A Timeline for the Creation of Narnia

Yesterday I shared some Press Association news about a new C.S. Lewis letter that popped up in a Lewis Facebook discussion groups. It really is a neat letter and a great opportunity to see Lewis’ handwriting when he is writing for children (and, thus, it is almost legible).

This “Grittleton House Letter” is a response to kids’ fan letters, and there are a couple of Narnian firsts revealed in the text. This 22 May 1952 letter is the first (and only?) time Lewis uses the title, The Chronicles of Narnia. It is also the first time that Lewis indicates he has seven Chronicles in view, and has all but The Last Battle sketched out. Lewis takes time to describe The Magician’s Nephew (MN) in some detail for the first time, which is really quite a nice addition. Lewis wrote “fifth book” and crossed out “fifth” and substituted “sixth.” Is this just a normal error Lewis makes with numbers, or is Lewis right at this moment securing the future release schedule of Narnian stories? I don’t know, but it will be almost exactly a year later before The Last Battle (LB) is finished in draft form. Is Lewis expecting too much when he suggests the children should have seen the Professor’s role coming? I don’t know, but by May 1952 the links are all there for Lewis (except maybe the Narnian apocalypse).

I decided this was a good chance to update (and publish) my “Timeline for the Creation of Narnia.” Actually, my own personal timeline is a little different because, as I discuss in “On a Picture by Chirico: A Proposal about the Creation of Narnia,” I suspect that Lewis was working on the characters of The Magician’s Nephew in 1948 before Narnia began to bubble up in his imagination. My suspicion about The Magician’s Nephew comes from reading the LeFay Fragment, and remembering that in 1948 and early 1949 Lewis is writing poetry of talking horses, creation stories, pictures of Eden, and civilizational apocalypses (all things in The Magician’s Nephew). When the Digory story fails to come and “Aslan came bounding in,” the LeFay Fragment was set aside and Lewis fairly quickly wrote and rewrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (LWW). This means that I have some doubt about the precision of Roger Lancelyn Green’s dating of each Narnian step. However, Green was a critical factor in both the creation of Narnia and its publication so I have left my speculative theory off this published timeline.

The main sources are Lewis’ Collected Letters (edited by Walter Hooper), Hooper’s Companion and Guide, the C.S. Lewis biography by Green and Hooper, Hooper’s Past Watchful Dragons, and manuscripts that have been published in the last decade. Joel Heck’s “Chronology” is a great source for bringing it all together, though I differ here on a couple of tiny points.

Do you see any errors in this timeline? What about things that should be added or taken away? At this point I see this as a public document that you can take and do whatever you want with. I hope to add footnotes later when I have time, just like I hope to visualize it in an infographic. I also apologize if anyone else has done this (and no doubt done it better): I simply haven’t found another example.

I have tried to make this timeline as thin as possible, including only:

  • The “first time” events only with regard to LWW (contracts, illustrator connection, workshopping, etc.)
  • Major highlights of a book’s progress
  • A handful of life events that would impact writing (illness, death of Mrs. Moore, meeting Joy, work other books, editorial projects, etc.)
  • Abbreviations are below

Unfortunately, we don’t have all the information that we might want about how long Lewis took to actually write each book. It looks like LWW came together in 2.5-3 months once Lewis got going, while it took 7 or 8 years for MN to go from first glimpse to final print. Like LWW, it looks like Prince Caspian (PC) took 2.5-3 months to write, though we don’t know precisely how long The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (VDT) took. If Lewis finished PC in late December 1949, he may have written VDT in only 7-8 weeks (complete by 21 Feb 1950). Again, if we imagine that Lewis wrote his first four chronicles one after the other, then The Horse and His Boy (HHB) may have taken five months. However, Lewis didn’t usually write a lot in term because of the workload. It is more likely Lewis began HHB in mid-March after Hilary Term was closed, or even at the close of Trinity Term in mid-June. If that’s the case, HHB may have taken as few as 5 weeks. Given the breeziness of the tale and (I think) Lewis’ love of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if HHB was written that quickly.

In any case, that means that we have 15 months from the time that LWW was first read aloud to the completion of the 4th complete story (with ideas about MN kicking around in there). That is quite a feat, especially considering that Lewis was hospitalized for exhaustion in this period, a stress that was heightened by Warren Lewis’ alcoholic binges and Mrs. Moore’s increasing needs in terminal illness. In any case, after four quick volumes it is 9 months before The Silver Chair (SC) appears, in March 1951. Green has the manuscript (MS.) of SC almost 8 weeks after Mrs. Moore dies, which matches the timeline we have intimated (of 5-12 weeks per story). However, SC is a more complex story, more philosophical and intertextually layered than HBB—and darker. I suspect that SC was begun earlier, perhaps in December 1951 after Michaelmas Term was complete. However long each one took to write, we have 5 chronicles in 2 years.

After SC was penned, Lewis tried to return to MN. He tells Green in May 1951 that he is working on the story, and 31 Oct 1951 Green has a version of it. Lewis officially began his sabbatical to work on his 16th-century literature book (OHEL) in October 1951, though functionally it began as Trinity Term closed in mid-June. When did Lewis write MN during that time? Was Green reading the final edition in October or a story Lewis worked on longer? We have almost no information about MN until we hear it went to the publisher 2.5 years later, March 1954. The new Grittleton House letter tells us that the story that we have published was in place in May 1952, meaning that MN may not have been as difficult for Lewis as I had previously thought.

In 1952 Lewis finished OHEL and began indexing it, edited Warren Lewis’ The Splendid Century, and edited Mere Christianity. In September 1952 he first meets Joy Davidman. While she certainly brings energy and delight, her presence means that Lewis is struggling at Christmastime 1952 to complete LB (which was not yet sketched out in May). Between a return to the classroom at Magdalen College, Oxford, and his discovery of friendship with Joy, however, LB is begun in late 1952 and complete in some form by 2 Mar 1953. We don’t know the editorial process of most of the books, but like MN, there is a more extended editorial with copies going to Lewis’ primary reader, Green, in Spring 1953 and Winter 1954.

Still, with this Grittleton House letter and a revised timeline we can confirm that from the time Lewis read from LWW to Roger Lancelyn Green to the time he finished his first draft of LB was just shy of 4 years (10 Mar 1949 to 2 Mar 1953). It was a remarkable achievement, and we see that Lewis wrote prolifically while under the most pressure, but was also very fruitful when given the time to do his work.

1940-49

  • 1939-1945: WWII, including war children staying at the Kilns
  • 1940s: CSL writes “This book is about four children…” false start to Narnia (in the Dark Tower Manuscript)
  • Summer 1948: CSL told Chad Walsh he was trying to complete an E. Nesbit-style tale he had begun
  • 10 Mar 1949: CSL reads two chapters of a children’s tale to Roger Lancelyn Green (probably LWW)
  • 30 May 1949: CSL has finished writing LWW by this point
  • June 1949: Green hears of another children’s fantasy, believed to be the germ of MN
  • Summer 1949: CSL beta tests LWW with the Barfields and at least one child
  • 14 Jun 1949: CSL collapses and enters Acland Nursing Home for treatment
  • 29 Jul 1949: CSL submitted LWW to publisher Geoffrey Bles Ltd.
  • 13 Aug 1949: CSL signs contract with Geoffrey Bles Ltd. to publish LWW
  • 17 Sep 1949: CSL gets inspiration for a new children’s story idea, perhaps leading to PC
  • 17 Dec 1949: CSL writes to Pauline Baynes about her LWW illustrations
  • December 1949: Green provides feedback on PC MS.

1950

  • 21 Feb 1950: PC (the Horn story) typed; VDT complete in MS. form
  • 26 Jul 1950: Green reads HHB MS.
  • 16 Oct 1950: LWW published in the UK

1951

  • 12 Jan 1951: Mrs. Moore dies
  • 6 Mar 1951: Green has read SC MS.
  • 31 May 1951: CSL tells Green he is in the middle of writing MN
  • 15 Oct 1951: PC published in the UK and the US
  • 31 Oct 1951: Green reads MN
  • Oct 1951-Sep 1952: CSL on Sabbatical to finish OHEL

1952

  • 22 May 1952: For the first time CSL uses the phrase The Chronicles of Narnia and reveals plans for 7 stories (all worked out except LB, including details about VDT and, for the first time, MN)
  • July 1952: CSL finished writing OHEL, turns to indexing and proofreading
  • 7 Jul 1952: Mere Christianity published
  • September 1952: CSL meets Joy Davidman
  • 22 Sep 1952: VDT published in the UK
  • 26 Dec 1952: CSL working on LB but slowed by Joy’s presence

1953

  • January 1953: Warren Lewis’ The Splendid Century published
  • 25 Feb 1953: CSL nearly finished LB
  • 2 Mar 1953: CSL has completed LB
  • 20 Mar 1953: HHB submitted to publisher
  • 21 May 1953: LB complete and intending to send to Green when TS. complete
  • 7 Sep 1953: SC published in the UK
  • 21 Dec 1953: CSL gives the Davidman boys a copy of HHB on TS.

1954

  • February 1954: Green reads revised LB TS.
  • March 1954: TS. of MN sent to publisher
  • 6 Sep 1954: HHB published in the UK

1955

  • 2 May 1955: MN published in the UK
  • 3 Jun 1955: CSL correcting proofs of LB

1956

  • 19 Mar 1956: LB published in the UK
Common Abbreviations (Publication Dates)
CSL C.S. Lewis
LWW The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
PC Prince Caspian (1951)
VDT The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
SC The Silver Chair (1953)
HHB The Horse and His Boy (1954)
MN The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
LB The Last Battle (1956)
OHEL The Oxford History of English Literature’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (1954)
MS. Manuscript
TS. Typescript

 

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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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3 Responses to A Timeline for the Creation of Narnia

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This is great – thank you very much! (I’ve always relied on Paul Ford’s in the first edition of his Companion, without knowing how he arrived at it (!)…)

    We’re just enjoying Hugh Fraser’s audiobook of Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons (first serialized from 26 September 1959, according to Wikipedia) and I was just wondering if there might be any connection between the name of Princess Shaista of Ramat, there, and Shasta in HHB: if so, you show me Agatha Christie must have got it from Lewis (but, browsing further, Wikipedia tells me both are variously real names, so…).

    The Green-Hooper bio (1976 “First Harvest edition”) puts Tolkien’s taste of Narnia prior to 10 March 1949, with Lewis easily relieved of any degree of doubt his reaction my have raised – one wonders if they every discussed the matter further (or is it just, I don’t know the evidence?). Kilby and Mead note “The last Thursday night meeting of the Inklings recorded in Warren’s diary was October 20 [1949] (Tuesday mornings at the Bird and baby continued).” What-all Narnia discussions may there have been (or not)?

    Lewis’s phrasing of the LWW dedication to Lucy Barfield ties in with his remarks about the ages of Peter and Susan in the “Grittleton House Letter” – but reading about Barfield’s Night Operation in The Inklings & King Arthur (never having got round to reading the book itself, yet!) got me wondering if there is any deliberate play between Underground there and SC – and both with The Time Machine.

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    • Well connected on the “when we’re older again” dedication things. Very cool.
      Underground and SC…. I think you have your next conference paper!
      I wish Warren’s diaries were more complete. I have meant to read them in the Lewis Papers at the Wade but I only ever get a few pages done. It is 11 or 12 volumes, after all!
      Okay, don’t tell anyone, but I am highly skeptical of the precise nature of Tolkien’s response to Narnia. Distaste and lack of sympathy, that I believe. But if one read’s JRRT’s letters the response is certainly less violent than Carpenter portrays it in The Inklings. Moreover, Tolkien’s violent reaction to Narnia in Carpenter’s book precisely matches Carpenter’s own theory of genius: a rejection of pastiche for the original author drawing inspiration from the ages but creating something new and without reference. It takes Diana Pavlac Glyer’s work to correct that thesis, but I am suspicious about Carpenter’s non-footnoted presentation of Tolkien’s reaction.
      So…. If the internet doesn’t hate me, it means I didn’t put that event on this list. Is it dated?

      Like

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