In my blogs reviewing The Hobbit, I have, where possible, referred to places known to Tolkien which may have inspired his writing. Hopefully these references will be of interest to fans of the forthcoming film(s) as the location of the filming will be known – New Zealand – and inaccessible to most. Working out which parts of the British Isles or Switzerland Tolkien may have had in mind while thinking through his story can be fascinating, given the level of detail he provides, especially if you have the opportunity to visit some of these places.
With C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia, things are different. The maps are not as detailed and the descriptions not as precise. So, even working out which county you’re in may seem impossible. However, we do have a quote in a letter from Lewis to his brother stating “that part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia”. That puts us in the south of County Down but Lewis grew up in West Belfast and we know of at least one other part of Northern Ireland which was dear to his heart so there are a few areas to consider. I have put together a slide show on Flickr which you can link to here and share the privilege I have had in travelling to places Lewis knew.
The pictures start with a sculpture by Ross Wilson celebrating the centenary of the birth of Lewis outside the Holywood Arches library just off the Newtownards Road in Belfast. Please don’t be alarmed at the spelling. In the land of saints and scholars, there are many holy sites, shrines and magical places. And if someone gave the name Holy Wood to a place, that is most likely exactly what they meant to say. The library is actually on Holywood Road which takes you past the town of that name on the way to Crawfordsburn overlooking Belfast Lough.
Contrary to the story presented in the film Shadowlands about the marriage of C.S. Lewis to Joy Gresham, the couple spent their belated honeymoon at The Old Inn in Crawfordsburn. Again, we should pause to consider the significance of the seemingly simple phrase, “Old Inn”. Records show that there has been an inn on this site since at least 1614. You can feel it as you approach the front door. Once you step over the threshold, you are caught up the history and enchantment of the place.
It is said of the hotel trade that Location, Location and Location are the key factors for success. In the case of The Old Inn, it is in a quiet location now. But the Irish live by their wits, and they know that in business connections count for a lot, too. And they are not slow in making potential customers aware of the famous people who have stayed there. As well as Lewis, Swift, Tennyson, Thackeray, Dickens and Trollope have also been guests. (See The History of the Old Inn on TheOldInn.com.) Legend has it that that Peter the Great of Russia also visited the inn. If only certain landlords in England were as sharp and well-booked as people in Crawfordsburn. (See my blog, Save the Three Cups as a Hotel.)
Behind the hotel, the stream which gives the town its name has formed a beautiful and charming glen. This is a delightful place to walk in and it’s hard to imagine that Jack and Joy Lewis did not spend some quality time together here. There are many such glens to visit in Northern Ireland, particularly in County Antrim on the other side of Belfast Lough and one at Rostrevor which is actually called The Fairy Glen. Given his love of walking and the countryside, it is probable that Lewis visited many of these wooded glens and that some scenes in Narnia are a mixture of these. The glen at Crawfordsburn is known for an abundance of small animals, which reminds me of passages in the Prince Caspian story.
There are many other places around Belfast which are associated with C.S. Lewis or may have provided inspiration for The Chronicles of Narnia such as The Giant’s Ring. It’s well worth taking the coordinates from the Wikipedia entry and flying there on Google Earth. I don’t claim to be an expert on the life of Lewis so if you would like to know more, I would recommend this web page for a brochure relating to his centenary celebrations. However, I would just venture a little conjecture in closing. I don’t think it is too great a flight of fancy to suggest that Carrickfergus Castle which you can see across the lough from Crawfordsburn may have something to do with Cair Paravel. You would sail east from here for many adventures in dark and dangerous places, like England, where Lewis eventually met Aslan through the wisdom of a scholar called Tolkien.
I would like to thank Garvan Rice, Sales Director of The Old Inn, for granting permission to publish my photos of the hotel premises taken in 2007 and 2008. Garvan pointed out that there have been some recent renovations to the building. To see how the inn looks now, try these links: