Wednesday, 16 October 2013

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.

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