It’s the early 1900s, and Digory and Polly are next door neighbours in a smart part of London. Digory, whose mother is very sick, is staying with his aunt and uncle, and the two children form a friendship as they play in their houses and gardens over the course of the summer. One day, their adventures take them to Uncle Andrew’s study. Uncle Andrew is a nasty piece of work who has been dabbling in magic. He tricks Polly into touching a magic ring that causes her to vanish, and Digory has no choice but to follow her to bring her home.
The two children find themselves in the ‘wood between worlds’, and their first adventure takes them to the dying world of Charn and introduces us to Queen Jadis (who we get to know even better in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) when Digory awakes her from her sleep. After a disastrous trip back to London, the children, with Uncle Andrew, Jadis, a London cabby and his horse Strawberry in tow, end up in a dim new world. Light dawns with Aslan, whose song gives life to the darkness, and the land and seas, plants and animals of Narnia are created. After a failed attempt on Aslan’s life, Jadis escapes to the north, and to atone for his part in bringing such evil into the new Narnia, Digory goes on an errand to bring back a magical apple that will protect Narnia. With Narnia now safe, Aslan returns Digory, Polly and Uncle Andrew to London, where a fruit from the magic tree restores Digory’s mother back to health.
The Magician’s Nephew, although published sixth, chronologically speaking is the first of the Narnia stories, dealing as it does with the creation of the magical land. As well as meeting Aslan for the first time, we learn the origins of The White Witch, and discover how the wardrobe came to be a magical portal to Narnia. The book gives the Narnia series its own creation myth, and as you’d expect with Lewis, there are biblical parallels with this and the forbidden fruit that Jadis gorges herself on. As with the other stories, Lewis doesn’t shy away from showing the selfish, cowardly and greedy sides of his characters, and as with the Pevensie children in later books, Polly and Digory are more real and likeable for it. This book was is magical to me now as it was on first reading when I was seven years old, and I don’t think that will ever change.