C.S. Lewis’ First Book, “Boxen”

Look for “Did you know” articles on NarniaWeb on the first of every month.

The Chronicles of Narnia’s Reepicheep was not the first valiant talking mouse C.S. Lewis dreamed up. As a boy, he created “Boxen” stories and drawings.

The hero of the Boxen stories was a brave mouse named Peter who lived in a medieval country called Animal-Land, where animals dressed and spoke like people. Lewis created a detailed history of Animal-Land, their politics and government, and he drew pictures of the main characters along with detailed illustrations of ships and maps of the land. 

Lewis wrote;

Here [in the attic room] my first stories were written and illustrated, with enormous satisfaction. They were am attempt to combine my two cheif literary pleasures – ‘dressed animals’ and ‘knights in armor.’ As a result, I wrote about chivalrous mice and rabbits who rode out in complete mail to kill not giants but cats.”

C.S Lewis, Surprised By Joy (1955)

Little did Lewis realize that more than fourty years later he would once again write about talking animals. He kept the name Peter for the eldest child, who eventually is crowned High King of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The brave mouse grew up to be Reepicheep, who was featured in Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Although it’s easy to draw comparisons between Animal-Land and Lewis’s later writings, he insisted that it and Narnia were two very different places “except the anthropomorphic beasts. Animal-Land, by its whole quality, excluded the least hint of wonder… there was no poetry, even no romance, in it.” 

Boxen was first published in 1985, decades after Lewis’s death. You can read Boxen: Childhood Chronicles Before Narnia here.

13 Responses

  1. Anisa says:

    If the above are illustrations from Boxen they don’t look very medieval

  2. Andy Harrelson says:

    I read about it in Surprised by joy not to long ago! It’s cool to know that even at a young age Lewis was into world building!

  3. Andy Harrelson says:

    Well he apparently also had an outlined history of it, from Mideavel times to his day.

  4. Cleander says:

    It’s funny, he said in Surprised by Joy that he prided himself back then on the fact that he implied that some of the Boxen tales might only be legends. He said he felt that it lent the whole world a sense of realism and made it seem like a place devoid of fairy tales.
    Ironic that his later books embraced fairy tales wholeheartedly!

  5. coracle says:

    I read the book about 20 years ago.
    It was interesting as a piece of juvenilia (works produced by an author or artist while still young). It certainly wasn’t Narnia, or even anything like it. But it was well done for a couple of schoolboys.

  6. Reepicheep775 says:

    Boxen was the only C. S. Lewis book I read that I didn’t like. I wasn’t prepared for how boring it was, especially considering it came from a child’s imagination. When he said there was no romance in it, he wasn’t kidding. I joked to my sister a while ago that it’s like Lewis aged in reverse lol.

  7. Narnian78 says:

    I’m glad that Lewis invented Narnia many years later. Boxen helped him in his creative process, but he would be mostly remembered for the Narnia books, which were his outstanding achievement. Boxen was the beginning of something which would be more memorable many years later.

  8. Varna says:

    As a boy he was convinced that all grown-up books should be boring and should contain large amounts of politics – so that’s what he wrote. Anything exciting was at least pushed to page 2 in his story.
    He loved to read excitement and romance when he could find it – but he was hoping to be a writer when he grew up, and then he would have to write boring, grown-up books.
    So he thought.

  9. Col Klink says:

    When I was a kid, I thought all adult books had to be boring too. LOL. (Except I thought more along the lines of boring romance novels.) Unlike C. S. Lewis, I don’t think I ever aspired to write “adult books” like that though. (I’m sorry if that sounds like I’m asserting moral superiority over him.)

  10. jasmine_tarkheena says:

    I think CS Lewis originally named the four children Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter. He kept the name Peter, but changed it to to be the oldest child.

    The mouse became Reepicheep in Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the cat became Ginger in The Last Battle.

  11. Col Klink says:

    Oh, I remember that about the names too! I have a theory that the story he was writing then actually wasn’t going to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and that Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter were going to be totally different characters from Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. The initial idea was only that there would be four siblings staying in a professor’s house in the country to avoid the blitz. Instead of finding a magical kingdom in a wardrobe, they might have found a space alien in the yard or who knows what? I’m basing this on the fact that when writing LWW, he gave them different genders and not just different names and that he doesn’t mention their parents at all, unlike those of Ann, Martin, Rose and Peter. This makes me feel his entire conception of the book had changed.

  12. Rogin says:

    I thought the same thing!

  13. Rogin says:

    It’s an interesting read, only because of who Lewis became. Crazy how very different it is from Narnia!