Professor Digory Conrad
I’ve been “Time-Slipped”
February, 2013

Children’s literature has developed the “time-slip” into a fascinating art form. A time-slip is a doorway into a parallel universe, another existence where the rules of the space-time continuum don’t operate on our comfort level, like the reality we’ve always known. In Kafka’s the Metamorphosis and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, simply going through your bedroom door transports you into a wild or scary twilight zone world. Children in the seven Chronicles of Narnia books leave this world to another via rings of power, pools of water, a wardrobe closet, and a train crash, suggesting we never know what might be just around the corner.

I’ve chosen The Magician’s Nephew two times for my children’s literature class. This semester, of course, and also for the Fall of 2003. In each case, someone close to me would develop a rapidly spreading cancer and have to fight for her life. This semester, a close personal friend of my wife and me; in 2003, my own mother. As you know, Digory is a little boy throughout most of The Magician’s Nephew, and at the end has become a middle-aged professor. The narrator of the story (C. S. Lewis?) tells us in the last chapter that “When things go wrong, you’ll find they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things once start going right they often go on getting better and better.” And the more we read about Digory and his mother, the more I hoped my mother, and that my friend and colleague Nancy, would find their worsening conditions take on a miraculous turn, and a “silver apple” bring back their health and vitality.

Several interwoven plots impressed me as I read The Magician’s Nephew. On the surface, two children, Digory and Polly, explore new worlds by means of magic rings. They witness the new, beautiful Narnia created from scratch. At the same time they must confront the evil queen Jadis who has the power of “The Deplorable Word,” by which she destroys billions on a world named Charn simply because of her twisted, evil anger towards those who oppose her desire for power and control.

In the amazing science-fiction-like plot of our own world, we fear so greatly terrorists who topple our tallest buildings, bring an entire nation’s aviation to a halt for a day, nearly bankrupting it in the ensuing months, and who perhaps someday will unleash biological or nuclear weapons capable of annihilating whole cities, nations, even the Earth itself.

Then there’s the subplot of a little boy Digory who keeps seeing things go terribly wrong, often because of his own stupid mistakes. He desperately wants to save his dying mother’s life. He can’t bear to see his father’s grief. Through the confusion, the overwhelming challenges, he learns to trust in his faithful friend Polly and a great magical lion, Aslan. Finally, Digory brings one of the silver apples from Narnia to his mother’s sick bed, miraculously restoring her life. For Narnia aficionados, we discover that the core of this apple grows into the special tree from which a wooden wardrobe closet is built and through which more children can slip into the wonders of Narnia.

Flash forward to another scene in our world. A 50-year-old boy desperately tries to get the best possible care for his own mother who is dying of cancer, cruel chemotherapy drugs killing her tumor but also her weakening heart and lungs. Magic occurs as the gap narrows between this world and beyond. One time, my mother’s eyes follow a bluebird flitting around the room, perching on my own shoulder. “Can’t you see it? It’s a pretty little thing!” On another occasion, she tells Marlin, my sister’s husband, that she had a very pleasant conversation with a friendly fellow who asked her to make sure she sent on his greetings to “Miistuh Maawlin” (imitating a Black vernacular accent). Marlin tells us that a friend of his back in his high school days in St. Louis used to greet him in that way, but his friend had died unexpectedly in a car accident. Still another time, when the whole family is present, my mother is happily, busily “preparing Christmas dinner,” asking each of us to help take the turkey out of the oven, set the table, get her favorite ceramic bowl down from the top shelf of the cabinet.

It all happens in my mother’s little hospital room amid the trickling of the IVs, beeping of the monitors, whoosh-whooshing of the oxygen machine. Full-color, tangible, wonderful images and experiences—seen only by her. She invites us in, to taste the Christmas turkey, hand her the mugs for steaming hot coffee and cider. Mom was disappearing into her own Narnia, not through that famous wardrobe closet made from the wood of the Tree of Life, but through the door of Ogden Regional Hospital, Room 214.

And Nancy, much-loved high-school math teacher, her memorial attended by hundreds, fellow teachers and former students flying into Ogden from out of state? During her final battle with her own cancer, these words were found in her last journal: “For we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary…we groan in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.”