Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Magician's Nephew- Lessons in Human Nature

This, the account of the first human encounter with the world of Narnia, provides one of the most intimate views into the every-day struggles of human nature.  Although The Magician's Nephew has never been my favorite book in the series, I find that I can understand the subtle themes better than when I read it as a child.  Although this is the sixth book published in the Chronicles of Narnia, it functions much like the Genesis creation account, providing important background information that aids in the understanding of the events and conflicts of the other books.

Near the beginning of the narrative, in the dying world of Charn, Digory chooses to act cruelly and selfishly as he pushes Polly and her warning aside in his desire to strike the bell which awakens the evil Jadis, queen of Charn.  Although he initially seeks to justify himself as being enchanted by the inscription under the bell, when he comes face to face with Aslan in Narnia, he is instantly convicted of his wrongdoing, and sees that there is indeed no excuse.  The motif of the "forbidden fruit" is used repeatedly throughout the book.  Just as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, we often wonder why something is forbidden from us.  Why can we not eat from this beautiful tree, and only from the other trees?  Why must we not follow our impulses, when they seem so harmless at the time?  The very reason we ask such questions hints at the conscience God has placed within us.  Con/science, literally, means with knowledge.  God does not punish us for things we do unknowingly- no, we have no excuse because we know from the Law of his Word and the Law written on our hearts that our deeds are evil.  We make excuses only because we know at heart that we are guilty.  There is no excusing or denying our sin when we meet the Lord face to face, as we all must someday.
The creation scene is beautiful, as the sun rises and the voice of Aslan evokes several different, but strong and decisive responses from the group witnessing the scene.  Uncle Andrew is frightened and resents the voice, while the Witch becomes proud and hard in response to it.  The children feel a wonderful stirring in their hearts as they realize its beauty.  The cart-horse becomes joyful and spirited once again, and the cabby is lost in wonder at this voice which to him seems strangely familiar.  We must all react to the voice of God that stirs our soul.  Will you respond by worshiping God, or by hardening your heart and rejecting his call?

As one of the protagonists, Digory is a character with whom we empathize and relate.  After he meets with the Lion face to face, he sees the true nature of his sin and repents of his selfish attitude. In a poignant moment he fleetingly contemplates bargaining to do Aslan's bidding if the Lion would help his mother get well, but instantly realizes that Aslan isn't the sort of person to be "bargain[ed] with".  Instead, he agrees to embark on a quest to help remedy the evil that he brought into this new world.  Overcome with grief for his mother, Digory looks pleadingly into Aslan's face and marvels to see that Aslan's sorrow over his mother's sickness is even greater than his own.  What a comfort to us that "Jesus wept" for the death of a friend, and the sorrow of the mourners (John 11:35).  Many of us know this verse as the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is laced with such tenderness and should be held dearly to us in times of grief.  We do not grieve alone- Christ shares our sorrow.  He has borne the sorrow of the ages, and bears the sorrow of the future as well.  And yet, he cares for us individually, counting the very hairs of our heads.  He desires to heal our hearts and bind our wounds.

I realize that I have touched on many themes in this short synopsis, and I apologize if it is confusing... it will probably make more sense if you have read The Magician's Nephew.  I have one more point to make, and personally I think it is the most important to understand.  In light of the perfect, righteous, loving, and compassionate nature of Christ, who are we?  May I propose that we are all "Uncle Andrews" at heart?  Just to paint a brief picture of what that looks like, let's take a peek at Uncle Andrew's nature.  He believes he has a link into the world of magic- a "high and lonely destiny", if you will- through his possession of the magical rings.  He doesn't even understand them, but yet he uses them to cruelly destroy guinea pigs, and tricks his nephew and Polly into using the rings.  He justifies his actions to Digory by telling him that grown-ups, and especially magicians, don't have to live by the same code of ethics or morality.  When Uncle Andrew is unwittingly dragged to Narnia, he works hard to convince himself that the Narnian animals were roaring rather than speaking, and that Aslan was a "dumb animal" and did not in fact create the world of Narnia, that he eventually believes his own illusion.  Although this poor old man is obviously in a prison of his own making, we can't help but feel a bit sorry for him as he is enslaved by the powerful and evil witch, Jadis, who ironically also says she has a "high and lonely destiny".  How are we like this sniveling, despicable, pitiable man?  In almost every way.  We have seen the glory and perfect design of God's created world, but many close their minds to it.  God is not silent, but if people work hard enough to pretend to hear something else, they can eventually deceive even themselves.  We are utterly depraved and despicable, enslaved by our sin to the power of evil.  We serve the devil, an entity much more cunning and subversive than Jadis, but equally as alluring.  Indeed, Satan masquerades himself as an angel of light. (2 Cor 11:14)  We can be freed only by the power of God, who has power over our sin, over death, and over Satan.  Do not harden your heart or close your ears!

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