Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The sixth entry in the Narnia series, though chronologically first within the storyline, is revelatory and enchanting. The book provides a great background story to the history of "the comings and goings between our world and Narnia."
Digory Kirke, who becomes the famed Professor in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and his friend Polly Plummer are exploring the space in between the attic of their homes when they accidently enter into Digory's Uncle Andrew's study. They are frightened and try to leave immediately, but Uncle Andrew locks the door to prevent them.
Uncle Andrew tricks Polly into touching a yellow magic ring he received from his godmother and she disappears. Digory is outraged, but realizes he has no choice but to go after Polly using another yellow ring and brings two green rings with him that will send them home.
Digory arrives at "the Woods between the Worlds", a soporific forest containing many pools of water, but no living creatures in it except for Polly and a gerbil Uncle Andrew used for a previous experiment. When Polly wakes up and gains her senses, the two children figure out how to use the rings and decide to explore other worlds. The first world they jump into through one of the pools is dark and desolate. After walking through an ancient castle for a long time, they reach a room with hundreds of people who are frozen in time. There is a bell with a hammer and a sign that tempts its reader to ring the bell. Polly wants to leave and is about to return to the woods when Digory aggressively prevents her and rings the bell.
After the bell rings several times, an elaborately dressed woman in the back of the room comes to life and demands to know who woke her up. The strange woman tells the children she is Queen Jadis of Charn and that everyone in her world is dead. She reveals that all her people and her rival sister's people were killed when she said "the deplorable word." The children see that she is evil and try to escape her, but she manages to return to England with them.
Queen Jadis, now called the Witch, orders Uncle Andrew to get her a carriage and fine jewelry for her takeover of the world. In the ensuing hours the witch causes a huge uproar in the community for stealing jewels and a horse and carriage from the local townspeople. In Polly and Digory's neighborhood the witch tears a piece of a lamp-post off and has a showdown with policemen and a mob. Just when the situation gets out of control Digory uses the yellow ring to send the witch, Uncle Andrew, Polly, and the stolen horse with his owner to the Woods.
After a struggle to escape the Witch the whole group jumps into a pool that leads them into Narnia at the moment Aslan creates the world. Aslan sings and creates the stars, trees, flowers, hills, waters, etc. The Witch and Uncle Andrew are frightened and want to get away from the lion, while the rest of the group is in awe of Aslan. The witch throws the piece of the lamp-post at Aslan, intending to kill him, but it glances off of him unnoticed. The witch then flees as the piece of the lamp-post grows into a full grown lamp-post--the backstory of the lamp-post Lucy sees as she enters Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe.
After Aslan creates the beasts and chooses pairs to give the gift of speech, he gives Digory the task of finding an apple in a garden far away to plant as protection from the Witch he brought to Narnia. Polly and Digory fly to the garden on the back of Fledge, the horse who was brought to Narnia from England who Aslan gives a pair of wings. When Digory reaches the garden and picks the apple he is tempted to eat it, but chooses not to. The Witch attempts to deceive Digory one last time, but fails as Digory refuses her offer. Fledges flies the children back to Aslan and he allows Digory to take an apple from the tree he planted for his dying mother.
Digory and Polly return to England with Uncle Andrew, while the horse and his cabbie, who is coronated as the first King of Narnia, remain. Digory gives his mother the apple and she recovers from her illness. Polly and Digory continue their friendship, while Uncle Andrew never practices magic again.