Sunday, April 26, 2015

RE-READ: The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia have always held a place on my favorite books shelf.  I've re-read the whole series countless times but it's been several years since my last re-read, probably at least a decade.  In the meantime, I've had a good bit more experience with reading widely in YA and MG literature as an adult.  I wondered how it might affect how I reacted to the Narnia books now.   I think it is safe to say that these books, for nostalgia's sake will always have a place in my affections but I was curious how I might react to them semi-objectively.  My goal is to re-read the whole series on audio this year.

The Magician's Nephew was the sixth Narnia book published but chronologically it is a prequel and tells the story of the creation of Narnia.  I decided long ago that I preferred to read the series chronologically rather than in publication order though I perhaps would not recommend that approach to a new reader of the series.  The Magician's Nephew is a strange little book - I remember thinking so when I first read it as well  - and has a different feel to it than the rest of the Narnia books besides perhaps The Last Battle.  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a much less strange introduction to the world of Narnia. 


- I have always liked the connections Lewis makes in this book to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Digory is the Pevensies' great Uncle who they go and stay with and the Wardrobe is made out of the wood of the tree that was grown from a magic Narnian apple.  The presence of a lamp post in the middle of a wood is explained as is the great uncle's unexpected response to the children's stories of Narnia.  It also explains who the White Witch is.  It's neatly done and I like the connections.

- There is much more winking and nodding to his audience in the book than I remembered.  He addresses young readers directly and makes several more "adult" jabs at the Uncle's lasciviousness and fondness for brandy.  It is really very slyly funny.

- In comparisons with some of the other MG and YA I have been reading I do have to to say that this book (and I suppose the entire series) comes across as less sophisticated, simpler and more deliberate in its message delivery.  It may just be the writing style which doesn't delve too deeply into the characters.

- I listened to the audio narrated by Kenneth Branagh and as you might expect, he does a great job though I wasn't crazy about his Aslan.  But how does one adequately portray Aslan?  I'm not sure it can be done.

- I was kind of keeping an eye out for sexism, as the topic had recently come up in a discussion about his books.  I ended up being thoroughly confused on the matter.  Lewis was definitely a product of his time - when Aslan chooses the first council among his new creations, he chooses only male animals.  However, I do think he had a very high opinion of women as Polly, and Digory's Aunt for that matter, are portrayed as being smarter and having a good bit more sense then their male counterparts.  *shrugs*

- The strange and eerie.  The wood between the worlds with all the ponds and quiet that makes one drowsy is such a creepy image.  There is a moment when the children almost forget to mark their "home" pond that is really frightening.  Jadis' world with the empty buildings and the row of thrones occupied by frozen giant human beings is also quite an eerie image.  Narnia for me produces happy comforting feelings but there is very little of that feeling in this book.

FINAL VERDICT:  This book still gets 4 out of 5 stars but one of those just might be awarded because of my love for the book in the past.  Lewis is definitely like no other but my greater experience with YA literature these days has rubbed a tiny bit of the shine off.  I'll be interested how I feel about the other books in the series as I get to them.
So what's your verdict on this book?  Have your feelings about it changed over time?  Where does it fall in relation to the other books in the series?

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