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16 Facts About The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In the 1940s, Oxford University professor C.S. Lewis struggled and fought to complete The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Little did he know that his novel would become a best seller, lead to six sequels, and still be widely read decades later. Here are some things you may not know about this long-lived children’s classic.

1. The story was inspired by an image of a faun.

From age 16 onward, Lewis often found himself imagining “a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” According to his short essay It All Began With A Picture [PDF], the image continued to come to him until, at age 40, he said to himself, “Let's try to make a story about it.”

2. The book was also inspired by three girls who lived with Lewis during World War II.

In 1939, three girls, Margaret, Mary, and Katherine, were evacuated from London because of anticipated bombings and sent to live with Lewis in the countryside for a short time. This situation seems to be the inspiration for the four children—Susan, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy—being sent to live with the old Professor in the book.

3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe took 10 years to write.

Lewis started in 1939 and finished in 1949. The novel was published in 1950.

4. The story was floundering until Lewis invented Aslan the lion.

Lewis wasn’t sure what to do with the book until “Aslan came bounding into it.” He’d been having dreams of lions, and found that putting Aslan in “pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after Him.”

Incidentally, Aslan means "lion" in Turkish.

5. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were in a writing group called The Inklings.

While both writers were working on fantasy novels—Lewis on Narnia and Tolkien on The Lord of the Rings—they met every Monday morning to talk about writing. Others started to join them, and soon the group swelled to 19 men, so they started meeting on Thursday evenings to share and discuss their work. 

6. Lewis destroyed the first version of the book because his friends didn’t like it.

Before 1947, Lewis wrote a draft of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with four children named Ann, Martin, Rose, and Peter. The reaction of his friends to the story was discouraging, to say the least. He said in a letter, “It was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it.”

7. Lucy is a real person.

Lucy is based on Lucy Barfield, Lewis’s goddaughter, and the daughter of Owen Barfield. She was 4 years old when he started the book and 14 when he finished it.

In the dedication to Lucy, he said, “Someday 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.”

8. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a “magical doorway” story.

As the term suggests, this is a story where a door or other opening allows a character to leave the real world and enter a magical world. Other magical doorways include the rabbit hole that Alice falls down in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter series.

9. The book is also a Christian allegory—or is it?

The Christian themes in the story are overt. Aslan, as a stand-in for Christ, allows himself to be sacrificed by the evil White Witch and is then resurrected, which brings salvation to Narnia. This follows Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.

But in a 1962 letter, Lewis said the book was not an allegory so much as a “supposal,” as in: “Suppose there were a Narnian world and it, like ours, needed redemption. What kind of incarnation and Passion might Christ be supposed to undergo there?”

10. Lewis jumbled all kinds of mythology into the book.

Narnia draws on Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, Irish and British fairy tales, Germanic folklore, and Arthurian romance, just to name a few. Even Santa Claus makes an appearance.

11. The White Witch is based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen.

Like the Snow Queen, the White Witch is a tall woman dressed in white who is capable of freezing people—the Snow Queen turns their hearts to ice and the White Witch turns people to stone. Both women bring a boy onto a sled and destroy him emotionally through evil magic.

12. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is chronologically the second book in the Narnia series. 

While The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written first, The Magician’s Nephew is chronologically where the story starts. Many people read The Magician’s Nephew first so they can go from the earliest to the latest point in the series.

13. Professor Kirke was based on Lewis’s high school tutor.

The Professor, whose name is Digory Kirke, is based on William T. Kirkpatrick, who tutored Lewis when he was a teenager. Along with appearing in the first book, the Professor is the protagonist of The Magician’s Nephew and also appears in The Last Battle.

14. Tolkien didn’t like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

In 1949, Lewis read a completed manuscript of the book to Tolkien and was surprised by his negative reaction. There’s much speculation as to why he disliked the book so much. Some say it’s because Tolkien didn’t like how Lewis mixed different mythologies together. Another theory is that Tolkien was threatened by the speed with which Lewis assembled his world, when Tolkien was so meticulous in his invention of Middle-earth.

The truth is, we may never know the details. Tolkien said in a letter: "It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S.L.'s work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his.” Which tells us almost nothing.

15. It's one of the best-selling books of all time.

It’s difficult to rank all-time best-selling books, but when people try, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is usually on the list. For example, it’s number 6 on this list, number 9 on this list, and number 17 on this list.

In any case, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is ridiculously successful. It has been translated to 47 languages and adapted for TV, stage, radio, and the silver screen. In 2005, it was made into a big-budget movie starring Tilda Swinton and James McAvoy.

16. Turkish delight is real candy you can make yourself.

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The White Witch gives Edmund magical Turkish delight that he can’t stop eating. “Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.” You can whip up a batch yourself (minus the magic, of course) with the recipe here.

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Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
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Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

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