Monday, April 12, 2010

Narnia and the North! The Magician's Nephew

Narnia and the North: The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis

C.S Lewis is, perhaps, one of my favorite writers of all time.  I have read many of his works (though not all), and I know that, whatever one I read - whether the Space Trilogy, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Screwtape Letters, the Great Divorce, or any of his other great books - I shall enjoy it and come away inspired to think (and write!).

The Chronicles of Narnia are regarded by many as mere children’s tales, but though they are written in a simplistic manner and are certainly an enjoyable read for children, there is a deeper theme within the books which enables them to delight and interest older readers as well.  So, if you will bear with me over the next few posts, I will post some of my favorite excerpts and quotes from the seven Narnia books, perhaps point out some of the interesting allegorical themes, or just write about anything that I have stood out to me in particular!

Interesting fact for any young authors out there (like me): C.S. Lewis started writing as a child!  He and his older brother Warnie Lewis invented a fantasy world called Boxen, a land inhabited by talking animals, (sound familiar?) and wrote stories about it for fun!  So, here is a little bit of encouragement for you!  Start off small and work up to bigger and better things.  You never know where the Lord will take you, so always be open to His calling!  And remember, no great writer starts off as a great writer and every great writer was once a child as well!  

The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis

The first book of the Narnia series, the Magician’s Nephew tells of the creation of Narnia by Aslan as seen through the eyes of a British boy named Digory and his friend Polly.  Aslan, the great lion and the Son of the Emperor over the sea, sings the world of Narnia into being. 

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.  There was hardly even a tune.  But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard.  It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.” (The Magician’s Nephew, Chapter Eight)

Allegorically speaking, Aslan represents Jesus Christ.  We know from the Bible that God spoke the world into being, and that God the Son (Jesus) was the creator. 
Genesis 1:3 “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.
Psalms 33:6 “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” 
John 1:3 “Through Him (the Word, Jesus Christ) all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.
Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” 
2 Peter 3:5 “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.

C.S Lewis then goes on to describe the creation of the animals of Narnia by Aslan. 
Can you imagine a stretch of grassy land bubbling like water in a pot?  For that is really the best description of what was happening.  In all directions it was swelling into humps.  They were of very different sizes, some no bigger than molehills, some as big as wheelbarrows, two the size of cottages.  And the humps moved and swelled until they burst, and the crumbled earth poured out of them, and from each hump there came out an animal.  The moles came out just as you might see a mole come out in England.  The dogs came out, barking the moment their heads were free, and struggling as you’ve seen them do when they are getting through a narrow hole in a hedge.  The stags were the queerest to watch, for of course the antlers came up a long time before the rest of them, so at first Digory thought they were trees… The panthers, leopards and things of that sort, sat down at once to wash the loose earth off their hind quarters and then stood up against the trees to sharpen their front claws… But the greatest moment of all was when the biggest hump broke like a small earthquake and out came the sloping back, the large, wise head, and the four baggy-trousered legs of an elephant.”  (Chapter Nine)

This segment reminds me very much of the sixth day of creation in Book VII of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  C.S. Lewis was familiar with Milton’s writing, and it is doubtless that Milton’s account of the creation of the animals influenced The Magician’s Nephew.

"The sixth and of creation last arose

With evening harps and matin, when God said, 
“Let the earth bring forth soul living in her kind, 
Cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth, 
Each in their kind.”  The earth obeyed, and straight
Opening her fertile womb teemed at a birth
Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms, 
Limbed and full-grown: out of the ground uprose
As from his lair the wild beast…
The tawny lion, pawing to get free 
His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds
And rampant shakes his brindled mane; the ounce, 
The libbard, and the tiger, as the mole
Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw
In hillocks; the swift stag from underground
Bore up his branching head…

Though created clean and fresh, Narnia does not remain pure for long.  When only a few hours old, the White Witch arrives in Narnia – brought there by Digory – and the land is tainted by evil at its very beginning.

“'You see friends,’ he (Aslan) said, ‘that before the new, clean world I gave you is seven hours old, a force of evil has already entered it; waked and brought hither by this son of Adam… But do not be cast down,’ said Aslan, still speaking to the Beasts. ‘Evil will come of that evil, but it is still a long way off, and I will see to it that the worst falls upon myself.’"  (Chapter Eleven)

Here, at the very dawning of Narnia, Aslan already knows the price that shall have to be paid; the sacrifice which he will have to make, hundreds and hundreds of years later to redeem the traitor from the Witch and end her reign over Narnia (read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for details).
This was true in the Bible as well.  The disobedience of Adam and Eve was not a surprise to God, nor was the price that would have to be paid for the redeeming of mankind from death.  In Genesis chapter 3, just after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, God pronounces judgment upon them and the serpent.  In the serpent’s doom, God speaks a prophecy about the coming of Jesus Christ.  
And I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he (Jesus) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  (Genesis 3:15)

And I Peter 1:19-20 tells us that Christ was chosen before the creation of the world to be the sacrifice for our sins.
…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”   

Nothing takes the Lord by surprise; He knows all and rules over all, and nothing can happen without His permission.  And even though things may happen sometimes that do not seem to make sense, we can rest in the promise that the God who loved us enough to send His Son to die in our stead, is sovereign over all! 

At the end of the book, just before Digory and Polly are sent back to their own world by Aslan, the great lion gives them a warning.
"It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable word and use it to destroy all living things.  And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis.  Let your world beware.  That is the warning."

Now, this is purely my own conjecture, but I wonder whether the evil secret mentioned refers to the discovery of the atomic bomb and other nuclear weapons.  C.S. Lewis wrote The Magician's Nephew in 1954, and it was published a year later in 1955; a short ten years after the use of the atomic bomb to end World War II.  At that time, the atomic bomb was a very controversial subject.  Many of the British were particularly opposed to the use of atomic weapons, and it was partially because of a promise to the British, that no nuclear weapons were employed by America during the Korean War.  In case you have not discovered it already, I love history, so I found that rather interesting and wondered whether or not Aslan's warning was actually a reference to nuclear weapons.

The rest of Aslan's warning to the two children clearly refers to World War II and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.  This can be seen by taking a peek ahead into the next book in the series: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which Digory, now grown up, a professor, and the owner of a large house in the country (a house with a very special wardrobe upstairs), takes into his care four evacuated children during World War II.

There is one thing that I truly love about all of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia!  It is the fact that all of the characters are so much more real and believable because they are not perfect!  Every single one of Lewis’ characters is flawed and makes mistakes.  Even Lucy (from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), who always seemed to me to be the most perfect, on several occasions strays into sin and error and is corrected by Aslan.  Out of the many characters in the seven books of the Narnia series, there is only one who is completely perfect and without flaw: Aslan!  

There is so much more that I could write about and, had I time, I could delve still further into The Magician’s Nephew and mention many other favorite scenes and interesting excerpts.  However, there is not time, nor do I wish to bore you with every little detail, so this shall have to suffice for the moment.  The best I can do is urge all of you to go off and read the book for yourself!  Read it with your Bible handy and look up any verses which the story brings to mind; explore it for yourself! 

Coming up next, perhaps the most well known and beloved Narnia story: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

~ A Servant of the King
“To the praise of His glory!”

I Peter 1: 18-20 “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

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