Takeaway: Wonderful illustration of creation as metaphor
It has been decades since I have read the Chronicles of Narnia. I remember my mother reading them out loud to us on family vacations. We spent a lot of time listening to my mom read on vacations. And as we got older we spent a lot of time reading ourselves on vacations. I am not a great out loud reader. I read to quickly and have a hard time forcing my eyes to slow down to the speed of my mouth, so I often lose my place and get tongue-tied. But I still read out loud to my nieces. They are getting old enough to start reading short chapter books (not to the Chronicles of Narnia yet). I am looking forward to reading these with them when they get older.
If you are not familiar with this book, it is the creation story of Narnia. In the traditional ordering of the book, it is book six, right before the last book. But in the new ordering, it is the first book of the series. The children Polly and Digory are not in the books as children again so there is not a natural flow from this book to The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe. And I think that the Lion Witch and the Wardrobe is also a better introduction to Narnia than the Magician’s Nephew. So I would still start in the traditional ordering not the new ordering.
This was never my favorite of the series, so I have probably read it the least. But after spending time reading a number of books on scripture and creation over the past year, this is a very good book to use to talk to your children about the purpose and meaning of creation stories. John Walton’s Lost World of Genesis One (my review) is the most important book on understanding the Christian creation story that I have read and with the Magician’s Nephew I think it would be a useful way to talk about what is important, that God has created us and that he is Lord over our world.
Walton presents quite convincingly (and my Hebrew language scholar friends back him up) that Genesis chapter 1 is about God creating the earth as his temple and enthroning himself as King and Lord and placing humans to act as his priests forever. This is a radically different understanding of creation than the traditional evolution and creation debates. Walton says that the language and culture of Genesis 1 is a temple dedication ceremony and that the original readers would not have debated that God created the earth, but that the story was not intended to show the particular physical processes of creation, but the purpose that the earth was created. That is why creating Light apart from the Sun makes sense in our creation story, because it is God asserting himself as King and Ruler of all the physical forces that were understood as gods in the creation stories of those cultures around Israel. For instance Ra was the sun god, but in our story Light, the power of Ra was created before the sun, so it showed that the Sun was not a god, but a created thing by the Hebrew God.
In the Magician’s Nephew, Polly and Digory and some others end up in Narnia before creation and they are simply in blackness. Then Aslan starts singing and calls Narnia into creation. It is clearly symbolic but as we are reading we understand that Aslan is still responsible for creation, even if the language is symbolic.
This is still not my favorite of the Narnia books. The characters just do not seem as compelling as some of the other books. But I do have a new appreciation for it on this reading.
I picked it up last week because its was on sale for kindle for $2.99. It is still on sale. The rest of the books of the series are $7.99. So I might not pick them up for kindle, I might just read the paper. The kindle version has very nice black and white line drawings that look very good on the kindle. It is a short read. I read the last half of the book last night in an hour.