NARNIA – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Clive Staples Lewis (known as Jack), the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was born in Belfast on November 29th, 1898 to the comfortably off Albert James and Flora Augusta Hamilton. He grew up happily in a house called Little Lea, a house that is generally credited as the one from which he derived the inspiration for the stories which have given pleasure to so many people. It was a large, gabled house overlooking the River Lagan, with dark, narrow passages and a library that was crammed with books including two of his favourites, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
During the second world war many London evacuee children were sent to live in Belfast’s supposedly fresh country air to avoid the bombing and the air-raids (despite the fact that the Northern Ireland capital was also subject to severe bombing). Like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, several groups of children stayed with Lewis at his country home and they played with Jack and his brother in the large overgrown garden in a Northern Ireland not then plagued by bitter civil strife, although there were always tensions.
The first Narnia book was published in 1950, since when they have sold more than 100 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages, opening up a world of magic to children who have lapped up the stories of the mythical world found behind the wardrobe.
As a child, C. S. Lewis constanrtly made up stories about a place he called “Animal-Land“, a land inhabited by animals, mice and rabbits who rode out to kill cats. These stories he related to his brother as they sat among the coats in their grandfather’s old wardrobe. He even created detailed maps of the fantasy world.
The Narnia story
By chance, four young children from wartime England discover a magic land called Narnia, lying beyond and through an ordinary wardrobe. Once through the wardrobe and into the mythical land, Edmund, one of the children, betrays his siblings to a wicked witch who has been holding the world of Narnia in thrall to winter. Spring can only come to Narnia and the betrayal be forgiven when the lion, Aslan, agrees to die at the witch’s hand.
Looking around the area in which he grew up, it is not hard to believe that his surroundings inspired the mythical land of Narnia. The craggy, heather-draped Mourne Mountains just a few miles away, Belfast’s own Black Mountain, and the lakes, rivers, forests and ruined castles with which the area abounds played their part as sure as the tales of hobgoblins and giants from Irish folklore and the Norse sagas which were, apparently, Lewis’s favourite reading.
CS Lewis spent his childhood holidays in Rostrevor, a small seaside town about 50 miles from Belfast which faces across the Lough to Carlingford in the Republic of Ireland. In one of his letters to his brother Lewis wrote that the mountains that loom above it (the Mournes) made him feel “that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge”.
At Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, a Narnia trail will bring you into the world of Lewis’s chronicles., meeting Tree People and beavers along the way. The walk starts and finishes within Kilbroney Park and the trail is entered, like the magical world of Narnia itself, through a ‘Wardrobe Door’ and along the way you’ll find features like Tree People, The Lamp Post, The Beaver’s House and Aslan’s Table.
Enter at your peril though, as the curse of the White Witch lies upon the land. It is always winter and Christmas never comes and you run the risk of being turned into stone especially if you eat the forbidden sweets.
If there is time and if you are fit, climb the mountain to Cloughmore (trans. big stone) the granite boulder that stands 1,000 metres above Rostrevor – a perfect model for Aslan’s altar – where the final chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe come to life. With a little suspension of disbelief you can imagine the creatures that worship there – the Well Women, centaurs and unicorns – and, of course, the great Aslan.
Before you go. The jury is still out on some of the places that inspired Narnia but the 17th century Dunluce Castle on the Antrim Coast is believed to be the basis for Cair Paravel, the royal fortress in Narnia.
NOTES; Unfortunately, it is not permitted to enter Little Lea, Lewis’s former home, as the house is privately owned but fans of the book seem satisfied to stand outside and gaze at the one-time family home.
Any tour of Lewis’s Belfast must encompass the magnificent bronze of The Wardrobe (called “The Searcher”) by Ross Wilson which has been erected in central Belfast and the many murals on Belfast’s walls which refer to the man and his work. However, Belfast today is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe and murals are changing rapidly. CS Lewis wouldn’t recognise today’s Belfast were he to return, from the magnificent Waterfront Concert Halls and Visitor Attractions to the Titanic Museum, but he would recognise that the soul of the city is still intact.
A private taxi tour is an excellent way of seeing the area and the Belfast Tourist Board will be happy to advise on this.