C.S.Lewis and Narnia
Dear people of Narnia, even if I lived to be a much older man than I
am, it is unlikely that I will ever stand in a place of such antiquity and romance as
Narnia. Whether you call it Narni or Narnia the name of your village is one of the most
famous in the world.
How did this happen? The main reason of course that you have survived a
very long time and have produced many important people. St Francis of Assisi performed
miracles in this beautiful place, and it is the birthplace of Blessed Lucy of Narnia and
And of course in recent years C.S.Lewis added to your glory. Although
C.S.Lewis was a student of the Classics all his life, I think he first read the first
century Roman historian Tacitus when he was a student of his fathers old headmaster,
W.T.Kirkpatrick, beginning in 1914. It was almost certainly then that Lewis acquired a
copy of the work all students of the Classics needed for their studies
Murrays Small Classical Atlas (1904). Lewis loved maps, and he followed the
armies of Tacitus and other Roman leaders through the Roman World, it led him to look hard
at a map of Italy. And there he saw a name he instantly fell in love with Narnia. I
will probably give the Atlas to the Bodleian Library. But, as you may know, I sent my
friend Giuseppe Fortunati a copy of this map, and you will see that Lewis underscored the
name of your town it with his pen. That name was to remain in his mind, growing, for many
And so it came about that when, in the winter of 1949, that Lewis began
seeing in his imagination some of the pictures that led to the writing of the Narnian
stories. It began with a faun with an umbrella in a snowy wood, but even then nothing
might have come of their pictures until his dreams were invaded by a huge, golden lion
Aslan and almost at once Narnia was born! But I should say Narnia was re-born,
for Lewis had been admiring this favoured spot for half his life. And out of this came the
seven Chronicles of Narnia, perhaps the most loved stories in the world. I will not call
them childrens stories because they are loved by people of all
ages most certainly me!
I came originally from the United States and I began corresponding with
C.S.Lewis in 1954, when I was in the Army. Soon we were exchanging letters, and in 1963
Lewis invited me to Oxford to meet him. It was all very easy merely thinking of
meeting that great man, but when I arrived at the door of his house and had rung the bell
I wished I was anywhere except Oxford! It is one thing to have heroes it is
another thing to meet them! But Lewis quickly put me at my ease, and the friendship
advanced more quickly than I expect either of us imagined it would. I was teaching English
literature in an American university, and I think Id read almost every word Lewis
had ever published.
That first meeting in June 1963 was beyond anything I had hoped for.
But there was one drawback. I liked so much than I imagined was possible, I was
heartbroken, as that first meeting ended, to think this was it this is
the only time I will see this marvellous man. But when I was thanking him for giving
me his time he said: Youre not getting away! Youre coming to the Inkling
meeting on Monday! Then came the day when something happened that was as momentous
as my first visit to Narnia Lewis asked if I would stay in Oxford as his private
secretary. I did indeed stay there as his secretary and we had many good times together.
Then, in the autumn of that year I had to return to the United States to resign from my
university post. But Lewis and I were meanwhile busy planning my return to Oxford in
January 1964. Then out of the blue and most tragically Lewis and the
President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, died on the same day 22 November
What was I to do? Friends of Lewis I had met in Oxford urged me to
return for they felt there was a job for me to do there. And so I went back to Oxford in
January 1964, and almost as soon as I met Lewiss brother, W.H.Lewis, he urged me to
edit his brothers writings.
Whoever had such an unexpected life as I have? A cup of tea with
C.S.Lewis led to becoming his secretary. But what work Lewis laid upon me!
Ive edited so many of Lewiss literary remains that his friend J.R.R.Tolkien
said when I gave him one of Lewiss books I brought out "You know,
Jack Lewis is the only friend Ive had who has published more after his death
But while most of my work is done in the Bodleian Library, and out of
the sight of everyone except my Cat, it has simply astounded me how much Lewiss
reputation has risen in the forty-six years since he died. Do I dare mention it? I am
perhaps the only man in the world who won an argument with C.S.Lewis. Not many can make that
claim. Lewis was worried about what his brother would live on when he - C.S.Lewis - died,
and this because he was sure that upon his own death his books would stop selling.
No! I exclaimed. Whatd you mean, "no?" he said.
This happens, he said, to nearly all authors. After they die their books
sell for a while, and then trail off to nothing. But not yours! I
said. Why not? he asked. Because they are too good - and people are not
that stupid. The fact that Im standing here is part of the proof that I won
that argument. Lewis was a very modest man, and always undervalued his writing.
Up until this visit to Narnia, the most wonderful accolade to come my
way was an audience with Pope John Paul II on 14 November 1984. The Pope had been a fan of
Lewiss books, especially The Four Loves, for years, and he wanted me to tell
him what Lewis was like. Of course I hoped he would tell me what he thought of Lewis and
at the end of the audience he made one of the most penetrating statements Ive ever
heard about Lewis. C.S.Lewis, he said, knew what his apostolate
- there was a long pause and he did it! And
there you have, summed up, what makes C.S.Lewis well, C.S.Lewis.
But now comes one of the most intriguing pieces of Lewis scholarship.
The thing which has occupied my mind for almost twenty years is: Did Lewis know about your
Blessed Lucy of Narnia? And did he base the main character in his Narnian stories
Lucy Pevensie - on Blessed Lucy of Narnia? We may never know, but I think I
cant be sure that the answer to both questions in Yes. First of all, while The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is dedicated to his goddaughter, Lucy
Barfield, he only met her once as a baby, and her father was sure the main character in
that first Chronicle was not named after his daughter.
Second, Lewis was a great scholar especially of the 16th
century and he is more likely than most people today to know about Narnia and its
saints than most people. I find it odd that I would know something about the world
of Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and he would not? Lewis did not
parade his knowledge, and I found out about his choosing of Narnia because I asked
him. I didnt know enough to ask him about Blessed Lucy of Narnia. So what are we
I first visited Narnia in the autumn of 1991. It is something I will
never forget. The reason a friend and I visited Narnia was because a Dominican priest told
me about Blessed Lucy of Narnia, and I was determined to venerate her assuming
there was anything to venerate. We have few relics in English churches because of the
Reformation, and those relics we venerate are so small almost invisible to the
naked eye that you have to take the priests word for it that they really are
there. On 18 October 1991 my friend and I toiled up that steep incline that leads to the
ancient Narnia, hoping the relic of Blessed Lucy of Narnia might be bigger than the nearly
invisible relics we have in England. Once we reached the top we had no idea where to go.
Fortunately we encountered two ladies, an elderly woman and her daughter. It took some
time to explain who we wanted to see for not knowing Italian all I could say was
Blessed Lucy. Ah! she said, Blessed Lucia! Blessed Lucia!
Then, leaving her mother, she led us to the Duomo, and then to a chapel on the right. She
pointed and said Ecco! And there, yards away, was not a speck
but the whole of Blessed Lucy of Narnia. We, quite rightly, fell on our knees.
After years of study it seems to me that Lewiss character, Lucy,
bears such a very strong resemblance to your saint the inner light of Faith, the
extraordinary perseverance I dont think the naming of his finest character Lucy
can be other than intentional. I think Blessed Lucy of Narnia has furnished the world
with one of the most loved, and spiritually mature characters in English fiction. And if
Im wrong? Well, let me put it this way. My guess is that when we get to Heaven we
will be met by C.S.Lewis in the company of Blessed Lucy of Narnia. What will they say to
us? Will they reveal whether Lewis based his Lucy on your saint? I think Blessed Lucy of
Narnia and C.S.Lewis will laugh. Then Blessed Lucy will say, We will tell you about
that later. Other more important things come first. Jack Lewis are here to conduct you
into the presence of our Host. After that we can talk about all the things on your mind.
But not just yet.
Finally, I am deeply honoured by the Church in Narnia for placing in my
care and that of my Godson, Gregory Lippiatt, a Relic of Blessed Lucy of Narnia to take to
the Oxford Oratory. And thanks to all of you for welcoming us to the most famous town in