• Linda Borromeo

The Mystery Girl Who Helped Save Narnia: Mary Clare Havard

When you open the pages of C.S. Lewis's fourth tale of Narnia, Prince Caspian, you'll find a simple dedication to:

Mary Clare Havard

Other dedications C.S. Lewis gave in his books tell a story. Most famously, he wrote this inscription to his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

"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...

your affectionate Godfather,

C.S. Lewis"

On the dedication page of Prince Caspian, you see only blank space around Mary Clare's name; no explanations and no hint of why she is important to C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories.

I wondered: who is Mary Clare? Why did Lewis dedicate a book to her?

As the story unfolded, I discovered a surprising tale. Without Mary Clare, readers might never have tumbled with Lucy Pevensie through the back of a wardrobe into the land of Narnia.

In some ways, Mary Clare is like Lucy Pevensie. In the stories, Lucy helps the powerful and mysterious lion, Aslan, save an enchanted world from injustice and treachery. When opposition and shattering criticism entered C.S. Lewis's own world, Mary Clare helped save his books, and Narnia, for generations to come.

The story begins when C. S. "Jack" Lewis decided to break the rules.

Expectations and a Changed Life

Magdalen College

In May 1925, the Irish-born Lewis became an English Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he tutored in English Language and Literature. This appointment, at the oldest university in the English-speaking world, came with a certain set of expectations. A professor there must publish, but only an acceptable kind of book or paper restricted to his field of study.

C. S. Lewis felt he had an additional job to do—a job reflecting the journey he had made from atheism, to a belief in God and finally, to faith in Jesus Christ's redemptive grace.

"Jack" Lewis's Journey Begins

As a young man, Jack learned from his English tutor, Professor W. T. Kirkpatrick, to read avidly, extensively and critically. Lewis later wrote in a letter to his father after learning of his tutor's death:

"It was an atmosphere of unrelenting clearness and rigid honesty of thought that one breathed from living with him—and this I shall be the better for as long as I live." [1]

With the professor, Jack Lewis learned to stretch his natural abilities to form a strong intellect. Thoughtful, rigorous reading became a major influence in the way he made sense of the world.

A Sound Atheist...

Lewis wrote in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:

"A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading." [2]

Lewis came upon books by George MacDonald and, especially, G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. Jack's honest intellect could not discount the points they made about the Christian faith explaining the world in all its splendor and corruption.

On a September day in 1931, Jack climbed into the sidecar of his brother's motorcycle. As the two men started out to visit the newly-opened Whipsnade Zoo, Jack already believed in God. By the time the ride through the autumn streets ended, Jack's faith had expanded. He became a believer in the redeeming sacrifice and grace of Jesus Christ.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the influence of life-changing books and long talks with his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis found a new path that fired his imagination. As his reading wove through an exploration of faith, Lewis's writing grew to include deeply thoughtful books for the layperson about Christianity.

The outpouring of his faith gave him an abiding respect and concern for the dignity and precious importance of each person, and the soul within each of them. His writing became the expression of this belief as he examined and reached out to communicate what he'd learned.

Opposition and Lost Chances

I used to have the impression that C.S. Lewis went from success to triumph to acclaim for each of the books he wrote. In a beautifully-written essay from the C.S. Lewis Institute, I learned that his new endeavors were actually judged quite harshly at Oxford. [3]

As Lewis started to publish his new books about faith, colleagues felt he'd embarrassed the university. In their view, he had committed academic sin.

Tolkien described it this way:

"No Oxford don was forgiven for writing books outside his field of study—except for detective stories which dons, like everyone else, read when they were down with the flu. But it was considered unforgivable that Lewis wrote international best-sellers and worse still that many were of a religious nature." [4]

Lewis paid a price with his career. Although eminently qualified, Lewis was passed over for at least three promotions at Oxford. It was very difficult for Lewis to continue to work, write and teach in this atmosphere.

Then came the children's books. In them, he played with serious ideas and his love for Northern myths and the talking animals he'd first imagined as a child. He included a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels through the snow, an image that had come to him when he was sixteen, but without a story connected to it. Now, he had the story.

Credit: A map by David Bedell of the Narnian world. Used with permission

As Lewis wrote the book, he knew "a children's story is the best art-form for something you want to say." [5]

Devastating Criticism

When he finished his manuscript of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, he gave it to Tolkien to read. Tolkien gave his honest, and blistering, opinion.

His friend hated it and felt Lewis would humiliate himself if he tried to have the book published. The mix of talking animals, creatures from different mythologies, knights from the Middle Ages and, perhaps most of all, Father Christmas appearing in a book together appalled Tolkien.

A meticulous world-builder, Tolkien felt these characters, from various myths and legends, failed to bring an honest consistency to the story. He strongly urged his friend to put the manuscript away and close the door on it.

The criticism shattered Lewis. He'd always highly valued his friend's literary advice and with the doubts Lewis himself harbored about the story, he might have forever consigned the manuscript to a dark closet shelf.

Mary Clare Helps Save Narnia...and Father Christmas

Fortunately, Lewis also gave a copy to his physician, Dr. Robert Emlyn Havard. Havard was a member of the Inklings, the literary group attended by Lewis and Tolkien, and had a keen interest in their writing.

The doctor's daughter, eleven-year-old Mary Clare, also read the manuscript. She became enthralled by the story and expressed her love for it.

After this encouragement by Mary Clare, an important realization came to Lewis: he had written the book for children and it was their opinion that truly mattered. [6]

Mary Clare's brother, Colin, recalled that Lewis "really valued having somebody of her age" let him know how the story "came across" when seen through a child's eyes. [7]

Hearing Mary Clare's excited reaction to the story, Lewis decided to lift the manuscript back down from the shelf. When another friend, Roger Green, also gave him encouraging feedback, Lewis sent the story to his publisher. [8]

Despite more advice to at least get rid of Father Christmas's appearance in the tale, Lewis maintained the integrity of his own imagination. Father Christmas remained.

After the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, every Christmas for the next six years brought a gift worthy of Father Christmas to eager readers: the publication of a new "Narnia" book.

First edition copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 1950

In the years since the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950, countless lives have been enriched by the stories. Over 100 million copies of the books have been purchased in 47 languages.

I had no idea before how much opposition Lewis faced in writing the Narnia stories. I'm grateful we have these wonderful stories—they were almost lost.

Understanding more of the history of Narnia has given me an even deeper appreciation for the tales filled with the wonder of hope and imagination.

Thank you, Jack Lewis and thanks go to you as well, Mary Clare.

More About C.S. Lewis to Explore

Discover a small Narnian treasure trove and one of the largest C.S. Lewis collections on the African continent here:

How did the homes of five authors, including C. S. Lewis's Little Lea, bring their imaginations to life and influence their books? Find their stories in A Sense of Place and the Imagination.

Little Lea, C. S. Lewis's childhood home

Helpful Resources (updated 7/27/2017)

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. I: Family Letters 1905-1931. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2004. Web.

[2] Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. London: Collins, 1966. Print.

[3] Mitchell, Christopher W. "Bearing the Weight of Glory: The Cost of C.S. Lewis's Witness." C.S. Lewis Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov 2016.

[4] Duriez, Colin. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: the Gift of Friendship. Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring, 2003. Print.

[5] Lewis, C. S., and Walter Hooper. "On Three Ways of Writing for Children." Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. San Diego: Harcourt, 2002. Web.

[6] Benge, Janet, and Geoff Benge. C.S. Lewis: Master Storyteller. Seattle, WA: YWAM Pub., 2007. Print.

[7] Noetzel, Justin T., and Matthew R. Bardowell. "The Inklings Remembered: A Conversation with Colin Havard." Mythlore 22 Sept. 2012: 29-46. Web.

[8] Sayer, George. Jack: a Life of C.S. Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994. Print.

Linda Borromeo worked at the University of California, Berkeley as operations manager for a graduate school library. She is now a full-time writer. Her book, Mystery Shores, is a tale of danger and secrets along the Pacific Northwest coast. Linda does believe a children's story is the best place to express what you want to say.

In my stories, you'll find islands, mystery, friendship and danger. 

My novel, Mystery Shores, is set on a lighthouse island filled with secrets. 

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