Creating 'Narnia'

C.S. Lewis's stepson describes how the Chronicles of Narnia came to be--and the legacy his stepfather left him, and all of us.

BY: Douglas Gresham

 
The author of the following piece--reprinted with permission from "Jack's Life"--offers a life of C.S. Lewis from a unique perspective: Douglas Gresham is the beloved author's step-son. Like most biographers of the beloved writer, Gresham calls him Jack, the name by which he was universally known.

In 1949, Jack's health gave out almost completely, and he collapsed. Very ill indeed, he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and received penicillin injections every three hours. However, his stay in the hospital of a week or so did him more good than anything had in years. Nobody could get at him, and he was forced to rest, as visitors were restricted to only a short time each day.

Sometime around this period Jack began to have a series of nightmares about lions-- one lion in particular, not just a big lion, but a lion with a distinct personality. And slowly his mental pictures of the faun with his parcels and the lion began to come together in his mind. He started to work on a book that was to change the world. It grew gradually at first but soon took off and flowed from his pen. In this book much of what Jack loved about life all came together. It had landscapes from his beloved Ireland, and trees, waters, and woods from The Kilns, the estate on which he lived. It had characters and creatures from ancient mythology and from the fields and hedgerows of the countryside of both Ireland and England. There was great good and desperate evil such as Jack had found here in the world in which he lived. There was treachery and heroism, the things of which all great tales are made.

This new book was something the like of which Jack had never written before, and come to think of it, nor had anyone else. It was not a sensible, clever, and wise book for grown-ups; it was a sensible, clever, and wise book for children (though grownups should read it too if they want).

He read passages and chapters of it to the Inklings [the literary group in which Lewis participated], and everyone except J. R. R. Tolkien met it with great enthusiasm. Tolkien was a mythical purist who did not like the way in which Jack had deliberately mixed mythologies in the book, despite the fact that all Jack's mythological creatures and personalities stay true to their mythic origins and characteristics throughout the book. Tolkien was a narrow-minded man in some ways, and he felt that mythology, which was his passion, should be kept separate and pure. He was not as widely read as Jack, though, and probably failed to realize that Jack knew a great deal more about the mythology of the world than he did. In any case, Jack was not discouraged and forged ahead to write what has become one of the best-selling children's books of the 20th century, if not of all time, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

This book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," was the first to be written (though not the first of the series) of the seven Chronicles of Narnia, and is an exceptionally valuable book. I believe that in writing it, Jack was influenced by the Holy Spirit of God because within a completely fictional fairy tale it manages to give a guide to its readers of how to understand what God did for us in this world by coming here and sacrificing Himself for us.

Jack was already a famous writer and teacher by 1949, when he was writing "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and he was already getting letters from all over the world, but neither he nor anyone else could have guessed how much this was to be magnified by the publication of this apparently simple book. It is interesting to note that while Tolkien was desperately discouraged by people continually rejecting his "Lord of the Rings," it was Jack who encouraged him again and again to keep writing and to keep sending the book to publishers until at last a publisher called Unwin accepted it. Tolkien, on the other hand, tried to persuade Jack not to send "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to any publisher because, he said, people would laugh at Jack if it were to be released to the public. Jack encouraged Tollers [Tolkien's nickname], but Tollers tried to discourage Jack. In the end, of course, it turned out that Jack was right about both books. "The Lord of the Rings" has become the greatest work of fantasy for adults of the last century (some people say of the last millennium), and "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and the rest of the Narnian Chronicles have become the greatest children's fiction.

I am sometimes asked what it is like living in the shadow of such a great man, and I always point out that Jack did not leave a shadow behind him but a glow. If I am able to reflect even the slightest spark of that glow, I am more than happy to do so. Jack left us Narnia, the wonderful land of Aslan and Tumnus, of the White Witch, of unicorns and dragons, high adventure and endless joy. He left us Glome, that dark and dreadful city; and in showing us the way out if it, he taught us how to lift our veils. Jack left us Malacandra and Perelandra and showed us the dangers and the joys that lie in wait for us in such places of the soul.

And more than this, he faced the darkness that he found in this world and lit for us bright lamps to show us the path that all of us need to find. You will find them in the shelves of any good bookstore or library. Just look for the name C. S. Lewis.

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