Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Finding Narnia

I'm multi-blogging today - you can also find me over the Lucky 13s, talking about the film that made me realise I wanted to be a writer, here.

Like millions of people the world over, I read C.S. Lewis’s THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE when I was a kid, and afterwards, dreamed of finding Narnia at the back of my own wardrobe, even though it was barely big enough to hold all my clothes, never mind the secret entrance to a whole other world.

It seemed I was doomed to disappointment. But if I’d only stopped to think about it, I’d’ve realised that portals to parallel worlds existed all around me, and that I’d already been through them many times.

The first was a gigantic weeping beech tree which grew at the edge of the grounds of the environmental studies centre where I grew up. In winter, the branches which cascaded from its crown were bare skeletons, the ground beneath them muddy and wet, but in summer, it underwent a transformation. The branches became leafy umbrellas, with a circle of bare, dusty earth beneath each. For my sister and I, this was our ‘house’, with each branch-umbrella forming a separate room – and there were enough of them for a grand mansion. The leaves became walls, the trunk a spiral staircase (although we never tried to climb it), the ground richly-patterned carpets, and the sunlight filtering through the canopy around us the light from glittering chandeliers. We took tea, ordered the maids about (and each other), and generally had a splendid time. At least until we got called in for dinner.

My second Narnia was on the other side of the centre grounds where, just before they gave way to fields, there was a tiny wood of horse chestnut trees. They had grown up around an ice house which dated from the days when the centre was a private home, and the family who lived there needed somewhere to store ice to keep food cold. As well as being my very own conker supply depot, each summer the wood would be transformed into a lush green paradise as a carpet of cow parsley sprung up beneath the trees. I remember my mum helping my sister and I to cook dinner over a campfire there one year, listening to episodes of THE HOBBIT on the radio while we ate, and being surrounded by a frothing sea of scented white flowers. We each had a horse, too (two long branches that grew beside the domed roof of the ice-house, which we’d climb onto to reach them), and would travel many miles to distant and exotic lands.

Finally, next to a little pond in our garden, there was a small box hedge. It was hollow inside, so my sister and I claimed it as a den. There was just room in there to sit upright, using an old plank of wood as a bench, but in my mind it was vast, a giant’s cavern with a ceiling hung with stalagtites and glittering crystals studding the walls. Once, I found a ring in there – silver, with a small blue rabbit on it – that I’d lost several years before. I hadn’t lost it in there, though, so how it ended up there, I was never sure. Perhaps it really was a portal to another world – one where lost things wait to be found…

I left my Narnias behind eventually – like the way in to the real Narnia disappears for the older characters in the series, their doors quietly closed behind me while I was busy getting older – but being a writer means that even as an adult I get to live in other worlds all the time: the worlds I create on the page. Each new story I write is a doorway into another reality, and when the time comes to move on, it’s always a wrench.

But not for long, because there’s always another story forming somewhere. Another world waiting for me to notice it.

All I have to do is start writing…


  1. The Narnia and Middle Earth books never really did much for me. I always felt as if I didn't quite get it - all those hairy feet and goblins. Mind you, I loved the Lord of The Rings films Peter Jackson made. Dens, on the other hand? Oh yeah, me and my brother made plenty of those . . . I don't remember finding any magic rings, though.

  2. This almost makes me weep... such a beautiful description of the strength of imagination children use in their play... and how we lose it ( or it changes, at least) as we get older. (You reminded me of how I used to imagine a particular bit of a tree in the park was a horse, too - had forgotten completely!) What on earth do people do who don't write, I wonder? I can't imagine not needing to build worlds in which to 'play'! And, Emma, wow - what a fantastic place you grew up in!

  3. I love all your posts but this has to be my favourite yet - perhaps because it could almost have been my story. We had a huge weeping willow that I would spend hours playing under, and my favourite book was 'The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe'. You are right, these places are so magical and yet are in our world, where we are right now - we just have to see them don't we? Lovely pics too!

  4. Dan, perhaps you didn't find any because the goblins stole them… ha ha!

    Harriet, I'm so glad you liked this post. And how cool that you also had a tree-horse! I was very lucky to grow up where I did; I think it played a HUGE part in me eventually realising I wanted to be a writer, even if I didn't know it at the time.

    Abi, thank you. It's great you had a tree like that too!

  5. Beautiful post Emma. Really enjoyed reading it. I don't surpose as writers we are ever too far away from our imaginary worlds, the joys and possibilitis of them being brought to life:)

  6. Oh, I love that picture of the blue door! Sounds like you grew up in a magical place. I grew up in a forest (well, sort of) and there were countless portals to other worlds.

  7. Thank you, Louise. No, I don't think we are, which is what makes writing so wonderful. The portals are still open, any time we choose to go through them (you could also say the same about reading!).

    Talli - you grew up in a forest? That sounds magical too! How wonderful.

  8. I played a lot in dens too - I loved being under trees and over streams on bent branches - in the in-between places where they couldn't find you.
    Thank you for posting this.

  9. Thank you for your comment!! :) I LOVE your idea of the in-between places - so true! That's exactly what the places in this post were for me.

  10. This is such a beautiful post! And it's so true, too, that as writers we get the luxury of continuing these imaginative stories forever! As you say, always another story forming somewhere!

  11. How lovely and you've just reminded me of a weeping willow Narnia of my own from childhood, I had long forgotten. Thank you :)

  12. Finally got to read this Emma and as I suspected, we were the same. I used to go UP trees to find my Narnia (Shamanic tendencies even then)

    I never grew up or grew away from Narnia - you have only to turn around quickly enough or stand still long enough to realise that it's still there, just a breath away from this everyday world and if you listen quietly you can hear the conversations going on all around you.

    Bless you for reminding me of this Emma

    1. Thank you, Cameron (and Julia and Rebecca - I don't seem to have replied to your comments back when you posted them, sorry!). It seems to be a really common experience, this finding of other worlds in the everyday world all around us. It just goes to show how powerful the imagination can be, and how it enhances our lives, even in adulthood.

  13. A beautiful and evocative piece of writing, Emma, and a compelling celebration of the imagination: of children, creative adults, and ultimately anyone who keeps that part of themselves alive!