By Vivien Douglas

One of the famous sights in the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a life-sized bronze statue, by sculptor Ross Wilson, entitled “The Searcher”. Erected in 1998, in honour of the centennial of author C S Lewis’s birth there, it depicts the author as one of his own characters – Digory Kirke about to step into a large wardrobe, presumably in search of the mysterious land of Narnia. Those who love the cycle of children’s fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, need not go to such lengths this winter. A visit to the enchanted kingdom can be theirs for the price of a theatre ticket, as Courtenay Little Theatre presents the musical Narnia, based on The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the first book in the series and listed as one of the “100 Greatest Novels in the English Language”.

Directed by Brian Mather, with musical direction by Michael Eddy, this delightful version by Jules Tasca, Thomas Tierney and Ted Drachman, will thrill both young and old, as it brings the beloved characters of Aslan the Lion, the Pevensie children, the Beavers, Father Christmas, and the faun, Mr Tumnus, to the stage, along with the terrible White Witch Jadis, her sled-pulling dwarf and the wolves that act as her secret police. The beautiful set, designed by Jay Crowder, will transport audiences instantly into a magical realm.

The tale of Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie is already well-known to the millions who have enjoyed this book in over thirty languages. On being evacuated from London during WWII, the children stay at an old manor house belonging to Professor Digory. During a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy, the youngest, steps into a large wardrobe and suddenly finds herself meeting that mythological creature, a faun, in the snow-covered land of Narnia – a bleakly beautiful place where “it is always winter, but never Christmas”. The exciting adventures that follow test all four children in ways they could never have imagined.

What varied influences led Clive Staples Lewis, a predominantly Christian writer and a respected Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, to create such a fantastical tale for children? Lewis always loved animals, and when his beloved dog “Jacksie” died, when Lewis was four, he insisted on taking the name Jack in memory of his pet, and was known to friends and family as Jack for the rest of his life. As children, Jack and his brother Warren loved the animals in The Tales of Beatrix Potter, and together they created an imaginary land called “Boxen”, which was inhabited and governed entirely by animals, whose stories were illustrated by Jack.

In his teen years Lewis devoured Greek legends and myths, but also developed a passionate interest in Norse mythology, reading the Icelandic sagas and exploring their legends in epic poetry. He commented that he was struck by “Northernness.” The strong effect these tales had upon him are revealed in a published essay he wrote after becoming famous as the creator of the Narnia books. In it he comments: “The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then, one day when I was about

forty, I said to myself ‘Let’s try to make a story about it’ ”

In the years between being sixteen and turning forty, Lewis fought in WWI’s Battle of the Somme – arriving at the front on November 29, 1917, his nineteenth birthday. After being wounded, he was sent to England to convalesce, and eventually resumed his Oxford University studies taking a distinguished Triple First – high honours in three study areas. It was at Oxford that he became the friend and colleague of J.R.R. Tolkien, of The Lords of the Rings fame. He joined a group founded by Tolkien for reading Old Norse, and later they both became members of a literary society called The Inklings. At this time, due partly to Tolkien, Lewis returned to the Christianity he had abandoned in his youth. All of these experiences: the horrors of war, the Greek myths, the Old Norse writings and his re-discovered Christian faith undoubtedly influenced his writing of The Chronicles of Narnia.

However, the real catalyst for Lewis to begin the first book happened at the start of WWII. At this time he, his brother Warren and friend, Jane Moore, were sharing a large house called The Kilns, near Oxford. Into this household, in 1939, came three of the evacuee children sent into the countryside from England’s cities to escape the bombing raids. Lewis felt their arrival gave him new appreciation of children. That September he began a children’s story which would eventually provide him with the basis for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. In 1948, he mentioned completing a children’s book “in the tradition of E. Nesbit”, (famous author of The Railway Children). He wrote that while writing his book: “…suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time…I don’t know where the Lion came from, or why he came. But, once he was there, he pulled the whole story together.” The book was to introduce young readers to Christian ideals. Aslan, the Great Lion, was not intended as an allegory, according to Lewis, but was intended to answer the question “What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia…?”

Lewis dedicated the book to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield, whose first name he took for the book’s youngest protagonist. It was published in October 1950, with illustrations by Pauline Baynes, and became a childhood classic. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this wonderful, inspirational story in musical form on stage over the Christmas period. Tickets are selling fast, early booking is recommended.

Performance dates at the Sid Williams Theatre are December 27th to January 3rd. The actors and crew do get January 1st off but, other than that, the show runs straight through. There is one matinee on Sunday, December 28th at 2 PM, tickets $20 per seat. All other shows are at 7:30 PM with $20 tickets, except for the special New Year’s Eve celebration at 7:30 PM December 31st, for which seats are $25 each. Tickets may be purchased at the Sid Williams Ticket Centre, 442 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay, online at www.sidwilliamstheatre.com or by phone (250) 338-2430.