Narnia: Maximum Villainy for Minimum Efficiency

[Narnia Content Note: Child Abuse, Animal Abuse, Ableism, Mental Illness]

Narnia Recap: Polly and Digory have broken into Uncle Andrew's study. Uncle Andrew gave Polly a ring and she disappeared.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 2: Digory and His Uncle

The response to my Chapter 1 post was fascinating because I spent much of the piece outlining how Polly ought to be the protagonist instead of Digory, then named the post "The Magician's Neighbor" (Polly) rather than "The Magician's Nephew" (Digory) in order to drive the point home. I thought it was a nice alliterative bit of wordplay but what felt like the entire internet (but was really probably only three people) poured in to inform me that I'd typed the wrong word in the post title.

This may have been just reflexive "correcting people on the internet" but it struck me as painfully fascinating just how much we aren't accustomed to seeing girls centered as protagonists--it apparently seemed more likely that I confused "nephew" and "neighbor" than that Polly should have a book named for her. And I got to thinking about how the books in this series could have centered girls in the titles but just... didn't. Even The Silver Chair is named for a macguffin that exists for maybe ten pages before being sworded into splinters, rather than being named for the girl protagonist.

Anyway, Polly picks up a ring from Uncle Andrew and disappears in a blink.

   IT WAS SO SUDDEN, AND SO HORRIBLY unlike anything that had ever happened to Digory even in a nightmare, that he let out a scream. Instantly Uncle Andrew’s hand was over his mouth. “None of that!” he hissed in Digory’s ear. “If you start making a noise your Mother’ll hear it. And you know what a fright might do to her.”
   As Digory said afterward, the horrible meanness of getting at a chap in that way, almost made him sick. But of course he didn’t scream again.

I will give props to Lewis that he has done an excellent job in just a handful of pages characterizing Uncle Andrew as terrifyingly evil. This is so well done that it throws earlier series errors into sharp relief: where was this skill when the best he could sling at Aunt Alberta was that she was vegetarian and a feminist and wore funny underwear? Here we really do see the difference between a "villain" who exists to mock people the author doesn't like and a Villain who exists to frighten the reader.

Uncle Andrew is scary because he does scary things. He smiles while he closes doors and locks children inside a room with him, which is a seemingly little thing that transgresses a major social boundary: cutting off all avenues of escape is terrifying to a species which still has numerous prey instincts woven into the fabric of our biology. He charmingly offers jewelry to little girls and then that jewelry causes them to vanish without warning or reason. Those actions are scary regardless of any other details which could be brought in to characterize Uncle Andrew, and no amount of knowing that he, idk, voted for the wrong political party or won't eat cheese with fish or whatever other hobby-horse Lewis wants to flog will make him more villainous than he already is.

Oh, yeah, and then he uses Digory's dying mother as a means through which to manipulate Digory. "Bury your emotional reaction lest it cause your mother to drop dead" is a shitty thing to do, yes thank you narrator, but in addition to being callous and manipulative of Digory it indicates just how little Andrew values her life. A shock like "Uncle Andrew murdered a girl upstairs" (note: Uncle Andrew doesn't know he didn't murder Polly) possibly could deal a fatal blow to her health. Andrew doesn't care--nor does he care that he might have just murdered Polly.

Again: He's scary because he does scary things. This is so rare inside a Narnia book that I genuinely marvel to see it here. Well done.

   “That’s better,” said Uncle Andrew. “Perhaps you couldn’t help it. It is a shock when you first see someone vanish. Why, it gave even me a turn when the guinea-pig did it the other night.”
   “Was that when you yelled?” asked Digory.
   “Oh, you heard that, did you? I hope you haven’t been spying on me?”
   “No, I haven’t,” said Digory indignantly. “But what’s happened to Polly?”
   “Congratulate me, my dear boy,” said Uncle Andrew, rubbing his hands. “My experiment has succeeded. The little girl’s gone—vanished—right out of the world.”
   “What have you done to her?”
   “Sent her to—well—to another place.”

The only experimentation that Uncle Andrew has done thus far is popping a guinea-pig over to the other world. He has no idea where it is, or if it's alive; all he really knows is that he can make living things vanish. (I have a lot of questions about where he got the guinea-pig and how he got it into the house without anyone noticing, but it's probably best not to dwell on this point.) So obviously he decided that when a little girl broke into his study he couldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

   “What do you mean?” asked Digory.
   Uncle Andrew sat down and said, “Well, I’ll tell you all about it. Have you ever heard of old Mrs. Lefay?”
   “Wasn’t she a great-aunt or something?” said Digory.
   “Not exactly,” said Uncle Andrew. “She was my godmother. That’s her, there, on the wall.”
   Digory looked and saw a faded photograph: it showed the face of an old woman in a bonnet. And he could now remember that he had once seen a photo of the same face in an old drawer, at home, in the country. He had asked his Mother who it was and Mother had not seemed to want to talk about the subject much. It was not at all a nice face, Digory thought, though of course with those early photographs one could never really tell.

We go into a rambling aside about "Mrs. Lefay" (le fay? of the fairy? ookay, Lewis) and how she was "very queer" and "did very unwise things" and was "shut up in prison" for unmentioned and tantalizing crimes which Andrew refuses to reveal. He mentions there were a lot of crimes involved, so I genuinely don't know if we're talking petty theft or, like, a daring assassination attempt on the royal family. Who knows, eh?

I'm not sure I like this, to be honest. I love a good noodle mystery, but there's something bugging me here about a woman whom we're supposed to be wary of and yet the only things we know about her is that her (1) picture isn't pretty, (2) she behaved oddly, and (3) Uncle Andrew liked her. (Uncle Andrew has been so effectively characterized as evil at this point that his praise is approbation.) Granted, it's better than her being evil because of her feminism and underwear, but give me something to fill in some motivation and details? If her crimes were "breaking into homes and poking around" then I'd assume she was trying to find a way back into fairyland, for example.

   “All in good time, my boy,” said Uncle Andrew. “They let old Mrs. Lefay out before she died and I was one of the very few people whom she would allow to see her in her last illness. She had got to dislike ordinary, ignorant people, you understand. I do myself. But she and I were interested in the same sort of things. It was only a few days before her death that she told me to go to an old bureau in her house and open a secret drawer and bring her a little box that I would find there. The moment I picked up that box I could tell by the pricking in my fingers that I held some great secret in my hands. She gave it me and made me promise that as soon as she was dead I would burn it, unopened, with certain ceremonies. That promise I did not keep.”
    “Well, then, it was jolly rotten of you,” said Digory.
   “Rotten?” said Uncle Andrew with a puzzled look. “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.”

This bit is fascinating to me because we're supposed to think Uncle Andrew is a vile piece of shit (and he is), but this is also.... Lewis'.... actual philosophy? as demonstrated in these books? like?? Lewis does dislike "ordinary, ignorant people"! He wrote a whole damn short story about how tragic it was that his friend married a woman who likes fashion and shopping and sun-tanning and now his life was over. I have two cats adjusting to the invasion of two new kittens and they're less dramatic over this upheaval than Lewis was about his friends' marriages. And I say that as one of the big cats sits in a tiny trash can sulking and refusing to look at the kittens while they gambol nearby.

What's more, Lewis does think that the rules for little boys, servants, and women aren't the same as they are for the great thinkers and sages. We've already seen that Aravis (girl, lesser) was punished for the "sin" of drugging her servant girl, while Doctor Cornelius and Prince Caspian (great men, better) did the exact same thing and were applauded for it. We've seen Caspian roll up to the Lone Island Governor's House-Castle and tell the gatekeeper that visiting hours are for chumps, right before smashing the old man's face in. We've seen a star-wizard experiment with magic on the people he was charged, by god himself, to protect and look after. Hell, the entire plot of The Silver Chair was an end-run around the rules: "So many people have died searching for the lost prince that King Caspian made it illegal for people to try, but technically you're not Narnians and weren't in the room when he gave the order, so we're going to fly you to the border, c'mon." (Come to think of it, what was Puddleglum's excuse for committing high treason by disobeying the king's order? Are marsh-wiggles not Narnian citizens? Except I'm pretty sure he claimed to be a Narnian in his speech.)

That's not even getting into the "Deep Magic" which are rules with literal exceptions written in them for 'great sages': if the Deep Magic can only be satisfied by the death of someone free of sin or innocent of all crimes or whatever, that narrows it down to Jesus Aslan and nobody else. This series has been one long sequence of rule-breaking, rule-lawyering, and rules-don't-apply-to-me and I'm okay with that, but it's just jarring to see that same attitude suddenly used here by Uncle Andrew in order to further vilify him. I really do wonder how oblivious Lewis was to his own behavior and philosophy at this stage of the creation process; knowing his grapples with self-hatred I'm tempted to guess that Uncle Andrew is a deliberate evil version of himself*, but I would be a lot more sympathetic to the attempt at a distorted mirror here if I got the impression that he recognized that his issues are still bad even when not deliberately dialed up to Villainy Level 11.

[*While we're on the topic, I believe The Professor in LWW, Doctor Cornelius in Prince Caspian, that Star-Wizard jerk in Dawn Treader, Puddleglum in Silver Chair, and Bree in Horse and His Boy to all also be deliberately "flawed" author avatars and it's vexing to repeatedly see Lewis grapple with his flaws without really addressing the root problems (misogyny, toxic masculinity, etc) and fix them. So close and so frustratingly far.]
   As he said this he sighed and looked so grave and noble and mysterious that for a second Digory really thought he was saying something rather fine. But then he remembered the ugly look he had seen on his Uncle’s face the moment before Polly had vanished: and all at once he saw through Uncle Andrew’s grand words. “All it means,” he said to himself, “is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

This is both correct and, I fear, the source of the disconnect I am lamenting. Lewis hates his Evil Twin Andrew because he uses these high-and-noble ideals to do whatever he himself wants, where he would (I think) argue that his other characters genuinely are high-and-noble and their breaking/bending/lawyering of the rules is in service to the higher will of God.

The problem, in other words, isn't that Andrew and Caspian both think the rules don't apply to them (they do); it's that Caspian is working for Aslan but Andrew is self-employed.

This is, however, fascinating to me for another reason: the villainy here is that Andrew popped Polly into another world without her consent or even any kind of warning. Which is, yes, bad! But that's exactly what Aslan did to Jill in The Silver Chair. Then we have Prince Caspian where Susan is pulled into Narnia while she is vocally objecting, and Dawn Treader when Eustace is being sucked into Narnia while he is yelling for it to stop. The least non-consensual foray into Narnia was Lucy and Edmund exploring the wardrobe in LWW, and even that wasn't exactly brimming with informed consent. So again we see that Andrew isn't evil because of what he does (according to Lewis), but because he's doing what he does for the wrong reasons.

Presumably, if he'd sent Polly to Narnia on Aslan's orders then everything would be fine (and also his face would be fair and attractive, rather than having an "ugly look").

   “Of course,” said Uncle Andrew, “I didn’t dare to open the box for a long time, for I knew it might contain something highly dangerous. For my godmother was a very remarkable woman. The truth is, she was one of the last mortals in this country who had fairy blood in her. (She said there had been two others in her time. One was a duchess and the other was a charwoman.) In fact, Digory, you are now talking to the last man (possibly) who really had a fairy godmother. There! That’ll be something for you to remember when you are an old man yourself.”
   “I bet she was a bad fairy,” thought Digory; and added out loud, “But what about Polly?”
   “How you do harp on that!” said Uncle Andrew. “As if that was what mattered! My first task was of course to study the box itself. It was very ancient. And I knew enough even then to know that it wasn’t Greek, or Old Egyptian, or Babylonian, or Hittite, or Chinese. It was older than any of those nations. Ah—that was a great day when I at last found out the truth. The box was Atlantean; it came from the lost island of Atlantis. That meant it was centuries older than any of the stone-age things they dig up in Europe. And it wasn’t a rough, crude thing like them either. For in the very dawn of time Atlantis was already a great city with palaces and temples and learned men.”
   He paused for a moment as if he expected Digory to say something. But Digory was disliking his Uncle more every minute, so he said nothing.

Now we have a class in pacing: don't do this.

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but we've already established that Uncle Andrew is evil and an unreliable narrator, so everything he's saying here isn't really fleshing out character or canon (because who knows if it's true--it certainly sounds unlikely) and meanwhile we're not really getting on with the plot and the missing girl. Digory cares about Polly because he's a decent person, and presumably so will the reader; it's meant to show how cruel Andrew is that he doesn't care about her, but I'm struggling not to notice that the author doesn't really consider her a priority either at the moment. 

   “Meanwhile,” continued Uncle Andrew, “I was learning a good deal in other ways (it wouldn’t be proper to explain them to a child) about Magic in general. That meant that I came to have a fair idea what sort of things might be in the box. By various tests I narrowed down the possibilities. I had to get to know some—well, some devilish queer people, and go through some very disagreeable experiences. That was what turned my head gray. One doesn’t become a magician for nothing. My health broke down in the end. But I got better. And at last I actually knew.”
   Although there was not really the least chance of anyone overhearing them, he leaned forward and almost whispered as he said: “The Atlantean box contained something that had been brought from another world when our world was only just beginning.”

gif of God from Monty Python's Holy Grail shouting "GET ON WITH IT"

   “What?” asked Digory, who was now interested in spite of himself.
   “Only dust,” said Uncle Andrew. “Fine, dry dust. Nothing much to look at. Not much to show for a lifetime of toil, you might say. Ah, but when I looked at that dust (I took jolly good care not to touch it) and thought that every grain had once been in another world—I don’t mean another planet, you know; they’re part of our world and you could get to them if you went far enough—but a really Other World—another Nature—another universe—somewhere you would never reach even if you traveled through the space of this universe forever and ever—a world that could be reached only by Magic—well!” Here Uncle Andrew rubbed his hands till his knuckles cracked like fireworks.
   “I knew,” he went on, “that if only you could get it into the right form, that dust would draw you back to the place it had come from. But the difficulty was to get it into the right form. My earlier experiments were all failures. I tried them on guinea-pigs. Some of them only died. Some exploded like little bombs—”
   “It was a jolly cruel thing to do,” said Digory who had once had a guinea-pig of his own.
   “How do you keep getting off the point!” said Uncle Andrew. “That’s what the creatures were for. I’d bought them myself. Let me see—where was I? Ah yes. At last I succeeded in making the rings: the yellow rings. But now a new difficulty arose. I was pretty sure, now, that a yellow ring would send any creature that touched it into the Other Place. But what would be the good of that if I couldn’t get them back to tell me what they had found there?”

I just. *head in hands*

First of all: if the dust causes people to vanish or explode or whatever (which, we don't know that it does without some kind of magical 'treatment' first, but Andrew notes that he was careful not to touch any of it) then how did it even get in the damn box in the first place? Did someone bring it over to our world in a hazmat suit?

Second of all: I don't actually care, and I feel bad that I don't care, but honestly where is Polly and how do we bring her safely back? We are at the stage where Digory's mild impatience to know about his friend really needs to escalate to... something. I mean, yes, he's a child. Yes, Uncle Andrew is a scary authority figure. I'm not asking for him to go all Dirty Harry and threaten to kneecap Andrew if he doesn't bring Polly back.

image of Liam Neesom from TAKEN: "I have a very particular set of skills, skills that I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you."

BUT. I MEAN. Aunt Letty exists and Uncle Andrew has previously been established as at least partially under her domineering maiden-aunt thumb. We don't even get Digory threatening to go get Aunt Letty if Uncle Andrew doesn't tell him right now where Polly is? We just get this almost bovine acceptance that, shh, the backstory is happening and the only thing he's allowed to say or do is express mild sympathetic objections to things like Broken Promises and Animal Cruelty.

This doesn't feel very protagonisty! This feels so incredibly passive--because it is passive; it's an infodump that Lewis couldn't think to work in any other way. Infodumps are hard and I sympathize, but we also have an omniscient narrator in this series who is perfectly happy to tell us things we otherwise wouldn't know, so did Lewis just forget that he could do that? It's like he got so into his Evil Avatar of Uncle Andrew that he couldn't quite help stealing the stage for the entire scene.

But wait, he seems to have heard me because finally we get a little spit and fire from Digory.

    “And what about them?” said Digory. “A nice mess they’d be in if they couldn’t get back!”
   “You will keep on looking at everything from the wrong point of view,” said Uncle Andrew with a look of impatience. “Can’t you understand that the thing is a great experiment? The whole point of sending anyone into the Other Place is that I want to find out what it’s like.”
   “Well why didn’t you go yourself then?”
   Digory had hardly ever seen anyone look so surprised and offended as his Uncle did at this simple question. “Me? Me?” he exclaimed. “The boy must be mad! A man at my time of life, and in my state of health, to risk the shock and the dangers of being flung suddenly into a different universe? I never heard anything so preposterous in my life! Do you realize what you’re saying? Think what Another World means—you might meet anything—anything.”
   “And I suppose you’ve sent Polly into it then,” said Digory. His cheeks were flaming with anger now. “And all I can say,” he added, “even if you are my Uncle—is that you’ve behaved like a coward, sending a girl to a place you’re afraid to go to yourself.”
   “Silence, sir!” said Uncle Andrew, bringing his hand down on the table. “I will not be talked to like that by a little, dirty, schoolboy. You don’t understand. I am the great scholar, the magician, the adept, who is doing the experiment. Of course I need subjects to do it on. Bless my soul, you’ll be telling me next that I ought to have asked the guinea-pigs’ permission before I used them! No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice. But the idea of my going myself is ridiculous. It’s like asking a general to fight as a common soldier. Supposing I got killed, what would become of my life’s work?”

I'm a little baffled at Uncle Andrew calling Digory "sir" (is he worthy of respect or isn't he?) but again I have to point out--and I'm sorry to keep harping on this but I will harp until my fingers fall off--that this series has a canonically "good" magician who did experiments on his subjects without their permission before "using" them. He fused their legs together into a single stump against their objections, and the protagonists laughed and clapped their hands and approved of this "handsome" change. That was a thing which happened in Dawn Treader. Exploding a guinea-pig is not great, but I am sitting here forced to write the words that it is probably slightly better on the Scale o' Morals than forcing body modification onto every person living on the island you've been sent to wizard upon.

   “Oh, do stop jawing,” said Digory. “Are you going to bring Polly back?”
   “I was going to tell you, when you so rudely interrupted me,” said Uncle Andrew, “that I did at last find out a way of doing the return journey. The green rings draw you back.”

How could he possibly know-- nevermind, I don't care. 
   “But Polly hasn’t got a green ring.”
   “No,” said Uncle Andrew with a cruel smile.
   “Then she can’t get back,” shouted Digory. “And it’s exactly the same as if you’d murdered her.”
   “She can get back,” said Uncle Andrew, “if someone else will go after her, wearing a yellow ring himself and taking two green rings, one to bring himself back and one to bring her back.”
   And now of course Digory saw the trap in which he was caught: and he stared at Uncle Andrew, saying nothing, with his mouth wide open. His cheeks had gone very pale.
   “I hope,” said Uncle Andrew presently in a very high and mighty voice, just as if he were a perfect Uncle who had given one a handsome tip and some good advice, “I hope, Digory, you are not given to showing the white feather. I should be very sorry to think that anyone of our family had not enough honor and chivalry to go to the aid of—er—a lady in distress.”
   “Oh shut up!” said Digory. “If you had any honor and all that, you’d be going yourself. But I know you won’t. All right. I see I’ve got to go. But you are a beast. I suppose you planned the whole thing, so that she’d go without knowing it and then I’d have to go after her.”
   “Of course,” said Uncle Andrew with his hateful smile.

This is decently well established for the plot to work, so much so that I almost hate to point out the obvious plot hole but I will: Andrew isn't supposed to be evil just for the sake of being evil. He has a goal, in that he wants to find out what is on the other side of the yellow ring / green ring magical divide. He hasn't been able to satisfy that goal because the only creatures available to send over have been animals which can't speak, and he's too afraid to go over himself. So fine, so good.

But... why wouldn't he give Polly a green ring? He really doesn't have any guarantee that Digory will go after her. I'm frankly confounded that he just blithely assumes Digory will; it's not like Uncle Andrew is the sort to risk his life for someone else, so it's strange he would assume that someone lesser than he (a schoolboy, a child) would be more noble than his own base impulses are. I very much doubt he even knows that Digory and Polly are good friends as opposed to recent acquaintances. Why does he gamble everything on an assumption that Digory will risk life and limb for this girl whose life Andrew himself doesn't value above that of a farthing?

He thinks--and this is incorrect, but we'll get to that later--that merely putting on a green ring while in the Other Place will pop someone back over. Why wouldn't he put a green ring in Polly's pocket ("for you to wear tomorrow, dear" or something) and then put a yellow ring on her finger? That way she would pop over via the yellow, see the Other Place for herself, and then eventually pop back over via the green--either because she figured out that the rings were magic or because she reached in her pockets and touched it by accident. Then Andrew would be assured of getting information back from her without having to pin all his hopes on Digory doing something which Andrew considers to be literally unthinkable: risking everything for someone else's safety.

While we're spinning "what ifs", why wouldn't he just ask these children to do the thing? "Kids, magic is real and would you like to go to another world" would've received a hearty damn yes from me as a kid, even if it were coming from creepy Uncle Andrew. We know he was able to lie to Polly and charm her into taking a ring innocently, so why couldn't he lie to her and charm her into taking one with the instructions and an expectation that she was going to fairyland or something? Maybe it would be a lot to come up with off-the-cuff, but he surely had to be thinking about tricking someone into using these rings someday. He didn't know two victims would break into his study. What was his plan before two subjects serendipitously showed up?

Heck, we know from the text that Aunt Letty has been running interference on Andrew and keeping him from cozying up to Digory. You know what that tells us? That Uncle Andrew was trying to cozy up to Digory. Why else would he do so except in the hopes that he could trick or convince Digory into going to the other world and reporting back? And since he couldn't possibly plan for Digory to have a second child with him, Andrew must have been spinning up plausible tales to charm this little kid into willingly going and coming back. If he had that plan in his back pocket--and he surely must have--then why not deploy it on Polly and Digory when they burst in?

The short answer, of course, is that Lewis wanted a clear villain rather than a charming trickster. I respect that choice and he established everything well enough that the plot hole isn't glaring (or wasn't to me as a child, anyway) but now it feels like a bump in need of polishing.

   “Very well. I’ll go. But there’s one thing I jolly well mean to say first. I didn’t believe in Magic till today. I see now it’s real. Well if it is, I suppose all the old fairy tales are more or less true. And you’re simply a wicked, cruel magician like the ones in the stories. Well, I’ve never read a story in which people of that sort weren’t paid out in the end, and I bet you will be. And serve you right.”
   Of all the things Digory had said this was the first that really went home. Uncle Andrew started and there came over his face a look of such horror that, beast though he was, you could almost feel sorry for him. But a second later he smoothed it all away and said with a rather forced laugh, “Well, well, I suppose that is a natural thing for a child to think—brought up among women, as you have been. Old wives’ tales, eh? I don’t think you need worry about my danger, Digory. Wouldn’t it be better to worry about the danger of your little friend? She’s been gone some time. If there are any dangers Over There—well, it would be a pity to arrive a moment too late.”

I know secular authorities don't exist in Lewis' world, but if I were Uncle Andrew I would be far more worried about whether the children told someone they were planning to break into his attic. He doesn't know they were on their way to the next flat over and got the distances mixed up. And even if they didn't tell anyone they were going to visit Uncle Andrew, if Polly's parents knew she and Digory were in the attic crawl space, there is a limited and finite number of places where they could go from there. I'd be mildly concerned at being the creepy old man in a block of apartments where two children--one of them your own nephew--just go mysteriously missing one day without a trace.

   [...] “They only work,” he said, “if they’re actually touching your skin. Wearing gloves, I can pick them up—like this—and nothing happens. If you carried one in your pocket nothing would happen: but of course you’d have to be careful not to put your hand in your pocket and touch it by accident. The moment you touch a yellow ring, you vanish out of this world. When you are in the Other Place I expect—of course this hasn’t been tested yet, but I expect—that the moment you touch a green ring you vanish out of that world and—I expect—reappear in this. Now. I take these two greens and drop them into your right-hand pocket. Remember very carefully which pocket the greens are in. G for green and R for right. G.R. you see: which are the first two letters of green. One for you and one for the little girl. And now you pick up a yellow one for yourself. I should put it on—on your finger—if I were you. There’ll be less chance of dropping it.” 
   Digory had almost picked up the yellow ring when he suddenly checked himself.
   “Look here,” he said. “What about Mother? Supposing she asks where I am?”
   “The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll be back,” said Uncle Andrew cheerfully.
   “But you don’t really know whether I can get back.”
   Uncle Andrew shrugged his shoulders, walked across to the door, unlocked it, threw it open, and said: “Oh very well then. Just as you please. Go down and have your dinner. Leave the little girl to be eaten by wild animals or drowned or starved in the Otherworld or lost there for good, if that’s what you prefer. It’s all one to me. Perhaps before tea time you’d better drop in on Mrs. Plummer and explain that she’ll never see her daughter again; because you were afraid to put on a ring.”
   “By gum,” said Digory, “don’t I just wish I was big enough to punch your head!”
   Then he buttoned up his coat, took a deep breath, and picked up the ring. And he thought then, as he always thought afterward too, that he could not decently have done anything else.

One thing is right here: I think Digory could not have decently done other than what he did. Top marks for that. But I reiterate my early complaints about the fact that Andrew's actions here are Maximum Villainy for Minimum Efficiency. Even if he gets the children back and isn't hauled off to prison for being the prime suspect in their disappearance, he can't really believe that they'll tell him anything truthful about the other world.

If he just wanted to know whether the visit was survivable before he made the trip himself, that would be one thing, but that's not the case here; he never plans to visit, which means he needs a detailed and truthful status report: the one thing Digory and Polly will never give him for the rest of their lives. So we take from this that Uncle Andrew is not very smart. Fortunately, Lewis anticipated this problem and will later make this genius magician who somehow figured out how to turn dust into magic portal rings into a jolly fool who couldn't think his way out of a damp paper bag.


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