Our Story Begins

Posted on August 27, 2011 by

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This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

 In those days Mr. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now. But meals were nicer; and as for sweets, I won’t tell you how cheap and good they were, because it would only make your mouth water in vain. And in those days there lived in London a girl called Polly Plummer.

She lived in one of a long row of houses which were all joined together. One morning she was out in the back garden when a boy scrambled up from the garden next door and put his face over the wall. Polly was very surprised because up till now there had never been any children in that house, but only Mr. Ketterley and Miss Ketterley, a brother and sister, old bachelor and old maid, living together. So she looked up, full of curiosity. The face of the strange boy was very grubby. It could hardly have been grubbier if he had first rubbed his hands in the earth, and then had a good cry, and then dried his face with his hands. As a matter of fact, this was very nearly what he had been doing.

 C.S Lewis was a master of settings. Within three paragraphs, he has already given us our time, our place, and our protagonists. And he has done so in a way that does not seem forced.

Lewis uses universally understood literary references (I admit that these days not enough kids have read The Treasure Seekers, but who has not heard of Sherlock Holmes?), thereby drawing on years of the reader’s preconceptions and experiences. He also tells us what it was like to be a child then, not just because this is a children’s story, but also because we have all been a child at some time and thus all share a common point of reference. That is why a well-told children’s story will still be interesting when you are an adult, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

When we first meet the children, they are focused on childish things. It is what happens in Narnia, and the exposure that they have to Aslan, that will expand their focus and their purpose. And in a way, this is what good stories should do: they should take us and expand us beyond our trivialities.

It isn’t that real life isn’t exciting enough – it’s that the “real life” we surround ourselves with is very often just noise to numb out the pain of an existence that needs more of Christ and less self-exaltation. Scripture does this ultimately, because it is the Ultimate Story.  And Narnia does it well, because it is a good story. Remember, the purpose of good literature ought to be to point us back to reality and Christ.

The Magician’s Nephew is a series of “mishaps” : Digory’s mother’s illness (without which he would not have come to the city), the chance meeting of children (without which the adventure in the attic would not have happened, the adventure in the attic (without which they would never have seen Uncle Andrew’s rings), etc. All of this is necessary to the story, and necessary to the next 6 books. But in each “happening” there is an element of human will exercised, and that exercise always leads to consequences, both direct and indirect. That relationship of cause and effect is, I think, one of the strongest lessons presented throughout The Chronicles, and certainly in The Magician’s Nephew.

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