On a Picture by Chirico: A Proposal about the Creation of Narnia

_aslan in the snowWhat sorts of things was C.S. Lewis thinking about as he made the sudden turn to Narnia? When you look at the projects on Lewis’ desk, you would hardly guess that he would turn to a children’s fairy tale. Here is what he had been working on:

  • A dark, apocalyptic closure to the Ransom Cycle (That Hideous Strength 1945)
  • A philosophical novel in the form of a dream sequence (The Great Divorce 1946)
  • The most technical of Lewis’ apologetic books (Miracles 1947)
  • He edited Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947)
  • He edited what was available of the conclusion of Charles WilliamsArthuriad, and provided a commentary to the obscure work (Arthurian Torso 1948)
  • He collected his sermons from the 1940s (Transpositions 1949)
  • Lewis was working on The Oxford History of the English Language: 16th Century Literature, Excluding Drama—a dense, highly literate 700-page history of ideas that he did not complete until 1952 or 1953

He had also edited an anthology of George MacDonald quotations (1946), but most of them didn’t come from MacDonald’s fairy tales. Moreover, he was absolutely exhausted by overwork, tuckered out by post-war austerity measures, and beset by two major domestic problems. In the summer of 1949, Lewis collapsed and was taken to hospital.

It was pretty hard to see Narnia coming—not least for his friends, who knew that Lewis didn’t care much for children.

The Lion Witch Wardrobe (1stEd) LewisYet, in the midst of all this darkness and pressure Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—reading a first draft to friends in March 1949. Within a year he would complete two more Chronicles of Narnia, and make notes on a fourth—a false start on The Magician’s Nephew. Once Aslan bounded into his imagination, as lions are wont to do, it was like Lewis had been his whole life a children’s author.

If we peek past his writing books, we can see some hints in his poetry of 1948-49 that some of the early morning breezes of Narnia were drifting through his study.

Written in Spring 1949, the lyric poem “The Adam at Night” is evocative of The Magician’s Nephew, as we get to peer into a potential imagination of Adam in the garden. There is also a poem from that same season that echoes The Magician’s Nephew. “The Magician and the Dryad,” tells the story of a Magician who plays with power he does not understand—to tragic consequences. From the same month and the same book, the short Epigraph #17 sounds, in the 1st half, like the death of Charn:

Here lies the whole world after one
Peculiar mode; a buried sun,
Stars and immensities of sky
And cities here discarded lie.

Two Horses by a Lake - Giorgio de Chirico

It is a brief description, in poetic form, of the dead-world Charn after the children ring the bell that awakes the Fall of the unborn Narnia. I don’t know when Lewis’ poem “Finchley Avenue” is written—about 1950, perhaps—but there are aspects of it that hint at the Eden scene in The Magician’s Nephew, where you a humble London cabbie’s wife becomes the Eve of the great land of the Lion:

                                                That garden lawn
Is the primordial fountain out of which was drawn
All you have imagined of the lawn where stood
Eve’s apple tree, or of the lands before the flood.

There is one other poem that I would like to quote at full. See if you can catch the Narnian shores on this breeze:

Two sovereign horses standing on the sand. There are no men,
The men have died, the houses fallen. A thousand year’s war
Concludes in grass and graves, and bones and waves on a bare shore
Are rolled in a cold evening when there is rain in the air.

These were not killed and eaten like the rest, they were too swift
And strong for the last stunted men to hunt in the great dearth.
Then they were already terrible. They inherit the large earth,
The pleasant pastures, resonant with their stormy charge.

Now they have come to the end of land. They meet for the first time
In early, bitter March the falling arches of the sea, vast
And vacant in the sunlight, where once the ships passed.
They halt, sniffing the salt in the air, and whinny with their lips.

These are not like the horses we have ridden; that old look
of half-indignant melancholy and delicate alarm’s gone.
Thus perhaps looked the breeding-pair in Eden when a day shone
First upon tossing manes and glossy flanks at play.

They are called. Change overhangs them. Their neighing is half speech.
Death-sharp across great seas, a seminal breeze from the far side
calls to their new-crowned race to leave the places where Man died—
The offer, is it? the prophecy, of a Houyhnhnm’s Land?

The divine horses - Giorgio de ChiricoIt is pretty evocative of Narnia, hinting toward the beasts’ speech that will define Narnia so. They are not yet the Talking Beasts, but these Chirico horses have the majesty and dignity of the horses in The Horse and His Boy or The Last Battle.

Like The Last Battle this poem sets an apocalyptic scene: Armageddon is done, the thousand-year war has wiped out the humans that prosecuted it, and all that is left are the horses by the shore. Or perhaps the thousand-year war was the one that usurped all magic for nobility in Charn, or the thousand years of silence after the Deplorable Word Jadis used to win in Charn:

“the force of those spells was that I should sleep among them, like an image myself, and need neither food nor fire, though it were a thousand years, till one came and struck the bell and awoke me.”

It is intriguing that in the poem all hints of the end of the world still hint at Eden. And in this way also it reminds me of The Magician’s Nephew. Houyhnhnms are a race of talking, intelligent horses in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels—a book that Lewis read many times. Can you see the onomatopoeias in the name of the race of horses (sounds like a whinny)? In this reflection on Chirico’s horses, Lewis wonders if these two horses are the parents of a breed like Houyhnhnm’s Land—much like the Talking Horses of Narnia. Some have thought that “Bree” of A Horse and His Boy is a Hobbitish hint, but Bree is short for Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah—the kind of name a horse should have in Swift or Lewis. The other hero horse is “Hwin”—again, that whinnying hint of a name. The Chirico horses could be the imaginative ancestors of Bree and Hwin.

Horses and temple - Giorgio de ChiricoBut it is hard not to think of Strawberry in The Magician’s Nephew—slagging away on the streets of London, flogged by the Jadis, but brought to dignity in Narnia by being made a Talking Horse. And then Strawberry became Fledge, the father of all Winged Horses.

I wish I knew which picture by Chirico Lewis was thinking of when he wrote the poem. Giorgio de Chirico was a 20th century artist who tried dozens of different approaches to this seaside pair of horses with Greek ruins in the background. I’ve included as many of the pictures as I could, so perhaps you may be able to discern for yourself which is the genius of this poem.

But as we contemplate this period in early 1949, I am beginning to have a suspicion about the earliest days of Narnia’s creation. In Past Watchful Dragons, Walter Hooper publishes two of the too few fragments of Narnia that we have—two places where Lewis played with Narnian sequences before they became Narnian. It includes a few pages of Eustace’s diary on board the Dawn Treader. Before this, in the same journal, there is 7000 words of a story with Polly and Digory, what we call the “LeFay Fragment.” It is a story unlike Narnia in many ways, but it contains a number of features that work their way into the Chronicles. We usually assume that Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and was struggling with a second book—what would five years later become the The Magician’s Nephew prequel starring Polly and Digory.

giorgio_de_chirico_cavalli_in_riva_al_mareThis may be true, but I am doubtful. The entire mechanism of the LeFay Fragment is different than Narnia. The trees and the animals speak to Digory in the LeFay Fragment, but it is a magic that is bound up with Digory himself—a magic that he can lose with his betrayal. You feel in the LeFay Fragment that magic in our world is nearly dead. In Narnia, though, the magic of flora and fauna comes from the very soil of Narnia—it is sung into the fabric of that world on its first day, despite the betrayal of evil in that world too.

It could be, though, that the Narnian himself didn’t have Narnia in mind when he sketched out the LeFay Fragment. Perhaps Lewis wasn’t writing a sequel (or prequel) to The Lion, but was simply sketching out a different story.

I suspect something different, though.

There are hints from Lewis’ friends that he had been working on a children’s story since 1948, and had been struggling with it. On the back page of the Dark Tower manuscript—another false start, perhaps the early 1940s—Lewis wrote:

This book is about four children whose names were Ann, Martin, Rose, and Peter. But it is most about Peter who was the youngest. They all had to go away from London suddenly because of Air Raids, and because Father, who was in the Army, had gone off to the war and Mother was doing some kind of war work. They were sent to stay with a kind of relation of Mother’s who was a very old Professor who lived all by himself in the country.

Lion Witch Wardrobe by CS LewisIt is a pretty mundane but important early seed in Narnian soil. By spring of 1949 he had a draft, and it was complete not long after.

The way Lewis describes the process of writing Narnia in “It All Began with a Picture,” I get the sense that once Aslan appeared, the bits of fabric in Lewis’ imagination were quickly drawn together in a patchwork quilt that is The Lion. And once he had the Narnian world—the physics and metaphysics of a fictional universe—to rely upon, the books poured out one after the other. The only one that gave him consistent trouble was The Magician’s Nephew, begun early but completed last or next to last.

I want to make a proposal. I think that the story that Lewis was struggling with in 1948-49 was, initially, the Digory and Polly story we see in the LeFay Fragment. I think that after Lewis had put away Ransom, and finished his Charles Williams work, and finished the last of the theological books on his brain, he had before him the book on 16th century literature—look at the first few words of “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said”: “In the sixteenth century….” He had Dante on his desk, as well as a new edition of Malory’s Morte Darthur. He was reading classical and medieval literature—some being printed in English for the first time—to see how they moved into English literature of the period. He was reading John Lydgate, Ben Johnson, and Edmund Spenser, Cervantes and Paracelsus, Shakespeare and Milton and the knights: Philip Sidney, Thomas More, and David Lindsay. Every day Lewis was reading all of the best of adventures and the deepest of myths written by some of the greatest of poets.

Giorgio de Chirico-horses of AgamémnonI think that the stories were begging to come out of him, but he hadn’t quite found his voice. Attempting a children’s fairy tale gave him freedom to bring in all those elements: faërie, mythology, and the Arthurian world. His poetry gives voice to the mythological elements, and has strong medieval features. But it is surprisingly light on Arthur and the fey and much stronger on classical mythology.

It would take children’s stories to bring all these elements together.

I want to tentatively suggest that when Lewis worked out what we have in the LeFay Fragment, he wasn’t simply trying a different sort of world than Narnia. I think that he had not yet had Narnia in his mind. I think that the LeFay Fragment is Lewis’ struggle to give voice to these nascent stories in 1948, and maybe even early winter of 1949. I suspect that Lewis was working out of some interesting characters, and a good supposal: what if a boy could talk to trees and animals? A fairy creature—Mrs. LeFay, quite literally a fairy godmother—elbows her way in at the end, but we don’t know where that story will go. I suspect that Lewis had some promising elements, but had large gaps between the pictures in his mind. I suspect the gaps were too large to keep the story together.

All this time there were some images that had nestled deep into Lewis’ imagination: a snowy wood, a faun with an umbrella and some packages, a queen on a sledge—maybe even a great stone table with ancient writing, or an old wardrobe in an old house. “But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it.” As Lewis says in “It All Began With a Picture,” Aslan pulled the whole story together—and then the whole series.

Giorgio de Chirico, Horses, c.1928I want to argue that if Aslan was already in Lewis’ head, he wouldn’t have every attempted to use the magical structure of the LeFay Fragment (magic focussed around the boy). Narnia turns that entire structure upside down: it isn’t Digory that’s magical; it’s the whole wood—no, the whole world! The reason that faërie and Arthur and classical mythology find their home so easily in Narnia is because Lewis has already turned our expectations on their heads. Narnia is a place where all magic things are drawn.

That is why I think the LeFay Fragment is a few months earlier than many suspect. When it wasn’t coming together, Lewis set it aside. Then he began to dream of lions, and Narnia was born. Lewis never tried to rewrite the LeFay Fragment using the special boy as the mechanism. But Lewis took what he liked—especially the characters and some of the ideas—and reshaped them into Narnian chronicles, and eventually The Magician’s Nephew.

I may be wrong. Handwriting analysis of the text might show me I’m wrong, and I have not seen it. And it could be that after the negative reaction of Tolkien to The Lion, Lewis set it aside and tried a different world with a magic boy until another friend encouraged Narnia once more.

Giorgio de Chirico Horses on the sea shore 1950I would offer as my evidence, though, the poems above that hint more at the Narnian themes we see in The Magician’s Nephew than the ones in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Jonathan Swift’s prophecy, the sentient horses, the majesty of Chirico’s beasts with a fallen civilization behind, the end of one world and the beginning of another, Eden…. I think that the roots of The Magician’s Nephew are in the days just before Aslan came bounding in, during Lewis’ struggles with the LeFay Fragment.

Yet, when Aslan does appear, the ease with which Lewis wrote Narnia is astounding. The only exception is The Magician’s Nephew, where Lewis keeps reaching back to the ideas he had at the beginning of the process. I don’t know what mechanism helped Lewis bring all those images together in The Magician’s Nephew. Perhaps it was the magic rings, or perhaps it was setting Mrs. LeFay out into the background. It might have been the idea of Fledge, the father of winged horses. Or it might even have been a second try, after Perelandra, of re-capturing Eden in the way that Milton did. Perhaps it was Digory’s dying mother, who could get access to magic fruit in a way that Lewis’ own mother could not have.

Georgio de Chirico, The Horses of ApolloIn either case, I think we have this scenario:

  1. Based upon his reading of Medieval and Renaissance adventure stories in the late 1940s, Lewis attempts a fairy tale. In the 20th century, fairy tales are for children, so he uses a voice and subject matter suited to children, with children friendships at the centre. He writes the LeFay fragment.
  2. He struggles with either the story or the mechanism—Digory able to hear trees and animals, but losing the ability with his betrayal. He breaks off with Mrs. LeFay (the fairy godmother), who is supposed to somehow bring it all together—either as heroine or villain. Remember, faëries are ambivalent creatures.
  3. Lewis is writing poetry in 1948 and early 1949 of talking horses, and the beginning and ends of worlds—many of the images that become part of The Magician’s Nephew.
  4. In the end, the story never comes. With the appearance of Aslan in late 1948 or early 1949, something about his character draws together the images in Lewis’ head and the early narrative of four children sent to the country during WWII. With the alternative world of Narnia in mind, Lewis quickly writes The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, finishing it by Spring 1949.
  5. All of the Narnia books come one after the other, first in 1949, and then in the sabbatical he takes in 1951-52.
  6. I think the poem “On a Picture by Chirico” shows us the germ of the central Narnian reality: talking, sentient beasts. It remains un-evolved until Aslan comes bounding in. Then the possibilities are endless.
  7. Lewis struggles with only one book, the Narnian prequel, The Magician’s Nephew. In the end, he integrates the false start of the LeFay Fragment with the images of eschatology and creation he had in his 1948-49 poetry. I suspect, then, that a lot of the foundational material Magician’s Nephew was complete in 1949.

Di Chirico Horses beside the Sea 1928De ChiricoPerhaps I am misreading the context—let me know in the comments what you think succeeds or fails here. The only controversy is my suggestion that Walter Hooper judges too quickly when he suggests that the LeFay Fragment was an early version of Narnia. Hooper suggests that the LeFay Fragment was written after Narnia was invented. Although it is possible, I disagree. The magical invention in the Fragment is very pale once Narnia is in mind. When Aslan came in, there was never another magic that worked for Lewis. So I think the LeFay Fragment is an early, pre-Narnian attempt at a fairy tale, not a second attempt at Narnia.

You can see the original poem “On A Picture by Chirico” at the original archive: http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/6th-may-1949/15/on-a-picture-by-chirico.


Here is what Lewis wrote about his own writing in “It All Began With A Picture”:

One thing I am sure of. All my seven Narnian books, and my three science fiction books, began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. 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.’

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.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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72 Responses to On a Picture by Chirico: A Proposal about the Creation of Narnia

  1. It strikes me that Lewis points us here to the “True” horse that Williams would understand in his Platonic Forms tale, “The Place of the Lion”. The fact that we can perceive the possible existence of such a horse or any other creature persuades me that Plato was speaking the truth. And as the Professor Kirke would ask “What do they teach them at these schools?”


    • Well, they taught me almost nothing at those school! Certainly not Plato. I was confused by his idea about forms until one day someone explained it in 10 seconds.
      Is there a Platonic “horse”, a horse beyond the horse, a horseness to which all horses are compared?

      Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I’m finally waking up to this Platonic discussion, perhaps. Have they – ‘exhibited’? – ‘achieved’? – Horseness to a superlative degree? One which expresses (as far as possible) a return to the earthly-archetypical Horseness of the unfallen world (stanza 4)? Is this Romans 8:19-22 again? (Again, after the Psalm 110 adaptation in The Great Divorce, but in a distinctly variant form?)

      And, is Talking Horseness being revealed as, not something unHorsely, monstrous, chimerical, but as “new-crown’d” Horseness – a further step and revelation and realization of Horseness – a closer approach to and fuller achievement of Archetypal Horseness?

      Is this, equino-personally, and in prospect equally so for all members of “their new-crown’d race”, the equivalent of the epektasis of Philippians 3:12-14 as expounded by St, Gregory of Nyssa (and explicated by Jean Daniélou at this time, in Platonisme et théologie mystique: doctrine spirituelle de saint Grégoire de Nysse (1944) ) – that unending, personal further achievement of the Archetypal? (Here, as something ‘phil-hippic’ indeed!) Are we seeing what Lewis accents in his 1952 letter to Sister Penelope (quoted earlier, below) that “regeneration in each one of us wd be an instance too”?

      And how much George MacDonald is in the background, here? And how like the attention in the coming Surprised by Joy to choice and election ‘coinciding’ or however that should be said? For, what in stanza 2 looks like a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ seems in stanza 5 revealed as Providential: “They are called” (not because they ‘have proved themselves worthy’ by their own ‘survival instincts’ but because they have been Providentially delivered and developed all along in their Calling).

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  2. Joe R. Christopher says:

    Interesting set of associations! This last spring I proposed a paper for reading at a conference on that same Chirico poem, although my approach was somewhat different. (I’ll probably send the proposal out to a more likely place this next year; I sent it to a 20th century British lit section, and the chair was more interested in novels.) I had printed off some of the same paintings you located to hand around, if my paper got accepted. We agree that the poem is intriguing. Yes, I realize your main thesis is elsewhere–and that thesis also is intriguing. I suppose the material around the LeFay fragment might date it. (Walter Hooper says in his essay “Past Watchful Dragons:The Fairy Tales of C. S. Lewis” that the fragment is written “in one of Lewis’s exercise books.”) Of course, Hooper also says in the _Companion and Guide_ that Lewis read it to Roger Lancelyn Green on 14 June 1949 as a new story (403), so that fits your dates of 1948-9–although a bit late in 1949 for you. I don’t know Hooper’s source for that particular meeting.


    • I love this note, Joe, that someone else sought to link the poem and the paintings and think about what they meant.
      I do know the Companion reference, and they repeat it in “Green & Hooper.” My proposal here cannot really be proved, and I lack some confidence about the precision of using the June 1949 reading (if Mr. Green was able to so remember it) as a way of dating the origin of the piece. Once you have Narnia, you have the mechanism. Returning to the mundane “magic boy-talking trees” engine for a story seems a step backwards.
      But I could be wrong! That’s the beauty of it.


  3. L.A. Smith says:

    Well, I don’t have enough knowledge about Lewis and the timetables of the books to give any adequate commentary. But from my ignorant standpoint, what you say makes good sense to me. Especially in the light of Lewis’ words quoted at the end there. It seems very clear that Aslan was the spark to Narnia. I don’t know why he would go back to working out a different magic system once he had the Narnian one fully established in his mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. L.A. Smith says:

    And I love that poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    A couple disjointed thoughts or whatever: do we know which of the Chirico pictures of this ‘matter’ or subject pre-date the publication of the poem? (Can any be eliminated as post-dating it?)

    Where might Lewis have seen an original or a reproduction of any of the versions?

    This is very much a ‘modern’ painting to which Lewis is reacting so positively.

    It seems partly like a proleptic equine version of Pierre Boulle’s La Planète des Singes [known as both Planet of the Apes and Monkey Planet in English translation] (1963). Are there any prose precedents?

    It seems not a little astonishing that this imagines a future earth history which in some sense presupposes the Biblical account of creation, but imagines all the humans dead and the world going on without them with no Parousia obviously having taken place.

    I can’t remember how much we know about how Lewis ‘read’ Gulliver’s Travels. What is, or might be, prophesied in “a Houyhnhnm’s Land”? As I read Swift, the Houyhnhnm’s are like a whole civilization full of Modest Proposers, coldly, truncatedly ‘rational’, genocidal monsters with whom the gullible Gulliver becomes inordinately impressed, dehumanizing himself. Is there a dark, bitterly ironic glimpse ahead in this prophecy of “a Houyhnhnm’s Land”? Will it need an equine analogue of Aslan to redeem it?

    “Death-sharp across great seas, a seminal breeze from the far side
    calls to their new-crowned race to leave the places where Man died—”
    is (so far as I can see) an imaginative reworking of Genesis 12:1: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (KJV). On 10 January 1952, he takes up this ‘matter’ in a letter to Sister Penelope, in which he says, “Oddly enough, I, like you, had pictured Adam as being, physically, the son of two anthropoids, on whom, after birth, God worked the miracle which made him Man: said, in fact, ‘Come out – and forget thine own people and thy father’s house’. The call of Abraham wd be a far smaller instance of the same sort of thing, and regeneration in each one of us wd be an instance too, tho’ not a smaller one.” This harks back to The Problem of Pain but also finds its analogue in the bestowal of Talking Animal consciousness on some animals in The Magician’s Nephew (with this letter dating just after when Paul Ford notes his leaving off working on it in the autumn of 1951, to resume in summer of 1953).


    • Joe R. Christopher says:

      David, we met years ago, at the Mythcon where you were the scholar guest of honor. Just a comment about Chirico. I gather the dating of his paintings is troublesome. Some of his later paintings he dated earlier, upset over critical acclaim for his earlier works. (He also denounced some of his works displayed one place or another as being forgeries.) But the questions you raise about the work (or works) that might have influenced Lewis are good ones. I don’t have any answers. All the major publications on Chirico seem to be in Italian (and thus mainly available in Italy),and I don’t see anything that looks like a complete catalog of his works. King dates “On a Picture by Chirico” to 1949; Chirico died in 1978. That leaves a long time for later paintings of horses–and they were started early, for I find one photo of such a painting which says the painting itself was acquired by the museum in 1929.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Dear Joe,

        I remember our Mythcon time together fondly and only wish it had had an encore since! Thank you for your further details about Chirico. I started searching around a bit online, a couple months ago, as it happens, and did not get very far! I did note one version dated 1929, and another 1926, but had no idea about re-datings and denunciations! Accession records would then be the safest sources for termini ad quem… I wonder if Gisbert Kranz, with his expertise about poems about works of art, ever shed any light on this?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi David and Joe,
          On the pictures of Chirico, when I was catching them up for the blog I saw one that I thought most convincing, but it was 1950. There is probably a digital archive somewhere, or a book on Chirico.
          Where could Lewis have discovered Chirico? I don’t know that. He went to London about that time. Perhaps the nefarious influence of Ruth Pitter, far more engaged in the visual arts. What were subway, train, and platform advertisements like then? Did they ever reproduce art? Did Oxford purchase art? I can’t remember any.places where art was hanging around.
          Is it perhaps most probable he was walking down Broad St. or Magdalen/Cornmarket/Commercial and walked by an art store or a bookstore with Chirco on the cover? I would think that the best guess, but I don’t know the stores back then.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            A good range of suggestions! Among my first thoughts was to wonder about an exposition and illustrated press coverage of it. Oh, to be near a deposit library – with lots of time! I suppose even a black and white reproduction in newspaper or magazine could be enough food for imagination and thought. (I’m not sure, rereading it with this in mind, any details require his knowing a more-than-b&w source: for example, lines 5, 8-9.)


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            A couple more possibilities occur to me. Lewis read Italian easily and could have been looking up something literary or philosophical in aid of some article, lecture, or book in a general fairly-scholarly Italian periodical and have run into an article on, or even simply an illustration by, Chirico. Again, Williams had a clipping service for reviews of his books and I think that’s how he got a German review he discusses with a friend. Conceivably, Lewis had something similar and might have seen a Chirico reproduction on the same page as an (Italian) review of one of his books – if they sent him the whole page (or if it came between).

            Interesting remark by Albert C. Barnes in a pamphlet for a 1933 exhibition in New York about the “strange combination of literalness and fancy which characterizes Chirico’s work”, made in the context of horses:



            • Your idea about b&w pics in a journal or newspaper might work. He was struck by Arthur Rackham’s dwarfs (if I remember correctly), and drawn to Boreal pictures of the Nordic mythologies as a child.
              As far as clippings–people sent him things, but he says in different places he never sees AMerican reviews.
              Was Chirico only locally popular, or a European sensation?


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Here’s a very useful source I’ve just encountered:


            Notice especially, “At the end of 1948, he was elected an honorary member of the Royal Society of British Artists. In 1949, he held a solo show with the prestigious society.” (But also, under “1925-1929”, “he exhibited in Italy and abroad (Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Brussels, London and New York).” And, “In 1941, James Thrall Soby published The Early Chirico.” )

            And here’s an art magazine published in London by Heinemann, with a September 1932 “Surrealist Number” with “Reproductions of line drawings” which includes something by him (alas, it does not say what):


            Curiously (in a Lewisian Narnian context), Professor Maurice Owen has produced a series of bronzes as part of his research on Chirico entitled “Wardrobes”:


            Perhaps he’d be a good person to ask about Lewis’s likely source(s):


            Liked by 1 person

            • Well, that’s a pretty set of connecting ideas! I actually thought the wardrobe bronzes are quite compelling; I’m not certain what the intersection of Lewis & Chirico is for Owens–have you asked him?
              And it looks like Chirico had about as high of a status in Britain in the 1940s as a continental artist could. Chirico’s “anti-Modern” protest in 1950 sounds like what Lewis was doing in poetry most of his life!


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I should clarify, my line numbers in discussing b&w possibilities refer to the lines of your substantial quotation above in their order – as I counted them! They correspond to the actual lines of the poem 4 and 11-12 (in both the original version you link and the revised version published in 1964).

            Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Some lucky following up of links led me suddenly to all these in short order, yesterday. So, do you think I should be the one to ask Professor Maurice Owen out of the blue (unless someone happens to see this and forewarns him)?

            Liked by 1 person

    • (see my response below on Chirico)
      Lewis was a close reader of Swift, and mentions him a number of times. I did my first adult reading of Gulliver’s Travels this spring, and I was a little disappointed with the Island of the Horses. Nice link on the Modest Proposal–you are right I think. It has More’s “Utopia” all over it. While More’s narrator is stable and reliable, Swifts is entirely unreliable and protests his truthfulness throughout. It is a sour story (for us it is fun, but a sour taste for the narrator), so it is a funny background to the horses of Narnia. Yet the Bree connection is strong.
      As to the future post-apocalypse, I think Lewis would imagine “land” or “world” to be both the physical and spiritual nature of the planet. You could have a local apocalypse. Chirico is the death of Greece (in spirit), a fall of civilization. The whole planet may not be destroyed by war. In my reading of pop culture, the feeling that humans could destroy the planet emerges after WWII, the nuclear age. But I don’t see its feeling in pop culture until the zombie films, much later than just post-war.
      Yes on the Genesis echo. Even that Gen 12 is probably a retelling of creation (as Noah is), so Gen 1 (spirit/wind on the waters) + the call narrative. On our planet, I’m not sure how else, if there is a creative, communicative God, humanity could have evolved except a personalized evolution. Philip Pullman I think imagines it in the back of His Dark Materials, about 35,000 years ago he places it. We have flowers and artifact in graves 100,000 years ago. At some point, pre-humans are breathed upon, awoken and become human. That is Lewis view, I think. There is a book out, The Magician’s Twin, that gives a different picture of Lewis, I believe.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Who is this mythoexegete who, later than “the last, stunted men” (l. 6), narrates the scene? He seems (to me) pretty sure all the humans “have died” (l. 2). (A Time Traveller like Wells’ before, and Dr. Who after?) Yet your pondering that “You could have a local apocalypse” is interesting, especially in the background of The Magician’s Nephew with its Earth, Wood, “worlds”, and what follows at the end of The Last Battle.

        I think exceptions to what seems to me the generally true reading that “the feeling that humans could destroy the planet emerges after WWII” may be found in Williams’s War in Heaven, Place of the Lion, and Greater Trumps, where in some sense, in various ways, it seem a real possibility that people have unintentionally initiated, or can deliberately effect, the destruction of the planet, or all human life on it, or all experience of it – though (spoiler alert?) it is in fact prevented in each case.


        • Oh, that’s good–the Williams thing.
          But are those apocalypses or slow deaths? Or are they more like the Great Divorce “Grey Town”–you slip into into the suburbia of nonexistence? War in Heaven is a little more pointed, but aren’t they just evil geniuses/idiots? Would the power of the grail bring down the whole story? The Placed of the Lion, though, is certainly a local apocalypse. Would it have drawn in the Island, the Continent.. the World?


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Good questions! The Satanists seemed to think so, in War in Heaven, Anthony (and Richardson) to entertain the possibility seriously, in The Place of the Lion, and Henry and Aaron similarly, in The Greater Trumps: delightfully, no-one found out for sure just how much destruction God might permit us to bring about in any of those cases (unless the implication is that we can trust in Him that He will deliver us from ourselves more than we might fear).

            The Graal (more vague spoiler alerts) is perhaps particularly interesting in terms of the immediacy of what the Satanists do attempt and the response. I have wondered if the response would follow even if it is not really the Graal, but only to the presumptive abusive attempt.

            To go a bit further afield: intriguing (if that’s not too weak a word) is the human attempt (massive technological fire power, but not consciously attempted pandestruction) and its sequel in R.H. Benson’s futuristic The Lord of the World (1907), a book Williams may have know by an author he certainly knew, and a book which is the first of a set of alternative possible futures, the second of which, The Dawn of All (1911), Lewis certainly knew (29 Oct. 1944 to Prof. C.A. Brady).


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            On the basis of Lord of the World, he must be one of them: it is certainly dystopian, although the Esperanto-speaking achievers of that dystopia are clearly depicted as thinking quite the opposite.

            In The Dawn of All, he piles the tensions on as the central time-traveller or prophetic dreamer or whatever encounters a society he seems to find dystopian in many ways while the majority of its inhabitants do not, while an alternative society in some ways more familiar suddenly proves inclined to high-tech violence on world scale.

            Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Yes! I read an interesting article (from the 1970s) about Babel imagery in Part III about Laputa, which ties in with Lewis’s imagery in That Hideous Strength – and I think Orwell’s, too, in 1984. Maybe Babel is something like the archetype of the dystopian. (I’ve just been noticing as never before the use Williams makes of it throughout The Greater Trumps.) There’s a creepy, interesting rather dystopian novel, Babel (1901), by the versatile Dutch writer Louis Couperus, a number of whose novels have been translated into English, but not this one, alas. It starts with a conversation in the heavens between Astarte and Baal!


  6. Very interesting ideas. The LeFay Fragment is indeed in one of Lewis’s notebooks. I’ve seen it. But I didn’t try to date it at the time. I really think you have good arguments here Brenton and should pursue this question further by looking at the entire notebook to see what else might be in it (especially on either side of the Fragment). I can offer this minor point which works slightly against one of your early arguments: I’ve dated “The Adam at Night” using my LHC (which is gonna get published eventually!–hopefully this year). I’m not 100% confident, but I think that poem was first written between 1941-43.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      A tantalized interjection: if I’ve read about your “LHC” before, I can’t place it. Could you briefly tell us more? I don’t have access to Don King’s Collected Poems or volume 217 of Punch to get a sense of how the first publication (or any other version) differs from that published in 1964. It would be differently interesting if the similarities of Adam here to Merlin in That Hideous Strength preceded the novel rather than followed it. Ditto how the last stanza might relate to the drafting of the ents in The Lord of the Rings. And what of the 1964 stanza: an alternative myth to that of the Ransom cycle, or an elaboration of it nowhere (that I recall) attested in the novels, with Adam seemingly taking on (some of?) the duties of a Planetary Intelligence. If it were written earlier, I suppose getting it ready for publication could have distinctly stimulated his imagination in 1949.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Oops! I meant to specify the 1964 stanza six with reference to unfallen Adam seemingly among “planetary peers”! (Imagined as a partial, initial reparation of the angelic fall?)


    • Joe R. Christopher says:

      Charlie, that’s good news about the publication of your LHC; I took notes (as well as I could) that time I heard you talk about it. Will your publication be in _Seven_ or are you doing a book? Maybe this year, you say? For whatever reason, this year has seen an amazing number of books on/by Lewis and related people (both Inklings and Joy Davidman)

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        So, gentlemen, please, tantalize no longer! – what is this LHC?


        • In case Charlie doesn’t make it back–he has created a way to date Lewis’ handwriting based on characteristics that (if I can say it) change consistently. It is perhaps less precise as one narrows in, but with various ways of testing, you can often get down to within a year or two, and sometimes much closer.


    • I won’t be able to get to the whole notebook this year, but it would provide a good test to your LHC (not a blind test, I mean–just an interesting application). The “Adam at Night” date is surprising to me.
      In your system do you find that Lewis’ handwriting changes in style when he is writing out good copies. I saw one, and the script was so neat and tight it jumped out of the page.


  7. jubilare says:

    Not sketched it out so much… at least, not in plot-form. I’ve been taking notes, though, and wrote out a scene. It’s interesting, but it’s not formed enough, yet.

    Liked by 1 person

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