So before I discovered Harry Potter (sigh) this used to be my very favorite fantasy series. I read and re-read several of them endlessly, including this one. But I haven’t revisited it in years and years. I don’t even remember the last time I read it. Maybe when one of the movies came out? (The movies never captured the magic for me.) Anyway, I’ve been comfort re-reading favorite fantasy books over the past year and I had the hankering to pick this one back up after reading Susanna Clarke’s wonderful Piranesi, which is in large part inspired by this book (the epigraph is a quote, and Uncle Andrew (or a relative of his) makes a cameo).
The Magician’s Nephew is a funny book in terms of story, because it was the second to last published, but the first in chronology. I’ve only ever read it first, and I actually read it before I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Having never read in publication order, I guess I can’t compare, but I really like this series in chronological order, because of the way it tracks Narnia from beginning to end, Creation to End of Days (though I was never a fan even back then of reading about the end of days, even when it’s sugarcoated and in another universe, but I guess I’ll save those thoughts for my review of The Last Battle).
I really like the way Lewis set up his Creation myth. It’s only part of the story, and our main characters Digory and Polly happen upon it in the midst of an already ongoing adventure. This book is less focused than some of the others in the series, but I kind of like how messy it is. Digory and Polly don’t so much stumble upon an adventure as they are tricked into it by Digory’s dastardly uncle Andrew, the titular magician. He’s invented something he doesn’t understand, and the result is that Polly and Digory are taken to the World Between the Worlds, from which they go exploring, sometimes accidentally, and witness the end of one world and the birth of another. The symmetry of that has always appealed to me. And then in between all that you’ve got Jadis the Witch Queen (who killed her own world) dominating Uncle Andrew and attempting to conquer London without magic, a sequence that is completely farcical and very different in tone from both the creepy Charn, and the wonder of Narnia.
I’m of two minds about our two main characters. Of the two, Digory is the actual protagonist (if the title didn’t clue you in) because he’s the one that grows and changes because of the adventure. Polly begins the adventure a tiny competent badass and that’s how she ends it. Digory would be dead or lost without her. It’s also Digory, though, who has the most damning flaws, and Polly does not take his shit one bit. It’s Digory’s fault that evil inhabits Narnia even from its first moments, because it’s Digory that decided to ring the bell that woke the Witch, even though he knew he shouldn’t. He’s also got a bit of a prideful streak that is curbed quite a bit here.
A random thing I noted: Why did Aslan create bulldogs in Narnia?? I mean, sure, why not! But also why? Seems like a funny animal to have in your proverbial Garden of Eden.