The following piece imagines Lewis’s Sunday afternoon childhood visits with his mother to his grandparents in St Mark’s Manse on the Holywood Road. Then a flight of fancy follows.
‘The part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.’
Letter from C.S.Lewis to his brother.
You sit at an Oxford desk staring out to woods. But instead you see the play of light on the hills and shores of home: Cave Hill, Carlingford, then Castlerock and Dunluce with their Atlantic longings. In the power of first impressions on a child’s eyes.
Neurons fire. Synapses spark. Messages flash back and forth for moments as blindingly bright as highway headlights. They bring the remembered roar of sea-crash to shore, and the gull’s wild call. Then you think to ask us, ‘Have you heard it? Can you remember?’
And you’re back at a red door, on Sunday afternoons, your hand in your mother’s, eye level with the burnished brass face of a lion. Red opens to a dim hallway, then to a room furnished with mahogany and glass panels, offering War and Peace, Last Mohicans, Water Babies and buccaneers setting out Westward Ho, to the Spanish Main.
Further in, a corridor becomes slipway, leading to portraits of sailboats, rowboats and hide-bound coracles – the past ever-present on unchanging seas. And you there with them. You, who knew about loss – riven by a longing for places not on any map, an Irish Argonaut setting out, rowing about, immersed in Immrama. Like a Brendan or a Bran heading west to the Isle of the Blest, from place to the sacred space of horizon events – where waves kiss sky.
Your family tree gives you provenance from Ulster, Wales and Gaul: your farmer, sailor, engineer and clergy forebears stretch back to a Norman Knight. All you’d ever write about was stored up inside, their various strands of dark and light waiting to be woven together.
You draw from these deep and ancient roots and the Celtic Otherworld to create your own Other-Worlds. Our transient lands being mere shadow-play to the light and substance of those places out of time.
Your inner Celt invoked, your pen fills with drawn sap and pours onto the page, as you tread the dawn – the template spun from West to Utter-East, as mice and men sail on through salt-damp air.
Until … you picture the Caravel harboured by a shore in snowfall. And she is there also, gone ahead, waiting in the scent of candled green by the door of a clapboard church, its windows aglow.
This inner world fashioned by your words: little scratch marks on paper, syllables sent out to dress the darkness so we may know we are not alone.
Tonight, they fall from somewhere far, falling with and through the snow. The story of each word, like each snowflake, unique; formed around specks of dust seeded to sky to crackle high, their stories carved by the elements of their journey spinning to ground through whited air.
Emotion, now motion-captured, lies lodged between a million snowflakes fallen, born from love’s ageless whispers on nights like these to become also part of our stories.
Your words, like quantum particles, each reacting differently when observed through the unique experience of the beholder’s eye. Then she turns to you, and says, ‘They’re always there now. We need only look and listen.’ A bell peals midnight. The great silence breaks. You put down your pen, pad to bed and dream of the Mournes, Downhill, Carlingford and upturned coracles come to rest on another shore.
The double helix constantly spinning out tales, creating order out of chaos. Is that not what storytellers do through hymns to the divinity of imagination?
Roy Uprichard is a retired teacher who has published three ‘Camino type’ memoirs:
- On (and off) The Portuguese Way. Celtic Connections – Galicia, Ireland and Everywhere.(2021)
- Stone and Water – Walking the Variante route of the Camino Portugues.(2018)
- Restless Hearts – Walking the Camino de Santiago. (2016)
You can view his profile on Amazon.