Chronicles of Narnia: Quests in The Magician's Nephew - Exploration of Quests and Themes
The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, is an exquisitely interwoven quest story. In its simplest form, a quest is generally a search, often times through adventure. In this book, there are three main adventures, each beholding quests of their own. Conjointly, the six main characters have their own individual quests, which in turn, combine to fulfill the ultimate quest. Aslan's quest represents the highest form of quest, that of creation and the balancing of good and evil.
The first main adventure of this book takes place in our world. specifically, our setting is London, at a time when, "Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road." This is interesting to note in that C.S. Lewis is providing the reader with the first hint at literary allusion, mystery, and quest. It is under this relatedness that we see a forlorn Digory, and the first quest presents itself.
His world falling apart, Digory Kirke, the magician's nephew, is searching for sanity. However, Digory does not have to go it alone. Polly Pummer happens upon him, and she instantly becomes an intrinsic part of his quest. She becomes the balance, the distraction, the damsel, and the stability.
Here the weather becomes an important part of Digory's quest in that it sets the stage in allowing the children to turn within themselves. "Their adventures began chiefly because it was one of the wettest and coldest summers there had been for years. That drove them to do indoor things: you might say, indoor exploration." (C.S. Lewis, page 1)
Fairy godmothers are historically considered kind and good, with inner magic; however, Uncle Andrew's magic is self-taught; his power and intentions are questionable to say the least (not to mention the fact that his fairy godmother has landed herself in jail).
Polly unexpectedly becomes this archetypal roll of the Damsel in distress, a common mythological theme. We see her falling into this roll again, when the witch holds onto her hair, when Digory mistreats her, and later, we see that Digory can leave the cabby and the others behind, but he cannot leave Polly.
When Polly's bravery and her own quest for adventure brings them to stumble accidentally upon Uncle Andrew's study, another quest enters the picture. Andrew Ketterley, self-proclaimed magician, "the last man (possibly) who really had a fairy godmother," (C.S. Lewis, page 21) wants a shortcut to power for his own petty means. Throughout Uncle Andrew's quest, he repeatedly chooses evil and trickery at the expense of others.
He persuades Polly to pick up the magic, yellow ring, by appealing to her vanity. She becomes an integral part of the magician's quest the moment she touches the ring and vanishes to The Wood Between the Worlds.
Digory also becomes an integral part of the magician's quest when he is sequestered with the green rings to rescue his victimized friend Polly and our "er-a lady in distress" (C.S. Lewis, page 27) Digory fulfills his role as the hero, consequently placing himself in aide of Uncle Andrew and this particular layer of the ultimate quest.
The Magician's Nephew - Chapter 3 - Magic Rings
The second quest spans chapters three through seven.
Jadis is paralleled to Uncle Andrew in that "there was a sort of likeness between her face and his, something in the expression." (C.S. Lewis, page 80) In addition, she, like he, explains that they are beyond common rules and that theirs is a "high and lonely destiny." (C.S. Lewis, page 71)
Charn is the dead city, dead because of age and because all living things here were destroyed by the Deplorable Word spoken by Jadis. Aslan refers to Charn as a world.
Note that it was Digory who rang the bell.
Digory had previously been content with distraction.
Concerning Uncle Andrew, here, rather than being called a magician, and a man above the rules, Lewis goes on to describe (from Uncle Andrew's viewpoint), "for though he had dabbled in magic for years he had always left the dangrs (as far as one can) to other people." (C.S. Lewis pages 81-82) Note the use of the word dabbled.
"He had also managed to forget that it was the children who had got hold of this 'superb creature'; he felt as if he himself by his magic had called her out of unknown worlds." (c.S. Lewis, page 89) Throughout this story, Uncle Andrew is easy to forget much.
The second main adventure is marked by Jadis, Queen of Charn. Her quest is for inclusive control, of all. It is also for "unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess," (C.S. Lewis, page 208), apparent in the following passage, "Do you think that I, with my beauty and my Magic, will not have your whole world at my feet before a year has passed?" (C.S. Lewis, page74) Jadis' desire to live forever shows in the whole fact that she placed an enchantment upon Charn and , most importantly, herself. She knew that if someone did ring the bell, that person would be from another world come there by magic. Ultimately, she would leave Charn, crumbling to dust behind her, and live on, ruling elsewhere.
Jadis' person can be described as that of self-righteous conceit. So much so, that her quest is more than a purpose, it is her total being. She does not question that there are any other possibilities but that her quest will fulfill itself. "What else were you sent here for if not to fetch me?" (C.S. Lewis, page 73)
Digory's initial quest for a normal childhood and family unity expands and takes shape. When he hears Aunt Letty speak of the lovely grapes and the land of youth, he comes to the realization that, "There might be fruit in some other world that would really cure his mother." (C.S. Lewis, page 100)
The fact that this came at a time when he knew that there were other worlds, sparks a new hope in him. Now his quest becomes more specific. He is in search for the magic fruit.
As for Uncle Andrew, a part of his quest is fulfilled in that the children come back from beyond the world, proving that there was one. However, "His 'experimant' with the rings, as he called it, was turning out to be more successful than he liked." (C.S. Lewis, page 81) His quest for power was small, and what the children brought back was beyond his hope for wealth and high acknowledgement. Even so, through his stammering and stuttering, (and after a bit of drink), he does go all out, and even entertains the thought that Jadis will fall in love with him. Jadis and the power that comes with her, is now his quest.
The cabby is the only one brave enough to walk up to the horse to calm him down.
Strawberry becomes a talking beast adn the Father of all winged horses.
We are introduced, at the climax of this second adventure, to the cabby. It is not evident here that he is to be a main character fo much importance. Nor is his quest evident. However, while we may not be paying much attention to him at this chaotic moment, we do start to get a feel that he is a brave, good hearted, simple bloke. We soon see that his quest is a simple and pure search for a peaceful, gentle, harmonious life, for himself, his wife, and his horse, Strawberry.
The final adventure occurs from the middle of chapter eight through chapter fourteen.
New quests are begun, thus the Chronicles of Narnia (and of life in general).
"In the beginning the world lay quiet, in utter darkness." (Yhi Brings Life to the World, Aboriginal creation story.)
It is interesting to note here that The Song of the World is a creation story from the Pima Indians of Arizona.
"That hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That world is ended, as if it had never been." (C.S. Lewis, page 212) supports statement that 'Charn could no longer be'.
"Now, let us be going. It is cold here at the end of all ages." (C.S. Lewis, page 72) in reference to the statement in this article that Charn is a 'dead world'.
Our final adventure is marked by Narnia, and introduces our last of the main characters. Here, quests are ended, but not before great growth and changes have occurred. We see the ultimate quest, in all its splendor, and how all the previous quests tie together. While adventures and happenings up to this point have been seemingly accidental and merely stumbled upon, it is poignant to note that there are no accidents here.
This adventure begins in the chaos that follows the climax of the second adventure. It begins in darkness. In mythology, it is common to find the dark before the dawn. Not only is it dark literally in our story, but incidentally and metaphorically, it is also the most evil and chaotic at that moment, just at the brink of the creation of Narnia.
"Hush, said the cabby. They all listened. In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing." (C.S. Lewis, page 116) That voice introduces Aslan, whose quest is to be a creator, to become, in effect, a God, and to try to keep harmony within that which he has created. The cabby was the first to notice the voice of Aslan.
When later they meet face to face, Aslan tells him, "Son, I have known you long. Do you know me?" to which the cabby replies, "Well, no, sir. Least ways, not in an ordinary manner of speaking. Yet I feel somehow, if I may make so free, as 'ow we've met before." Aslan replies, It is well. you know better than you think you know, and you shall live to know me better yet." (C.S. Lewis, page 162)
This exchange introduces us to the idea that the other quests in the story were meant to meet with Aslan's, perhaps, even, by his own doing. For Aslan created Narnia from the dust that was Charn. To fulfill his quest, Charn could no longer be, and although it was a dead world, it had not truly died until the enchantment was broken and the city collapsed. It is out of Uncle Andrew's immoral experiments, and quest for power, Polly's quest for adventure, Digory's quest for the magic fruit, and Queen Jadis' quest for immortality and ultimate power, that the puzzle pieces itself together.
"Come in by the gold gates or not at all, Take of my fruit for others or forbear, For those who steal or those who climb my wall/ Shall find their heart's desire adn find despair." (C,S. Lewis, page 187) - Digory's quest is at its end when he is given the magic apple.
This apple ultimately heals his mother and is, to Digory, the true finality of his quest. From its seeds grew a tree whose wood was later made into a wardrobe that led the way into Narnia.
The cabby becoming the first king of Narnia, fulfills the prophecy that the last shall come first, as he was the last to enter Narnia and is now its leader.
- Aslan sends for the cabby's wife, Nellie, who becomes Queen Hellen. It is interesting to note here that she was, "fetched out of our world not by any tiresome magic rings, but quickly, simply and sweetly as a bird flies to its nest." (C.S. Lewis, page 163)
Digory's quest is at its end when he is given the magic apple, but not before repentance and salvation.
Polly is able to continue on her quest for adventure; but not before forgiving and acceptance.
Uncle Andrew's quest is eneded with sleep. "I'll give him the only gift that he is still able to receive... Sleep and be separated for some few hours from all the torments you have devised for yourself." Goodness prevails his evils here and, "He had learned his lesson, and in his old age he became a nicer and less selfish old man than he had ever been before." (C.S. Lewis, page 203)
Queen Jadis, "She has won her heart's desire... But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it." (C.S. Lewis, page 208)
As for the cabby, his quest for a peaceful, gentle, harmonious life is fulfilled when he becomes King Frank, the first king of Narnia.
The light form the dark, as is written in this last paragraph, being akin to the phoenix from the flame.
Quests are the most powerful form of mythology. The experience of the search brings one, hopefully, to growth and knowledge, to the light from the dark. Essentially, the means to the end bring growth through trials and circumstances. Metaphorically, the means give one the strength to overcome the demons, obstacles, and pains that lie within oneself. However, one must make sage choices and overcome the temptations of achieving knowledge and power the fast way. For, "All get what they want; they do not always like it." (C.S. Lewis, page 208)
Lewis, C.S. The Magician's Nephew. Ill. Pauline Baynes, New York: Harper collins, 1994
Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988
Reed, A.W. Aboriginal Stories. Australia: Reed Books, 1994.
The Magician's Nephew
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