Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia - The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

First published in 1955.

Narnia . . . where the woods are thick and cool, where Talking Beasts are called to life . . . a new world where the adventure begins.

Digory and Polly meet and become friends one cold, wet summer in London. Their lives burst into
adventure when Digory's Uncle Andrew, who thinks he is a magician, sends them hurtling to . . . somewhere else. They find their way to Narnia, newborn from the Lion's song, and encounter the evil sorceress Jadis before they finally return home. (book back blurb)

My aunt gave me this set of books when I was pretty young and all they did was collect dust on my bookshelves. I just never had the inclination to read them even though they were there. I wasn’t big into fantasy until very recently so that might explain why Narnia never really drew my interest.

Then, when I did get into fantasy, it became one of those series that “you just have to read” because it’s the epitome of fantasy reading and writing. Terry Pratchett was in there but he was knocked off my list pretty quickly. I just wasn’t all that impressed with his work and found his books kind of redundant. Door stoppers scare me so I’ve never touched Lord of the Rings and even now the story doesn’t interest me. I couldn’t even sit through the first movie. How am I supposed to get through those books? I wasn’t too impressed with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust but Anansi Boys made me see just why he’s a god among fantasy enthusiasts.

But who could mention fantasy without mentioning The Chrnoicles of Narnia? I found The Last Battle first, on the bargain bookshelves at Barnes and Noble and picked it up. Then someone so aptly put it, I can't rightly read the last book of the series without reading the other six. Duh. So during one of my many visits to B&N, I snagged the first in the series which I always thought to be The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The emphasis is always on that book so for someone not familiar with the series, it’s the natural thought to think.

But no. So The Magician’s Nephew it was. I honestly had no idea what to expect. I’d never seen reviews of Narnia and it’s written qualities, just come across people that raved about how amazing they are and how the movie doesn’t do it justice. Ironically enough, I do own the movie thanks to my mom. I watched it only after I started reading the series.

After reading this book, I’ve realized that, after all these years, I’ve missed something great. Nephew is a book told in the voice of an old Victorian fairy tale (much more successfully done than Stardust, I think) and the development of the story is simplistic yet infinitely deep all at once. We’re not given explicit, paragraphs upon paragraphs, of detail to pound into our heads of just what it is we’re reading. Everything’s concise. The dialogue is a bit overdone but I’m chalking that one up to the obvious style the story has. For that it fits perfectly.

I'm barely at the halfway point of the Narnia series and I can already see why it’s garnered so much love over the years it’s been out. C.S. Lewis has captured a timeless piece of art in this book and I’m jonsing to read more. The Screwtape Letters has nothing on Narnia (despite the fact that they’re not even in the same realm of existence).

The characters are defined in the simplest terms and most Victorian of definitions (hats off to The Breakfast Club) and yet, as I was reading, they were nothing short of three dimensional. I could hear the Lion’s song as he was singing it and imagine perfectly the mark of dark juice around the Witch’s mouth after she ate that apple. And there was none of the flowery prose or superfluous words. How come more fantasy writers don’t attempt to take after Lewis instead of Tolkien? What is it about Tolkien that renders such imitation and what about Lewis that authors decide to just let lie?

A story without the fat but complete with all the trimmings. The only thing I was yearning for at the end was more of the series. More Narnia. Sure, the head-hopping got confusing for a couple of nanoseconds but other than that, I don’t see any room for any other kind of criticism. No wonder people are such enduring fans of these books.

I loved this book so much that I asked for the series for Christmas. And I received. I love my mom. I'm just about halfway through Prince Caspian now.


prophecygirl said...

This is my favourite Narnia book - I love it! In fact, I just love the whole series, lol.

Fantastic review!

Donna said...

The Horse and His Boy is my favorite so far but this one is a close second!


Jenna said...


The Narnia series is just magical. I read it a fair few times when I was younger, it always managed to just capture my imagination and inspire me.

The Horse and His Boy is a favourite of mine too! Funny, as most people prefer the first book, or one of the others with the children in it. But THAHB always stuck in my mind as being more evocative.

The Magicians Nephew I found to be in a different tone to the rest of the series, and I absolutely loved it. I actually stole the idea of jumping into the pools to get to different worlds for my first novel that I wrote when I was 14!

The Last Battle is a very powerful book, I'll be interested to hear what you think of it when you get there.

Donna said...

Jenna, how do you think the tone of MN was different from the rest? I found the beginning to be a bit different and extended than the rest but other than that I think they're pretty on par. I'd like to know what you think.

Jenna said...

I thought that Wardrobe and probably Prince Caspian too were a bit lighter, and then they became steadily darker through the series. I think MN fits in with the darker books. It has been quite a while since I read them though!

Have you managed to catch the recent movies?

Donna said...

Well that would make sense. I can't remember if it was on this blog or my other one (now that I think about it, I think it's my other one) where one of my commenters posted the original order of the series and MN is towards the end. I think it was written after Caspian.

I've only seen LWW and I loved it. Haven't seen the others. Have they made MN? They seem to be skipping around. I only remember seeing previews for LWW and PC.

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