Updated: Mar 18
MARCH 17, 2021 PARADE MAGAZINE By: JESSICA SAGER
Author Patti Callahan channels C.S. Lewis in her new book, Once Upon a Wardrobe, and gives him new life.
The New York Times bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis delves into Lewis’ legacy once more, and he serves as a nearly endless well of inspiration for her. Beyond examining his love story with Joy Davidman, Callahan looks at Lewis’ relationship with the written word, and with the rich inner worlds we all share.
“His books are living things, changing and often becoming what we most need at different times in our lives,” Callahan says. “The poet and philosopher John O’Donohue once wrote, ‘A book is a path of words which take the heart in new directions,’ and that is exactly what Lewis does for me, and for most of us.”
World-building is key to Lewis’ success, as well as to Callahan’s, and she set out to do that within the 1950s Oxford setting of Once Upon a Wardrobe.
“Because the book is heavily influenced by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but also set in the very real place of Oxford, England, and about the very real life of C. S. Lewis, we wanted to try and meld the idea of a fairy tale and reality entwined, each shaping the other. It was a tall order—the combination of the enchantment of story and the influence of an author’s real-life experiences.”
Still, successfully merging fact and fiction can be a challenge, Callahan admits, but it’s a more than welcome one.
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“The balance is tricky, a tightrope I can fall off if I am not careful! I believe that the bones of the story, which are the facts, must be weighty and solid,” she explains. “A compelling novel must be built around those factual bones. What makes most stories compelling is the drive of the emotional journey of our character, and that is where the fictional aspect comes into play. We must, as historical fiction novelists on this side of their life, do our best to discover not only the facts but also the emotional truth of their lives. I keep my ears and eyes and heart open to find the nuggets of their life that show us who they were, what they cared about and then make that come to life on the page.”
Once Upon A Wardrobe
“The power of story to impact and change us, to connect us to each other and to open our hearts, is not only the inspiration for the new HarperCollins imprint Harper Muse but also for my new novel Once Upon a Wardrobe,” said Callahan.
“I am endlessly fascinated by the stories that captivate our collective imagination, and I’m delighted that my newest novel, a story inspired by Narnia’s ability to captivate and enchant us the world over, will be the debut for this visionary new imprint.”
Further, Callahan was fascinated in the world in which Lewis lived that inspired him to create the world of Narnia, and how the two worlds may in fact collide in Lewis’ real life, as well as her own.
“About a year ago I found myself wanting to convey the power of its mythology in our lives. I felt a story stirring that might reveal exactly what C.S. Lewis meant when he said, ‘Sometimes fairy stories may say best what needs to be said.’ As I considered The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a young boy named George Devonshire and his sister, Megs visited my imagination,” she recalled. “George asks his sister to find the answer to his most pressing question, ‘Where did Narnia come from?’ Part of what I set out to show that an author’s life (and reading) might inform a story in some ways, and yet there are also large swaths of story-source that are altogether imaginative, mysterious and transcendent.”
“I’m fascinated how Narnia transforms us; how the power of story can’t be fully explained no matter how much we want to quantify and list its logical associations,” she said. “My editor at Harper Muse, Amanda Bostic, once said to me, ‘I’ve always believed that if we can find our way to Narnia, we can find our way home.’ And that, exactly that, is the truth I hope permeates this novel.”