Story Synopsis: In The Beginning...
Digory Kirke has had to move with his terminally ill mother from a beautiful country home to his aunt and uncle’s house in London. His father is away in India; his mother is bed-ridden and expected to die soon. He is scared and lonely, and when Polly, a next-door-neighbor, pops up, he is delighted to have found a friend.
Now, Digory’s Uncle Andrew is, shall we say, unusual. He works alone in the attic much of the time, and his sister, Letitia (Aunt Letty), will not allow him to speak of his exploits to his nephew. Not surprisingly, Digory is curious, but his uncle’s strangeness helps him keep his distance.
One rainy day during an atypically rainy summer, Digory and Polly decide to do a little exploring, following a tunnel-like passageway between the houses in their row. A miscalculation causes them to enter Uncle Andrew’s attic room by accident, and thus their lives take an incredible turn.
Uncle Andrew, seizing the opportunity to use two human guinea pigs, woos Polly into reaching for a brightly colored ring—and she disappears. Cunningly manipulative, Uncle Andrew plays on Digory’s sense of propriety, pointing out that unless Digory goes after her (with two “return trip” rings), Polly is doomed to an unknown exile.
Digory angrily (but honorably) complies.
After putting on the ring, he emerges from a shallow pool into a peaceful, sleepy wooded place, where Polly is resting languidly by a tree. After a few moments of “remembering,” knowing each other and how they got there, they look around and discover myriad pools like the one from which they both entered the wood—and decide to explore the other pools to see if they connect to other worlds. After making sure they are able to return to London with the “return” rings, they mark the “London” pool, then don their rings and jump into a different pool, one through which they are transported to, yes, another world: Charn.
The world they enter is clearly not a happy place—the sun is old and tired-looking, giving off dim reddish light. It is cold, dry, stale, dusty. But our two little heroes are curious, and enter the first door they come to, which is filled with finely dressed statues of sorts. On a pedestal around which the figures are sitting, there is a small bell, with a similarly small hammer next to it. An inscription warns that both ringing the bell and not ringing the bell carry dire consequences, and Digory makes the crucial choice: he rings the bell.
There is movement and noise, and suddenly there is a giant, wickedly beautiful woman addressing them. She is Jadis, the queen of Charn, and the spell cast upon her world has been broken at the ringing of the bell. Believing the children to be spectacular magicians (having the power to enter her world and break the spell) she directs them to take her to their world, so she can conquer it as she has the dying world she wishes now to escape. Despite their best efforts to leave her behind, when Digory and Polly don their rings the witch-queen tags along, joining them in the Wood Between the Worlds.
Here, the powerful, amazingly strong Jadis undergoes a startling change: she becomes weak, and the children find themselves less intimidated by her. As they are about to don the “London” rings, Digory mercifully hesitates to abandon Jadis, which allows the ailing witch passage to London with them.
Yet another significant choice.
Upon emerging once again into Uncle Andrew’s attic laboratory with the fierce queen, chaos breaks loose. Jadis begins issuing demands of Andrew (whom she believes to be a Great Magician)—demands that Uncle Andrew, in his sycophantic way, is slobberingly happy to try to satisfy. Unfortunately, Jadis is an impatient woman, and when Andrew’s ineffectiveness annoys her, she takes the matter into her own hands.
After (literally) throwing Aunt Letty across the room, Jadis hijacks the horse-drawn cab Uncle Andrew has procured, and proceeds to go about her conquest—stealing jewelry, abusing the Londoners and such. Meanwhile, Digory is frantically formulating a plan to return the witch to her own world before she does more damage.
When the hansom cab returns, with Jadis riding more as a charioteer than as a carriage passenger, there is (not unexpectedly) a crowd in tow. Continuing her display of rage and domination, the queen wrecks the cab, rips off the iron arm of a lamppost, and bashes a police officer on the head with it. At just the right moment, Digory grabs the witch while Polly is touching both him and her ring, and together they snatch Jadis into the Wood Between the Worlds—along with Frank, the cabby; his horse, Strawberry; and a still-simpering Uncle Andrew.
Strawberry unknowingly steps into one the of the pools for a drink, and when Digory and Polly grab their green rings, the whole group is transported through the pool to a dark world—a world at the moment of its creation.
Through the magic of the rings, we are now privy to the very creation of Narnia—a world sung into being by Aslan, the great lion. For those whose hearts are open, the lion is singing the most beautiful song, and the plants and creatures coming forth are serious, but peaceful. For those whose hearts are less-than-pure, the lion’s voice is frightening, and the world coming into being is threatening. Jadis, in fear and anger, attempts to destroy Aslan by hurling the broken-off arm of the lamppost (which she has been carrying and threatening people with since they left London) at his head; though she makes solid contact, there is no evidence that the great lion even noticed the attempted assault. At that, Jadis flees, knowing that her power is nothing compared to that of Aslan. The lamppost arm proceeds to grow into Narnia's famous beacon of the Lantern Waste.
Meanwhile, Aslan has chosen certain creatures to be a council of speaking animals, and he explains to them that the humans present have brought evil into their brand new world. Digory, feeling terrifically ashamed, is yet hopeful that the great lion might hold the cure for his mother. He approaches Aslan, and when Aslan’s eyes fill with anguished tears over Digory’s pain and his mother’s condition, Digory allows himself to hope for a miracle.
But Aslan doesn’t grant his wish. Instead, he asks if Digory is prepared to undo the evil that he has brought into Narnia. At Digory’s affirmative reply, Aslan charges him with the task of retrieving the seed for the tree that will protect Narnia from the evil of the queen. And thus Digory’s quest to right the wrongs begins.
Digory and Polly mount the newly-winged Fledge (a.k.a. Strawberry) to find the—you guessed it—apple from which the seed for the protecting tree will be taken. Two days’ flight later, they arrive at a gated courtyard, with a tree bearing large silver apples awaits Digory. Upon entering the courtyard, he finds yet another warning poem—that he should take of the fruit only for others, not for himself, lest he find his “heart’s desire and find despair.” After plucking a single apple from the tree, he looks up to find Jadis, her mouth stained an unnaturally dark color from imbibing in as many apples as she pleases. She proceeds to tempt Digory himself, enticing him to take the apple straight to his mother, rather than back to Aslan. And Digory is tempted, but when the witch goes too far, and tries to convince him to leave Polly behind as well, Digory comes to his little-boy senses, shuts his ears to the wicked queen, and rides back to Aslan in determined obedience.
“Well done,” is the great lion’s reply when Digory hands him the treasured apple. Digory hopes that Aslan will then allow him to take the apple back to his mother, but once again, his wishes are not granted. Instead, Aslan asks him to do the unthinkable—to throw the life-giving apple as far as he can. And he does.
The inhabitants of the new world are now invited to the coronation of the cabby and his wife (whom Aslan has brought to Narnia without needing any magic rings) as King Frank and Queen Helen of Narnia. Meanwhile, during the ceremony, the apple has become an enormous tree, complete with its own crop of silver apples. Aslan explains that the tree and its apples will keep Jadis away, for the apples that she ate in greedy willfulness have become simultaneously the thing she most loves and most despises. “All get what they want,” Aslan counsels: “they do not always like it.”
At this point, Digory sees the folly of his desires to take an apple to his mother—he understands that eating an apple from that tree for the wrong reasons at the wrong time will produce untold anguish and misery. And his hopes for his mother’s health are dashed.
However, Aslan is the creator of the apples, and an apple given by its creator is not the same as one taken by a created being. Thus the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is germinated: with a solitary silver apple that was mercifully granted to a boy to take back to London for his mother.