Posts Tagged ‘The Magician’s Nephew’

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.


“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.”  The Magician’s Nephew (126)

We forget that the we ourselves are the most important ingredient in the making of an idiot.  That usually means that we are more effective in making idiots our of ourselves rather than of others.

Of course, I’m not making any particular statement here about the state of education in general.*  There is a significant difference between “ignorance” and “stupidity.”  The former is a simple lack of knowledge about a particular subject or subjects.  That can be be caused by influences external to ourselves that we may not have control over.  The latter, on the other hand, is generally willful in some way.  It implies that the requisite knowledge to address a situation is at least available, but the person has somehow failed to do the right thing.  It is therefore possible to be ignorant without being stupid, and to bear no responsibility for it.  On the other hand, when we are being stupid, we are almost always ignorant and it is almost always our own fault.

In the character of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew (to whom the quote above was applied) we have a brilliant example of stupidity in action.  He is perfectly capable of following what is going around him, but he chooses to understand only what suits him.  He has decided that he is, in fact, one of the “profound students and great thinkers and sages” and a powerful magician (18).  That presupposition renders him unable to see truths about himself that are very plain to everyone else–that he is really a doddering old coward, a greedy fool, and a ridiculous knave.  He is oblivious to his cowardice in forcing Digory to rescue Polly and deludes himself into thinking that the witch could fall in love with him.  Is it any surprise, then, that when he arrives in Narnia at its creation, he succeeds in making himself “stupider” than he really is?  As a result, he not only misses out on a tremendous adventure, he goes down in Narnian history as the least of all men–and in human history this “profound student, great thinker, and sage” is remembered not at all.

I’m afraid to ask myself how often do I follow Andrew Ketterley’s example.  Often enough, I have no doubt.  Lewis is reminding us that we should do all we can to see ourselves, the world around us, and how we relate to it was as much clarity as we can muster,  especially if we don’t think we’ll like what we see.

After all, I am “stupid” enough already–I need go no further!


*Were you to ask, I could give you an earful.  In fact, I will in a few more weeks.

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  • The Magician’s Nephew.  New York:  Collier Books, 1974.

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Another interesting parallel between Spirits in Bondage  and Lewis’s more general biography actually tied into Narnia, particularly The Magician’s Nephew.  It is clear that Lewis did not consider his conversion grounds to discard the vividness of his earlier imagination.  In fact, he mined his own unChristian period for Truth much like he did other non-christian authors.

Consider his description of the “Land of the Lotus” from “XXV. Song of the Pilgrims”:

Land of the Lotus fallen from the sun,
Land of the Lake from whence all rivers run,
Land where the hope of all our dreams is won!

Shall we not somewhere see at close of day
The green walls of that country far away,
And hear the music of her fountains play?


But we shall wake again in gardens bright
Of green and gold for infinite delight,
Sleeping beneath the solemn mountains white,
While from the flowery copses still unseen
Sing out the crooning birds that ne’er have been
Touched by the hand of winter frore and lean;

This compares very favorably to what Polly, Digory, and Fledge encounter in the quest for the golden apple at the end of The Magician’s Nephew .  There, they find an isolated, magical garden set high on a huge green hill:

All round the top of the hill ran a high wall of green turf.  Inside the wall, trees were growing. Their branches hung out over the wall:  their leaves showed not only green but also blue and silver when the wind stirred them.  When the travelers reached the top they walked nearly all the way round it before they found the gates:  high gates of gold, fast shut, facing due east. […] [Digory] went in very solemnly, looking about him.  Everything was very quiet inside.  Even the fountain which rose near the middle of the garden made only the faintest sound.  The lovely smell was all around him:  it was a happy place but very serious.  (157-58)

Many of the same specific elements are the same–the green walls, the fountains, the colors green and gold, the brilliant rivers (referenced just a few pages earlier in The Magician’s Nephew).  Of course, the expression of the conception is separated by years, and so it isn’t an exact correspondence, but it is close enough to think that, perhaps, they are one and the same.

Perhaps what we’re seeing here is really Lewis’s fleshing out of the toy garden that his brother Warnie had brought into their nursery many years before.  In Surprised by Joy, he described the feeling evoked by that “biscuit tin filled with moss” as similar to “Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden” (16).  That does seem to be what Lewis was attempted to capture in both his poem and his book.  Without more specific context, we’ll probably never know for sure.

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