Recently a newbie political leader’s words reminded me of C. S. Lewis’s most famous wicked magicians.
I’ll try to stay apolitical here. Going forward, we can presume the usual disclaimers. Such as, “leaders on every side do this.” And, “Although this is one example, at least she’s being honest. Other leaders think exactly like this, but deceptively keep this ‘standard’ to themselves.”
Which wicked choice is least terrible? Brazenly promote hypocrisy? Or pretend to be consistent and at least reinforce that social standard?
Here’s the quote:
I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct then about being morally right. 1
When I heard this again,2 of the left, openly embraced. And in this case, openly advocated by the single most celebrated, newly elected member of the government who is representing that Democratic Left.] I immediately thought of Lewis’s sixth Narnia chronicle, the prequel The Magician’s Nephew. In this story, a villain remarks:
“How should you understand reasons of State? 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. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”3
Of course, these are the words of Jadis. Later she’s known more popularly as the White Witch. But here this tyrant explains why she had the right to learn a dark spell and destroy her whole world, including all its people.
But I actually would not compare today’s flippant political figures with Jadis.
Not to be too nasty, but such comparisons give the political figures too much credit.
Uncle Andrew’s peddling magic
Instead I would compare some of these leaders with another Magician’s Nephew villain: young hero Digory Kirke’s meddling magician uncle, Andrew. Three chapters earlier, he utters much the same excuse as Jadis:
“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.”4
What’s the difference between them?
Jadis, ancient queen of a land she destroyed, is a dark and spiritual threat. Her influence is more Satanic than human. Indeed, as we learn in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she herself hasn’t got any human blood in her. She also is completely serious. Jadis moves with a weight befitting her corrupted royalty. Hers is same kind of dark-matter, spiritual weight that, as G. K. Chesterton said, compelled Satan to fall “through force of gravity.”5
Uncle Andrew, however, is still somewhat human. At first, Lewis as narrator compared his arrival “like a stage-play demon coming out of a trap door.” Andrew does remain a heavy threat through the first few chapters. But when Jadis is magicked into London, Andrew suddenly appears “like a shrimp” compared with her. She grabs him, stares into his face searching for a spiritual “mark,” and declares:
“I see . . . you are a Magician—of a sort. . . .
“How did you come to know Magic? You are not of royal blood, I’ll swear. . . .
“Peace. . . . I see what you are. You are a little, peddling Magician who works by rules and books. There is no real Magic in your blood and heart.”6
Later, Lewis doesn’t keep narrative distance from Andrew as he does with Jadis. Instead, we go into a closet with Andrew. There he drinks from his stashed-away bottle of brandy and stupidly persuades himself that this evil queen from another world actually fancies him. As Jadis rampages in London and Andrew’s foolishness is further exposed, he becomes not as much an evil figure as a stupid and tragic one.
Andrew’s folly compounds as we follow him. Even in “the land of youth”—the newly created realm of Narnia—the “little, peddling Magician” ignores the good magic all around him. (It’s magic from Narnia’s creator, Aslan, that Jadis understands and hates.) Eventually, he ends up surrounded by talking beasts—whom he’s convinced aren’t talking. For their part, they can’t decide if he’s plant or animal. In their view, he certainly can’t be a human. Finally they become convinced he’s an animal. With good intentions, they stow him within a rudimentary cage and pelt him with all their favorite foods.
Having behaved inhumanly, Andrew is (temporarily) stripped of his humanity. (He’s very similar to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4.)
Uncle Andrew’s materialist magic
Elsewhere I’ve argued that in fact, Andrew likely represents the “materialist magician.” Lewis referred to this type of person in The Screwtape Letters. In the demon Screwtape’s words, the “materialist magician” blends the best of both wicked worlds. He combines the barren atheism of materialism and the mystical corruption of magician.
Don’t these two false religions conflict? Not for the materialist magician. He or she dabbles in both corruptions at once, “not using, but veritably worshipping what he vaguely calls ‘Forces’ while denying the existence of ‘spirits’ . . .”7
Still, the story doesn’t leave Uncle Andrew in his pathetic state. His nephew Digory and Digory’s friend, Polly, both show him pity. So does Aslan, who gives Andrew, “this old sinner,” the only gift left to him: sleep, with its temporary separation “from all the torments you have devised for yourself.”8
Uncle Andrew’s redemption from magic
I put most foolish political leaders, with their self-made hypocrisies in this category. They’re not often so much like Jadis. Often they’re more like Uncle Andrew. They are “little, peddling Magicians.” They dabble in strange notions and insipid, feelings-based “morality.” Sometimes they do this just because they can. Other times they’re chasing that power rush and image of greatness, which leads them not into flourishing humanity, but into the irrationality and impulses of non-talking beasts.
Thank God, this does not leave the meddling magician without hope.
By The Magician’s Nephew’s finale, Uncle Andrew has not quite been redeemed. But he has at least been re-humanized:
Uncle Andrew never tried magic again as long as he lived. He had learned his lesson, and in his old age he became a nicer and less selfish old man than he had ever been before.9
For my part, I’m happy with this quasi-redemption of the old sinner. But does that mean we need not react to such persons as a serious threat? Not at all. After all, it required supernatural intervention—from a perfectly wise Savior-figure—to make Uncle Andrew “learn his lesson.” Even then, as Aslan says, “evil will come from that evil.”10 Even a foolish, meddling magician, in his or her idiocy, can bring a Satanic tyrant into our world.
- Aaron Blake, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s very bad defense of her falsehoods,” The Washington Post, Jan. 7, 2019. ↩
- Albert Mohler in his Feb. 14 podcast of “The Briefing” remarks, “Wait just a minute. That’s astounding. Here you have a newly elected member of Congress saying, ‘When I make my arguments, I’m going to say whatever facts I want because I’m morally right. I can use whatever arguments are convenient because I’m right, morally.’ . . . That kind of logic can be found to be sure in some form on the right and the left somewhere in the politics of the world. But it increasingly is becoming a principal [sic ↩
- Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew (pages 67–68). New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ↩
- Ibid, page 21. ↩
- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. ↩
- Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, pages 77–78. ↩
- C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. ↩
- Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, page 185. ↩
- Ibid, page 202. ↩
- In the story, Digory is chiefly responsible because he surrendered to temptation and awakened the Witch. But his Uncle Andrew also had his part bringing in this evil to London and then Narnia. ↩