Review of Once Upon a Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan

Once Upon a Wardrobe

by Patti Callahan

Harper Muse, 2021. 292 pages.
Review written March 28, 2022, from my own copy, purchased via

I ordered a copy of this book because of how much I loved the author’s other novel involving C. S. Lewis, Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

In this book, we’ve got a 17-year-old Oxford mathematics student in 1950 named Megs who is devoted to her younger brother George, who is frail and dying.

George reads The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and it opens his life and his imagination. He asks Megs where it all came from — and Megs decides to find out from C. S. Lewis himself.

Surprisingly, Jack Lewis and his brother Warnie are sympathetic to Megs’ story of her brother and welcome her into their home. But they don’t really answer the question. Instead, Jack begins telling Megs stories from his life, stories that help understand the creation of Narnia.

When Megs goes home and tells these stories to George, they always begin with “Once upon a wardrobe, not very far away…”

I enjoyed this book, but I’m afraid the framing didn’t quite work for me. Probably because we’re told Megs was a maths student who loved mathematics because of its order and logic. She wants everything to make sense, to have exact answers.

Trouble is, I was a math major myself, and I know many mathematicians. I don’t know a single one who feels that way about stories or a single one who’d have the cognitive problems Megs had with it. On the contrary, several of my college classmates especially loved The Chronicles of Narnia. I would say that math students are more inclined to love metaphor, not less.

So I wasn’t quite pulled into the book as much as I’d like to be — but I still enjoyed the stories from the life of C. S. Lewis and the book in general. It’s always wonderful to think about Narnia and where such powerful magical stories come from.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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