Digory Kirke is an ordinary boy, living an ordinary life in London in the nineteenth century. Well–ordinary inasmuch as he wasn’t anything extraordinary. He had a strange name, and an unfortunate story–father away in India, mother dying, having to live with a crazy old uncle and aunt–but he really wasn’t that special.
Certainly, no one could ascribe greatness to young Digory Kirke.
Yet he was about to embark on an adventure that would shape the rest of his life. Through his adventures, he would meet greatness–and not a few imitations–and come out the better for it.
Digory’s personal ascent towards greatness begins at a low point–when, despite Polly’s apprehension, he rings the bell in Charn and awakens the Empress Jadis. Full of himself and his own importance, he argues with Polly and makes himself more like his Uncle Andrew than he’d ever wanted to be. Digory is stunned and in awe of the beautiful and powerful woman his actions have conjured–and almost instantly regrets his foolish action.
He would live to regret it still more when Jadis returns to this world and offers a threat to Digory’s mother’s peace. And yet again he would regret his actions when they seem to stand in the way of receiving help for his mother from Aslan.
Standing in front of Aslan, Digory has a huge chance to make things right by admitting to his role in bringing Jadis into Narnia. He also has a great inducement to lie. Why would Aslan help Digory’s mother if Digory were to admit to doing something so awful? Digory wants to hide his role in the matter–and tries his hardest. But Aslan gives him opportunity after opportunity to tell the truth. And finally, the truth comes out.
Digory brought the witch to Narnia. Digory brought her into our world from Charn. Digory awakened her from her sleep in Charn. Digory hadn’t been enchanted when he made the decision to ring the bell. He’d made the decision in his right mind, willfully deciding to disregard his friend’s warning.
Digory had to ‘fess up to the truth. He had to make clear his culpability in the matter. And then, he was given the opportunity to make it right. Aslan sent him on a quest to find the fruit that would protect Narnia for hundreds of years. Digory could not bargain with the Lion. He had no chips with which to bargain. He was in the wrong and he must make it right. If his mother died, his mother died. He could not do wrong again–even for his mother’s gain.
Digory’s task is made even more difficult when he arrives in the garden to find that the witch has preceded him there. She tempts him first with personal greatness–claiming that if he were to eat the fruit, he would be great and they could rule together. Digory sees through this ruse. He has seen what aspirations of greatness have done to Uncle Andrew and to Jadis–and he has no desire for such a fate. But when Jadis brings his mother into the equation–offering him the opportunity to save his mother by forsaking his duty and breaking the rules–Digory is faced with an awful choice.
Seeking his mother’s well-being was a good motive. It wasn’t like Uncle Andrew’s or Jadis’s motives of personal greatness and gain. Yet, was the end–his mother’s well-being–enough to justify the means? Could he break the rules and consign the people of Narnia to a life of torture in exchange for his mother’s life? In doing so, he would be just like Andrew and Jadis, considering himself above the law and considering everyone else as mere tools to accomplish his own purposes. But in doing so, he might save his beloved mother? What was he to do?
Thinking of his mother, Digory realized that his mother wouldn’t like it. She wouldn’t like for her son to be a thief and a liar–even for her sake. And when the witch mentions Polly, Digory’s eyes are opened to the cruel heart behind the witch’s enticement. He refuses to yield, instead running boldly away from sin. And with that action, Digory achieved true greatness.
Digory’s greatness came, not in proclaiming himself as above the law, but in submitting himself to the law. His greatness came not in destroying others to meet his own gain, but in being willing to lose what he regarded most in the world (his mother) to do what was right. And as Digory died to himself, Aslan returned to him his greatest desire. Offering Digory an apple from the new tree, Aslan offered to Digory a reward for his obedience: his mother’s health.