The story begins in London around 1900. Two children, Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer, meet while playing in the adjacent gardens of a row of terraced houses. They decide to explore an attic connecting the houses, but take the wrong door and surprise Digory's Uncle Andrew in his study. Uncle Andrew, a bumbling yet malevolent magician, tricks Polly into touching a yellow magic ring, causing her to vanish. He then blackmails Digory into rescuing Polly by using another yellow ring, while giving him two green rings for their return.
Digory finds himself in a wood among many pools of water, and is reunited with Polly. They discover that jumping into the water while wearing a green ring takes them to a different universe, and Digory convinces Polly to explore further worlds.
After marking the pool leading back to Earth, they enter a pool leading to a crumbling palace among the ruins of the ancient world of Charn. They find a hall lined with statues of former rulers, progressing from the fair and wise to the proud and cruel. They also find a bell, marked by a sign that dares one to ring the bell while warning against doing so. Digory falls for the taunt and rings the bell against Polly's wishes. Its sound awakens the last of the statues, the evil Queen Jadis.
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