Aslan says the following in The Magician's Nephew:

"It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations of your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware. That is the warning."

The first line could imply that whatever secret hadn't been discovered yet, but it could also mean that it had been discovered, they just hadn't used it yet. Was Lewis thinking of a particular invention (e.g. nuclear weapons or other WMD), or was he thinking of a hypothetical future invention? If it was the former, is Lewis claiming that nuclear weapons and/or other WMD are intrinsically evil?

Also, was Lewis thinking of a specific tyrant (perhaps Josef Stalin)? Or does the fact that he uses plural (tyrants) indicate that he's thinking of several different tyrants?

Are these necessarily the same people (i.e. is the person who discovers/uses the equivalent of the deplorable word necessarily one of the tyrants)?

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    Josef Stalin might have been evil, but he didn't use nuclear weapons in war.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 20:21
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    @Randal'Thor True - are they referring to the same person necessarily, though? Is the person who discovers the deplorable word necessarily one of the tyrants? Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 20:39
  • Hmm, good point. I thought it was implied, but maybe not.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 20:40
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    @Randal'Thor It's worth noting that Jadis was technically still Queen when she used it (although she was about to be dethroned by her sister), and the text strongly implies that the knowledge of the Deplorable Word was tightly controlled and evidently restricted to the Royal Family, so it's quite possible that Lewis was thinking that the next person to use the equivalent of the "deplorable word" would also be a tyrant. I'm not sure that the text necessarily implies it, though. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 20:48
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    I dug into this a bit, and the critical/academic consensus seems to be that yes, he was - or at least he was condemning humanity's talent for self destruction. However, I can't access any of the primary sources so I can't confirm with a proper answer.
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 16:09

1 Answer 1


The Magician's Nephew is set a generation before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, specifically 1900 (see Wikipedia). The latter book is set during World War II. Thus, in the time frame of The Magician's Nephew, nuclear weapons had not yet been discovered.

Thus, at the time the book is set, the nuclear weapon is still a hypothetical future invention, and the text is consistent with Aslan referring to nuclear weapons.

As for the "great nations of your world will be ruled by tyrants," both Hitler and Stalin would seem to qualify. Neither had risen to power yet, but both would within 35 years, which fits very well with the time frame "before you are an old man and an old woman."

On a related note, C.S. Lewis wrote the essay On Living in an Atomic Age, where he doesn't really address the question as to whether atomic bombs are evil. He does say that civilization would end eventually, with or without the invention of the atomic bomb, and all the atomic bomb could do is bring that end earlier. Thus, according to Lewis, all the pools in the Wood between the Worlds are eventually destined to dry up.

  • Excellent points. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 12:21
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    CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien were good friends, and literary peers. In their books there are themes that magicians in towers (Saruman, Uncle Andrew) meddle with dark magics beyond their ken and bring ruin upon themselves. It may have been a bit of a common cultural theme of the era. Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 19:29
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    @EngrStudent: My impression is that the theme of magicians in towers meddling with dark magics is much older than the early 20th century. Sir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805): "The feast was over in Branksome tower, // And the Ladye had gone to her secret bower; // Her bower that was guarded by word and by spell, // Deadly to hear, and deadly to tell— // Jesu Maria, shield us well! // No living wight, save the Ladye alone, // Had dared to cross the threshold stone. // "
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 15:44

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