The Magician's Nephew
Make no mistake: Narnia is not Middle-earth. Nor does it need to be.
Though C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were colleagues and, for a time, the closest of friends, the two writers had very different objectives in writing The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. A comparison of the two works might tell us a great deal about those objectives, about the authors as writers, as men and as Christians—and it might also tell us a great deal about ourselves, and our tastes in literature.
But such lessons are not the purpose of this introduction to Narnia. Instead, over the next seven months, we will be approaching each volume of Lewis’ Chronicles as Lewis intended: as an individual installment of an epic children’s fantasy, and as Christian allegory. We will be asking elemental questions of each of the seven books—What’s the basic story? How does it work as literature? What religious significance does Lewis intend? And rather than muddy the waters by stirring those answers together, we will address each question separately.
We begin not with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as did C.S. Lewis and his original audience, but with that book’s ‘prequel.’ Actually written as the sixth volume of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew documents the origins of Narnia, the magical land which the Pevensie children discover through the back of Professor Kirke’s fantastical titular Wardrobe.
Before documenting the End of the Tale in The Last Battle, Lewis thought it important to tell the Beginning of the Tale in The Magician’s Nephew. Honing in on this importance, the editors of some editions of The Chronicles of Narnia have even seen fit to publish The Magician’s Nephew as the first volume of the series.
Our purpose is pretty simple, however, as articulated by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” And so, as we will see, we start with the sound of music. The music of Narnia.