On Wednesday 21 October we were whisked off to the land of Narnia at the Oxford Story Museum. The night was a celebration of 65 years of CS Lewis’ classic children’s novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with a discussion by Dr. Judith Wolfe, Brendan N. Wolfe and guests.
The Story Museum is tucked away in Pembroke street, across from Christ Church but with all the construction work going on in the street you almost miss it completely. As soon as you step through the big doors you know you are in a different world. Like something from Alice’s Wonderland, you are welcomed by a mass of playing cards shaped as flags hanging from the ceiling and a big Cheshire Cat staring down at you from a window on the second story. The almost industrial like courtyard is decorated with colourful windows and quirky accents from a fairytale. The cafe is definitely worth a visit. You might feel a little off balance, though, looking at the furniture standing off the wall and ceiling, like it’s nothing strange. When you reach the staircase to go up to the different story rooms you have to stretch your neck to see the wonderous stack life-size playing cards standing from floor to ceiling. But be careful to not grow a long neck like the tall Alice you will also encounter on the stairs.
We were treated to a visit to the newly reopened Narina room (officially reopens on the 1st of November). Just like Lucy we had to push our way through thick fur coats until we finally stepped into the snowy land created by the White Witch. You can even take a picture on the Witch’s carriage, if you dare.
The discussion by the panel was centered around a number of quotes from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe followed by the guests opinions and insights. Interesting bits I took from the talk was the almost unanimous agreement between the panel that Narnia was on a different planet, possibly a different solar system even and that Lewis was very interested in the idea of life on other planets. But also that Narnia was ment to be a different world, a world where readers could imagine anything and it would be true. Lewis himself did not feel he belonged in this world and he wanted to create a world where different decisions could be made. The strong Christian themes which flowed from his strong faith were also discussed by the panel. When the panel was asked about the role Aslan played in the book, the answer was that Aslan could not be summoned, he came at his own bidding, thus no magic (something Lewis detested) and that the closer the characters in the books came to Aslan, the closer the they came to life. A beautiful thought when compared to God and the Christian faith. The final thing I found interesting was a discussion on the use of evil in the novel which is aimed at children. The answer was very easy, Lewis believed that children should know the difference between good and bad. For that reason Edmund was placed so central in the book so that children could experience through him, what is good and bad behaviour and what the consequences could be of bad behaviour.
At the end the panel signed their new book CS Lewis and His Circle published by Oxford University Press, which is made up of a collection of essays by and about Lewis, people who knew him and discussion held by members of the CS Lewis Society.
It was a wonderful night to simply escape from the real world to the world of children’s stories at The Story Museum. The talks were very philosophical but in the end I still believe that in his heart CS Lewis was a story teller and believed it was only through his stories he would be able to teach his grandchildren about God and about life. And so I walked home with the sound of church bells in the air on a crisp autumn night in Oxford and the lovely through of Aslan, Mr Tumnis and a silly grin of contentedness on my face.