#Narniathon21: the apple orchard

Louis Tiffany window design

It’s #Narniathon21 discussion time again, and we’re now considering the sixth Narniad title, The Magician’s Nephew (1955) even though this is now placed first in the chronological order publishers advertise.

You’ll know the drill now. I pose three general questions about the book. You either answer them or ignore them, should you choose to comment. You may also, whenever it suits, post a link to a review or discussion you’ve posted.  I’ll endeavour to respond to every one.

Then you have a month to read and consider The Last Battle, the last title to be published and the conclusion of the saga. If you’re having withdrawal symptoms there’s a further option to consider Katherine Langrish’s From Spare Oom to War Drobe, her adult response to her childhood obsession with the Narniad, including a detailed look at each of the titles.

© C A Lovegrove
  1. Here is how Narnia began, and yet this origin story wasn’t told until just before the final book was published. Do you find this puzzling, or do you think it is indeed better for us to learn how the land came into being now rather than at the start?
  2. Yet again, we are presented with two new protagonists, Polly and Digory. And yet we also discover at the end that one of these characters is an old friend of ours, and that we have met another of the characters many books back. What was your reaction to these revelations the first time you came across them?
  3. An apple tree plays a significant role in The Magician’s Nephew. Did you find this a satisfying motif, and if so, why do you think that is so?
#Narniathon21 image after Pauline Baynes

After The Magician’s Nephew ( my review is here) The Last Battle is our next – and final – book in the Chronicles of Narnia to discuss, and that will take place on Friday 30th June. Another reminder though that if you would like to extend the Narniathon just a bit more then there’ll be Katherine Langrish’s From Spare Oom to War Drobe (my review is here) as an additional title for July.

36 thoughts on “#Narniathon21: the apple orchard

  1. I think it’s far better to return to the origin story later having revisited it now. To have it in its chronological place would ruin the charm of meeting Aslan and Jadis for the first time in TLTW&TW – they can retain their air of mystery which brings so much to the first-published book. Also the obvious allegory with the Garden of Eden is off-putting if coming first as I’d then have expected Noah or Moses equivalents in the next book and may not have continued!

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    1. I’m enjoying rereading this series in publication order more than the first time in chronological order, for pretty much all the reasons you say. As for the Garden of Eden parallel I don’t believe that’s the only one, as I’ll doubtless expound in a future post!

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  2. jjlothin

    I will have to admit I don’t remember the apple tree in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ (it’s been a loooooooooooooong time!) but – somewhat off topic here, I’m afraid – I’ve always found that scene in [which?!] of the books where the Pevenseys suddenly realise that the ancient orchard they’ve found themselves in is the one they planted when they ruled Narnia particularly poignant …

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  3. Pingback: #Narniathon21: the apple orchard – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

    1. That seems to be many people’s favourite bit, Deb, that singing the world into existence – and it’s similar to what Lewis himself was doing here, as he was well aware of the mythic resonances!

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  4. Totally agree with Annabel’s comments above!

    1. Definitely yes – I found the introduction to Narnia via Lion perfect and to get the backstory and see how Lewis ties it all together later is much more fun.

    2. I loved the relevations about the characters – particularly Digory, but also what Jadis became. I would have found it much duller if I’d read this book first and it had all been spelled out for me…

    3. The apple tree is obvs a religious motif, which I may not have been aware of when young. But apples are also meant to keep the doctor away and be good for your health so they do work as a motif for me!

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    1. Like you I see the apple being used to bring Digory’s mother back to health as a more attractive motif than the obvious ‘Garden of Eden’ parallel which everyone cites. This is – inevitably! – another thread I want to explore in a follow-up post.

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  5. Pingback: The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis (1955) – Relevant Obscurity

  6. I haven’t read this, or any of the Narnia books, since I was a child, but this was one of my favourites and I remember parts of it quite vividly, such as the green and yellow rings and the magic bell. I’m enjoying all the Narniathon posts, even though I haven’t managed to actively take part!

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    1. Glad you’re enjoying the posts, Helen, even if it’s only to remind you of what you liked and still remember from your childhood reading! Job done, as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

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  7. This is the first book I read, because it was #1 in the series I had, published by HarperTrophy. I read the series only a few years ago for the first time, though I knew the basic story of Narnia. Because of that I found the first part of the Magician’s Nephew odd and disappointing. “Where are the four children? Why is the story so dark? Where’s the lion?” In fact, I did not like it until Aslan came on the scene and then the real magic, for me, started. In this second reading I tried to find more to like at the beginning, but frankly, it feels like a different book compared to all the books before it and again, not until the appearance of Aslan and the creation of Narnia did I like it any better.

    I do admit I liked some of the prequel explanations, like how the wardrobe comes to be and who Digory turns out to be.

    I thought the apple tree character was a great touch. First it was a quest, then a healer, then the symbiosis with Narnia when planted in London, then as the wardrobe. A wonderful creative device by Lewis ❤

    When I read this the first time I admit to tearing up a bit at Aslan's singing Narnia into being and the creatures answering back. That got me and I am glad to say it got me again this time!

    I put up a post with some more thoughts:

    The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis (1955)

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    1. I enjoyed your review, Laurie, and I’ll comment there presently, but the singing Narnia into being is really magical, a beautiful imaginative touch, as was the threefold aspect of the apple tree.

      Unlike you, though, I enjoy the scene-setting, with the children crawling though the attic link an echo of Lucy hiding in the wardrobe, and the ‘portal’ aspect of the rings (Lewis doubtless borrowing from Nesbit’s amulet) really appealed to me.

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  8. This is one of my favorites in the series. I especially love the Wood between the Worlds, Uncle Andrew’s evolution from frightening to a figure of fun as “Brandy,” Charn, and the brief ability of Narnian soil to grow toffee trees and lampposts.

    1. I didn’t realize Lewis himself approved reading this first – which reinforces my belief that authors are not always the best judges of their own work. It’s a sad kind of literalness that throws away some of the delight. The lamppost and wardrobe would lose their magic. Professor Kirke would draw too much attention. Origin stories are often written later, once the main subject has had a chance to grow and expand, and for me as a reader I prefer them that way, as prequels.
    2. Similarly, it’s a pleasure to discover that we’ve met Diggory, and an agreeable frisson to recognize Jadis – I don’t specifically remember my reaction when I first read this almost five decades ago (!!!), but that’s how I usually feel about this type of reveal.
    3. The apple tree is satisfying to me not only because of the many layers of symbolism and reference, but also because Lewis describes it so vividly. The change in the way the fruit looks and behaves in its home world versus ours is especially well-done.

    I just got my copy of the Langrish book – thanks for the recommendation, and I’m looking forward to the extension into July! Have any of you read The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller? I loved it (in general I’m a sucker for books-about-books)!

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    1. I do hope you enjoy the Langrish study, she’s an engaging writer (whom I also follow on Twitter). You’re not the first to recommend the Miller, which I’ve not read, so I will I’m sure get round to it sometime!

      I agree about the effectiveness of this book at this point in the sequence – I read this first in the sequence as an adult and it just felt out of place then, unlike now.

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    2. I loved The Magician’s Book too! I wish I had hung onto my copy, when I moved I had to shed a lot but that would have been worth keeping, especially for the Narniathon.

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  9. Pingback: Reading Matters – children’s book news | Library Lady

  10. 1. I agree with Annabel, Karen, and hcethatsme above, I think this is read best in publication order. There’s the mystery and magic of the first visit to Narnia in TLWW that wouldn’t remain the same, and neither would the fun of finally learning the story of the lamppost which was one of my favourite moments (or the other revelations). This order makes the most sense to me.

    2. I enjoyed the revelations: the lamppost moment was one of my favourites as I’ve mentioned in response to the previous question as was the Wardrobe and also what we learn about Digory and Jadis’ background (also her becoming the White Witch).

    3. Re the apples and the tree, I only saw the obvious symbolism, but I’m sure there’s more to it. I liked that they were silver and the difference between the impact of them being stolen and given!

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    1. That seems to be the consensus about correct reading order, Mallika, and I have to say I agree, so I’m glad that’s what came up in the poll I ran before the readathon started!

      I hope to discuss about apples in a future post so I won’t anticipate myself here except to say that the novel is supposedly under the influence of the sign of Venus…

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            1. Hmm, I read the Goodreads synopsis, and Lori’s and Deb’s reviews of it, and the author’s puff ‘review’ of her own book (“*****”) and think I will give it miss, despite Lewis’s own stepson’s favourable comments on it.

              This just seems founded on the single idea of casting Lewis in the role of the wise Professor Digory Kirke – as Lori herself prefers, I’d rather read a nonfiction study than any sentimental fiction so obviously piggybacking on LWW.

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  11. Reading in publication order was the way I first read the series as a child and as an adult revisiting them I still prefer it. TLTWTW has a magic to it that I think would be lost if you read the origin story first. As a child I remember finding the ‘filling in of the gaps’ immensely satisfying and it added greater depth to a subsequent re-read of TLTWTW.

    The links are lovely and for a child reader to see a character’s growth from child to adult as in Digory’s case is interesting. I also like the partnership between Digory and Polly which is quite well balanced.

    I’m looking forward to reading your post on the apple tree links which aside from the obvious Biblical one are interesting. I’m sure you’re going to enlighten me! The restoring power of the fruit with Digory’s mother and his faith in it are quite touching.

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    1. Such good points, Anne, thanks. “Filling in the gaps” – such a brilliant way of looking at that approach – is so important for the audience at any storytelling session, and so it proves here.

      As for apples, restorative properties and all, I hope to provide that enlightenment you’re expecting!

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  12. I read this one first of the series but I was 9 so I don’t think any symbolism or expectations were damaged. I like this book because it’s more of a traditional fantasy, at least at the beginning – I especially enjoy how they have to figure out how the rings work (that is a real Nesbit touch – my beloved Edward Eager got it from her) and how it is a squabble that causes Digory to ring the bell and wake up Jadis while Polly is the practical one. I like the gold and silver trees but I especially love the toffee tree! I want one!

    I think the most powerful part of the book is not the creation of Narnia but when Digory gives up on the apple, realizing there are things more terrible than losing someone to death, then is freely given an apple by Aslan.

    https://perfectretort.blogspot.com/2022/05/the-magicians-nephew-by-cs-lewis.html

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    1. As I commented on your review, I found your responses there really interesting, giving me further thoughts to possibly address in my discussions to come! And I like your linking up here of Lewis to Nesbit via Eager and your noting of the different kinds of tree. Digory’s moral conundrum is definitely a key feature for me as well as you in this instalment.

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  13. I’ve read this so many times and so long ago I have a hard time finding the distance to answer these particular questions objectively. The apple tree is just there, it’s a part of Narnia, not a narrative decision … I cannot remember how I felt about the character “reveals” — and so forth. Still hold that it’s better to read this one later in the series than #1, and I’m glad doing so has given you a better experience.

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    1. Thanks, Lory. I knew about the reading order controversy before I read the one-volume edition but still read the series as published there in order of Narnian chronology; so have found this publication order so much more satisfying. When I’ve finished a closer reread of The Magician’s Nephew for my discussions I hope to say more about the apple tree. (I also want to read Susan Hill’s The Magic Apple Tree which sits temptingly on Emily’s shelves, but that’s by the by …)

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  14. Pingback: May 2022 books read – Hilary's Book Blog

    1. Thank you for your extended and very considered responses to the questions in your blog post, Anne, especially 1 and 3 – so interesting for engaging with Lewis’s likely intentions. I shall be addressing some of your points about the apple tree in an upcoming post.

      Interesting too that you discuss your observations of children’s reactions to the Narniad, depending on which order they read them in – that’s where the publishers do a disservice I think by specifying what should be read first. I’m glad this readalong has gone with the original order.

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