How Narnia Became a Fully-Fledged World


In class at school, in 1971, I sat next to a girl I’d never spoken to and had no real intention of getting to know. During a reading period, I scarcely paid any attention to what she was reading. Glancing over her arm, I saw what looked like a ‘girl’s book’, called Prince Caspian, with a picture of a boy riding a horse on the cover. But then she turned the page and I glimpsed the sub-title: ‘or The Return to Narnia’. I almost snatched the book from her hands.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of my favourite books, if not the favourite at the time. Captivated at the age of about seven by the whole idea of doors that led into other worlds (as had been millions of others, though I didn’t know it at the time), I had sought similar books ever since, to little avail. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (now a favourite) had seriously upset me as a child by leading me to believe that the door to the garden was another such entrance to different world. When this proved not to be the case I almost threw the book away. Seeing Prince Caspian or The Return to Narnia in my neighbour’s hands told me for the first time that there were other books in the Narnia series, something I had not suspected. I rapidly obtained and read them avidly and they have fascinated me ever since.

I studied them in much greater depth twelve years later and saw in the sequence of The Chronicles of Narnia many patterns, not the least of which was a thread of awareness of creating the world itself in the mind of the author. In other words, you could tell, if you looked closely, how Narnia itself had evolved in lewis’s imagination.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was clearly the first book Lewis wrote in the Narnia series because of its primitive structure. It’s basically divided into four parts: entrance to Narnia, chase, Aslan’s sacrifice and the battle. (Each part is 'bridged' on either side, with the children’s arrival at the house, the dinner with the Beavers, meeting Aslan, freeing the statues and, at the end, returning to England, but that’s another story.) Lewis himself describes how the story appeared to him through a series of separate images, some of them in dreams, which came suddenly and remarkably together as soon as he ‘imagined’ Aslan, but the story itself is very simple.

Just as this is the children’s first entrance into Narnia, so it is Lewis’s, and we find him tentatively exploring the landscape he has created in much the same way as Lucy and then the rest of the children. Soon, though, the power of the basic ‘chase’ plot pulls the characters, the readers and Lewis himself to the story’s resolution in a linear fashion. We are also pulled further into the meaning of the story by the non-linear signific