'The Magician's Nephew': the Beginning of the End of Narnia, Part One


While The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe leapt into life in Lewis’s imagination as a fully-fledged tale in its own right, Lewis temporarily struggled with the mechanics of his own creation in the sequel, Prince Caspian. But the following books, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair and A Horse and His Boy showed a remarkable maturation of the process of inventing and sustaining a fictive world. Lewis rapidly built on the foundations of symbolism that he had stumbled upon in the first book, transforming Aslan from a straightforward re-imagined Christ figure initially into a providential force, whose repeated answer to Shasta in A Horse and His Boy was intended to reflect the trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

"Who are you?" asked Shasta.

"Myself," said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again "Myself, loud and clear and gay: and then the third time "Myself, whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.

As an author, Lewis had progressively banished any uncertainty he may have had connecting his profoundly held beliefs and his stories by creating a new set of powerful symbols to represent the world view that he wanted to convey to modern readers. With Narnia, now grown into a stronger creation, Lewis had plumbed the bottom of the creative and spiritual impulses which started it and made it such a success. He had stepped back from the edge of allegory and found firm symbolic footings for his ideas.

But, as we have argued, the purpose was not simply to ‘convert’ readers into Christians, though that was probably a hoped-for byproduct. Many studies have shown that the Chronicles of Narnia have indeed achieved the effect of bringing many thousands of people closer to a Christian world view. But none of that would have happened if the books had not largely succeeded in what we propose was Lewis’s first aim: to ‘flip’ the reader out of an Ironic cultural framework and into a new perspective on life and the universe. This switching of viewpoints was not necessarily Christian, but was a definite shift from the subjective, psychology-driven reality of the Twentieth Century centred around the Self, to an objective, morality-driven cosmos which was centred around an external power.

If we picture the imagination as a swirling ocean of creativity, Lewis’s command of the symbology of Narnia was such that this ocean now had nowhere to go but had to proceed eschatologically: in other words, having built a successful world, Lewis sought to both explain the beginnings of that world narratively, and then to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.

In The Magicia