He gave us Narnia and he gave us Aslan, but, as we find out, this famous Belfast author found inspiration closer to home than you might think
Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898. From an early age he was entranced with stories of animals. The Icelandic sagas, Greek mythology and Irish folklore equally fascinated him. From these childhood interests emerged the fantasy land of Narnia, first encountered in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and then throughout The Chronicles of Narnia series.
While he remains best known for creating Narnia, Lewis was also a prolific writer. His immense body of work includes contributions to countless journals and articles, several novels and no small amount of poetry.
Even Lewis’s friends were gifted. It was at Oxford University where he met fellow literary legend, J.R.R Tolkien. The two struck up a firm and fruitful friendship.
Deeply proud of where he grew up, Lewis will be remembered by that same city, Belfast, 50 years after his death (November 22nd 1963). The CS Lewis Festival will run from 18 – 23 November and feature events for all ages throughout Belfast and the surrounding areas.
“On this, the 50th anniversary of his death”, said councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the Lord Mayor of Belfast “it is right that we cherish his memory and nurture the inspiration that his writings have given us”.
The festival, though, will be much more than simply a sombre remembrance. Not only can you hear readings, visit his old school, Campbell College, and bring the children to an Aslan Workshop, but there’s also a dedicated CS Lewis Trail where you can visit several sites of inspiration that he drew on during his literary career.
In fact, there are many secrets around Belfast that may have influenced the young Clive Staples to create his famous kingdom. To find them, you just have to look hard enough.
For example, the rectory near to St Mark’s Church, Dundela, where Lewis was baptised, has a doorknob shaped like a lion. Coincidence? Maybe. Of course, if that’s not a clue to Lewis’s inspiration for Aslan, a more potent one may be found just a touch further south.
Tollymore Forest Park in Castlewellan, County Down, stands on the southern slopes of the Mourne Mountains. The whole park appears as one huge folly, brimming over with romance, eccentric beauty and scatterings of natural curiosities. Should you visit, keep your eyes peeled for the Horn Bridge straddling the Azalea Walk and its small, classical fountain set into the wall. On it is an almost life-sized head of a stone lion, through which water spouts.
According to local legend, this is Aslan.
Magical Mourne Mountains
It’s this mountain range, however, that truly bewitched Lewis with its spectacular peaks and seemingly endless views. In his essay, On Stories, the author said of the area, “I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards, which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.”
According to local mythology, the Cloughmore Stone – a 40-ton granite boulder standing on a mountain ridge 1,000ft above Rostrevor – arrived there through the work of a giant. It was most likely launched at the famously argumentative Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool), hero of the Ulster sagas, during an argument with another mythical creature. No doubt Lewis marveled at its ideal location overlooking Carlingford Lough.
CS Lewis’s fantastical world has been brought to life on the big screen and introduced to a whole new generation of fans worldwide. Even as you read this, a movie version of The Silver Chair is in development.
It’s safe to say that this literary Belfast legend won’t be forgotten any time soon. But should you wish to remember him properly, you know where to go.