Updated: Jan 24, 2022
"Readers will reach for [ONCE UPON A WARDROBE] again and again, eager to be reminded that love will prevail and imagination leads people down fantastical paths."
by Patti Callahan Henry, writing as Patti Callahan
BOOK REVIEW | THE BOOK REPORT
NOVEMBER 12, 2021
Patti Callahan’s powerful and captivating new novel ponders how the events in C. S. Lewis’ life, particularly his childhood, inspired him to create the magical and mythical world of Narnia and the cast of characters inhabiting it. From “stepping through the wardrobe” to “the white witch” to “Narnia” itself, these terms and concepts are woven into the fabric of American culture and lexicon. But few people probably stop to think about how and why Lewis created this delightful place.
Set in 1950, ONCE UPON A WARDROBE follows 19-year-old Megs Devonshire and her eight-year-old brother, George. Megs studies math and science at Oxford and relies on facts versus intuition; stories have never held much interest for her. When terminally ill and bedridden George becomes infatuated with the newly published THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE and implores her to find out more about the source for Narnia, Megs finds herself visiting C. S. Lewis, an Oxford don who goes by Jack, and his brother, Warnie, in hopes of answering George’s questions about the fantastical world.
Instead of providing direct answers, Lewis entertains Megs with stories about his own life growing up, which he asks her to relay to George on her weekend visits home. While Megs grows frustrated and struggles to find the connections between Jack’s stories and Narnia, George immediately intuits that Jack’s childhood provides the source for his mythical land. As the novel progresses, George helps Megs come to understand the importance of stories and imagination, and the role they play in healing, entertaining and creating community.
Callahan has clearly poured her heart and soul into this book. It is part tribute to Lewis’ iconic series and its impact on today’s world, and part testimony to the power of literature and stories to bring people together and to impart wisdom in a way that no other medium can.
In a nod to the book’s brilliance and Callahan’s ability to understand Lewis, the value of stories, and the way that he wove himself and his early life into Narnia, Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, writes a heartfelt two-page letter at the end of the novel about ONCE UPON A WARDROBE and Callahan herself. He states in part, “This is not merely a book worth reading, it is a book that will drive us through the difficulties of love and of sorrow, to struggle, gasping onward and upward, our emotions surging with us, until we are brought, once again, to love.” There is no better way to describe what Callahan has accomplished with this novel.
Readers will reach for it again and again, eager to be reminded that love will prevail and imagination leads people down fantastical paths. Some books are read and forgotten soon after; others linger forever in one’s mind, popping up from time to time when something relevant sparks the memory. ONCE UPON A WARDROBE is certainly the latter and will be cherished by anyone who reads it.
Reviewed by Cindy Burnett on November 12, 2021
Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan Henry, writing as Patti Callahan
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper Muse
About the Author
Photo Credit: Bud Johnson Photography
Patti Callahan is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sixteen novels and podcast host. She is the recipient of The Christy Award — A 2019 Winner “Book of the Year”; The Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year for 2020 and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year for 2019. She is the co-host and co-creator of the popular weekly online Friends and Fiction live web show and podcast. Patti is also a contributor to the weekly life lesson essay column for Parade Magazine. A full-time author and mother of three children, she now resides in both Mountain Brook, Alabama, and Bluffton, South Carolina with her husband.