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Take a journey into Narnia

by STACEY HEANEY

Ross Wilson's sculpture 'The Searcher'.

Ross Wilson's sculpture 'The Searcher'.

THE mystical world of Narnia is closer than you may think; and local people now have the opportunity to explore it to their hearts' content.

Follow in the footsteps of Lucy, Peter, Edmund and Susan, and discover the local links to Narnia that you may never have known existed with the C.S. Lewis Bus Tour.

C.S. Lewis has brought joy to millions of children and adults alike through his novels, and the recent Disney adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia, with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005 and now Prince Caspian, which opened in cinemas last weekend, has seen interest in his life and his work like never before.

Clive Staples (Jack) Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898, and this two hour tour takes travellers through his world and into Narnia to discover the local places and people that influenced some of the most popular books in children's literature.

The tour begins outside the Linen Hall Library, before travelling up Royal Avenue, past number 83 where his solicitor father, Albert, had his office and the site of the old Royal Avenue Hotel where his parents held their wedding reception.

Along the way tour guide Sandy Smith filled everyone in on titbits of information about Lewis, where he shopped, his ancestors' arrival in Ireland from Wales, and his relationship with his older brother Warnie (Warren).

We passed where his father grew up, before coming to Dundela Avenue, the site where Lewis was born. It may be a world away now than it was then, but this was the beginning of his, and our, journey.

We heard about his life in his first home and his apprehension at leaving when his family moved to a new home, 'Little Lea, on the Circular Road, when he was five years old.

Lewis later described the home, with its myriad of rooms and attics to explore as "more like a city than a house to a small child", and soon the two Lewis boys and their cousins were exploring the spacious rooms and attic space, forming the beginnings of Narnia even back then.

We learnt about the famous wardrobe, that was the opening between this world and Narnia, which had actually been explored by the Lewis siblings when it had to be taken apart by their paternal grandfather, Richard Lewis, in order to get it into the house.

The life of young Jack Lewis, so-called after seeing the twinkle in the eye of his much-loved nanny Lizzie Endicott for a train driver named Jack, was changed forever one night in August 1908 when his mother Flora had been unable to attend him when he called for her with a toothache. Instead, Flora, who had cancer, had been being operated on in the kitchen, and she unfortunately passed away from the disease.

Shortly afterwards, nine-year-old Jack was sent to boarding school in England, before returning to Northern Ireland to attend Campbell College, the next stop on our journey, where the famous lamp-post, the reference point between this world and Narnia, is still placed

It really is thrilling to see the actual sights, that later became Narnian landmarks, and it was on the next stop on the tour that we came across Asian, or 'The Lion on the Hill', in the form of St. Mark's Church, Sydenham Avenue, where his grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Hamilton, was the Rector at the turn of the century and where he baptised his grandson.

It is also here, at the Rector's home, that we see what a four-year-old Lewis would have just about been on eye level with, a brass door knocker in the shape of a lion's head.

Coming to the end of the tour we passed the superb sculpture, 'The Searcher' by Ross Wilson, outside the Holywood Road Library. The sculpture shows a man opening the door of a wardrobe. On closer inspection, the wardrobe has the head of a lion on the back and a reproduction of a letter from one of Lewis' young fans. Many may think the person opening the door is Lewis himself, it is however, his tutor, W.T. Kirkpatrick, who, like Lewis, grappled with his own belief in Christianity. The sculpture acts as a metaphor for Kirkpatrick, and perhaps some of those taking the tour, that the door to faith in another world, or Narnia, is not quite open.

For those who will watch the spectacular movie version of the book this summer, or who will once again read Lewis' books, this tour is a must. It allows the visitor to immerse themselves in his world and discover what influenced such iconic figures in his literature. Other places may try to say he picked up his inspiration elsewhere in the world, but Lewis' story, and that of Narnia, began in Belfast, and now you can take that journey into Narnia with him.

Tours, which cost 8 for adults/ 5 concession, run every Sunday from 2pm during July and August. Early booking is advised to avoid disappointment and tickets are available from the Belfast Welcome Centre on telephone 028 90246609 or visit the website at www.gotobelfast.com.

stacey.heaney@jpress.co.uk

Ulster Star
11/07/2008