Narnia: A Look Back
It's been fifty-five (Earth) years since our first visit
by Holly Hartman
"All I can tell you is that pictures come into my head and I write stories about them."
According to C. S. Lewis, it "all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood." As readers of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe well know, that faun was Mr. Tumnus, who introduced Lucy Pevensie to Narnia, the enchanted land of talking animals and valiant battles.
Since this first Narnia book was published in 1950, countless children have followed the tales of the world that Lucy found behind the wardrobe. In the last 55 years the books in the Chronicles of Narnia have sold more than 100 million copies and been translated into some 30 languages.
Before Narnia: Animal-Land
As a child, C. S. Lewis made up stories about a place he called "Animal-Land." Like Narnia, it was inhabited by noble animals skilled in the art of war, among them "chivalrous mice and rabbits who rode out in complete mail to kill not giants but cats."
A heroic mouse named Peter became an important figure in the tales. (Narnia readers will recall that the boy Peter becomes High King of Narnia, and finds a comrade in Reepicheep, a heroic mouse.) The young Lewis wrote a series of adventures chronicling the history of Animal-Land and its neighbors, and created detailed maps of the fantasy world.
Sometimes Lewis told his brother these stories as they sat among the coats in their grandfather's old wardrobe.
The War and the Wardrobe
Like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, many London children were sent to live in the country during the air-raids of World War II. In these years several groups of children stayed with Lewis at his country home.
"I never appreciated children," Lewis wrote years later, "till the war brought them to me." At this time Lewis began to make notes for the book that became The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A thought-provoking moment occurred when a little girl who was staying with Lewis asked him what lay behind an old wardrobe he kept upstairs.
Nearly ten years later, Lucy Pevensie walked through that wardrobe and into Narnia. The wardrobe is now housed at the Wade Center of Chicago's Wheaton College, where a sign warns visitors: "Enter at your own risk. The Wade Center assumes no responsibility for persons who disappear or who are lost in this wardrobe."
"Pictures Come Into My Head"
Readers and academics alike have spent much time coming up with theories about how and why Lewis planned out seven Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, Lewis claimed they weren't planned at all. "When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more," he said. "Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and I still didn't think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt sure it would be the last. But I found as I was wrong."
The books began with three images in Lewis's own mind. "All I can tell you is that pictures come into my head and I write stories about them," he told radio listeners in 1960. One such picture was of the faun; another was of a witch on a sled; and another was of "a magnificent lion." Lewis would name the lion "Aslan," the Turkish word for "lion."
Some believe that the landscape of Lewis's Narnia was inspired by the Mourne Mountains in his native Northern Ireland. Draped in purple heather and towering over the sea, these craggy mountains are home to lakes, rivers, forests, and ruined castles.
"Narnia" was in fact the name of an ancient Roman colony in central Italy, named for the river Nar (now Nera). It has been said that Lewis discovered the name in an atlas as a child, though he may also have come across mention of the city in his university studies.
By chance, the modern-day town of Narni (as it is now known) honors a local saint known as "Blessed Lucy of Narnia." Today the town's Cathedral of Narnia adjoins a shrine to this St. Lucy.
The Real Lucy
As readers may remember, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is dedicated to Lucy Barfield, Lewis's goddaughter. Sadly, about 15 years after the book was published, Lucy was affected by multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system that left her bedridden and unable to feed herself. But being named in the book touched her life in ways its author could not have imagined.
For the rest of her life, Lucy received letters from children. Some, believing she was Lucy Pevensie, asked her about Narnia. Others knew she was ill and just wrote to say "hello." "What a wonderful oasis of pleasure I have in this pretty terrible world, being recognized as Lucy," she once said.
Lions and Movies and More
In the mid-1990s a Paramount Pictures adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was planned, but luckily, it never was made. In that version, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy were staying with a professor in Los Angeles to keep safe from earthquakes.
Disney's 2005 version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe not only returns to the British World War II setting, but gives moviegoers a sense of the effects of the war on the children. The movie was made in New Zealand with the help of the special effects companies that worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars films and has a reported cost of $150 million. Four unknown British actors play the children: Skandar Keynes, 14, as Edmund; William Moseley, 18, as Peter; Anna Popplewell, 16, is Susan; and 10-year-old Georgie Henley is Lucy. The movie's highpoint is the huge battle between good and evil at the end. The production company also has the rights to the rest of the books, so if this first one is a success more Narnia movies might be made.