In 1939, as Hitler began his swift march across Europe, three children made a journey of their own, arriving at the doorstep of the Kilns in Risinghurst, just outside of Oxford, where C.S. Lewis was a professor of English Literature. Although only forty, his request to re-enter military service was denied and the armed force’s counter-offer of writing propaganda columns for the Ministry of Information instead was deemed too paltry. So Lewis, desperate to do something worthwhile to help his country, took in three schoolgirls, Mary, Margaret, and Katherine, who were evacuating London before what many considered to be its inevitable bombing.
Far from being burdened by their presence, Lewis was inspired by the girls. Having already published several novels but still finding critical and commercial success in short supply, he used the girls’ situation as motivation to finally start working on a story he’d been mulling over for almost twenty-five years.
In a 1960’s essay for the Radio Times entitled “It All Began with a Picture,” Lewis wrote that:
“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.'”
During this time, he was meeting regularly with a writers’ group known as The Inklings, whose members gathered on Monday mornings to discuss their respective projects. Among the members was J.R.R. Tolkien, who was working on his Lord of the Rings trilogy at the same time Lewis was struggling to flesh out Narnia.
Lewis finished a draft of the story in 1947 and shared it with his group. In this version, the children were Ann, Martin, Rose, and Peter, with Peter being the youngest and the main protagonist. To his dismay, the book was panned and Lewis ultimately ended up destroying it and starting over.
The plot of the book finally found its footing with the introduction of Aslan. In the same essay for the Radio Times, Lewis said:
“At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don’t know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there, he pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him.”
In 1949–ten years after he started–Lewis finished The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. In addition to Aslan, this one had a new set of children: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, named after Lewis’s goddaughter, Lucy Barfield. Upon its publication on October 16, 1950, this version found favor with readers around the world and, seventy years later, new audiences are still following Lucy into Narnia. It has been translated into forty-seven languages, inspired countless stage and screen adaptations, and been included on numerous best-seller lists since its release.
Not to mention inspiring countless kids to search out that mysterious, magical desert, Turkish delight.