The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy novel by C.S. Lewis first published and best known of seven stories in The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956). Although it was written as well as published first in the series, the story is actually second chronologically after The Magician’s Nephew (presented by 9th Hour in 2014).
Shortly before the Second World War many children were evacuated from London to the English countryside to escape bomber attacks on London by Nazi Germany. On September 2, 1939, just as Germany had invaded Poland, three school girls came to live at The Kilns, Lewis's home three miles east of Oxford, England. Lewis later suggested that the experience gave him a new appreciation of children and in late September he began writing.
Lewis described the origin of the story in a 1948 essay:
“[It] began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it.'” Lewis continues: "At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don't know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there, he pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him."
We chose to start off telling the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by showing both the background of the children (what circumstances they are coming from) and the background of the White Witch and the origins of Narnia (the circumstances in which it finds itself in a fallen state). The first part of our production therefore depicts through music and choreography the story of The Magician’s Nephew, which is the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia.
While exploring the attic one day, two children, Digory and Polly, discover other worlds through magic rings, given to them by Uncle Andrew (a self-proclaimed magician). They first enter Charn, a dying world with all life destroyed by Queen Jadis who uttered the “deplorable word” after a great war with her sister. Digory curiously rings a bell which awakens the evil Queen, only to have her follow them back to London where she wreaks havoc and threatens to rule over its citizens. Digory and Polly decisively act by taking the Queen to another world, one which is newly being formed by being sung into being. Jadis brought a piece of a lamp post from London with her to Narnia, where it grows into a new lamp post later becoming a guide for the Pevensie children centuries later. Queen Jadis, after having eaten some fruit giving her eternal life, remains in Narnia, growing in power, and later rules Narnia known as the White Witch, in which it is always winter and never Christmas.
The children represent a great hope for Narnia as is written in the ancient prophecy, to both be saved by Aslan for something spectacular (ruling well over Narnia), and to be saved from conditions of fear, greed, selfishness, and cowardice...
Decades later in our world, the boy Digory has grown old and is now Professor Digory living in the very country manor in which the four Pevensie children discover the magical wardrobe that brings them to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And so, the story begins.
We wanted to parallel the events of 40’s London during World War II with the events taking place in Narnia, that the four Pevensie children were separated from their parents and sent away to live in the country in order to escape the threat of bombing in London during the war, only to embark on an adventure with high stakes and enter another world also under the threat of tyranny by an oppressive ruler. The children represent a great hope for Narnia as is written in the ancient prophecy, to both be saved by Aslan for something spectacular (ruling well over Narnia), and to be saved from conditions of fear, greed, selfishness, and cowardice, quite literally saved by Aslan taking Edmund’s place where the law requires death.
With this production, we wanted to depict the “Deep Magic” (Blog | Podcast) and spirituality of Narnia through music, whether the hope and faith of the Narnians, the forces of evil and the charm of the Witch, or the sacrificial love and reverential power of Aslan, who created Narnia by singing it into being in the first place.
This production is very much in the vein of 9th Hour’s niche of physical ensemble theatre. It was a sheer joy to develop the staging with this extremely dedicated and creative cast, incorporating original music and choreographed movement to help tell the story. The process was a delight as the artistic team got to work in creating theatre magic and beauty on stage. It was important to us to harness the imagination of children for this production, especially given the central characters of the story. I am ever so grateful for the incredible talent, time, and cooperation that the artists, production team, and volunteers contributed to share with you this fresh interpretation of such an iconic story.
It amazes me just how relevant the themes and ideas in this story continue to be in our technologically advanced age, that human nature remains the same now as it was when Lewis first wrote it. In telling this story in 2023, over 70 years later, it doesn't go without notice to me that it has striking parallels to much of what's happened over the past few years in our society, in which it sometimes felt spiritually like it was "always winter but never Christmas", and for some, quite literally. One of my favourite moments in the play is the triumphal arrival of Aslan for the first time in generations, filling the characters onstage, and perhaps too the audience, with an overwhelming feeling of hope; that Aslan is indeed on the move; that things will finally get better; that victory and freedom are just around the corner. Hope is a powerful thing.
I'd like to conclude with how the play concludes in speaking about the Pevensie children and how they governed Narnia in the decades that they were kings and queens:
It is important that they return, for good people need good rulers. And good rulers need good people. That perhaps... is the Deepest Magic of all.
JONATHAN HARRIS is Producing Artistic Director for 9th Hour Theatre Company