It’s been a while, I think, but often when I’m feeling crap, I come back to the Narnia books. I always saw the Christian allegory when I was a kid, so I never had the moment of betrayal that a lot of other people seem to talk about; I always kind of took them as they were, and went off with the bits that suited me.
The Magician’s Nephew follows the start of Narnia, its creation myth, but it starts smaller than that with a little boy and a little girl in London, when “Mr Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road” (I’ve always loved that opening, somehow). Polly and Digory become friends very quickly, partly because there’s nothing much else to do. It starts with childish play when they try to get through to the deserted house further down the row, by climbing through the connected attics — but it becomes a little more serious when they accidentally find themselves in Digory’s uncle’s study, and he gives Polly a ring… which immediately makes her vanish away to another world.
I always rather enjoyed the little character studies of Uncle Andrew — his silliness, and greed, and overall cleverness-that-is-also-stupidity. He’s just rather delightfully mediocre, the delight being in the way he doesn’t know that and yet the reader can see it so clearly. I also enjoy the idea of Charn, the oppressive breathlessness of the time the children spend exploring it, and just imagining coming out into the long room full of images of people… It helps that my edition still has the same black-and-white sketch illustrations my childhood copies did.
In the end there’s a lot of magic in this book, a breathless wonder at creation and at Aslan’s love for it, but there’s also a lot of humanity in Digory’s struggles, in his stupid fights with Polly, and yes, in Uncle Andrew. It was still worth coming back to, for me, though this rating is no doubt half nostalgia.