Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Magician's Nephew: Photographs

Summer Challenge '13

Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

Worcester College, Oxford

The Magician's Nephew: Chapters 4-5

Summer Challenge '13: The Atlantis Connection

As I mentioned on the first day, I’ve always been fascinated by Atlantis and its role in the Narnia universe. And one of the things that’s puzzled me for a number of years is the fact that I’ve always associated it with Charn. When I read the description of Charn – old ornate stone buildings, terraces, the whole palace complex – it has the feel to it of descriptions of the lost continent. It has the feel of a society highly advanced, powerful and cruel. And then there’s the desolation. While it’s true that from the earliest myths, Atlantis was lost by drowning, the result is that most stories of its “discovery” involve the discovery of an ancient and now crumbling city (sometimes underwater, sometimes not) and Charn seems so accurately to mirror those depictions. After Jadis is awakened, my sense of connection between Atlantis and Charn grows, as we learn a little about the history and people and culture of Charn. She refers to slaves, sacrificial drums and terrible battle. And then there is Jadis’ story itself, so full of arrogance and the desire for absolute power. It was arrogance of this sort that led to the downfall and destruction of Atlantis in the old myths. The way Jadis’ ancestors are described as looking grimmer, prouder and crueller in the Hall of Images as time wears on, points to an increasingly arrogant society.

Yet despite all these connections, I’ve never been able to convince myself that there is any real link between Charn and Atlantis. There’s nothing in the story that suggests that there should be. The dust that Uncle Andrew uses to make the rings comes from Atlantis, and the Atlanteans somehow got it from the Wood Between the Worlds. The Wood has pools leading to all worlds, and Charn is just one of those many worlds. Ours is another. Charn is the one Digory and Polly arbitrarily pick to explore. There is no reason that Charn should be related to Atlantis any more than our world or Narnia. For these reasons I’ve never pursued the links that I noticed between the two.

But after reading the chapters that describe Charn, I’ve been thinking about it some more. And there might be a way of accounting for the links and attributing them to more than mere coincidence. I’ve often wondered whether the Atlantis to which Uncle Andrew refers was really another world; another world of which rumours had come to our world many years ago; rumours which had been passed down in legend. That at any rate would account for there not being any trace of it in our world today. But that introduces other problems, and Uncle Andrew talks of it as a civilisation in our world and by removing it from our world, we lose the legends of its wars with Greece and many other accounts in which it is really a civilisation of our own.

But what if Atlantis was indeed a civilisation in our world, but one that had links with another? A colony from another world? We know that the Atlanteans must have had the ability to travel between worlds (at least between our world and the Wood) and so if the people who settled Atlantis were really from another world that had the power of inter-world travel; could they not have set up a colony in our world? That would account for the advanced technology and skill that the Atlanteans possessed in so many versions of the myth.

And if Atlantis were a colony of another world, that world might have been Charn. That way we have an explanation for the similarities in architecture and culture and the apparent pride of the race, but maintain the more traditional accounts of Atlantis as a place in our world that was drowned when its people became too proud. In fact, I’d even suggest that what caused the downfall of Atlantis was an attempt by one among its people to use the Deplorable Word to gain a victory. We know Charnian magic doesn’t work in our world the way it does in Charn, so instead of destroying all living things, the uttering of the word destroyed only the continent of Atlantis, drowning it in the fury of the sea.

One problem still remains. It is purely coincidence that the world from which the Atlanteans originated was the exact same one that Digory and Polly chose to explore; coincidence that the society that had the dust from the Wood between the Worlds, originated from the one world that our heroes chose to visit. We could call it coincidence and leave it at that. Maybe it happened to be the pool closest to our own. Or maybe there was more going on. We know that Jadis set up the bell and hammer in the hopes that a magician would come and awaken her from sleep and take her to a new place that she could conquer. So perhaps her magic was at work beyond the realms of Charn itself, working in the Wood to draw Digory and Polly towards it. It was not coincidence, but Jadis’ spell that made them choose that pool. And why not? If the dust from the Wood from which the rings were made had belonged to those in Atlantis who were colonists from Charn, maybe magic of Charn could work through the dust and the rings. After all, perhaps, knowing something of the Colony of Atlantis, Jadis was hoping that it would be someone from Atlantis itself, a relation with similar magic, though one inferior to her, that would come and rescue her. Unfortunately Jadis’ plan went a little awry, and it was the non-magical nephew of a weak dabbler in magic, many generations since Atlantis itself was destroyed purely on the search for an adventure that woke her up instead.

Finally, I’d like to suggest that there were some survivors of Atlantis. Just a few. These, as suggested in Stephen Lawhead’s Taliesin, escaped by boat and arrived at last on some shore, perhaps England itself. These survivors, of a different race to ours, kept to themselves and had strange practises, even “magic” of a sort. They became the fair folk, or faerie of British legend. For the most part, they died out, but a few fell in love with humans from our world and married them. Generations later, the descendants of one of these survivors was Uncle Andrew’s godmother, Mrs Lefay. She really did have fairy blood in her, and it was by her connection with Atlantis that she inherited the small chest of dust from the Wood Between the Worlds.

The Magician's Nephew: Chapters 3-4

Summer Challenge '13: Digory Kirke

I’ve always thought of Edmund and Eustace as characters that start out quite nasty and then, through their adventures and encounters with Aslan, they develop and mature. I’ve never really thought of Digory as belonging to the same category as these two boys, but when you think about some of his actions in these two chapters, he has a good number of character flaws and, as others have pointed out, is not unlike his uncle. Don’t get me wrong, he’s much better than Uncle Andrew, seen clearly in the fact that he is willing to go and rescue Polly, when Uncle Andrew won’t even dream of going himself. But once he finds Polly, rather than getting her safely back home, he bullies her into exploring a different pool.

After coming up with the idea of exploring another world, he loses all sense of caution, and gets angry with Polly for resisting:

“Well even if you can-” began Polly, but Digory went on as if he hadn’t heard her.

Later he makes a fuss, even to agreeing to Polly’s plan to go halfway into their own world before trying another pool. He’s so annoyed about the delay, that he very nearly makes one of the most terrible mistakes of his life, by running off without marking which pool leads to our world. After this, he doesn’t apologise, but becomes all defensive arguing with Polly which leads to a several minute long quarrel between the two.

Once they arrive in Charn, Polly does not like it from the start, but Digory continues to ignore her feelings and cares only to satisfy his own curiosity. When Polly suggests they go home, Digory accuses her of cowardice to convince her into exploring with him.

And then they find the bell. It’s hard to know how much Digory is effected by the magic of the place and how much he is using it as an excuse to indulge his curiosity, but the following lines are telling.

“I expect anyone who’s come as far as this is bound to go on wondering until it sends him dotty. That’s the Magic of it, you see. I can feel it beginning to work on me already.

“Well I don’t, said Polly, crossly. “And I don’t believe you do either. You’re just putting it on.”

To which Digory retorts that she knows nothing ’cause she’s a girl.

Polly replies: “You looked exactly like your uncle when you said that,”

To which he replies: “Why can’t you keep to the point?...what we’re talking is-”

At this moment, Digory does not only look like his uncle, but he sound just like him. Remember Uncle Andrew used very similar phrases to Digory during their conversation about the rings? Whenever Digory brought up Polly’s safety, Uncle Andrew reprimanded him for going off topic, not sticking to “the point”. And yet here Digory does the exact same thing.

Another heated argument ensues between the children, Digory calling Polly a kid and Polly threatening to leave him behind. And then the crucial moment follows:

“None of that!” said Digory in a voice even nastier than he meant it to be [again sounding very much like his uncle]…

I can’t excuse what he did next except by saying he was very sorry for it afterwards (and so were a good many other people)…

He grabs and twists her hand (which hurt her quite a bit) and reaches for the hammer, striking the bell.

In this moment, his growing selfishness and lack of concern for Polly, reaches its climax, and he gives in to the temptation of the bell, which results in a great deal of harm to many people. But that’s well, another story (as a matter of fact a whole series of stories called The Chronicles of Narnia  ;-) ).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Digory as a character. And like Edmund and Eustace he grows through his adventures and encounter with Aslan. While he doesn’t understand why Polly wants him to apologise on their return to England, by the end of the book, I’m sure he looks back on what he did and said to her in the Woods and Charn and regrets it very much.

But here I’ve highlighted some of his faults and the way his poor character and attitude led up to the moment where he struck the bell. There’s a thread on the forum about whether he sinned by striking the bell. I’m not sure quite how I feel about that, but if we look at his behaviour and attitude leading up to that moment, it seems that he was already on his way down a selfish path before he ever saw the tempting verse.

The Magician's Nephew: Chapters 1-2

Summer Challenge '13: Questions

One of the most intriguing and endearing things about Lewis’ writing is that he so often throws out random references to things he never elaborates on. Passing references that have little to do with the story, but when you stop to think about them, they point to countless other untold stories or adventures. Stories we catch only that brief passing glimpse of and are given nothing further; tantalising glimpses (in the literal meaning of the word). It is these that can often lead to fan fiction or other types of musings as people try to imagine what story might underlie that briefest glimpse.

There are a number of these in the first couple chapters of The Magicians Nephew. The first is Digory’s past. We learn that before coming to London, Digory lived in the country, in a house with an apparently large property with a river at the bottom of the garden and room for a pony whom he loved. This is all we get of his childhood before moving to London and yet it makes me wonder what amazing stories and adventures the young Digory must have had before his real adventures even began.

And then there’s Polly. Her life is fascinating and yet we get to learn so little about her family and background. It is only in these initial chapters that we get told a tiny bit; especially, the fact that she was a child with a vivid imagination and able to occupy herself during her recreational time most pleasantly. She had built for herself a secret “smugglers cave”; a place of retreat where she kept her treasures, and would retire to to enjoy a quiet bottle of ginger beer and to work on her story. Her story? Now how is that for tantalizing? Wouldn’t you, like Digory, just love to know what it was that she was writing? I wonder if she ever became a more accomplished writer; if in later life, she ever published anything? After her adventures in The Wood between the Worlds, Charn and Narnia itself, can you imagine the creative stories she might have written? I can just see her writing out an imaginary history of Charn.

Another question is about Digory’s dad. We know much about his mother, but very little about his father except that he was called away to India. My first guess is that he was a soldier called to serve in India which was still a British colony in those days. I suppose he also might have been some kind of government official or representative. Wouldn’t you just love to know what adventures he got up to in India? And what stories he must have had to tell his son coming back? I wonder if Digory was ever brave enough to tell his father that he’d been to places even further away than India?

Another mystery I don’t believe is ever solved (unless it is later in the book and I have simply forgotten) is what really lies in the empty house one over from Digorys. After all the build-up in the first chapter, it is a little bit disappointing that we never find out whether the house was haunted, secretly inhabited by someone who only came out at night with a dark lamp, if it was the den of a gang of criminals or if it really just had bad drainage. On the other hand it’s almost like Lewis does this on purpose. By keeping the empty house a mystery it remains appealing. If we knew the truth, it might turn out to be one of the uninteresting explanations grown-ups had and the story would lose some of its charm.

Another mystery is Uncle Andrew and his study. Although we know much about Uncle Andrew’s awful character and motivations, I’m really curious to know how he occupied his days before Digory and Polly stumbled upon his office. What was in all those books? He had a lot of them. We know a little, that he spent a lot of time and effort discovering what was in the box from Atlantis and how to make the rings, but what other tricks and experiments was he up to?

And probably the greatest and most tantalising question of all is who was Mrs Lefay and what in the worlds did Atlantis have to do with it all? I’ve loved the story of Atlantis for a long time, and especially since doing a module on it in one of my university classics courses. But Lewis tells us so very little. How did Atlanteans get dust from the Wood between the Worlds? What did they do with it (they hadn’t made it into rings)? How did it survive the downfall of Atlantis? How did Mrs Lefay get hold of it? How did Uncle Andrew figure out that rings were the way to make the dust work? How did he make the rings? So many questions never answered and left up to our imagination. Oh Lewis!

Mrs Lefay is especially interesting in light of the fact that (as someone years ago on TLC pointed out in a discussion thread) she shares her surname with an enchantress of Arthurian legend, Morgan LeFay. Did Lewis intend a direct connexion? We are told that she had fairy blood in her, and in old British legends the women like Morgan Lefay were associated with the faerie or fair folk (the “fay” part meaning something like “fairy”). Interestingly, in Stephen Lawhead’s Arthurian Pendragon Cycle, he equates refugees who escaped the downfall of Atlantis to Britain with the fair folk of such legends and people such as the Lady of the Lake, Merlin and a character that bears some resemblance to Morgan LeFay are Atlanteans and therefore faerie in his stories. I’m fascinated to know whether this is purely coincidence or whether Lawhead was drawing on a mythology that equated the faerie with Atlantis; a tradition Lewis himself was a acquainted with. I’d like to do some more research into this at some point, to see if there is anything to it. A last question regarding Mrs Lefay. Wouldn’t you love to know what she was imprisoned for?

So there we have it. The story has barely started and already Lewis has posed so many questions by hinting at elements of the story we never get to learn more about. But as I’ve suggested above, this is very much what makes Lewis such a good writer and this such a good book. It is full of mystery and much of the mystery must remain thus to add to the quality of the story. It is up to our imaginations and our unfortunately poorer skill (on my part anyway) to come up with our own answers to these questions and to explore these untold stories in more detail.