by Tenethia South
Imagination can stem from the simplest things in life, such as your home, a church, or even a photo at which you glanced. Our minds remember images, and they play through our minds and inspire us to write, or sing, or do any number of things. Just like you and I, CS Lewis’s writing was influenced by places he had seen, such as his first home, Little Lea; Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland; Narni, Italy; Legananny Dolmen; and the woods by his final home, the Kilns.
Some places in Lewis’s life simply inspired him to let his imagination run wild. One of Lewis’s first homes, Little Lea, (which they called “The New House”) was a great atmosphere for imagination as it had great empty rooms and long hallways to explore. This was likely where Lewis got the idea to have Lucy find the wardrobe and Narnia while exploring a large country house in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe . Also, there were attics to be explored, which quite possibly inspired the attic that Polly and Digory explored in The Magician’s Nephew. (1)
Also, the gorgeous landscapes in Northern Ireland probably helped Lewis build the landscape of Narnia in his mind long before he ever thought of Narnia. Places that may have inspired him are the remains of a Bishop’s estate near to the cliff’s edge seen at Castlerock in County Londonderry and the ruins of Dunluce Castle in County Atrim. It’s possible that these ruins influenced the image of Cair Paravel, and that Dunluce Castle in particular inspired the ruins of the Cair in Prince Caspian. In fact, one of the drawings of Cair Paravel that Pauline Baynes did looks rather similar to what Dunluce might have looked like when it was intact. A picture of this drawing overlaid on the ruins of Dunluce can be seen on the documentary accompanying the extended cut of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe entitled CS Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia. (2, 3)
Even places Lewis never saw personally inspired him. While looking at a map, a place called Narni, in Italy, caught Lewis’s eye. Inspired, Lewis used the old Latin form of its name, Narnia, and thus was the world born. (4) An interesting tid-bit about Narni is that it was home to a little-known saint, Blessed Lucy of Narni, who lived there in the 1400s. Although Lewis did not know she existed when he wrote of Lucy Pevensie’s discovery of Narnia, Walter Hooper, the literary adviser of Lewis’s estate, has a cat named after her in honour of the connection between the imaginary world and the ancient city.
Another place that may have been inspiration for Lewis was Legananny Dolmen, an old tomb in Northern Ireland. In an ancient Celtic language, Bretan, dolmen is translated as “stone table.” It is not much of an assumption to say that this 10-foot high stone is the inspiration for one of the most memorable places in The Chronicles of Narnia, the Stone Table. (2)
What is now the CS Lewis Nature Reserve, was once the place where Lewis trod during the years in which he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Containing a marsh-like lake, an air raid shelter, and many varieties of birds and aquatic creatures, it is no wonder that these woods were thought to inspire the Chronicles. They much resemble what a child’s dream of Narnia might be. The CS Lewis Nature Reserve is now open for public visitation in Oxford, England, just south of the Kilns, which was Lewis’s home until his death in 1963. (4, 5)
By choosing to put his inspiration from Little Lea, Dunluce Castle, Narni, Legananny Dolmen, and the current CS Lewis Nature Reserve into writing, CS Lewis delivered Narnia to us. What could you do with the inspiration you have been given?
1. C. S. Lewis (1990). Surprised by Joy. Fount Paperbacks. p. 9-11.
2. Discover Northern Ireland
3. CS Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia (documentary film)
4. Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper (2002). C. S. Lewis: A Biography. Second Edition. Fount Publishers. p. 306.
5. BBOWT – CS Lewis Nature Reserve
6. Headington – The Kilns