Typically, writers disclose tidbits of information about themselves in everything they write. In The Magician’s Nephew, sixth volume in the Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis provides some of the most poignant clues about his life. He draws on his early life as the basis for the book’s main character, a boy named Digory Kirke.
Some resources use the term prequel to set this book apart from the first-published volume in the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I think backstory is a better term, denoting a narrative history that illuminates the story presented in volume one. As a literary device, backstory isn’t required if a reader chooses to read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a stand-alone tale. In itself, it’s complete. However, the backstory provided in The Magician’s Nephew enhances one’s appreciation of Narnia by addressing unanswered questions that crop up after reading the first volume.
[Yes, the dictionary.com entry uses prequel as one definition for backstory, but I consider prequel unsatisfactory in this instance. My opinion.]
The action in The Magician’s Nephew begins in London about 1900. The setting and time are familiar to C. S. Lewis (who was born in Belfast in 1898). The lonely child Digory is not unlike Shasta (in The Horse and His Boy). Digory bemoans his current awful circumstances − being displaced from country to city, being brought to live in the “beastly Hole” of London, and worst of all, bereft of his father (who’s in India) and desperately afraid his mother is dying. Digory would agree with Shasta: “I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.” (Yesterday’s post here.)
Don’t get me wrong. I can understand that children sometimes feel the weight of the world on their shoulders; uncertainty related to one’s parents must surely create unbearable angst at a time when children are least able to understand and manage it. My mother was only six when her daddy died, and like C. S. Lewis, she was packed off to boarding school six weeks later. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for her, but I believe it built into her a depth of character and courage that marks her life today. Continue reading “The Lion Sings”