In C.S. Lewis’s “The Magician’s Nephew,” Uncle Andrew is a wild-eyed bachelor with a shock of tousled grey hair who conducts experiments in his attic on ancient magic dust. Lewis writes off his character with this dismissal: “He thinks he is a magician, but like all who meddle in magic, he doesn’t really know what he is doing.”
As “The Chronicles of Narnia” allude to many aspects of the Old and New Testaments, I suspect Lewis’ criticism of magicians is rooted in such prohibitions as found in ancient Israel’s law: “Let no one be found among you who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells … Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
To be sure, Uncle Andrew is a manipulative scoundrel. And the Egyptian magicians are depicted similarly in Exodus.
But is magic always a spiritual abomination?
This time of year, I think of the stargazers from the East in Christ’s birth narrative. While these men are sometimes known as wise men or kings, the Greek New Testament calls them magi, which is the etymological root of “magician.” Most importantly, the magi are not heathen scoundrels, but they are depicted as men of faith. This much is demonstrated in the question they pose to the faith of these to the wicked King Herod: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).
My young children know about the wise men’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and they are on the long journey of learning all that Jesus’ birth narrative can teach those with faith. However, their Christmas question relates to the presents that arrive at our own home: How does the jolly man in red enter our house when we don’t have a chimney?
The answer is magic.
Over the years, the magic has increased. A mysterious handwritten note has been found among the cookie crumbs on Christmas morning. From the local hardware store, we have picked up bags of magic corn kernels, then scattered them across our backyard on Christmas Eve to feed the flying reindeer.
My namesake in Narnia is certainly not someone I wish to emulate. After all, that Andrew gets tangled up with the evil Queen Jadis!
But I am aware that a storyteller long before Lewis claimed that I should be like a child (Matthew 18:3). I remember this as the eyes of my own kids’ gleam with excitement as they plan to supplement the reindeer’s diet with carrots. My oldest son wonders, “Dad, how do they fly around the world in one night?”
There are mysteries that are neither explained nor fully known in this world — we see through a mirror, dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Yet, when we catch just enough to glimpse wonder, in both senses of that word, it is magic.