by C. S. Lewis
This book is Simarillion Light. Those out there that have read the Simarillion will understand what I mean. Although this book was not written first, chronologically, it is the first in the Narnian Chronicles.
We are introduced to Diggory and Polly, two young children living in London during the late 1800’s. Diggory’s father is away in India, and his mother is deathly ill. As a result Diggory lives with his Aunt Letty and his mad Uncle Andrew. The two children make friends one day and spend a lot of time in the attic above their houses. One day the children realize that the attics above their houses all connect and that if they go through to the end they will end up in the empty house at the end of their street. The children tried very hard to calculate the distance; but somewhere they messed up and ended up in the mad Uncle’s study.
Uncle Andrew allows the children to leave and gives them each a ring for their troubles. As Polly takes hers she disappears. Uncle Andrew goes on to tell Diggory the story of the rings:
He had a real fairy godmother. When she died she told him to destroy a certain box. Uncle Andrew did not follow her wishes. Instead, he became a Magician and went through great trouble to learn what was in the box. The box was Atlantean in design; but it contained fine sand from outside of our world. The Uncle realized that I one could get the sand in the right form, it would be capable of transporting a person elsewhere. Polly was he first sentient success.
Diggory takes a ring and goes and get Polly. However, the rings didn’t work like expected. The “outward” bound ring took both children to the World between Worlds, a wooded place with countless pools of water. They children decide to explore. The first and only place they go was the world Charn.
Charn is a deserted world with an ancient red sun. Diggory and Polly explore a bit and find themselves in a great hall with wax like figures and a bell. Diggory foolish strikes the bell and releases Jadis, last Queen of Charn from an enchanted sleep. She tells them her story:
The Queens and Kings of Charn possessed magical ability. She and her sister fought for control of the throne. At first they fought with armies, but then supposedly her sister started fighting with magic. It seemed her sister would win because the entirety of Jadis’ army had been slaughtered. Jadis used the Deplorable Word (which she had learned in secret) to destroy every living thing on her planet.
Jadis decides to go back to their world and lay claim to it. The children unsuccessfully leave Charn without her. Then they inadvertantely bring her back to England, where she reeks havoc. The children eventually corner her and use the rings to take her back, but they end up dragging along Uncle Andrew, a cabbie, and horse. Once they reach the World between the Worlds, they drag everyone into the first pool they see. This world is dark– at first.
The whole group are present at Naria’s creation. Unlike the creation of Earth which was spoken into existence, Narnia is sung into to being by Aslan, a lion. During this song, Jadis whose understanding of magic was immense tried to prevent Aslan from singing by throwing the lamp post she was holding at him. When this does no harm, she fled.
The children, Cabbie, and Uncle Andrew witness the creating of animals. They also watch as Aslan creates Talking Beasts. Aslan does address the children and cabbie (Uncle Andrew ran away). Aslan made the cabbie, Frank the King and then summoned his wife Helen as Queen. The children, particularly Diggory, were given a different task. As Diggory had brought evil into the world he had to do something to protect young Narnia for a time. They were sent far away to a hill with an apple orchard. Diggory had to retrieve an apple from the tree in the center and return to plant it.
Diggory and Polly made this journey, on Fledge, the Father of Flying Horses (the cabbie’s horse). Once they arrived Diggory went in alone. To his horror he met Jadis who had climbed the wall into the orchard rather than come in through the front gate. She had also taken and eaten one of the apples. She said that the apple would give immortality and urged him to take the apple back to his mother rather than take it back to Aslan. After much internal stuggle, Diggory takes the apple back to Aslan.
He plants it. Meanwhile the coronation began. During this time the tree grew large in the space of hours. Aslan tells the children that the tree will protect the Narnians from the Witch. When the children question this due to the Witch eating one of the apples, Aslan explains what happens when one takes the apple in the wrong way. If Diggory had taken it upon himself to get the apple, Narnia would have turned out to be a harsh world like Charn rather than gentle. The Witch took the apple to live forever; and the apple would grant her desire. However, her long life would become repulsive to her. Had Diggory taken the apple to his mother, she would have recovered but she would have looked back and thought it preferable to have died in that illness. However, since Aslan gives Diggory the apple, this will not happen.
Aslan takes the children home. They stop by the Woods between the Worlds, and Aslan warns the human race regarding its behavior. He also instructs them to remove the rings from Uncle Andrew’s possession and get rid of them.
Diggory’s mother does get well. The two planted the apple core in the back yard. It grew quickly; and although the tree didn’t have the same magical properties as it was in Narnia, the fruit was unusually healthy. Eventually the tree was destroyed in a storm, and Diggory had a wardrobe built with it.
On one hand this story was very much like the Simarillion because it had almost the same, “In the beginning” feel. However, this book unlike the Simarillion was much easier to read. The Simarillion was like trying to read the King James Version of the Bible. Lewis copied a lot of the elements of tis book from Tolkien, his mentor. In the Simarillion, Middle Earth was sung into being, Also in this “song” evil although discord does bring a greater redemptive “beauty” in time. This was the first set of books that I read more than one time. Reading this book was the first time that I had ever experienced a book drawing me into its pages where I lost myself in it till the book was done.
Although the story has many allegorical elements, i.e. Witch in the Orchard like the snake in the Garden, make no mistake this is not an allegory. This is a completely different world where different laws and physics apply.
This book is a worthwhile addition to the home library.