BOOK REVIEW: ONCE UPON A WARDROBE by Patti Callahan Harper Collins
A Hopeful Tale With Heart, Soul and Love of Narnia
By: Claudia N. Oltean
Special to Jacksonville Florida Times-Union
USA TODAY NETWORK
Sunday July 17, 2022
“Once Upon a Wardrobe”
Author: Patti Callahan
HarperCollins, 311 pages, $24.99
With “Once Upon a Wardrobe,” bestselling author Patti Callahan has given us a rare gift— a historical novel with both charm and depth. It starts in December 1950 in Worcester, England
where we meet precocious 8-year-old George Devonshire and his 17-year-old sister, Megs. George was born with a defective heart that doctors say won’t see him past his fifth birthday. He’s already beaten those odds, but his sister, who loves him dearly, fears he will not beat them much longer.
Megs is a math and physics student at Oxford University. She loves and understands
the language of equations and hopes to become a professor one day. To her, all the important things in life are logical, factual and can be proven.
Her little brother lives wholly in his imagination. His mostly bedridden world is inhabited by the images and ideas in adventure and fantasy stories. He’s enthralled with a new book by C.S.
Lewis, “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” It transports him to a wondrous place and he longs to inhabit it. Megs comes home from university often to spend as much time as possible with George.
On one such visit, he begs her for a favor — find out where Narnia came from. She is taken aback with what seems a frivolous question that would require her to approach the author, a respected teacher at her own university. Out of love for George, she promises to try and find out.
Several times Megs braves the freezing cold sitting outside Lewis’ home, the Kilns, but her nerve always fails her. Then fate steps in, and the author’s brother, Warnie, appears and invites her to come in, get warm and meet his brother, Jack — who turns out to be the author C.S. Lewis. Megs receives such a welcome reception from these men she steels herself to explain about her
brother’s condition and his fascination with Jack’s new book. She relays George’s burning question: Where did Narnia come from? This scene brings us to the heart and soul of a story that has heaps of both.
Jack doesn’t offer Megs a direct answer, but over several visits tells her stories from his own life. Though frustrated at first, she listens closely, then scrambles off to write everything down to read to George. These sessions are precious to both of them and, much to her surprise, Megs transforms into a storyteller. Her view of the world shifts — perhaps imagination and facts are
Author Callahan’s novel is brilliantly plotted and lusciously told as she blends the story of Megs, her brother and their family, with that of Lewis and how he came to write the Narnia Chronicles — beloved by readers of all ages for decades. I highly recommend this beautiful novel to fans of Lewis’s, the Narnia Chronicles and lovers of stories that fire the joy and magic inside each of us.
Jacksonville author Claudia N. Oltean is currently completing a two-book series set during Prohibition.