Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis

In honor of the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge, I thought I should read at least two of the actual Narnia stories. (It's all well and good to read books about Narnia, but part of this all involves diving back in.) I decided to start by reading The Magician's Nephew (the title is linked to my past reading experience with it.)

As I read along, I kept thinking to myself that it is good to re-read these stories because Lewis was so brilliant that in every reading there is something new to be gleaned. Upon finishing the story up (and feeling the usual sorrow that you feel at the end of a good read) I went back and read my last review of it. It turns out that I had a totally different experience last time and focused on completely different aspects of this read.

However, I did still plant a great deal of my focus and attention on the lessons Lewis was espousing through the character of Uncle Andrew. Again, if you are unfamiliar with this story, I would point you to the synopsis of the Narnia series which I have previously provided.

Re-reading my favorite stories is important for a few reasons:

1. Because I enjoy them;
2. Because I learn something new every time I read them; and
3. Because I easily forget everything I originally read.

I believe I can safely assure you that I will be able to enjoy Narnia anew throughout the course of my entire lifetime due in part to a bad memory. Should I then be thankful for said bad memory? I think it could be counted for a blessing in disguise in this case! (In other cases perhaps not so much.)

Anyway, as I said, in re-reading The Magician's Nephew I honed in on Uncle Andrew, the pathetically bad magician. Instead of focusing on the magic which surrounded him, I focused on his attitude.

Digory was "lecturing" his Uncle Andrew on the value of keeping a promise. Uncle Andrew had failed to keep one to a dying relative and Digory commented that it was quite rotten of Uncle Andrew to give his word to the relative's face and then go about acting against the promise.

Lewis writes this:

"Rotten?" said Uncle Andrew with a puzzled look. "Oh, I see. You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true: most right and proper, I'm sure, and I'm very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys - and servants - and women - and even people in general, can't possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory. Men like me who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny." (Chapter 2, Digory and His Uncle)
I related this interchange between Digory and his Uncle to my own sin nature which I try to excuse away. The character of Uncle Andrew is making a false statement and ridiculous assessment of himself, telling Digory that while there is such a thing as truth, he is not bound by or to it. Instead, Uncle Andrew has removed himself from the idea in his own head that he has sinned in any way, shape or form and claims that he is exempt from Rules because of a higher degree of intellect. How often do you do this? Do I do it?

  • No, it is ok to eat the entire cake just this once and I will feel no effects.
  • I know that this person came to me, trusting me to keep what they said in strictest confidence, but I am not bound to keep their secret even though I promised I would do so. Surely no harm will come of it.
  • Mommy and Daddy told me not to go outside without their permission because the busy street is right there, but I am two years old and invincible.
  • Yes, I understand that my boss needed this work done by thus and such a time but I operate more slowly and methodically, which really is beneficial in the end (although perhaps the boss doesn't quite see it that way.)

This list of excuses could be longer, as I'm sure you can see for yourself.

The fact of the matter is, actions (and words) do have consequences, truth will be revealed and we must take responsibility for our actions and wherever they may lead us. In the case of Uncle Andrew, his dismissal of a promise to a relation ended up leading to the awakening of the Evil Empress, Jadis, and a great deal of merciless anxiety and destruction in London. (Yes, Digory actually awoke the Empress, but Andrew made her appearance ultimately possible.) Truth and consequences. They go hand in hand, whether one is "enlightened" and proclaims themselves exempt or not. Instead of ever admitting that his broken promise lead to turmoil, he refers to Jadis as a "dem fine woman" even to the end of his days. Sad, really. Truth was never acknowledged and he remained unable to hear Aslan's voice as a result.

Further on, during the creation of Narnia, Uncle Andrew wants to go back to London. Digory and Polly wish to stay and witness the birth of this new land.

Lewis writes:

"We must go back a bit and explain what the whole scene had looked like from Uncle Andrew's point of view. It has not made at all the same impression on him as on the Cabby and the children. For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are." (Chapter 10, The First Joke and Other Matters)
Here we find Uncle Andrew standing before Aslan at the creation of Narnia and he is afraid to be there. He didn't like hearing Aslan's creation song. He was afraid that the Beasts of Narnia were going to attack him at any moment. He positioned himself on lies, in lies, and surrounded himself with lies such that he did not have eyes to see beauty or ears to hear truth. In the end, he simply wanted to run away from the most beautiful magic that could be thought of or imagined. He lacked understanding because he thought himself too great. In fact, he was not great at all - which the story ultimately proves.

As a Christian, I take away from that the truth that if I follow after God and learn to love Him with all my heart, my soul and my mind (Luke 10:27) and run the race He has set before me with endurance (Hebrews 12:1), I will receive the ultimate prize - a right relationship with Him in His presence. I will hear His music if I obey Him and listen for it. He will bless me with beauty (although such beauty may be birthed through pain) if I humble myself and confess my sins before Him. He will ultimately trade beauty for ashes. I look forward to that! And so the prayer of my heart is (and I pray will always be) to give me ears to hear and eyes to see - which are both a gift from the Creator. (See Proverbs 20:12)

There are a few additional lessons I marked as having been re-reminded and instructed in from this read but I'll stop there. I am encouraged though that there is merit in this book series and I hope that you also discover that and share what you have learned during your time in Narnia this summer.

Further Up and Further In! Always.


Barbara H. said...

I agree about reasons for rereading. I've mentioned I struggle between wanting to reread some books for those and others reasons and wanting to read new. So many books, so little time...

It's been a long while since I read this one, so I only just barely remember the parts alluded to. Interesting that you had a different reaction this time from last time.

Annette W. said...

What provoking thoughts!

I think the only thing I remember from my first read is magical balls in rafters? Hmm. Maybe it's time...don't you think?!

Shonya said...

LOVE this post! You're making me want to read it again, and I said I wasn't going to this month because I have lots of other stuff to read and will get to read it again with my big kids this school year as we go through Starting Points! Am I going to have to boycott your blog this month so I won't be too tempted?! :)

Bluerose said...

It's sad that I've never read this series before. I had picked up The Magician's Nephew at the library and started reading it, but then Annette posted to start with TLTWATW, so I stopped.
I'm loving this challenge so far. It's been interesting, and I'm just so curious about the series and C.S. Lewis that I want to read the whole series! (right now)!! :)

Cindy Swanson said...

Ah yes, one of my favorite books ever! I usually re-read the Narnia books at least once every one or 2 years, but it's been a while since I've done so. Like you, I love to re-read.

Great review. Hope you'll stop by mine...

Cindy @ Cindy's Book Club

Stephanie Kay said...

We listened to The Magician's Nephew again on our vacation. I was struck by some of those same passages about the Uncle though I didn't go so far as personal application.

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