British writer C. S. Lewis’s well-loved children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia, began in 1950 with the publication of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by publisher Geoffrey Bles (in the U.S. Macmillan was the publisher.) The book was, according to Lewis, inspired by a drawing of a faun — a satyr — hurrying through a snowy wood carrying a bundle of packages and an umbrella. Intriguingly, it is not known whether he was inspired by an actual picture, or one that existed only in his head. Said he, “Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’ ”
His story, begun in the late 1940s, drew on the British style of children’s fantasy exemplified by author Edith Nesbit where young people in a contemporary setting encounter magical objects and other worlds. As one of the Inklings, he was surely also inspired by Tolkien (and from him, E. R. Eddison) who was working on The Lord of the Rings trilogy at the same time. The recent events of WWII also influenced the book’s setting, which begins in an old country mansion where the Pevensie children shelter to escape the bombing of London. It is in this sprawling house where Lucy, the youngest child, hides in a wardrobe and emerges into the fantasy land of Narnia with its mythological creatures and talking animals. But all is not well. Narnia’s Hitler analog, The White Witch, has made it eternal winter (“and never Christmas”) and tyrannizes the local populace with her wolf secret police force and a wand that turns victims into stone. A plot summary is here for those not familiar with the books (though you should be.)
I first encountered the book in 6th grade in parochial school, where an exceptionally hip and creative nun read it to us, aloud. I was completely mesmerized. At that time, I was familiar with myths and fairy tales and was starting to read some SF, and the concept of combining contemporary characters who were kids, like me, with magic and myth (what we might call urban fantasy these days) went off in me like a skyrocket. I attempted my very first first fanfic, Aslan’s Birthday Party, and a Narnia adventure of my own, The White Witch and the Heat Queen. Alas, neither were finished.
Part of the appeal of the first Narnia book lies with its title. How nicely it rolls off the tongue, how intriguing the images it generates. The mind starts wondering immediately how the three relate. The two W words at the end add a nice touch of alliteration, too. A more descriptive title, like The Eternal Winter of Narnia, would neither have had the impact or the British sense of whimsy.
In some other universe, there were books produced that were like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, without being exactly like them. Here are some examples.
Variations on the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
|The Lion, the Knight, and the Knapsack
The Swan, the Queen, and the Quince Tree
The Serpent, the Rogue, and the Rose
The Falcon, the Witch, and the Windlass
The Lion, the Dwarf, and the Dagger
The Manticore, the Maid, and the Maypole
The Eagle, the Sphinx, and the Sphere
The Crow, the Warrior, and the Warden
The Otter, the Sylph, and the Strawberry
The Weasel, the Witch, and the Wood
The Vulture, the Farmer, and the Fen