With respect to this question about the Deplorable Word, Aslan states 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."

Following on from Quasi_Stomach's comment:

Was Aslan talking about nuclear proliferation?

It does seem plausible that Lewis was indeed referencing the threat of nuclear annihilation, seeing that The Magician's Nephew was written between 1949-19551.

Did Lewis make any further comments about this, in other writings?

1 From Wikipedia - The Magician's Nephew: Writing

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    Hello and welcome to SFF! This is a nice first question.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Apr 18, 2018 at 15:46
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    I would direct you to this answer over on the Literature SE, where this question is answered: literature.stackexchange.com/questions/3704/…
    – Irishpanda
    Apr 18, 2018 at 15:48
  • @Irishpanda You beat me by 10 seconds :P Thought I had seen this somewhere else as well. A good question otherwise.
    – Mwr247
    Apr 18, 2018 at 15:49
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    There is an outstanding feature request for crossover questions, which would allow a question like this to be shared between multiple sites. Apr 18, 2018 at 16:27
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    I seem to recall a statement, in That Hideous Strength IIRC, to the effect that some of the technological limits we face serve to protect us from the full consequences of our fallen state.
    – EvilSnack
    Apr 19, 2018 at 2:22

3 Answers 3


Yes, but not exclusively

There's a similar question over on Literature.SE asking "Was C. S. Lewis condemning nuclear weapons in The Magician's Nephew?" that likely has the answer you're looking for. These are different sites, both questions are relevant to their own sites, and the question itself is technically different ("referring" vs "condemning"). Therefore, I'm going to follow the advice here in giving this one its own answer.

C.S. Lewis' writings on "Living in an Atomic Age" indicate his belief that nuclear annihilation was perhaps one possible means of destroying all living things, but he did not appear to believe it was exclusively the one thing that would. There may be yet larger and far more terrifying things even still to come that would also fit as "Deplorable Words" in our world, and Lewis did not want to limit it to any single thing. Rather, the warning refers to the capabilities we have to achieve such powers, and covers them all generally.

Indeed, the phrasing of the warning seems to imply exactly that:

"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."

"A" secret (vs "the") means there could potentially be others that Aslan is referring to. But while the Deplorable Word and nuclear destruction are never explicitly linked by Lewis, his considerations of nuclear weapons and the time in which he wrote about the Deplorable Word do strongly imply that they are the primary thing being referenced, and that they qualify as within the same caliber of things capable of ending the world.


No, not more than other weapons

If you read (and preferably reread, a few times) what Lewis says via Aslan, the emphasis isn't on the deplorable word itself.

The emphasis is on people's beliefs and attitudes. Charn and Jadis are used as a warning of what can happen when a ruler thinks primarily in terms of themselves, rather than in terms of their obligation to society. Nearly the entire discussion is of how Empress Jadis had lost sight of happiness, justice and mercy, and cared only about her own power--and preventing her sister from getting it.

Lewis describes the Deplorable Word as something Jadis' ancestors had known of for many years (generations). I'd see this as specifically disassociating it from a type of weapon that was new in his time. Rather, it's attempting to refer to the "ultimate weapon", regardless of what that may happen to be at a particular time--regardless of whether that happens to be a legion of bronze-age spears, gun-powder, a nuke, or some future anti-matter weapon.

To Lewis, the weapon was almost irrelevant. What mattered was Jadis, and how she felt (or didn't feel) about her people and her world. To her, it was better to destroy the entire world, and everything in it (except herself) than to let her sister rule. She cared only about power, not about her people.


Lewis specifically avoided referring to any particular weapon or type of weapon. To him, the real evil was tyranny, and Jadis' use of the deplorable word was simply the ultimate expression of tyranny.


In addition to the other excellent answers, I think reading the very next three sentences in the book should help clarify what was on C.S. Lewis's mind:

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.

Nuclear war may have been on his mind, but clearly he was focused on the evil attitudes of those in power.

I almost made this a comment but it seemed worthy of being an answer itself.

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