Foreword by Brian
Part One: The Creation of Narnia
1. The Life of C. S. Lewis
2. The Background to the Chronicles of Narnia
3. Aslan, Narnia and Orthodoxy
4. Worldviews and Narnia
5. Literary Features of the Chronicles
6. Themes, Concepts and Images in Narnia
Part Two: All About the Chronicles of Narnia
7. An Overview of the Chronicles of Narnia
8. The History of Narnia
9. The Geography of Narnia
10. Other Writings of C. S. Lewis in a Narnian Context
11. A Who's Who of the Making of Narnia
Part Three: The A-Z of Narnia: Beings, Places, Things and Events
Appendix: A Brief Chronology of C. S. Lewis
I still remember first reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The bracing air of the snowy wood intensified my exultant feeling of discovering another magical place as I followed Lucy. I already knew the riverbank and the Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows. I had discovered the enchanting undersea cavern in The Coral Island. Later I was to discover the Shire, and the larger world of Rivendell and the Misty Mountains, in Tolkien.
The Chronicles of Narnia are classics of children’s literature, along with The Hobbit, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, the stories of E. Nesbit and George MacDonald, J. K. Rowling’s tales of Hogwarts School and others. Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard believe that the Chronicles “must be judged the most sustained achievement in fantasy for children by a 20th-cent[ury] author.”
His seven stories of Narnia are already, forty years after his death, the most well known and widely read of C. S. Lewis’s more than forty writings, and are as characteristic of his thought and imagination as his science-fiction books, his literary criticism and his popular theology, such as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity.
The Chronicles have become part of the lives of generations of children since the stories first appeared between 1950 and 1956. Parents and teachers over the years also have read them to their children. In the 1980s the British Broadcasting Corporation adapted several of the books for television, and later for radio. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is being made into a major film, directed by Andrew Adamson, with other Narnian stories to follow.
Some have supposed that Lewis turned to writing children’s stories because he had lost confidence in writing books that argued, often philosophically, for the Christian faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. Writing for children is one of the most demanding of an author’s tasks. The Narnian tales built on skills that Lewis had honed in writing earlier stories for grownups, such as his science-fiction trilogy. They also built on Lewis’s exposure to the ideas and writings of his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, particularly the tales of the Silmarillion and his epic romance, The Lord of the Rings, though Tolkien was then unpublished except for The Hobbit. Romance for Lewis, as for Tolkien, meant literature that contains glimpses of other worlds, strangely stirring the spirit. Such stories hinted at realities beyond the “walls of the world.”
In composing the Chronicles, Lewis found an integration of mind and imagination that allowed a free flow of creativity from his deepest self:
The imaginative man in me is older, more continuously operative, and in that sense more basic than either the religious writer or the critic. It was he who made me first attempt (with little success) to be a poet. It was he who, in response to the poetry of others, made me a critic, and, in defence of that response, sometimes a critical controversialist. It was he who after my conversion led me to embody my religious belief in symbolical or mythopoeic forms, ranging from Screwtape to a kind of theological science-fiction. And it was, of course, he who has brought me, in the last few years to write a series of Narnian stories for children; not asking what children want and then endeavouring to adapt myself (this was not needed) but because the fairy-tale was the genre best fitted for what I wanted to say.
Therefore, in reading the stories we are reading not an author who has lost his way but one who has become so convinced of the way that he can effectively point its direction to a very large readership that unselfconsciously enjoys storytelling. Story in itself has extraordinary power to make concrete and real what is otherwise abstract and increasingly the domain of specialists. Literary critic Rachel Trickett, who knew Lewis, has observed, “He possessed to an extraordinary degree the freshness of a child’s vision—obstinate, opinionated, but always open to new findings. He maintained on principle the importance of tradition and of wise habit in literature and in life, but he was always capable of being surprised and of surprising.”
Even before the Narnian stories appeared, Lewis began receiving letters from children to which he always replied. Then, as the tales were published, the number of letters increased and began to include questions about Narnia. Though a bachelor until late in life, Lewis had some experience of children from his student days when he adopted Mrs. Janie Moore as his mother and thus became part of a family that included Maureen Moore, then a young teenager. In the Second World War years, he took in a succession of evacuees, who inspired the beginnings of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.Later, when he became friends with and later married Joy Davidman, he took on her two young sons, David and Douglas.
Innumerable children in primary schools from New Zealand to Alaska have chewed their pens writing responses to the Narnian stories. Children’s author Rosamund Bott remembers being caught up as a child in the world created by Lewis, having her own “Narnian animals.” She used her model animals, including a toy lion, in Narnia play. She even carefully placed several bowls of water in her garden and jumped into them in reenactment of the scene in the Wood Between the Worlds in MN.
The appeal of Narnia to children’s imaginations is vividly captured in Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. This story is about two children, Leslie and Jess, who are inspired to create their own magical kingdom:
“We need a place,” she said, “just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it.” Jess came swinging back and dragged his feet to stop. . . . “It might be a whole secret country,” she continued, “and you and I would be the rulers of it.”
Leslie named their secret land Terabithia, and she loaned Jess all of her books about Narnia, so he would know how things went in a magic kingdom—how the animals and the trees must be protected and how a ruler must behave. That was the hard part.
Francis Spufford, in The Child That Books Built, evocatively recounts a childhood in which the world of reading takes him away from painful realities, as a drug but also sometimes as a revelation. There was one incident in which a sort of bridge was crossed from the story books into this world:
I did experiment, sometimes, with bringing Narnia back over the line into this world. I imagined dryads in the woods at Keele, smoothing out their shining hair with birch-bark combs. My friend Bernard and I swapped Narnian trivia and called ourselves Narniologists. I scattered white rose petals in the bathtub, and took a Polaroid picture of the dinghy from my Airfix model of the Golden Hind floating among them, to recreate the lily sea. But I never felt I had connected to the live thing in Narnia which could send a jolt through my nerves, except once. I had the poster-map of Narnia by Pauline Baynes up on the wall on the upstairs landing at home. In the top right-hand-corner, she’d painted Aslan’s golden face in a rosette of mane. Once, when no one was around, I crept onto the landing and kissed Aslan’s nose in experimental adoration—and then fled, quivering with excited shame, because I had brought something into the real world from story’s realm of infinite deniability.
For Lewis, as for Tolkien, all storytelling points to a moment in this real world when “myth” became “fact,” when events that normally can only be captured in the imaginative web of an invented story actually take place in the real world. His storytelling about Narnia is therefore firmly integrated into his deepest thinking about the nature of reality, where, in the words of his theologian friend Austin Farrer, Lewis presents “a world haunted by the supernatural, a conscience haunted by the moral absolute, a history haunted by the divine claim of Christ.”
My book is based on the premise that the Chronicles of Narnia—and the secondary world of Narnia—represent C. S. Lewis as person and as author in a way unmatched by any of his other writings (which is not of course to diminish his other books). My purpose is to introduce, or remind readers of, the abundance that exists in Lewis’s thought and imagination. The integration of these “right” and “left” mental faculties takes the themes Lewis explores in the stories into a whole new dimension.
The book is made up of interweaving sections, relating to his life, thought and writing, but with the focus upon the Chronicles. The debt I owe to others in writing this book is immeasurable, both those with whom I’ve talked Lewis and those who have written on Narnia. Particularly I am thankful for the late Kathryn Lindskoog’s short but definitive The Lion of Judah in Never-Never Land, Paul F. Ford’s Companion to Narnia, Walter Hooper’s Past Watchful Dragons, Martha S. Sammons’s A Guide Through Narnia, Clyde S. Kilby’s Images of Salvation in the Fiction of C. S. Lewis, Brian Sibley’s The Land of Narnia and Maria Kuteeva’s superb unpublished thesis, “C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia: Their Origins in Mythology, Literature and Scholarship.” My thanks also to the Leicester Writers Club, for support, stimulus and friendship, and for the encouragement of other friends, at Saint Luke’s and elsewhere, particularly John Gillespie of the University of Ulster, with whom I revisited Dunluce Castle, and Andrea Deri, whose love of the natural world rivals Lewis’s. I remember fondly, too, the unfettered delight of Ben and Emilia, when I read them the stories of Narnia as children. Thanks are also due to David C. Downing and Brian Sibley for reading the typescript and to Melanie McQuere for her attentive copyediting, though any errors are, painfully, my own. And of course I’m grateful to my editor, Cindy Bunch, for her inspired guidance and friendship. I have pleasant memories of exploring with her and her colleague Rebecca Vorwerk the Lewis places of Oxford such as Addison’s Walk and the pond and woods nearby The Kilns, which almost could be part of Narnia.