Digory Kirk

Posted on September 2, 2011 by

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Digory Kirk is perhaps the most important protagonist in The Magician’s Nephew. Polly is there too, but more often than not she seems to be a foil for Digory. It is Digory’s decisions that drive the most pivotal moments of the story: Digory rings the bell that wakes the Witch, Digory is eventually responsible for bringing her into Narnia, and Digory is eventually tasked by Aslan with the responsibility of making things right.

Digory is inquisitive and determined, sometimes to the point of foolhardiness. In many ways, he shares some traits with Uncle Andrew and Jadis: he has a deep-seated desire to know, to find out secrets. In The Bell and Hammer (chapter four), Digory cannot bear the thought of walking away from the bell without first finding out what will happen if he rings it.

 “Oh, but don’t you see it’s no good!” said Digory. “We can’t get out of it now. We shall always be wondering what else would have happened if we had struck the bell. I’m not going home to be driven mad by always thinking of that. No fear!”

The key difference, though, between Jadis/Uncle Andrew and Digory is that unlike Uncle Andrew, who is a spineless coward, and unlike Jadis, who is always looking for a way to dominate others and assert herself, Digory possesses the moral courage to do what is right, even when it is dangerous. For instance, Digory ventures into the unknown to rescue Polly because it was the right thing to do:

 Then he [Digory] buttoned up his coat, took a deep breath, and picked up the ring. And he thought then, as he always thought afterward too, that he could not decently have done anything else.

And later, in the most moving passage of the book, Digory accepts the responsibility for getting the seed to plant the tree that will keep the Witch out of Narnia. This responsibility is laid upon him by Aslan, since Digory is ultimately responsible for the Witch’s coming. When tasked with a hard and dangerous quest, though Digory has all of the same frail misgivings and hesitations that any human being would have, he still manages a “Yes, sir”, instead of trying to argue or bargain with the Great Lion.

 “You see well,” said the Lion. “Now the land of Narnia ends where the waterfall comes down, and once you have reached the top of the cliffs you will be out of Narnia and into the Western Wild. You must journey through those mountains till you find a green valley with a blue lake in it, walled round by mountains of ice. At the end of the lake there is a steep, green hill. On the top of that hill there is a garden. In the center of that garden is a tree. Pluck an apple from that tree and bring it back to me.”

 “Yes, sir,” said Digory again. He hadn’t the least idea of how he was to climb the cliff and find his way among all the mountains, but he didn’t like to say that for fear it would sound like making excuses.

This unique combination of absolute morality and natural frailty that we find in the protagonists and characters The Chronicles combine to make Lewis’ series at the same time both helpful, and relatable. They are not perfect characters, and it is in their imperfections that we see ourselves. But neither are they morally ambiguous. They do not help us to justify our bad behaviors. And that is one of the marks of great fiction.

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