The sculpture draws you in. The life-size bronze statue of a man-one hand on a chair, the other opening the door of a large wardrobe-stands in an unassuming brick forecourt of a public library in Belfast, surrounded by high, barbed-wire security fences. This is the city's only official memorial to its literary son, Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis. Carved in the pavement are the words: "Born 1898. Reborn 1931."
Many Narnia fans are at least vaguely aware that C.S. Lewis taught English Literature at Oxford and later at Cambridge. But far fewer know that Lewis was not an Englishman, but an Ulsterman hailing from a suburb of East Belfast. The untamed terrains of Northern Ireland, much more than the pastoral landscapes of England, imprinted themselves on his youthful imagination and later emerged in the fantastic stories of the mature author.
Since the 1998 peace accord that actually brought peace to Northern Ireland-although tensions still exist between some predominantly Protestant Unionist and Catholic Separatist neighborhoods of Belfast-the area has become known as a safe tourist destination. Narnia fans can visit St. Mark's Church, Dundela, founded by Lewis' grandfather, Rev. Thomas Hamilton. Lewis and his older brother Warren were both baptized in this church and later dedicated a stained-glass window to the memory of their parents.
The large brick house on the outskirts of Belfast in which C.S. Lewis spent his childhood is privately owned and can only be viewed from its tree-lined street. (Lewis wrote, "I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.") Lewis and his brother did manage to bike around the surrounding countryside: Its gently rolling landscape looks much the same as it did a century ago.
Only a few miles down the road in Crawfordsburn sits The Old Inn, a quaint, thatched-roof watering hole that has sheltered weary travelers since 1614, including writers Swift, Tennyson, and Dickens. Lewis brought his bride Joy Davidman Gresham there for their honeymoon in 1958. And south of Belfast en route to Dublin lie the Mourne Mountains and the peaceful town of Rostrevor nestled along the Carlington Lough, which Lewis confided to his brother was his image of Narnia.
A day trip to the north brings visitors to Lewis' holiday beach town of Castlerock, the ruins of Dunluce Castle which inspired Narnia's Cair Paravel, the amazing hexagonal volcanic rock formations of the Giant's Causeway, and the heart-stopping vistas through the Antrim Glens and along the coastal highway. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe includes this description: "The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up and above them. Before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and sea weed, and the smell of the sea, and long lines of bluish green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach."
-Melanie Jeschke is the author of the Oxford Chronicles, published by Harvest House