The Magician’s Nephew (1955) is a children’s fantasy novel, the sixth in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Decades before the events of the other books in the series, two children (one of whom is Professor Digory Kirke from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) travel to magical worlds, inadvertently free the witch Jadis, and witness the creation of Narnia.
The Magician’s Nephew often has a lighter feel than the other books in the series. Lewis, who draws to a great extent upon his own childhood, is involved in the narrative in a more playful way than we’ve seen since The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And while Jadis is an imposing and terrible figure, her attempts to conquer London are more comical than anything; Lewis does a good job striking a balance with her and not making the character ever seem silly, in spite of what’s happening.
Lewis’s imagination has free rein in a number of places in the story, most notably the Wood between the Worlds, the dead city of Charn, and the birth of Narnia. And with references to fairies, Atlantis, Arthurian legend, and the like, this book has something of the feel of a traditional fairy tale. The total effect is that for the most part, The Magician’s Nephew is refreshingly different from the other books in the series.
In addition to Lewis’s nostalgia for the Edwardian days and bygone social mores (the good and the bad), there are other moral themes at work here. The one that Digory is faced with time and again throughout the novel is integrity. And as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe contained strong parallels to Christ’s Passion, The Magician’s Nephew parallels the biblical account of Creation and the Garden of Eden.
It has been the fashion recently to read The Magician’s Nephew as the first in the series (since it is, after all, chronologically first). This is fine, I guess, but to my mind it works better after the reader has finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the “Caspian trilogy.” Here, Lewis assumes that the reader already has a familiarity with Narnia, and while that isn’t mandatory to enjoy the book, there are a lot of little moments that the reader will not fully appreciate if he or she hasn’t read the other books first.
The Magician’s Nephew is a fun, imaginative story. But don’t read it first.