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.

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.

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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."

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