The Magician’s Nephew is a high fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis, published by Bodley Head in 1955. It is the sixth published of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956); it is volume one of the series in recent editions, which sequence the books according to Narnia history. Like the others, it was illustrated by Pauline Baynes whose work has been retained in many later editions. The Bodley Head was a new publisher for The Chronicles, a change from Geoffrey Bles.
The Magician’s Nephew is a prequel to the series. The middle third of the novel features creation of the Narnia world by Aslan the lion, centred on a section of a lamp-post brought by accidental observers from London in 1900. The visitors then participate in the beginning of Narnia history, 1000 years before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which inaugurated the series in 1950).
The frame story is set in England and features two children ensnared in experimental travel via “the wood between the worlds”. Thus, the novel shows Narnia and our middle-age world to be only two of many in a multiverse, which changes as some worlds begin and others end. It also explains the origin of foreign elements in Narnia, not only the lamp-post but also the White Witch and a human king and queen.
Lewis began The Magician’s Nephew soon after completing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, spurred by a friend’s question about the lamp-post in the middle of nowhere, but he needed more than five years to complete it. The story includes several autobiographical elements and explores a number of themes with general moral and Christian implications, including atonement, original sin, temptation and the order of nature.
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The story begins in London during the summer of 1900. Two children, Digory and Polly, meet while playing in the adjacent gardens of a row of terraced houses. They decide to explore the attic connecting the houses, but take the wrong door and surprise Digory’s Uncle Andrew in his study. Uncle Andrew tricks Polly into touching a yellow magic ring, causing her to vanish. Then he explains to Digory that he has been dabbling in magic, and that the rings allow travel between one world and another. He blackmails Digory into taking another yellow ring to follow wherever Polly has gone, and two green rings so that they both can return.
Digory finds himself transported to a sleepy woodland with an almost narcotic effect; he finds Polly nearby. The woodland is filled with pools. Digory and Polly surmise that the wood is not really a proper world at all but a “Wood between the Worlds”, similar to the attic that links their rowhouses back in England, and that each pool leads to a separate universe. They decide to explore a different world before returning to England, and jump into one of the nearby pools. They then find themselves in a desolate abandoned city of the ancient world of Charn. Inside the ruined palace, they discover statues of Charn’s former kings and queens, which degenerate from the fair and wise to the unhappy and cruel. They find a bell with a hammer, an inscription inviting the finder to strike the bell.
Despite protests from Polly, Digory rings the bell. This awakens the last of the statues, a witch queen named Jadis, who, to avoid defeat in battle, had deliberately killed every living thing in Charn by speaking the “Deplorable Word”. As the only survivor left in her world, she placed herself in an enchanted sleep that would only be broken by someone ringing the bell.
The children realise Jadis’s evil nature and attempt to flee, but she follows them back to England by clinging to them as they clutch their rings. In England, she discovers that her magical powers do not work, although she retains her superhuman strength. Dismissing Uncle Andrew as a poor magician, she enslaves him and orders him to fetch her a “chariot”—a hansom cab—so she can set about conquering Earth. They leave, and she attracts attention by robbing a jewellery store. The police chase after her cab, until she crashes at the foot of the Kirke house. Jadis breaks off and brandishes an iron rod from a nearby lamp-post to fight off police and onlookers.
Polly and Digory grab her and put on their rings to take her out of their world–dragging with them Uncle Andrew, Frank the cab-driver, and Frank’s horse, Strawberry, since all were touching one another when the children grabbed their rings. In the Wood between the Worlds, Strawberry, looking to drink from one of the ponds, accidentally brings everyone into another world: a dark, empty void. At first, Diggory believes it to be Charn, but Jadis recognises it as a world not yet created. They then all witness the creation of a new world by the lion Aslan, who brings stars, plants, and animals into existence as he sings. Jadis, as terrified by his singing as the others are attracted to it, tries to kill Aslan with the iron rod; but it rebounds harmlessly off him, and in the creative soil of the new world it sprouts into a growing lamp-post. Jadis flees.
Aslan gives some animals the power of speech, commanding them to use it for justice and merriment. Aslan confronts Digory with his responsibility for bringing Jadis into his young world, and tells Digory he must atone by helping to protect the new land of Narnia from her evil. Aslan transforms the cabbie’s horse into a winged horse named Fledge, and Digory and Polly fly on him to a distant garden high in the mountains. Digory’s task is to take an apple from a tree in this garden and plant it in Narnia. At the garden Digory finds a sign warning not to steal from the garden.
Digory picks one of the apples for his mission, but their overpowering smell tempts him. Jadis appears, having herself eaten an apple to become immortal; she tempts Digory either to eat an apple himself and join her in immortality, or steal one to take back to Earth to heal his dying mother. Digory resists, knowing his mother would never condone theft, but hesitates. He sees through the Witch’s ploy when she suggests he leave Polly behind—not knowing Polly can get away by her own ring. Foiled, the Witch departs for the North. Digory returns to Narnia and plants the apple, which grows into a mature tree behind them while the coronation proceeds. Aslan tells Digory how the tree works: anyone who steals the apples gets their heart’s desire, but in a form that makes it unlikeable. In the Witch’s case, she has achieved immortality, but it only means eternal misery because of her evil heart. Moreover, the magic apples are now a horror to her, such that the apple tree will repel her for centuries to come. With Aslan’s permission, Digory then takes an apple from the new tree to heal his mother. Aslan returns Digory, Polly, and Uncle Andrew to England; Frank and his wife, Helen (transported from England by Aslan) stay to rule Narnia as its first King and Queen.
Digory’s apple restores his mother’s health, and he and Polly remain lifelong friends. Uncle Andrew reforms and gives up magic, but still enjoys bragging about his adventures with the Witch. Digory plants the apple’s core with Uncle Andrew’s rings in the back yard of his aunt’s home in London, and it grows into a large tree. Years later, Digory’s family inherit a mansion in the country, and the apple tree blows down in a storm. Digory has its wood made into a wardrobe, setting up the events in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.