Monthly Archives: May 2015

Similarities between Digory Kirke and CS Lewis

By Ajnos Gamgee

Like most authors, CS Lewis often drew on people and events from real life to inspire his characters and his writing. Perhaps most famously, he based everyone’s favourite opti-pessimest, Puddleglum, on Fred Paxford, the long-time gardener at the Kilns. But what about his own life? Lewis also drew inspiration for his stories from things that he had experienced. In particular, as we celebrate 60 years since the publication of The Magician’s Nephew, I would like to take a look at some of the similarities between his character Digory Kirke from The Magician’s Nephew (the Professor from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and CS Lewis.

The most obvious link between CS Lewis and Professor Kirke, of course, would be their professorship. Looking at the books in the order they were written (since that’s the order in which Lewis conceived of and developed his characters), we are first introduced to Digory as a grown man in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In Britain, the title Professor is an esteemed one only given to senior academic staff, usually those who hold a chair (often a head of department).  Lewis himself was an academic, and although never was granted a chair or professorship at Oxford (he held the lower ranks of “fellow” and “tutor”), he was finally offered a Professorship at Cambridge in 1984. [1]

When we first meet the Professor he is, like Lewis, a bachelor living in a large house in the countryside (away from London). He welcomes the four Pevensie children to stay in his house over the summer in order to escape the horrors of the Blitz during WWII. Lewis himself lived in the Kilns – not an overly large house, but set on a very large property. While not in the country as such, it was located in Headington, which in those days was considered a village outside of Oxford. Even today, though technically now a suburb, it has much of the feel of a country setting with the small woodlands on the property converted into a nature reserve; definitely something of a great contrast to the hustle and bustle of London. Like Professor Kirke, Professor Lewis too opened up his home as a safe-haven for children during the War, and one summer he had four children staying at the Kilns. Having these children in his house is thought to have both inspired Lewis to start writing children’s stories and to have given him the idea for the opening setting of his first Narnia book. [2]

As mentioned, Professor Kirke is a bachelor when we first meet him. Despite his childhood friendship with Polly Plummer, and their continued friendship, it seems he never married. Lewis too was still a bachelor at the time he wrote LWW although he later met, befriended and finally married Joy Davidman.

Professor Kirke does not play a major role in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but there is one rather powerful scene where Peter and Susan come to him with Lucy’s tales about the magic wood in the Wardrobe. He suggests to them that since Lucy isn’t prone to telling lies and has no evidence of being mad, they should consider the possibility that she might be telling the truth. This reasoning mirrors almost directly what has become one of CS Lewis’ best known doctrines regarding the deity of Christ, famously called “The Trilemma”. If Jesus Christ was not mad (a lunatic) nor deliberately misrepresenting himself (a liar) then he must have been who he claimed to be (the Lord). Lewis was almost certainly alluding to the trilemma when he wrote the professor’s argument for believing Lucy. [3]

But it is not only as an adult that Professor Digory Kirke’s life mirrors that of the author who created him. A few years after LWW was published, Lewis decided to give us more information on the mysterious Professor’s background. The Professor is introduced to us in The Magician’s Nephew as a young boy (Digory Kirke) with a terminally sick mother, brought to London to stay with his odd uncle and aunt. When CS Lewis was a young boy, his mother too, suffered and ultimately died from cancer, which was incredibly difficult for a young boy to witness. It is almost certain that his own experiences were the inspiration for those of young Digory. But in the fictional, account Lewis was able to provide a miraculous cure for Digory’s mother and give Digory the unexpected joy of seeing his mother healed against the odds, something I’m sure Lewis himself had dreamed of as a child.

Another similarity between the boy Lewis and the boy Digory is that both were taken away from an idyllic childhood home to what they saw as a far less pleasant setting. For Digory, he had had to move with his mother from his beautiful country home to a small cramped London house. Lewis’ situation was a little different. When he was about 10, he was sent to boarding school in England (where at first he felt very much an outsider), away from the family home called Little Lea in beautiful green Ireland. [4]

Interestingly, while there are these various similarities between the chief boy protagonist of The Magician’s Nephew and Lewis’ childhood, we also see Lewis using himself as a model for a few aspects of his chief female protagonist in the same book. Lewis began making up stories and writing at a young age, inventing the world of Boxen (a land with anthropomorphic animals). He and his brother Warnie would play games and make up stories about Boxen, often in the attic of their house. [5] In The Magician’s Nephew, it is Polly Plummer, who becomes Digory’s friend and co-adventurer, who has a secret hideaway in the attic where, among other things, she sits and writes secret stories.

One final similarity between Digory Kirke and CS Lewis is the time period in which they lived. In LWW, the Professor is a middle-aged man, probably about the same age as Lewis at his time of writing. The Magician’s Nephew is thought to have been set around 1900 (certainly before WWI) and Lewis was born in 1898. This means Lewis and Digory’s childhoods would have been roughly equivalent. This lends a lot of believability to his description of Digory because Lewis himself knew just what it was like to be a young boy at the turn of the century. It does raise some interesting questions about what things happened in Digory’s life between the events of MN and LWW. Was Digory a university student at the outbreak of WWI (and which university did he attend)? Was he conscripted and did he fight in the war? How did the war and subsequent depression affect Digory’s life? These are interesting questions on which we can only speculate. But thinking of the similarities between Digory and Lewis himself might help us to picture some of what could have happened in the Professor’s life during those intervening years.

Are there any other similarities between Digory Kirke and CS Lewis that you can think of? Share your ideas in the comments below.

References:
[1] Wikipedia. CS Lewis: Biography
[2] Harper Collins Children’s. About CS Lewis.
[3] CS Lewis. 1952. Mere Christianity. London: Collins.
[4] Wikipedia. CS Lewis: “My Irish Life”.
[5] E.J. Kirk. Beyond the Wardrobe: Official Guide to Narnia. Harper Collins. p. 16, 21

Loose Strings in The Magician’s Nephew

By Tenethia South

Authors of fanfiction are constantly looking for loose ends and unwritten scenes in novels to expound upon for their newest piece, and as an author of fanfiction myself, I am no different. Considering that this month marks the 60-year anniversary of the publishing of The Magician’s Nephew, I have gone through the book and come up with a series of questions Lewis left unanswered. If you have potential answers to any of them, feel free to share them in the comments!

1. Digory meets Polly because he scrambles up the wall separating their gardens. Why was Digory sticking his face over the garden wall, anyway? It’s not something that is quite normal.

2. Polly had been writing a story that she wouldn’t let Digory see. What was the story about, and why wouldn’t she let him see it?

3. What unwise things did Mrs. Lefay do to be thrown in prison?

4. How did Uncle Andrew get the dust into rings?

5. After Polly and Digory decided to leave the guinea pig in the Wood between the Worlds, what happened to it?

6. When Digory saw Jupiter close enough to see its moon, did the little red men on Jupiter freak out when they saw a UFO?

7. What exactly happened in the battle between Jadis and her sister? Was Jadis’ sister really at fault as Jadis led the children to believe?

8. If Digory hadn’t rung the bell, what would have happened?

9. Chapter six tells us that there is a “long dull story of the grown-up kind” behind Aunt Letty not wishing to lend Andrew any money. How did he waste her money? What is the story behind that?

10. Jadis lists several worlds that she has destroyed when threatening to destroy ours. What are their stories? What did she do to them?

11. Uncle Andrew’s cousin, Edward, was the only man in their family to frequent a pawnshop. What is his story?

12. We don’t know what happened when Helen was drawn into Narnia. What did she think, and feel?

13. Considering that Frank and Helen never returned to England, how did that work out? Was their disappearance questioned? Was an investigation held?

Homebred Fanfiction – Writing Contest #79

Narnians have just discovered that people from Spare Oom have been writing something called “fanfiction” and they want in on the action too! Mary Sue fics? Tales of Narnians visiting Spare Oom? Alternate Universes? Golden Age adventures? Crossovers? Write up a title and a short summary of their fics.

Example by Ariel_of_Narnia: “‘International Relations’ by Lasaraleen Tarkeena”
The crown prince of Calormene, Rabadash, has invited the Court of Narnia to visit him in glorious Tashbaan in hopes of winning the hand of the famously beautiful Queen Susan. King Edmund just wants the visit to be over… until he finds love in the eyes of a young Tarkeena. AU, Edmund/OC (pls read, i promis the story’s better than the summary!)

 

Honorable Mention

‘The Diary of a Disgruntled King’ by High King Peter (The Magnificent) by Rose & Psyche
After a mind-scarring experience involving the Department of Squirrel Affairs, my psychiatrist told me I should keep a diary. Herein, you will read a firsthand account of the daily life of the High King, including a detailed description of breakfast, battling dragons and dealing with diplomats from Far Away. Permanently in Progress. Canon. Read and Review!

 

And the winner is…

“‘The Reality Behind the Door’ by Griffle” by hobbit_of_narnia
The few surviving heroes of the Battle for Narnia are flung into a shed filled with deluded people who are convinced their prison isn’t a prison at all. Can our protagonists convince them of the truth before it’s too late? And what sort of machine is making that noise over there? (This is the true account of what happened exactly how it was, so don’t believe any other version you hear from anyone, especially if it’s from the lot at the other end of the stable.)

 

Don’t forget to check out the winners of the last contest!

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The Magician’s Nephew Versus The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Which Should be Read First?

By Always Narnian

There has been much discussion in the past as to which order the Narnia series should be read in. At the moment, I am not going into such detail as to cover the entire series, but instead am going to focus on which of the books is better to begin the series with: The Magician’s Nephew or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This month is the 60th anniversary of the publishing of The Magician’s Nephew, now often labeled as book one in the Narnia series, though The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the book that began the whole series, was first published five years earlier. So which of these should be read as the opening book to this magical world?

The Magician’s Nephew may seem the logical choice as the introduction to this series, as it recounts the origins of the world of Narnia. The Magician’s Nephew is an intriguing story about a boy named Digory and his friend Polly who get sent to another world by magic rings and later discover the land of Narnia. This book gives the perfect background to better understand this boy who later becomes the Professor that the Pevensie children go to stay with in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis told the Kilmer family to whom he had dedicated The Magician’s Nephew:

“You must have often wondered how the old Professor in The Lion, Witch & W could have believed all the children told him about Narnia. The reason was that he had been there himself as a little boy. This book tells you how he went there, and (of course that was ages and ages ago by Narnian time) how he saw Aslan creating Narnia, and how the White Witch first got into that world and why there was a lamp-post in the middle of that forest.” [1]

This story does indeed help you to better understand the whys and hows of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You know how Narnia came to be such a fantastical land, how the animals there can talk and are bigger than normal-sized creatures. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe you don’t know how the Witch came to be ruling over Narnia. You do not understand why the Professor knows all he does about Narnia, why he tells Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy: “Yes, of course you’ll get back to Narnia again someday. Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia.” After reading Digory’s story, you do know why the Professor believes them, and you even know how the wardrobe could transport Lucy to Narnia in the first place (you might remember that Digory took the tree planted from the Narnian apple and created the wardrobe from it).

Now let’s look at The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the first book. Let’s consider two quotes from these novels. Near the closing of The Magician’s Nephew a line comes up that says: “That was the beginning of all the comings and goings between Narnia and our world, which you can read of in other books.” This, of course, would be obvious to the reader who has already read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You get a sense of “Yes, this is how that world came into existence and there are other times when people have gotten into the world of Narnia, as I have already read.” However, the end quote of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe goes as follows: “And that is the very end of the adventure of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.” One who is reading this book as the second in the series would say, “Well, technically not. Even the Professor has had an adventure there of his own, I read about it already.” When you read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the first book you do not understand who the Professor is, he is very mysterious and intriguing. Why would he say the things he does to the children? Reading this story first seems to make The Magician’s Nephew have more of an appeal to those who already know a bit about Narnia, a desire to know the back-story. Someone reading The Magician’s Nephew first may take it simply as the beginning of a story, not as a revelation of things you already know about this world. Certain hints in The Magician’s Nephew text also stick out better once you have already known about them in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“The lamp-post which the Witch had planted (without knowing it) shone day and night in the Narnian forest, so that the place where it grew came to be called Lantern Waste; and when, many years later, another child from our world got into Narnia, on a snowy night, she found the light still burning. And that adventure was, in a way, connected with the ones I have just been telling you.”

Another example is the quote about Digory’s wardrobe: “And though he himself did not discover the magic properties of that wardrobe, someone else did.” These quotes do not read the same if The Magician’s Nephew is the first Narnia novel you have read. They are simply interesting statements, and almost a little random to the newcomer. They are not random for those who have already seen these adventures unfurl in Narnia.

Lewis, of course, had something to say about the order of this series. In one of his letters to a boy named Laurence, Lewis wrote:

“I think I agree with your order [Chronological Order] for reading the books more than with your mother’s [Published Order]. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done the Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last. But I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone reads them.” [2]

This may explain why some of the ties between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew can be a little confusing. Lewis did not yet know the full extent of these stories when he wrote the first novel.

So, what exactly has this brief article revealed? Perhaps not an overly strong argument, but we have considered how reading a back-story before or after the main story are two completely different experiences. It can change the way you think of that particular story. As Lewis said, he did not know there were going to be any more stories, perhaps why The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe may seem so much like the first book of a series. However, Lewis agreed chronological was best and shared preference for this order with Walter Hooper, putting The Magician’s Nephew as the first. [3]

So what is your preference? Which of these timeless tales should be chosen by a new reader as the introduction to Narnia?

[1] The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963 edited by Walter Hooper
[2] The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963 edited by Walter Hooper
[3] The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950-1963 edited by Walter Hooper, endnote