How Narnia Works

The 7-book series "The Chronicles of Narnia". See more Narnia pictures.
The 7-book series "The Chronicles of Narnia". See more Narnia pictures.
Image courtesy Amazon

Like most children, when I was little I felt put upon by grown-ups. They made me work when I really wanted to read or play. To escape from doing homework and cleaning my room, I used my imagination to invent magical worlds that had neither parents nor school.

C.S. Lewis must have known that nearly every child dreams about getting away from parents and traveling to some place extraordinary. He tapped into just that fantasy in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the first book he wrote in the "Chronicles of Narnia." Children love the books, which have sold 90 million copies since their first publication in the 1950s [ref].


But "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" isn't the beginning of the story, nor is it the end. In this article, we'll explore the inspirations behind the "Chronicles of Narnia," as well as the world itself. We'll also take a look at the newest movie adaptation of the most famous of the seven books.


The World of Narnia

Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie as shown in the 2005 film "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie as shown in the 2005 film "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
Image courtesy

Narnia is a creation of the great lion Aslan, who sings it into existence as a reflection of his own world in "The Magician's Nephew." Narnia has kings and queens, wicked witches, magic and talking animals that live in furnished houses and behave like people. It's a cool, forested land, and after the death of the White Witch and the end of the Long Winter, its climate becomes mild and temperate.

Although Aslan is certainly the most powerful being within Narnia, he is not exactly its ruler. The kings and queens of Narnia are Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve -- that is, humans. All humans in Narnia either come directly from our world or are descended from people from our world. Children find their way there with magic rings and through doorways, wardrobes and paintings. Narnians and Aslan himself have also used magic to summon children.


Time works differently in Narnia -- children who visit can return a year later to find that hundreds of Narnian years have passed. Or, a thousand Narnian years can pass while only forty years pass in our world. In "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the Pevensie children grow up in Narnia, but they become children again when they return home.

Narnia itself is one nation-state within a continent, and from west to east it stretches from the lamppost in the Lantern Waste to the seaside castle of Cair Paravel. Narnia's neighbors are:

  • Archenland to the south. Settled in Narnian year 180 by Prince Col, son of King Frank V of Narnia, Archenland is one of Narnia's allies.
  • Telmar to the west, settled first by Calormenes and then by pirates from our world.
  • Ettinsmoor and wild lands to the north.
  • The Great Eastern Ocean to the east, which extends to the end of the world and the realm of Aslan. Lilies cover the water near the end of the world, which is sweet instead of salty.
  • Calormen, south of Archenland and across a vast desert. Settled by outlaws from Archenland in Narnian year 204, Calormen is ruled by a leader called the Tisroc. The Calormenes worship the god Tash, who has the head of a bird of prey.

You can download a map of Narnia from

Image courtesy The great lion Aslan as shown in the 2005 film "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Most of Narnia's inhabitants are animals. After creating Narnia, Aslan selected two representatives from many animal species and made them into Talking Beasts. Small animals, like rabbits, got a little larger, and large animals, like elephants, got a little smaller. Aslan charged the Talking Beasts with keeping order in Narnia and watching over the Dumb Beasts. Mice, the only animals to learn to speak after the world's creation, learned to speak after chewing through ropes that bound Aslan in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

In addition to animals, a variety of mythical creatures live in Narnia, including unicorns, giants, dragons, dwarves, dryads, centaurs and fauns. Many of these creatures behave as they do in myths. Others, particularly centaurs and fauns, are far more noble and well-behaved in Narnia.

Next, we'll look at the inspiration behind this world.

How Lewis' Life Influenced Narnia

Image courtesy C.S. Lewis wrote books, essays and letters.

C.S. Lewis didn't just write about Narnia. In addition to writing other fiction for children and adults, he was a professor of medieval literature and wrote numerous works of literary criticism. He was also a Christian apologist, and wrote books and delivered radio addresses on Christian faith.

Several events in Lewis' life had a direct influence on the creation of Narnia. Born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898, Lewis and his family moved to a large house in the country when he was seven. The house was full of long hallways and empty rooms, and Lewis and his brother invented make-believe worlds while exploring their home. Lewis was also an avid reader.


Parts of Lewis' childhood were particularly unhappy. His mother died when he was 10, and he spent a long, miserable time in English boarding schools. Eventually, he went to live with William Kirkpatrick, a private tutor, who played a central role in Lewis' education and development as a writer.

Lewis served in the infantry during World War I, and he became a don, or professor, at Magdalen College in Oxford in 1925. He lived in a house called The Kilns with the mother of a fellow soldier who had been killed in the war. In 1936, he joined the Inklings, a group of writers that also included J.R. R. Tolkien.

Lewis and Tolkien became friends, and Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis' conversion to Christianity in 1939. After his conversion, much of his writing became devoted to Christian apologetics, or writing that explained and defended Christianity. Many of his peers in the teaching community found him to be eccentric and disapproved of his apologetics.

He continued to write apologetics until he lost a debate on Christian philosophy in 1948. Then, he began working on his most famous books, the "Chronicles of Narnia." He continued to write literary criticism, and he also wrote letters, often to children who were fans of his books.

Lewis married in 1956, and his wife died in 1960. They had no children, though several children who had been evacuated from London lived with Lewis during World War II. Lewis died on November 22, 1963, the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley.

You can learn about other events in Lewis' life in this timeline and in the many available biographies. Next, we'll look at how these influential events and other inspirations led to the creation of Narnia.

Influences on Narnia

Image courtesy The idea of a magical wardrobe came from a child who stayed with C.S. Lewis during World War II.

A lot of people associate "The Chronicles of Narnia" with the Bible, especially the books of Genesis, Revelations and Gospels of the New Testament. The series has very clear themes of creation, faith, sacrifice, hope, salvation and the triumph of good over evil. While the books certainly draw from Christian faith and teachings, Lewis had many other influences, and he wanted to write books that children and adults would enjoy.

Narnia started to form in Lewis' imagination when he was very young. As a child, he made up a world called Animal-Land, which was full of talking animals. He also wrote stories about noble, talking mice and rabbits who wore armor and fought cats instead of dragons. When he was a teen-ager, images of a queen on a sledge and a faun carrying parcels and an umbrella came into his mind -- both appear in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."


During World War II, many children were evacuated from London because of air raids. Some of these children stayed with Lewis at his home in Oxford. One child was fascinated with an old wardrobe he found there, and he asked Lewis what was behind it and whether there was a way out through the back. This real event from Lewis' life, as well as the children themselves, gave him an idea that eventually grew into "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Several prominent characters resemble other people Lewis knew. His mother's death probably influenced "The Magician's Nephew," in which young Digory Kirke asks Aslan to save his own dying mother. Digory grows up to be Professor Kirke, the Pevensie children's host in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Much like Lewis' private tutor, the Professor uses logic and compassion when he talks to the children about the magic wardrobe and their time in Narnia. Lewis also used his very pessimistic gardener as an inspiration for the low-spirited Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle in "The Silver Chair." Image courtesy HowStuffWorks ShopperLewis drew inspiration for Narnia from a variety of children's books,including those by E. Nesbit, Hans Christian Anderson, Lewis Carroll and Beatrix Potter.Lewis was an avid reader as a child, and many of his favorite books eventually influenced the tone and characters of "The Chronicles of Narnia." These include: Beatrix Potter's talking animals Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen, reflected in the White Witch Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden" Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" George MacDonald's "The Princess and the Goblin" Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines E. Nesbit's books for children, especially the Bastable books and the story "The Aunt and Amabel" and its magical train station called "Bigwardrobeinspareroom" Greek, Irish and Norse mythology Plato's "The Cave" The literary works of Edmund Spenser, John Milton and Dante Alighieri All these influences helped Lewis create a world that came alive in the minds of its viewers. Fans have also watched adaptations of several of the books on television. We'll look at these adaptations and the latest film adaptation next. Critics of Narnia and Are the Chronicles an Allegory?Some vocal critics, including Philip Pullman, author of the children's book series "His Dark Materials," accuse "The Chronicles of Narnia" of racism and sexism. They suggest that the Calormenes, generally enemies of Narnia who have dark skin, wear turbans, live in the desert and worship a different god, represent Muslims. Critics also raise questions about events in The Last Battle, which suggest that earlier books' refrain of "Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia" does not apply to Narnia's queens and that boys are forgiven for worse offenses than girls. Some people argue whether to read "The Chronicles of Narnia" because of or in spite of its allegorical content. But Lewis didn't set out to write an allegory. At first, he intended to write a simple children's story -- the Biblical elements appeared as he wrote. He was halfway through "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" when he dreamed about a lion and created the character of Aslan, who eventually became a representation of Jesus [ref]. 

Narnia on Film

Image courtesy Buena Vista Pictures

Past adaptations of "The Chronicles of Narnia" have included a 1976 ABC special, a 1979 animated feature and a BBC miniseries that aired between 1998 and 1990. But visually re-creating Narnia presents several challenges. Some of the most important characters are talking animals, and animals and mythical creatures take part in many battle scenes. For these reasons, movie studios have been reluctant to create a feature film.

However, the Harry Potter and "Lord of the Rings" movies broke new ground in special effects and proved that audiences could flock to a movie that starred previously unknown child actors. Filmmakers and critics alike credit these movies with clearing the way for work on full-length Narnia films.


"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," from Walden Media and Walt Disney Pictures, is directed by Andrew Adamson, who directed "Shrek" and "Shrek II." Filmed in New Zealand, it follows the stories of Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie, who find their way into Narnia through a magical wardrobe. Narnia is in a perpetual winter and under the control of the White Witch. The children must work with Aslan and the inhabitants of Narnia to overthrow her. There are 60 distinct races and cultures in the film, and more than half of the characters are either partially or completely computer generated. Aslan is entirely computer animated, for example, and the centaurs are human actors combined with computer-generated horse bodies. This is why three large animation studios -- Rhythm & Hues, Industrial Light & Magic and Sony Imageworks -- have had to work together to complete the movie.

The film's production has a lot in common with "The Lord of the Rings" films. It was filmed almost entirely in New Zealand -- shots of real snow for the Lantern Waste were filmed in the Czech Republic. Rhythm & Hues used Massive, the program used for battle scenes in "The Lord of the Rings," to animate background fighters in the Battle of Beruna. Massive combines the movements of actors in motion-capture suits with artificial intelligence software to create computerized armies that can think and act for themselves. Also, Weta Workshop, which won Academy Awards for its work on "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Return of the King," designed the creatures and created armor, weapons and other items like Lucy's vial of healing cordial.

For lots more information on C.S. Lewis, "The Chronicles of Narnia" and filmmaking, check out the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "C.S. Lewis: Literary Lion of Narnia." Independent Online. November 15, 2005
  • Christopher, Joe R. "C.S. Lewis." Tarleton State University, 1987.
  • Coren, Michael. "The Man who Created Narnia: The Story of C.S. Lewis." Lester Publishing, 1994.
  • Easterbrook, Greg. "In Defense of C.S. Lewis." The Atlantic, October 2001.
  • Giles, Jeff. "Next Stop. Narnia." Newsweek. November 7, 2005.
  • Gopnik, Adam. "Prisoner of Narnia." The New Yorker. November 21, 2005
  • Hart, Dabney Adams. "Through the Open Door: A New Look at C.S. Lewis." University of Alabama Press, 1984.
  • Hillegas, Mark R, ed. "Shadows of Imagination." Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.
  • Lewis, C.S. "The Chronicles of Narnia." HarperCollins.
  • Lewis, C.S. "The Essential C.S. Lewis." Lyle W. Dorsett, Editor. MacMillan, 1988.
  • Lewis, C.S. "Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories." Harcourt, 1966.
  • Lewis, C.S. "Surprised by Joy: An Autobiography." Harcourt, 1956.
  • Manlove, Colin. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Patterning of a Fantastic World." Twayne, 1993.
  • Manly, Lorne. "The Chronicles of Making a Narnia Film." New York Times. November 8, 2005.
  • McGrath, Charles. "The Narnia Skirmishes." New York Times. November 13, 2005.
  • "Narnia Stirs Controversy over Christianity." October 18 2005,2106,3446671a1870,00.html
  • Nelson, Michael. "One Mythology among Many: The Spiritual Odyssey of C.S. Lewis."  Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn 96, Vol. 72, Issue 4.
  • Nicholson, Mervin. "C.S. Lewis and the Scholarship of Imagination in E Nesbit and Rider Haggard." Renascence, Fall 1998. vol. 51 Issue 1.
  • Sibley, Brian. "The Land of Narnia." Harper & Row, 1989.
  • Shulevitz, Judith. "Don't Mess with Aslan." New York Times Book Review. August 26, 2001.
  • Waters, Jen. "Chronicling C.S. Lewis." The Washington Times. November 8, 2005.
  • White, Michael. "The Birth of Narnia." The Sunday Times � Review. November 6, 2005.,,2092-1859141,00.html
  • Zipp, Yvonne. "Spotlight on the Creator of Narnia." Christian Science Monitor. November 1, 2005.