Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Magician's Nephew: Evil

The Magician's Nephew (CS Lewis) is a brilliant distillation of the nature of evil and probably my favourite Chronicle. In the book you have basically two kinds of evil presented to us: foolishness/ignorance (represented by Uncle Andrew) and pure wickedness (represented by Queen Jadis). It is fascinating to see how Lewis gives us insight into evil in its different shapes and forms.

Uncle Andrew is selfish and conceited, but also foolish and silly: “Oh, I see. You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true; most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, 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. No, Digory,. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.” He is unable to hear Aslan at the creation because of his unbelief and so he only hears roaring. And throughout he is unable to relate to Aslan or any of the talking animals. He only sees animals, not talking animals. He reduces reality to empirical truth. His naturalism makes him, ironically, not wiser but blind to reality, "the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed." Aslan laments such human foolishness,“Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good.”

Queen Jadis (the white witch) is, on the other hand, a depiction of real wickedness. She is very attractive and very strong. She demonstrates the unity of aesthetics and cruelty and reminds us of how attractive and seductive evil can be. She demonstrates a character that has lost all conscience and that has become absorbed in itself. Jadis is essentiallly pure power gone evil - she sees herself as living beyond the moral law. She kills all who stand in her way, using the "deplorable word" in her home of Charn, even killing her own family. When Polly objects to her killing everyone “Don’t you understand?.... I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?” (p.42). People exist essentially for her. She is beyond all moral accountability, “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.” Charn had been a great and powerful city and yet had become incrediby twisted. Its civilization/culture/power were incredibly developed and yet had also become horribly wicked and violent. One can't help seeing a picture of Western culture here with our own version of the deplorable word (nuclear weapons).

Yet, powerful and frightening as she is she is also self-deluded. She fails to see that her own power is sovereignly limited. 1. It is limited in other worlds, not working on Earth (when she tries kill someone with a spell nothing happens and the intended victim thinks she’s mad or drunk) 2. She does not understand the deeper magic 3. She is no match for Aslan. When in Narnia she encounters something frightening for her, “Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stringer. She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop singing.” She tries to kill Aslan by throwing a metal bar at Him “The bar struck the Lion fair between the eyes. It glanced off and fell with a thud in the grass. The Lion came on. Its walk was neither slower nor faster than before; you could not tell whether it even knew it had been hit. Though its soft pads made no noise, you could feel the earth shake beneath their weight.... The Witch shrieked and ran...” Up until that point in the story the Witch was the most powerful and intimidating figure but then Aslan comes and she seems very small. What a wonderful reminder: Christ has absolute power over all evil. The iron bar becomes the lamp-post and becomes the source of light to Narnina!! The Witch’s evil deed turns against her. Evil is absorbed and transformed by the power of Aslan/Chrsit.