The first Narnia book has been a memorable part of many childhoods. Who doesn’t remember checking their closet to check for an entrance to a fairy tale world after reading it? Looking back at it, you might wonder what inspired the author to write the book in the first place.
C.S. Lewis wrote the first Narnia book, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield. In fact, the character of Lucy Pevensie, the youngest of the four Pevensie siblings in the books, was named after Lucy Barfield.
This article will take you back to your Narnia days and give you a new perspective on this classic. Read on to learn more about your childhood favorite book.
What Inspired C.S. Lewis To Write Narnia?
Before writing the first Narnia book, C.S. Lewis planned to be a poet.
With his poetry work garnering little to no attention, he turned to prose writing. He was known for writing books with Christian themes and science-fiction novels, but what turned him towards writing a fairy tale?
At 16, C.S. Lewis saw a faun carrying an umbrella and some parcels through a snowy forest in his imagination. This image stuck with him and became the basis of the first-ever Narnia book. Lewis wrote the character of Aslan because he had dreams about lions while writing the book.
The fauns in Narnia are a recreation of what Lewis saw as a teenager. Even though they’re side characters in the books, unlike Aslan, the Pevensie kids, or the White Witch, they’re why the books exist in the first place.
It’s also believed that the three girls who lived with Lewis during the second world war in 1939 may have inspired the Pevensie kids. Margaret, Mary, and Katherine are known to have been evacuated from London due to the anticipation of bombings taking place.
They were then sent to live with Lewis in Risinghurst.
Also, the character of Lucy Pevensie, named after Lewis’ goddaughter, was inspired by June Flewett, who was also an evacuee arriving at Lewis’ home in June 1942 for the first time. She had later left but came back to Risinghurst in July 1943 and stayed till 1945.
How Long Did It Take Lewis To Write the First Narnia Book?
Despite the audience’s love for the entire Narnia series, Lewis had to delay completing the first book, mainly because many of Lewis’ friends objected to the book being written in the first place.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe took over 10 years to complete. He wrote the first draft in 1939 and completed the book in 1949, then published by Geoffrey Bles in 1950.
C.S. Lewis had planned on writing a fairy tale for a while, but he had to keep stalling the idea due to war duties. When Lewis wrote the first draft of Narnia, he read it to his friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, and The Inklings.
However, the response from both was far from what he expected.
The Inklings didn’t receive the draft well, and Tolkien strongly disapproved of it. In fact, Tolkien is known to have insulted the book and Lewis’ writing, which caused Lewis to burn the initial manuscript of the book.
Despite the opposition faced by Lewis by multiple people while writing Narnia, one person stood by him. Roger Lancelyn Green gave Lewis the support and encouragement he needed after many of his older friends rejected his idea. This push by Green, coupled with Lewis’ reintroduction to his childhood memories while being affected by the flu the year prior, caused him to start working on Narnia again.
And this time, he didn’t care about what other people said.
By May 1949, he was done with the book and wanted to dedicate it to Lucy Barfield. He sent a copy of the book’s manuscript to Lucy’s parents, Owen Barfield, Lewis’s childhood friend, and Maud Barfield, his wife.
Unfortunately for Lewis, both Owen and Maud had reservations concerning the book.
Objections That the Book Was Met With
Many people objected to Lewis’ idea of writing the book, and he was met with disapproval from the Inklings to Maud Barfield for different reasons. However, the most prominent objections came from Tolkien and the Barfields.
Tolkien and Lewis were both Christians. Tolkien was a Roman Catholic, whereas Lewis was an Anglican, and after Lewis’ phase of atheism that lasted from his teens to his twenties, Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity. This shows that they had a solid friendship.
You can imagine, therefore, how heartbreaking it must have been for Lewis to hear his friend insult his work.
Tolkien was a purist and didn’t believe in mixing mythology with Christian themes. To his disappointment, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe crossed characters such as Santa Clause and Father Christmas with fauns and centaurs.
As a matter of fact, Lewis drew a parallel between Aslan and Jesus Christ, saying that if Narnia existed, Aslan would have been the equivalent of Christ in that world.
Besides this, Lewis painted the story around the timeline they lived in. On the other hand, Tolkien was still writing stories that were more in line with the timeframe preceding the Norman invasion of 1066.
In essence, Lewis’ ideas clashed with Tolkien’s belief of what a good children’s book looked like. And Tolkien preferred sticking to his ideals and making Lewis feel like a fool rather than supporting him.
The Barfields’ Concerns
Once Lewis sent the book’s manuscript to the Barfields, Maud and Owen had very different concerns about the book’s contents. Owen said he didn’t understand the point of the beavers in the book and wondered if they had been added to the book just to make it seem non-serious.
On the other hand, Maud had more practical concerns. She was against the book characters wearing fur coats as she believed it endorsed the fur trade and killing innocent animals.
She was also worried that the children reading the books might believe their closets were a gateway to a fairy tale world, which could lead to the children shutting themselves inside their wardrobes. After much debate and discussion, including ensuring Maud that he’d add a warning for the children not to shut themselves in their wardrobes, Lewis managed to convince them both.
Finally, after some editing, Lewis sent the book’s manuscript to the publishers on July 29, 1949.
After further discussion with the publisher, Geoffrey Bles, who also didn’t necessarily like the idea of publishing a children’s book written by C.S. Lewis, the book was published. The book, disapproved by most of Lewis’ peers, turned into a seven-book series.
You can learn about the rest of the books in this series by reading this article: How Many Narnia Books Are There?
It’s also Lewis’ best-selling work, with over 100 million copies sold in 47 languages. The Chronicles of Narnia series also saw movie adaptations and has been a fan favorite ever since.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the first book in the Narnia series, written by C.S. Lewis.
Lewis’ inspiration behind writing the book was a vision he had at 16 about a faun carrying an umbrella and some parcels through a snowy forest. He also based his characters on the several evacuee girls who lived with him throughout the Second World War.
- Wikipedia: C.S. Lewis
- Wikipedia: Faun
- Wikipedia: June Flewett
- Wikipedia: J. R. R. Tolkien
- Wikipedia: The Inklings
- Wikipedia: Roger Lancelyn Green
- Wikipedia: Lucy Barfield
- Wikipedia: Owen Barfield
- Chilkibo Publishing: How Many Narnia Books Are There?
- Seattle Pacific University:
- A Fairy Tale for All Ages (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)
- NPR: Lewis and Tolkien, ‘Narnia’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’
- Encyclopedia: C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)
- Crossway: The Birth of Narnia and Why Tolkien Hated It
- Britannica: C.S. Lewis
- NarniaWeb: C.S. Lewis, Creator of Narnia
- Ouachita Baptist University: 10 facts about C.S. Lewis you may not know
- Mental Floss: 16 Facts About The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
- Rattlebag and Rhubarb: Evacuee Story Lines #2 C. S. Lewis