Digory Meets Greatness

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.

Case Studies in Greatness: Aslan

We don’t meet Aslan until halfway through the book–and even then, we do not know Him by name. We know Him only by His actions. We know a voice, more beautiful than any other sound ever heard. We know a song, more beautiful than any other melody ever composed. We meet Aslan as a voice that can sing the world into existence.

Then, by the light which He Himself has created, we can finally see the Lion.

We see the Lion in contrast to Jadis, when Jadis’s blow glances off Him, bothering Him not in the least. Rather than using people for His own gain; we see Him going amongst the animals, choosing many for their own gain. While Jadis brought death to all creatures within her domain (even to the blades of grass), Aslan brings life to His domain–life beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. His chosen animals and trees and waters are not only living, but have souls. He gives them life, yes–but goes beyond to give them souls that they might love, think, speak. Where Jadis took everything she could from everyone, the Lion gives all that He has created to the creatures He has chosen.

The contrast between Aslan and Uncle Andrew also becomes apparent. Uncle Andrew’s first thought, in this new world where a torn crossbar grows into a new lamp-post, is to exploit it for his monetary gain. Aslan’s first action, after the creation of this marvelous world, is for its protection. He gathers a council to warn them of the entrance of evil into this world, He prepares a way by which the evil can be held off, and He states from the beginning that He intends for the worst effect of this evil to fall upon Himself.

Both Jadis and Uncle Andrew think themselves above the rules. But if anyone were above the rules, it would be Aslan. Surely the great power that created the entire world could break its rules–the very rules that He created. But Aslan does not break His rules, even when the rules mean that He must bear great pain. When Jadis ate the fruit of eternal youth (the fruit created at Aslan’s word), how easy would it have been for Aslan to have decided that the fruit would no longer bring eternal youth. But Aslan does not break His rules, any more than He would change His nature. Jadis will be forever young, and Aslan will suffer to make things right according to the rules which He has written.

Aslan is great because He is good. And if ever Aslan should cease to be good, His greatness would be diminished. He would be, not a great and benevolent king, but a petty and foolish ruler, such as Jadis and Andrew are. But thankfully, another aspect of Aslan’s greatness is His unchanging nature. He is good, He always was good, and He always will be good. And His goodness, His greatness, enlivens the entire world.

Case Studies in Greatness: Jadis

“And you could see at once, not only from her crown and robes, but from the flash of her eyes and the curve of her lips, that she was a great queen.”

Thus we are introduced to the woman who would haunt the remainder of the Chronicles. Jadis, the last queen of Charn. The White Witch of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, who styles herself Queen of Narnia and Empress of the Lone Islands, who know the deep magic from the dawn of time. The specter whom Nikabrik’s foul companions would seek to conjure up in Prince Caspian. Her later companion, the Lady of the Green Kirtle, would wreak havok on Caspian’s heir in The Silver Chair.

Jadis is great because she is quite literally larger-than-life. She towers over the children, over normal people, and even over the usually-quite-tall Uncle Andrew. She is great because she is powerful–able to demolish huge gates with the force of her will and to cause all living things to die with the Deplorable Word.

But ultimately, Jadis’s greatness is cruelty and destruction. In a power struggle with her sister, she considers it nothing to “[pour] out the blood of [her] armies like water” to meet her ends. And when even the death of her subjects was not enough to stop the sister, Jadis speaks the deplorable word to kill every living thing except herself. When the children protest of her killing so many innocents, Jadis proclaims: “Don’t you understand?…I was the Queen. They were my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?”

Like Uncle Andrew, Jadis feels that consideration for others and adherence to moral law are beneath her. “You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I.” Once in this world, she uses her power to manipulate Uncle Andrew, to throw Aunt Letty across the room, and to plunder the city of London. Yet she justified all this, for she “[was] the Empress Jadis.”

In Narnia, Jadis meets a being larger than her, with a power much greater. Her every word and action was destruction, but now she meets a lion who sings a world into existence. HE is huge, magical, and HE creates rather than destroying. “This is a terrible world,” she declares. “We must leave at once.”

When she is unable to escape to another world, she boldly throws a lamppost at the lion. It causes him no harm, which terrifies her. She has met a greatness that she has no power to harm. She cannot create–what’s more, she cannot destroy THIS power. Jadis’s greatness is exposed as a sham in the light of Aslan’s power.

Case Studies in Greatness: Uncle Andrew

Uncle Andrew is a magician. He’s done much experimentation and explored many mysteries to get to where he is, and he’s quite proud of his accomplishments.

What’s more, he’s quite proud of himself in general–even without accomplishments to back him up. He describes himself to Digory as a man “who possess[es] hidden wisdom.” Once away from the terror of Jadis, he begins to think himself a rather “distinguished-looking man”. “‘Andrew, my boy,’ he said to himself as he looked in the glass, ‘you’re a devilish well preserved fellow for your age.'” When he finds himself in Narnia (by no act of his own) and observing a miraculous creation event, he is still full of his own greatness–“Ho, ho! They laughed at my magic….I wonder what they’ll say now? I have discovered a world where everything is bursting with life and growth. Columbus, now, they talk about Columbus. But what was America to this?”

Ultimately, though, Uncle Andrew’s “greatness” (or at least his perceived greatness) is an excuse to do whatever he likes without regard for rules or relationship. Digory had this figured out by the second chapter. Uncle Andrew says “But of course you must understand that rules…however excellent they may be for little boys–and servants–and women–and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages…” After hearing Uncle Andrew’s monologue, Digory reflects: “All it means…is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

Andrew selfishly regards himself as great, while taking liberties with the lives of others. Asked why he did not travel to the other world himself, Andrew answers: “Me? Me?…A man at my time of life, and in my state of health, to risk the shock and the dangers of being flung suddently into a different universe?” For him to take risks for his magic would be preposterous–but he has no qualms with sending Polly and Digory where he himself would not go.

In Uncle Andrews mind, greatness means being above the law. For him, greatness means having the right to do whatever he pleases, never mind the consequences to others.

The Point of The Magician’s Nephew

What is the point of The Magician’s Nephew? Why was it written?

Ostensibly, the answer to this question is found in the very first chapter, in the very first paragraph, in the second sentence: “It is a very important story because it shows how all the coming and going between our world and the land of Narnia first began.” Really, The Magician’s Nephew is just a way to fill in the missing puzzle piece–how Narnian’s and Earth-folk got mixed up together. Or at least, that’s what Lewis would have you think. He carries this pretense along to the very end, stating in the second to last paragraph of the book: “That was the beginning of all the comings and goings between Narnia and our world, which you can read of in other books.”

Obviously, I think that there’s something more to The Magician’s Nephew than simply being a stage-setting story.

Okay, okay then–what is the point of The Magician’s Nephew?

Actually, that’s a hard question to answer. But I think that maybe the point of The Magician’s Nephew, the main theme that ties it all together is greatness.