Very few fantasy writers have managed to match the literary achievements of C.S. Lewis whose Chronicles of Narnia series continues to inspire children to look for magic in the most mundane corners of the world. The series of novels has been translated into various languages, adapted into films and video games nothing has come close to capturing the power of the original books written by the British professor.
Born in Belfast in 1898, Lewis went on to teach literature at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world like Oxford University and later wrote extensively about the importance of religion and theological frameworks in order to find moral purpose. The memories of Northern Ireland continued to dominate most of his imagination and influenced his fiction.
While describing his experiences after coming to England in Surprised by Joy, Lewis wrote: “No Englishman will be able to understand my first impressions of England… The strange English accents with which I was surrounded seemed like the voices of demons. But what was worst was the English landscape … I have made up the quarrel since; but at that moment I conceived a hatred for England which took many years to heal.”
One particular part of the Northern Irish landscape that inspired him to write The Chronicles of Narnia is a granite mountain range called the Mourne Mountains. These breathtaking natural marvels, however, are sadly not associated with Lewis’ imagination because of the widespread popularity of the film adaptations and the different route they took.
Instead of staying true to Lewis’ intentions, the filmmaking crew behind The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe decided to use New Zealand as the backdrop for their visual translations of Lewis’ wild romps. In order to fulfil some of the necessary elements of the books, they even tried to import live reindeer but were denied permission by authorities.
If you are a fan of the original novels and want to experience the magic of Narnia without the adulterations of the films, it is essential that you plan a trip to the Mourne Mountains as soon as you can. In stark contrast to the mountains in New Zealand, these Irish landforms are truly ‘Northern’ in every sense of the word.
“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,” Lewis said. “I yearn to see County Down in the snow, one almost expects to see a march of dwarfs dashing past. How I long to break into a world where such things were true.”
Lewis was fascinated with the Irish province of Ulster and expressed his desire to a friend named Arthur Greeves to empty the land of its people and fill them with characters from his own mind which is what happened in the Narnia books. Thanks to increasingly more accessible travel routes and more awareness about Lewis’ heritage, exploring the writer’s childhood and the places that inspired him have become much easier.
Detailed information about places of interest with respect to Lewis’ life was made available due to the efforts of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board but if you plan on seeing the Mourne Mountains first, don’t worry. After arriving in Belfast, you can access Mourne by hiring a cab, getting on a bus or buying a ticket for Newry train station which should take a couple of hours at most.
The Mourne Mountains are an extremely popular destination for hikers with mesmerising views but if you really want to get inside Lewis’ head, follow his own advice: “That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.”