From Oxford to Narnia: The Literary World of C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia Series
C.S. Lewis’s best-loved books, The Chronicles of Narnia children’s series, has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950 at a time when children’s literature was dominated by realism. The Narnia books, with portals to imaginary lands, talking animals and trees, giants, fauns, magic, and the lion Aslan, helped restore fantasy as a popular genre for children.
Lewis had the first thought of writing a children’s story in 1939, and found inspiration when an evacuee child staying in his household in Oxford during World War II saw an old wardrobe, asked if she could go in and see if there was anything behind it. Lewis told one friend he was writing in the tradition of E. Nesbit, whose writing he loved as a child, and may have been thinking of Nesbit’s “The Aunt and Anabel” in which children enter a magical world through a wardrobe in a spare room.
But the idea of the faun came to a younger Lewis. In an article published the British magazine “Radio Times” in 1960, Lewis writes, The Lion [the Witch and the Wardrobe] all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’ At first I had very little idea about how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why He came. But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.”
The Magical Worlds of Narnia. New York : Berkley Books, .
One of the many Narnia guidebooks published.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Israel:
In Hebrew, published in Israel. The Narnia books have been translated into over 40 languages.
The Order of the Books
The Magician’s Nephew New York : Berkley Books, .
When the Narnia books were first given numbers, it was in publication order, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe being first. In 1994, Harper Collins renumbered the books in chronological order, with The Magician’s Nephew as the first book.
In a 1957 letter to a child, Lewis agreed with the child’s preference for the chronological order, but others say the publication order flows more naturally, and note Lewis did not change the order in his lifetime.
The Horse and His Boy. New York, Macmillan [c1954].
This edition of The Horse and His Boy is labeled as “Book 5” in publication order; it is book 3 chronologically. Lewis dedicated it to David and Douglas Gresham, who later became his stepsons.
A Note on Illustrations
Price Caspian: the Return to Narnia. New York: Macmillan .
The series is illustrated by Pauline Baynes. She had been recommended to Lewis by J.R.R. Tolkein, for whom she had illustrated the latter’s Farmer Giles of Ham.
Narnia Chronology: From the Archives of the Last King. New York : HarperCollins Children’s Books .
This delightful pop-up book features some original Pauline Baynes illustrations.
About the Dedication
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Macmillan Publishing Company. 1950.
All of the Narnia books except The Last Battle were dedicated to children. In the dedication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis tenderly addresses Lucy Barfield, adopted daughter of friend and fellow Inkling Owen Barfield. Lucy as an adult spent much of life hospitalized but tried to answer the letters children, inspired by the dedication, wrote to her.
The Question of Allegory
C.S. Lewis Letters to Children.New York: Macmillan, 1985.
The Narnia books are often mistakenly called Christian allegories. In this 1954 letter to a fifth grade class in Maryland, Lewis explains why they are not allegorical.
Narnia on Film
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.Burbank, CA : Walt Disney Home Entertainment, .
The recent major Hollywood movie adaptations have made the series popular with a new generation.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.Burbank, CA : Walt Disney Home Entertainment : Distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2006, c2005.
Walden Media motion picture on Blu Ray DVD and special edition DVD. Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham is a co-producer of the new movies.
The Silver Chair. Chatsworth, CA : Image Entertainment, c2007.
The BBC television series production of The Chronicles of Narnia on DVD, which aired 1988 to 1990. The series was nominated for an Emmy award for “Outstanding Children’s Program.”