C. S. Lewis and his Mice
C. S. Lewis once wrote to one of his young readers: “I love real mice. There are lots in my rooms in College but I have never set a trap. When I sit up late working they poke their heads out from behind the curtains just as if they were saying, ‘Hi! Time for you to go to bed. We want to come out and play.’”
Is it then any surprise that the writer, C. S. Lewis, would make a valiant mouse one of the chief characters in The Chronicles of Narnia?
C. S. “Jack” Lewis loved mice long before he wrote the Narnia books. And he wrote stories about mice many years before he became a college professor.
Jack was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The year was 1898. Jack’s parents were smart people who loved reading books. They taught Jack and his older brother Warnie to love books too. Young Jack delighted in the stories of Beatrix Potter. He really liked dressed animals.
Soon Jack wrote his own stories. He told about dressed animals and knights in shining armor. He even drew pictures to go with his stories. Jack had a pet mouse. So of course he wrote of chivalrous mice riding out in full armor to kill, what else, but cats of course!
In 1907 Jack wrote to Warnie at boarding school: “I am thinking of writing a History of Mouse-land and I have even gone so far as to make up some of it, this is what I have made up. Mouse-land had a very long stone-age during which time no great things took place.”
Warnie had different interests from Jack. So he wrote different kinds of stories. Warnie loved India. So they could play together Jack and Warnie combined their two worlds. This combined world they called Boxen.
Even in his first stories Jack enjoyed writing about the middle ages. What boy doesn’t like knights in shining armor? But to keep Warnie happy Jack had to bring Mouse-land into modern times. Warnie had to have his trains and steamships! That’s why Jack wrote the history of Mouse-land. Jack even made a map of Boxen; it shows the relationship between Mouse-land and India.
In making maps and writing the history of Mouse-land, Jack was training himself to become a novelist. However, Mouse-land is different from Narnia. They both have dressed animals. But Mouse-land has no hint of magic about it.
How Narnia Came To Be
So how did C. S. Lewis get from Boxen to Narnia? Jack kept writing stories for the rest of his life. Many of these stories began with a picture in his mind. Narnia began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture was in Jack’s brain from the time he was sixteen. Then when he was forty he said to himself, “Let’s try to make a story about it.”
At first Jack had little idea of how the story would go. But then the great lion Aslan came leaping into the picture. Jack had always suffered from nightmares. Suddenly he was having dreams with lions in them. Once Aslan came on the scene he pulled the whole story together. And not just one story—it became a series—The Chronicles of Narnia.
It wasn’t until 1948 that Jack began writing the Narnia tales in earnest. But once begun The Chronicles of Narnia flowed quickly from Jack’s imagination, through his pen and on to paper. By the end of 1949 he finished writing the second Narnia tale: Prince Caspian.
In Prince Caspian we meet Reepicheep, the Talking Mouse. He is well over a foot high, when he stands on his hind legs, and wears a rapier at his side. Reepicheep and his army of mice offer great help in the battle against the Telmarines, jabbing many enemy feet with their swords, causing them to fall, and then finishing them off.
However, it is in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that Reepicheep becomes a major character. It is in this book that he travels to the world’s end and arrives in Aslan’s country. Of this part of the story Jack once wrote: “anyone in our world who devotes his whole life to seeking Heaven will be like Reepicheep.”
Young readers would often draw pictures of Reepicheep and send them to C. S. Lewis. One reader even made a statue of the Talking Mouse and sent it to him. Jack treasured the gift and placed it on the mantle in his study.
Now you know how the boy who loved mice grew up to be a professor who created one of the most beloved mice in all literature.
Will Vaus, author of Mere Theology, The Professor of Narnia, The Hidden Story of Narnia, and The Hidden Story of Narnia: A Book-by-Book Guide to C. S. Lewis’ Spiritual Themes.