My favourite of all the Narnia books, The Magician's Nephew is both a beginning to the world of Narnia and a magical reimagining of the biblical genesis story.
It is a book filled with resonant metaphors.
The sacred walled garden, the space between the mountains and the journey of the two children with Fledge the (newly) winged horse, engender feelings in me that I can't quite explain - even after all these years.
Perhaps it is something to do with regaining myself and my creativity.
As a child I always felt that the "place between" was my promised land.
Every time I read the book, I am also entranced by Lewis' account of the birth of Narnia and (alongside the children, the cabbie and his wife) by Aslan's modulating creation song bringing forth the full variety of Narnian life.
But the idea of creating from nothing - from a primordial void, is not just for gods and demigods, it is for all humans who can still connect with their own creativity - in whatever form that takes.
The Magicians' Nephew takes us on a journey with Polly and Digory to the wood between the worlds and on to the cursed world of Charn, home to the ruler who will become Narnia's "White Witch."
Re-reading this part of the story, I am haunted by the image of the abandoned royal statues, by Queen Jadis and the magical bell in the ruined halls of Charn. When Digory fights Polly to strike the bell, he sets in train a series of events both unpredictable and portentous. The single booming note of the bell reverberates down to every brick and column, bringing the dying wold of Charn to a crashing halt. Perhaps this musical destruction is meant to provide a counterpoint to Aslan's song - and its revival of the frightening Jadis introduces evil into the nascent world of Narnia.
I am not a Christian.
Yet, for me, the pivotal moment of the book is the temptation of Digory as he struggles to complete the challenging task he has been given by Aslan. The journey up to the "space between" is a hazardous quest to bring back the apple of life from the tree in the centre of the walled garden. (No doubt a reference to the tree of knowledge of good and evil from Genesis.)
Digory is tempted, not by the thought of gaining immortality for himself, but by the hope that the magical apple might rescue his mother from the cancer that he knows will ultimately kill her.
In Shadowlands, the film that depicts C.S.Lewis's relationship with an American widow and her death from cancer, the author describes the anguish of her young sons. Near the end of his wife's struggles, Lewis discovers the boys in an old wardrobe in the attic trying to find their way into Narnia and the healing apple. In a moment of unbearable sadness, he must explain that there is no Narnia and no magical apple. Lewis must help them find the strength to face reality - as he must also face the terrible loss of the woman he has come to love.
In his moments of prevarication where the witch argues against denying himself (and his mother) Digory remembers Aslan's tear-streaked face and understands that the great lion has empathy for his terrible despair. This empathy is what stops him from taking an apple.
Why is this important?
I think it is important because Digory is NOT motivated by blind obedience or fear, but by connection. He understands that Aslan has not set an arbitrary rule to test his faith, but has taken into account his suffering and fear. He knows that Aslan feels his grief and understands his fear.
When Jadis eats the forbidden fruit we know that she has experienced something both life-changing and terrible . Her face, whitened by this new and powerful knowledge, holds the anguish of her isolation - and her power. Although she comes to rule Narnia (as she desires) she is hated and feared, and her rule is a tyranny from which most Narnians long to be liberated.
So Digory is mortal and human - but able to ask for forgiveness - and to receive it.
Jadis gets what she wants, but at a terrible price.