Journal / By Alyshondra Meacham
Mary Robinette Kowal
Patti Callahan is joining us today to talk about her novel, Once Upon A Wardrobe.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
When college student Megs approaches author C. S. Lewis with her younger brother’s request to find out if Narnia is real, he instead takes her on a magical journey through the moments in his life that led to his greatest creation.
Megs Devonshire, on a scholarship at Oxford, is brilliant with numbers and equations. She prefers the dependability of facts—except for one: the brother she loves with all her heart doesn’t have long to live. When George becomes captivated by a brand-new book called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and begs her to find out where Narnia came from, there’s no way she can refuse.
Despite her timidity about approaching the famous author, who is a professor at her school, Megs soon finds herself taking tea with the Oxford don and his own brother, begging them for answers. What she receives instead are stories . . . little-known tales from different periods in Mr. Lewis’s life, which she takes home to George.
Why won’t Mr. Lewis just tell her plainly what George wants to know? The answer will reveal to Megs many truths that science and math cannot, and the gift she thought she was giving to her brother—the story behind Narnia—turns out to be his gift to her, instead: hope.
What’s Patti’s favorite bit?
Discovering that Cair Paravel in Narnia was very much inspired by an ancient Medieval castle in Northern Ireland – Dunluce Castle.
When I first sat down to write Once Upon a Wardrobe, a story about the origins of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I knew I wanted to dive into the ineffable quality of stories that somehow combine with the very real events and ingredients of an author’s life.
To that end, I had a list of some of C. S. Lewis’ life events that were obvious in his novel. Then, as I dove deeper into the research, I stumbled onto the fact that, as a child, Lewis (called Jack) had visited Dunluce Castle with his brother and Mother on holiday.
As I looked at photos of Dunluce Castle perched over the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland, I could see past its ruins to Cair Paravel! I imagined the pennant flags flying on the pinnacled towers; I could see the White Witch on a sledge pulling up to the frozen-stone statues of once-living creatures. It hit me that authors often take these moments from their childhoods and alchemize them into stories much later in life. Maybe we realize we do it; maybe it is subconscious, but it happens all the time.
I have the characters in my novel, the child, George, his sister, Megs and her boyfriend, Padraig visit and experience the beauty and majesty of that castle and the realization that something broken of this world had shown up whole in another (and magical) world. I wanted them to see that fairy tales matter.
Throughout history, fairy tales have been called many things – fairy stories, wonder tales, dream tales, and beautiful untrue things. And they have always fascinated me, guided me, and enchanted me. They are full of adventure; they make the impossible seem possible. Sometimes they even offer guidance and hope. And I wanted my characters to see and feel the same thing.
There are certain tales and myths that endure in the world; they are told over and over; they show us what it means to be human in all its terrors, joys and griefs, and yet they are also life-affirming. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of those tales.
Coming across the ruins of Dunluce Castle on the tip of Northern Island while the sun sets and the wind blows is one of my favorite scenes in Once Upon a Wardrobe. This is where Megs realizes she might just be wrong in her certainty that logic is all that matters; it is where George feels the hope he needs and where Padraig shines as a voice of the imagination. It is where the imaginative and the real meet in that liminal space that enchant us all.
Patti Callahan is the New York Times, USA TODAY, and Globe and Mail bestselling novelist of sixteen novels, including Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Surviving Savannah, and Once Upon a Wardrobe, out now. A recipient of the Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year, the Christy Book of the Year, and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year, Patti is the cofounder and cohost of the popular web series and podcast Friends & Fiction. Follow her at www.patticallahanhenry.com.