Tuesday, 29 November 2011

“Find any new countries in a cupboard lately?”

This is of course a direct quote by Edmund Pevensie from that fabulous children’s book, ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’.

I know it’s a bit of a random thing to write about on a Tuesday morning, but you see today is a special day. Today is CS Lewis’ 113th birthday. 

Not that he’s here to share it with us. The old fellow (of Magdalene College Oxford) died back in 1963. Weirdly on the same day as author Aldous Huxley and the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

Now that would have made an interesting gathering at the pearly gates. JFK searching for Camelot, Aldous looking for a Brave New World and CS Lewis looking for a stone table to crack in order to turn death backwards.

It’s almost like one of those ‘Who would you have at your fantasy dinner party?’ conundrums.

I don’t know about you, but I loved The Chronicles of Narnia. And if I’m honest, I still love them now – but in a slightly different way.

Now I am fascinated by CS Lewis’ friendship with JRR Tolkien and The Inklings who used to meet up in The Eagle and Child on St Giles in Oxford to discuss fantasy and literature. I’m also fascinated by the impact of their experiences in the trenches of the First World War. You just have to read the battle scenes in the books by both authors to see where they found their muse.

But as a child, I really wanted to find my own Narnia, my own secret world. I knew it was there. If Lucy Pevensie could find it then so could I. 

 So in my quest I tried:

Jumping through my Charlie’s Angels poster. 

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third in the Narnia series), the children are drawn into Narnia via a painting of a ship at sea, hanging neglected in a guest bedroom. While we didn’t have any similar paintings in our house, I did have the aforementioned poster which I considered would give my adventure into a new world a modern twist. I put on my best ribbed polo necked jumper for the occasion, shut my eyes, held my breath and hurled myself at the wall.

Sadly this was not the portal for which I was searching. All I achieved was a crack in the plaster and a big lump on my head, which came up like an egg.


Searching for hidden worlds at the back of the wardrobe. 

In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, all the children had to do was walk through a few fur coats in a wardrobe, and there you have it – “Hello Mr Tumnus!” 

I grew up in a big old Georgian vicarage (built in 1833) which was stuffed full of original features. Surely there had to be some route through?

Mexborough Vicarage - enormous but very cold in winter. No central heating upstairs!

In one of the bathrooms, there was a bell (sadly no longer connected) which people would ring to have the servants bring more hot water. When we had the garage re-plastered we found the original kitchen fireplace which was so big you could climb inside it. And a number of the bedrooms had massive built in wardrobes where you could wriggle inside sit on a shelf, shut the door and hide.

One in particular still had the original wire hooks at the back with white rubber balls on the ends. I was convinced that they were special levers and that if I pulled on them in the right order, the back of the wardrobe would open up and reveal to me a world far beyond 1970’s South Yorkshire.

I spent quite some time trying various different combinations, but I never quite managed to find the right one – booo (sad face).

Over the years, I’d just about given up finding my doorway into a parallel universe. Until that is, I bought my current house. When the big day arrived and I finally collected the keys, I went in to find that the previous owners had left a wardrobe behind in the top room. I thought nothing of it until I came to redecorate several weeks later and moved the wardrobe to find a door behind it. I never knew it existed. 

Finally, I’d found my very own door behind a wardrobe. 

Was it to the strange new land I’d been searching for my entire childhood? 

Well, I’ll just have to leave that to your imagination, other than to say that what lies beyond the secret door in my top room is now known by all as ‘Narnia’!

One final footnote – well, I’m being all ‘author-y’ today so I’m allowed. If you’ve ever wondered what the ‘S’ stands for in CS Lewis, its Staples. Clive Staples Lewis. I’ve never been able to find out why or whether there is any family connection, so I’ll just have to make one up.

“Uncle Clive, Uncle Clive – where are you going with that big lion and a talking beaver. Wait for me .........”

Happy Birthday CS Lewis.

By Alison Staples – a not really grown up, grown up!

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