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Every great author has people in their life who shaped and molded them. In the Chronicles of Narnia books, Lewis paid tribute to many of these writers, including Edith Nesbit, JRR Tolkien and George MacDonald.
Edith Nesbit was one of her childhood favourites. He drew much inspiration from his trilogy involving the Bastable children and once mentioned in a letter that he learned to write children’s stories with her. In 1948 Lewis told a friend he was working on a children’s book “in the tradition of E. Nesbit”.
In his book The story of the amulet, Nesbit put her own name in the story as a joke: “What was the name the queen said? Nisbeth-Nesbit… something? Lewis wrote at the start of The Magician’s Nephew, “At that time…the Bastables were looking for treasure in Lewisham Road” – thus giving Nesbit two subtle nods in one fell swoop.
Another great influence on Lewis was JRR Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. When Lewis was an atheist, Tolkien helped bring Lewis to the Christian faith. Eventually leading to the publication of many Christian apologetics, such as simple christianity and screw letters. The latter is dedicated to Tolkien.
You can read about when Lewis and Tolkien challenged each other to write science fiction here.
Fantasy author George MacDonald was another of Lewis’s favorite writers. Lewis often praised McDonald’s:
I have never hidden the fact that I consider him my master, indeed I feel like I have never written a book in which I did not quote him.
CS Lewis on George MacDonald
In particular, MacDonald’s book Fantasies, had a huge influence on Lewis’s faith. He wrote about the experience in his book, Surprised by joy“It’s as if I were carried asleep across the border, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came to life in the new.”
Although MacDonald died before Lewis encountered his writings, his influence on Lewis was so great that he even compiled a book of beneficial quotations from this spiritual leader.
McDonald demonstrates that a children’s fantasy story can have multiple levels of meaning, even if the reader doesn’t realize it at the time. Take for example his story Behind the north wind is the story of how the north wind visits a little boy and takes him on a journey. But it is also the story of the circle of life and death. Likewise, The Chronicles of Narnia can function as a multi-layered metaphor for the great mysteries of existence, and the attentive reader will continue to see more of this metaphor revealed with each reading.