In the 1940s, Oxford University professor C.S. Lewis struggled and fought to complete The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Little did he know that his novel would become a best seller, lead to six sequels, and still be widely read decades later. Here are some things you may not know about this long-lived children’s classic.
1. The story was inspired by an image of a faun.
From age 16 onward, Lewis often found himself imagining “a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” According to his short essay It All Began With A Picture [PDF], the image continued to come to him until, at age 40, he said to himself, “Let's try to make a story about it.”
2. The book was also inspired by three girls who lived with Lewis during World War II.
In 1939, three girls, Margaret, Mary, and Katherine, were evacuated from London because of anticipated bombings and sent to live with Lewis in the countryside for a short time. This situation seems to be the inspiration for the four children—Susan, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy—being sent to live with the old Professor in the book.
3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe took 10 years to write.
Lewis started in 1939 and finished in 1949. The novel was published in 1950.
4. The story was floundering until Lewis invented Aslan the lion.
Lewis wasn’t sure what to do with the book until “Aslan came bounding into it.” He’d been having dreams of lions, and found that putting Aslan in “pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.”
Incidentally, Aslan means "lion" in Turkish.
5. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were in a writing group called The Inklings.
While both writers were working on fantasy novels—Lewis on Narnia and Tolkien on The Lord of the Rings—they met every Monday morning to talk about writing. Others started to join them, and soon the group swelled to 19 men, so they started meeting on Thursday evenings to share and discuss their work.
6. Lewis destroyed the first version of the book because his friends didn’t like it.
Before 1947, Lewis wrote a draft of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with four children named Ann, Martin, Rose, and Peter. The reaction of his friends to the story was discouraging, to say the least. He said in a letter, “It was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it.”
7. Lucy is a real person.
Lucy is based on Lucy Barfield, Lewis’s goddaughter, and the daughter of Owen Barfield. She was 4 years old when he started the book and 14 when he finished it.
In the dedication to Lucy, he said, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it.”
8. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a “magical doorway” story.
As the term suggests, this is a story where a door or other opening allows a character to leave the real world and enter a magical world. Other magical doorways include the rabbit hole that Alice falls down in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter series.
9. The book is also a Christian allegory—or is it?
The Christian themes in the story are overt. Aslan, as a stand-in for Christ, allows himself to be sacrificed by the evil White Witch and is then resurrected, which brings salvation to Narnia. This follows Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.
But in a 1962 letter, Lewis said the book was not an allegory so much as a “supposal,” as in: “Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?”
10. Lewis jumbled all kinds of mythology into the book.
Narnia draws on Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, Irish and British fairy tales, Germanic folklore, and Arthurian romance, just to name a few. Even Santa Claus makes an appearance.
11. The White Witch is based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen.
Like the Snow Queen, the White Witch is a tall woman dressed in white who is capable of freezing people—the Snow Queen turns their hearts to ice and the White Witch turns people to stone. Both women bring a boy onto a sled and destroy him emotionally through evil magic.
12. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is chronologically the second book in the Narnia series.
While The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written first, The Magician’s Nephew is chronologically where the story starts. Many people read The Magician’s Nephew first so they can go from the earliest to the latest point in the series.
13. Professor Kirke was based on Lewis’s high school tutor.
The Professor, whose name is Digory Kirke, is based on William T. Kirkpatrick, who tutored Lewis when he was a teenager. Along with appearing in the first book, the Professor is the protagonist of The Magician’s Nephew and also appears in The Last Battle.
14. Tolkien didn’t like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
In 1949, Lewis read a completed manuscript of the book to Tolkien and was surprised by his negative reaction. There’s much speculation as to why he disliked the book so much. Some say it’s because Tolkien didn’t like how Lewis mixed different mythologies together. Another theory is that Tolkien was threatened by the speed with which Lewis assembled his world, when Tolkien was so meticulous in his invention of Middle-earth.
The truth is, we may never know the details. Tolkien said in a letter: "It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S.L.'s work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his.” Which tells us almost nothing.
15. It's one of the best-selling books of all time.
It’s difficult to rank all-time best-selling books, but when people try, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is usually on the list. For example, it’s number 6 on this list, number 9 on this list, and number 17 on this list.
In any case, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is ridiculously successful. It has been translated to 47 languages and adapted for TV, stage, radio, and the silver screen. In 2005, it was made into a big-budget movie starring Tilda Swinton and James McAvoy.
16. Turkish delight is real candy you can make yourself.
The White Witch gives Edmund magical Turkish delight that he can’t stop eating. “Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.” You can whip up a batch yourself (minus the magic, of course) with the recipe here.