Fantasy novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is notable for its extraordinary gateway to another world – a mysterious portal that takes you from the earth to the magical land of Narnia. Written in 1950, the book follows the adventures of four young siblings, who discover the doorway inside an old wardrobe.
The timeless tales of the wicked White Witch, talking animals and other mythical creatures are as relevant today as they were when the author Clive Staples Lewis (aka CS Lewis) first dreamed them up.
Discovering the doorway
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is the most famous of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia series. The tale begins in 1940, when Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are evacuated to escape the bombings of London during the Second World War.
They stay with the elderly Professor Digory Kirke in his country house. While exploring their new home, Lucy finds an old wardrobe and is suddenly transported through the portal to Narnia when she climbs inside.
Belfast-born Lewis, a veteran of the First World War, had fought on the front line in the Somme Valley in France. He had applied to join the Armed Forces at the outbreak of the Second World War, but had been turned down, so he had joined the Home Guard instead. He also opened up his home to evacuees for the duration of the war.
The former Oxford University graduate had loved the tales of Beatrix Potter as a child and had written and illustrated his own animal stories since his youth. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe appears to be a hybrid of his love of animals (particularly mythical talking animals with human attributes) and his time spent with the wartime evacuees.
It is Lucy’s discovery of the door to Narnia that sparks all the adventures. Lucy is the youngest of the four Pevensie siblings and while in Narnia, she becomes Queen Lucy the Valiant.
The wardrobe containing the portal has become an icon for the whole series. Lucy’s first venture into Narnia begins after she spots the “simply enormous” wardrobe and climbs in to investigate further, pushing her way between the coats hanging inside.
However, she is surprised to feel a soft, powdery and cold substance under her feet, rather than the floor of the wardrobe. Stepping forward, she finds herself next to tree branches, which she describes as “very strange”.
She realises something very odd indeed has happened when she suddenly finds herself standing in a wood after dark, walking on a carpet of snow and with fresh snow falling on her!
Moments later, she meets a faun called Tumnus. The magical creature, who is part-man and part-goat, tells Lucy all about the dreadful fate that has befallen Narnia under the rule of the White Witch. Once Lucy has returned safely from her initial visit, all four Pevensie children enter Narnia through the portal a number of times.
Door back to earth
They meet many fascinating creatures, most notably a great lion called Aslan, who is the rightful King of Narnia. The siblings are told of a prophecy that the White Witch will fall when the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve sit on the thrones at Cair Paravel castle and because of the prophecy, the witch has banned humans from Narnia.
In the ensuing chronicles, Aslan has created a wooden doorframe in Narnia, so that the children can be easily transported back to earth. It is described as being made of two stakes of wood around 3ft apart, with a third piece of wood tied across the top. It was said to resemble a “doorway from nowhere into nowhere”.
Adaptations of the book
The Chronicles of Narnia have been adapted three times for television – in 1967, ABC TV produced a 10-part series that was broadcast on the ITV network, while the 1979 animated TV movie won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. The third adaptation, made by the BBC in 1988, won a BAFTA Award. There have also been many stage adaptations over the years.
Released in 2005, a film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was co-produced by Walt Disney. It grossed $745 million at the box office and was a worldwide hit. There were two further films – Prince Caspian in 2008 and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 2010.
In 2005, Jill Freud, the former wife of broadcaster, politician, writer and chef Clement Freud, revealed she had been the inspiration for Lucy Pevensie. She was evacuated from London to Lewis’s home to escape The Blitz with her two sisters in the summer of 1943 and became an integral part of one of the most famous books in history.
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