew into her apprentice-slave as she plots to subdue the city. Polly and Digory use the rings to jar Jadis away, but they also accidentally drag along Uncle Andrew, a cabby (Frank) and his horse (Strawberry). But the rings carry them not back to Charn, but to a new world.  But first, it will pay to consider more closely the characters of Queen Jadis and Uncle Andrew, powerful archetypes for Lewis’s commentary. Both are Machiavellian, and portraits of Nietzsche’s Superman (Ubermann): Jadis with Satanic/Nietzschean will to power, and Andrew with a Faustian lust for knowledge, “both boundless and unquenchable.”  Jadis and Andrew both consider themselves above bourgeois standards of good and evil, caring nothing for those they would use to achieve their ends. Both feel completely justified in their self-absorbed actions, and Jadis even argues that the people of Charn belong to her to do as she wished.  Further, it was somehow the pride of Jadis’ sister that caused her to speak the “Deplorable Word” and so destroy Charn. (This “Deplorable Word” references the atomic bomb, with Lewis making his solitary political statement in the chronicles, Aslan warning that the coming century on earth will be filled with treachery, Deplorable Words and Jadis-like tyranny).

9b aslan again

The world the travelers find themselves in is actually the about-to-be-born Narnia, and Lewis “conjures up a breath-takingly beautiful creation” story.  The Creator Aslan literally sings Narnia into existence, His song causing stars to appear, the stars themselves soon joining in the song.  All but Jadis and Andrew – whose hearts are insensitive to love and joy, so hate the song – are captivated by the song.

But Narnia’s fertility is the stuff of legend. Jadis takes a piece of lamppost from London she had as a weapon, and throws it at Aslan’s forehead to stop the song: it bounces harmlessly off and falls in the ground, where it miraculously becomes the lamppost that will appear in The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe.  Impressed by such potential, Andrew thinks only of the weapons he could grow there, turning Paradise into a munitions factory!

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Aslan’s song begins to change, causing the earth to swell and bubble – with each emerging bubble popping into a new and different animal.  To some of the animals, Aslan grants the power of speech and entrusts the fate of Narnia, though he warns that doing evil will cause them to lose not only the fate of Narnia but their gift of speech as well.  Further, since evil in the form of Jadis has already invaded Narnia, Aslan elects Frank and his wife as the first King and Queen of Narnia, decreeing that Narnia will always be ruled by sons of Adam.

Further, Aslan sends Digory on a quest for a magic apple that will protect Narnia. This quest turns out to be a replay of the temptation of Eve (and golden apples often offered eternal life in myths such as those of the Norse). The children, accompanied by Strawberry (whom Aslan gives the power of flight, and the new name Fledge, travel to an Edenic garden, where they encounter Jadis, who has just eaten a golden apple, attaining eternal youth. Jadis tempts Digory, who refuses, declaring he has no desire to live forever; Jadis then tempts Digory to take the apple for his mother who is deathly ill back in London, but Jadis once again resists, returning an apple to Aslan. Aslan then plants the apple to grow a tree of protection for Narnia, which also yields an further apple, which Aslan gives to Digory for his mother.

Aslan does break a cardinal rule of Narnia, in a sense, and tells Digory what would have happened had he disobeyed and kept the apple for his mother: his mother would have been healed, but she would have lived to regret it, just as Jadis had achieved immortality which brought her neither joy nor rest. Instead, Jadis will remain stuck in her evil ways, and become the witch of Lion Witch and Wardrobe.  After Digory’s mother regains her health, Digory will plant a seed from the apple, which grows into a tree, later blown down by a storm, and its wood used to build … a wardrobe.

Notable Quotes:

“No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice.”

“Child, that is why all the rest are now a horror to her. That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Oh, the fruit is good, but they loath it ever after.”

Aslan’s creation of Narnia, singing it into existence: “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…”

“He thinks great folly, child,’ said Aslan. “This world is bursting with life for these few days because the song with which I called it into life still hangs in the air and rumbles in the ground. It will not be so for long. But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh, Adam’s son, how cleverly you defend yourself against all that might do you good!”

Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it , as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves who were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.

‘Glory be!’ said the Cabby. ‘I’d ha’ been a better man all my life if I’d known there were things like this.’

…Far away, and down near the horizon, the sky began to turn grey. A light wind, very fresh, began to stir. The sky, in that one place, grew slowly and steadily paler. You could see shapes of hills standing up dark against it. All the time the Voice went on singing…The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose.

Digory had never seen such a sun…You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up. And as its beams shot across the land the travelers could see for the first time what sort of place they were in. It was a valley through which a broad, swift river wound its way, flowing eastward towards the sun. Southward there were mountains, northward there were lower hills. But it was a valley of mere earth, rock and water; there was not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen. The earth was of many colours: they were fresh, hot and vivid. They made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else.

It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright it stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song and it was about three hundred yards away.”

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PLANET: Venus in which the creation of Narnia is described, exemplifies the fruitful, verdant imagery of Venus.  The creation story in which Aslan breathes out his ‘long, warm breath’ effecting swaying trees and singing stars, as well as when “every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: ‘Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake.  Love.’” all exhibit the creative power of Venusian love.

The Planets: Venus

In the third region
VENUS voyages…but my voice falters;
Rude rime-making wrongs her beauty,
Whose breasts and brow, and her breath’s sweetness
Bewitch the worlds. Wide-spread the reign
Of her secret sceptre, in the sea’s caverns,
In grass growing, and grain bursting,
Flower unfolding, and flesh longing,
And shower falling sharp in April.
The metal copper in the mine reddens
With muffled brightness, like muted gold,
By her fingers form’d.

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