The Magician’s Nephew ranks third (tied with The Horse and His Boy) as my Chronicles favorite for the Weird Tales awesomeness that is Charn. As I wrote in The Wild Lands of the North, Lewis was more than a little influenced by the pulps (and the pulps influenced by Lord Dunsany and E. R. Eddison, his British forbears.) Elements from stories of this ilk began to creep into Narnia around the time of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. And as long as we’re at it, let’s add Gothic to the list. There was something very daring and transgressive in his mixing two innocent, likable Victorian-age children into this wild weirdness that is borderline too-kinky-for-kids literature.
I’ll get into Charn in a later post, however.
Like The Silver Chair, Nephew has inspired a diverse group of cover illustrations, but as the text is less grim than Chair, they are more attractive: winged horses, gardens, mountain landscapes. I’ve seen variations on Fledge and the kids’ travel to the Phoenix Garden, Charn and Jadis, Jadis and the Kids, Uncle Andrew in his laboratory, the green and yellow rings. The 1970 Roger Hane cover featured an enraged Jadis pulling Polly’s hair as they float above the Wood Between the Worlds. The original edition from 1954 had Baynes’s illustration of Digory and Polly peeking into Uncle Andrew’s magic workshop.
Speaking of Baynes, the book also featured one of her most distinct illustrations.
I don’t know about you, but it seems Baynes must have read the same H. P. Lovecraft stories Lewis had, for Jadis looks like she has a cephalopod sitting on her head, and her cloak is covered with eyes, Shoggoth-style. Her slinky pose here, with its narrow silhouette, is more 1920s than 1950s. The kings and queens behind her wear a variety of crowns, but they all look kind of Norman, as did Baynes’s illos for the humans of Narnia.
Here’s another Jadis to the left, also with a slinky pose, an exposed navel like Cher in the 1970s, and long clawlike fingernails. Actually, any photo of an unsmiling Cher in one of her TV show getups might have made a good Jadis back in the day.
Lewis himself said, in the scene where Digory and Polly come upon the Hall of Images in Charn:
|This time Polly took the lead. There was something in this room which interested her more than it interested Digory: all the figures were wearing magnificent clothes. [ … ] The figures were all robed and had crowns on their heads. Their robes were of crimson and silvery grey and deep purple and vivid green: and there were patterns, and pictures of flowers and strange beasts, in needlework all over them. Precious stones of astonishing size and brightness stared from their crowns and hung in chains round their necks and peeped out from all the places where anything was fastened.|
Though it’s Digory that rings the bell — and is piggish about it — and thus later ruins the virgin birth of Narnia, it’s Polly that takes the first step into the room, for reasons of vanity. Vanity is part and parcel of female ruin in Lewis’s canon. It’s mentioned pointedly in The Last Battle that the pursuit of youthful frivolousness is what makes Susan turn away from Narnia (and God), and also what tempts Lucy to cast a spell in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
There might have been another story, somewhere, like The Magician’s Nephew, but a little different…
Variations on The Magician’s Nephew
|The Goblin’s Best Friend
The Minotaur’s Aunt
The Angel’s Nephew
The Magician’s Father-in-Law
The Necromancer’s Cousin
The Mage’s Half-Brother
The Naga’s Assistant
The Weird Guy’s Friend
The Viking’s Grandson
The Troll’s Unbirthday
The Storm King’s Beasts
The Demigod’s Guardian
The Temptations of Temptation
The Dastardly Dragon’s Dear Son
The Frost Giant’s Unwanted Sibling
The Wise Old Wizard’s Anachronistic Ally