Standing outside the red brick Holywood Arches library in East Belfast is a rather peculiar statue. The piece consists of a well-dressed man opening a wardrobe like he’s looking for a pair of clean socks. But he’s not looking for socks, reader – he’s looking for another world.
Step around to the other side of the wardrobe and the eccentric artwork and you’ll find an inscription that makes a little more sense – ‘C.S. ‘Jack’ Lewis – Ulsterman’.
You see, this dapper figure and door opener is a tribute to none other than Clive Staples Lewis: writer of children’s book series The Chronicles of Narnia, creator of Aslan the Lion, the Ice Queen, Prince Caspian: basically a one-man imagination factory.
The Searcher statue was erected here in 1998 on the centenary of his birth. Now, it’s not well known that Lewis was born in Belfast, but it should be, as his childhood in County Down and later travels of Northern Ireland inspired many parts of his work, including some magical aspects of Narnia.
“I yearn to see County Down in the snow, one almost expects to see a march of dwarfs dashing past. How I long to break into a world where such things were true.”
The single lamppost in a snowy wood in a world that is “always winter, never Christmas” (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) is thought to be one of the gas lampposts of Crawfordsburn Country Park and the grounds of Campbell College (where Lewis attended school for a time).
Just beyond Lewis’s childhood home on the Circular Road in Belfast was, back then, rolling countryside. He had clear views of the Mourne Mountains as well, which according to the man himself gave his lively imagination a friendly push:
“I have seen landscapes [in the Mourne Mountains] which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.”
Lewis loved a good sea view and made plenty of journeys to majestic outcrops like Rathmullan, Portsalon, and Donaghadee, which are happily just as rugged and stunning today. He even told his brother, in words so explicit you could set your GPS to it:
“That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.”
The last part of that statue, which our hero Lewis is leaning on, is an empty chair. It makes a neat photo opportunity; visitors can sit down and strike a pose with the writer and the wardrobe. But you could also think of it as an invitation: to be a part of this work of art, to see the world as Lewis saw it, and look out to the distance (or even into the wardrobe!) and see a magical land of possibilities.
Discover the inspiring Mourne Mountains for yourself