The Story Behind One of the Greatest Story Series of All Time

Apr 27, 2020 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


There are certain works of literature that cross cultural divides and stand the test of time. Nearly everyone has heard of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Little House on the Prairie books, and the works of Charles Dickens. C.S. Lewis’s classic tales of the Pevensie children who discover the land of Narnia are among those great classics. Today there are Narnia festivals and big budget movies based upon the books, which have been translated into more than forty languages. If you’re interested in learning even more about this fascinating writer, visit the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s website.

But have you ever wondered what inspired Lewis to create this intricate universe? How did he arrive at the idea of four children stumbling across the wardrobe? Where did a valiant mouse named Reepicheep fit into the equation? And what parallels does Lewis draw when he introduces Aslan and the White Witch? With so many of us sequestering ourselves at home with our families right now, we thought this might be the perfect time to pull out the Chronicles, introduce them to a new generation of readers, and escape into a classic adventure. What better way to begin than to provide some context behind the creation?

Thank you to Maria Gerber, IEW author and editor, who wrote this brief backstory of the Chronicles’ author, C.S. Lewis.

C.S. “Jack” Lewis (1898–1963) was born in Ireland. His family valued education, and all of the Lewises read voraciously—Jack by age three. Influenced by Beatrix Potter’s tales, five-year-old Jack wrote stories of animals in an imaginary land. They wore clothes, of course. After their mother died in 1908, Jack and his brother, “Warnie,” grew very close and together attended English boarding schools. Then, before his nineteenth birthday Jack volunteered for the British Army and in 1918 was wounded at the Front in France. Coming home and recovering, Lewis was gratefully able to start at Oxford, where he excelled in philosophy, English, Greek and Latin texts, literature, and classical history.

For twenty-five years after graduation, Lewis was a Fellow and Tutor in Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1954 he attained a full professorship at Cambridge University. Remarkably, while teaching full time, Lewis also authored many books and essays on the topics he had studied. Among his notable fiction titles are The Pilgrim’s Regress, The Space Trilogy, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Till We Have Faces.

In 1950 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published. Eventually six additional tales describing the battles between light and darkness in the kingdom of Narnia completed The Chronicles. But do you know how Lewis, a professor of literature, became such an important contributor to wondrous children’s fantasy?


A young man’s life, loves, and education mold him. Lewis’s grief over the death of his mother was echoed in The Magician’s Nephew, when Digory’s mother was seriously ill. Time spent with vast amounts of literature, particularly ancient and medieval lore, also shaped Lewis’s thinking. Throughout his lifetime he retained a deep love for his Irish family and friends, for his homeland, and for the Celtic mythology his nurse had recounted to him. During WWII four youngsters stayed with Lewis in his country home to escape the bombing happening to the English cities. From this experience, Lewis created the four Pevensie children who populated his stories. One of the boys who stayed with Lewis had a pet mouse. Do you know Reepicheep? Two of the Chronicles books starred this heroic, sword-wielding mouse! Writers write about what they know.

Lewis had a bright imagination. Studying with teachers who loved him, he had nurtured friendships with brilliant men. A professor named W.T. Kirkpatrick had tutored Lewis toward acceptance at Oxford; to honor him, Lewis named a character in the Chronicles after Kirkpatrick: Professor Kirke. In an Oxford literary club called the Inklings, which included authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and his brother, Warnie, Lewis heard and critiqued others’ unpublished manuscripts as they were read aloud. They in turn critiqued his. After Lewis digested The Place of the Lion, a fantasy by Williams, he went on to characterize the magnificent Aslan. Having long suffered from nightmares himself, he wrote about a place where night terrors come true in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Some 350 pictures that Lewis saw in his mind, he described to the illustrator, Pauline Baynes, and the drawings showed up in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Baynes did a reverse Unit 5: Writing from Pictures! The backstory of The Chronicles of Narnia is assuredly fascinating, and Lewis’s classic series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

C.S. Lewis was certainly a gifted storyteller. His Chronicles of Narnia are still greatly enjoyed by young and old even today, seventy years after the first book in the series was published. They are filled with excitement, pathos, tragedy, and hope. IEW also publishes two theme-based books that are based upon the series. Following Narnia®️ Volume 1: The Lion’s Song covers the first three novels in the series (The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and A Horse and His Boy) while Following Narnia®️ Volume 2: Aslan’s Country completes the series, focusing on the final four novels (Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle).

Live Chat with IEW