Dedications and the Real Narnian

Right before the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one finds this short letter that C.S. Lewis as the volume’s dedication:

My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too dear to hear and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C.S. LEWIS

Lucy_barfield

Lucy Barfield

Little did C.S. “Jack” Lewis know that his Goddaughter, Lucy Barfield (1935-2003), hardly saw herself as “too old” for fairy tales. Much to the contrary, this simple and elegant dedication (as well as having the main character in the book, Lucy Pevensie , named after her) would impact Lucy for the rest of her life. She cherished being Lucy of Narnia.

Lucy was the adopted daughter of Owen Barfield, one of C.S. Lewis’ closest friends, and Maud Barfield. Owen had been vital in his spiritual development from an avowed atheist to one of the most influential and greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Lucy was four years old when Lewis began the book, 13 years old when the manuscript arrived to her and her family, and 15 when it was published.

According to Walter Hooper, Lewis’s secretary at the end of his life, Owen Barfield had this to say about his daughter:

Lucy was a very lively and happy child – apt for instance to be seen turning somersault wheels in the garden immediately after a meal. From an early age she showed marked musical taste and ability. After a short-lived ambition to become a ballet dancer, she eventually qualified as a professional teacher of music and was employed for a year or two as such by a well-known Kentish school for girls (C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide,  p.758).

However, later in her life, tragedy would literally cripple Lucy, as she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 30, 15 years after the publication of the Narnia book that bore her name. Although she fell in love with one of her caretakers Bevan Rake and married him in the late 1970s, her husband would die of a heart attack 12 years after their marriage, leaving her to struggle with the debilitating disease. Lucy was confined to a wheelchair, and often hospitalized. By the end of her life, she could hardly speak and could not feed herself.

However, amidst the struggle that her life had become, she had the remaining gift given to her by Lewis, like the gifts given to the Pevensie children by Father Christmas in Narnia:

LizPulido_LionWitchWardrobePoster

Art by Liz Pulido for Zion Theatre Company lizpulido.com

By dedicating his book to her, Lewis made Lucy…known to children worldwide. And for years, as her illness has progressed, they have been writing to her…the comfort Lucy has gained from the steady flow of readers’ letters, usually reaching her via the publishers, has been something she herself acknowledged when able to speak. Hooper says: “She has told me: What a wonderful oasis of pleasure I have in this pretty terrible world, being recognized as Lucy. I have often thought how fortuitous it was that it turned out this way.”

Some young readers think Lucy is actually the character in the book and write to ask her about her adventures. Older readers have heard she is ill and simply write to wish her well. It has been an enormous benefit, says Hooper, especially as the book’s fame has matched the onset of the disease: “She has gained enormous comfort and interest from people she had never heard of,” he says. “I remember sending her huge containers of these things only three or four years ago. I think there were people all her life who wanted to be in touch with her. She always said she was so pleased when someone wrote, and that she could have had a much more lonely life without that dedication” (Nichloas Roe, “The Lion, the Witch and the Real Lucy,” The Times (UK), January 11, 1999).

During the last seven years of her life, Lucy’s foster brother Geoffrey would read to her from the Chronicles of Narnia at the hospital. The books had special meaning to Geoffrey as well, as The Voyage of the Dawn Treader had been dedicated to him.

Lucy found much comfort from Narnia in her life, and felt a strong connection to God in part because of them. That connecting chord that C.S. Lewis forged between her and the little girl who walked through a Wardrobe into Narnia, made her a permanent citizen of that country.

I almost always dedicate my plays to one person or another—the highest number goes to my wife Anne—and I take that process very seriously. Hearing stories like the one above about Lucy Barfield-Pevensie make me even more convinced that connecting a story to a person through a dedication can be an important gift, as well as a reminder to us writers that we don’t write for ourselves.

Emperor Wolf Wandering Woman

ASU’s production of The Emperor Wolf

A story needs to be more than conceited navel gazing. In my mind, a story is shared, imperfect as it is, as more than self-expression and identity weaving—although it is that, too. Yet if it doesn’t have the hope of actually doing good in the world, even if it is for one person, then it has been formed in the self serving swamp of selfishness. Writing is an act of expression, yes, but it can also be act of service. Nowhere does that act of service become more personal than in the dedication of a book, play, etc. It is as much of a love letter or thank you note as a work of art then.

My wife Anne and I have been reading to Hyrum at bedtime from various children’s books for years: The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Hobbit, Matilda, etc. Charlotte, who is younger, is now just beginning to be able to be sit still long enough for simpler books that go beyond ABC’s and 123’s. It is a special—even sacred—time of bonding with my children for me.

Emperor Wolf #2

“The Emperor Wolf” at the Edinburgh Festival

As a celebration and recognition of that time with my children, I wrote my play The Emperor Wolf, which performed at Arizona State University in February-March (a shorter version was also brought earlier to the high school division of the Scotland Edinburgh Festival by the DaVinci Academy). The play, “a post-apocalyptic fairy tale,” went very well with the kind of fanciful stories we  read to Hyrum. I wove allusions to books we had read into the play, including  a character named Shasta, after the protagonist of The Horse and His Boy.

Since the play was for them, I brought both of my children to the production. Charlotte took a casual interest at times, especially when there was a creature or something interesting on stage. Yet she was really too young to have understood much of it (and I even had to bring her out to shush her on a couple of occasions). Hyrum, however, was enthralled and took his little, philosophical, seven year old mind to task with finding meaning and symbolism in the piece. He knew that this was for him, and it is now a beautiful memory for both of us.

I can only hope that the play has at least half the impact on my children as it did for Lucy Barfield, who treasured the passport to Narnia that C.S. Lewis gave her.

 

About Mahonri Stewart

Mahonri Stewart is a Kennedy Center award winning playwright and screenwriter who resides in Arizona with his wife Anne and their two children. Mahonri recently graduated with an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Arizona State University, and received his bachelors in Theatre Arts from Utah Valley University. Mahonri has had over a dozen of his plays produced by theatre venues and organizations such as Utah Valley University, the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, Arizona State University, the FEATS Theatre Festival in Switzerland, Zion Theatre Company, the Echo Theatre, BYU Experimental Theatre Company, Art City Playhouse, the Little Brown Theatre, the Binary Theatre, and the Off Broadway Theatre in Salt Lake City. Mahonri also loves superheroes, literature, film, board games, lasagna (with cottage cheese, not ricotta!), and considers himself an amateur Church Historian. He is also a tireless advocate for Mormon Drama.
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7 Responses to Dedications and the Real Narnian

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I had not heard the story about C. S. Lewis’s dedication, though I remember reading the dedication itself.

    Dedications often provide small human glimpses into the world occupied by authors. I value them as a reader for that reason.

    • Yeah, the story of Lucy Barfield is one that I only stumbled on recently, which surprised me since I knew who her father is (he shows up in my play Swallow the Sun) and it’s hard to really stump me with C.S. Lewis trivia anymore. So it was a real, delightful surprise to stumble across her. I may write a play about her now, possibly a theatre for youth piece.

  2. Th. says:

    .

    I’m so glad she stayed glad. Unlike, for example, Christopher Robin. This makes me happy.

  3. Becca Hyde says:

    This is a very fine post. I completely enjoyed learning about Lucy Barfield–so fascinating. And I loved hearing about “The Emperor Wolf” and the story behind it. Good luck in your future writing projects and savor every “sacred” storytime moment with your children. It goes by too quickly.

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