Once Upon a Wardrobe
by Patti Callahan
My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction
The year is 1950 and 8-year-old George Devonshire has just read a book that captivated his imagination entirely: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He’s terminally ill and doesn’t leave his house except for trips to the hospital, but he longs to know where Narnia came from. Fortunately, his sister Megs is a student at Oxford, where author C.S. Lewis works. Unable to refuse the request of the little brother she loves so much, Megs attempts to find the answer to his question, even if Mr. Lewis isn’t keen to give a simple answer.
Normally I save recommendations for a book for the end, but I think it’s appropriate this time to start with that. I think that people who are great fans of C.S. Lewis, especially, but not necessarily limited to, the Narnia books, will appreciate this book more than I did. I didn’t dislike it, but I don’t think I’m quite the right audience for this book about how stories and myths affect our lives. Patti Callahan writes beautifully, but that is also lost on me, frankly. I do know that there are many out there who will get caught up in the prose though.
The book mostly revolves around George and Megs, but dips into fictionalized biographical vignettes of C.S. Lewis’s life (or Jack, as he preferred to be called and as he is most often referred to in this book). It made sense to me that he shares with George, through Megs, shows how inspiration for a story can be found all through one’s life, though it takes Megs the entire book to come to that understanding. This is apparently because she is a numbers person—math and physics are her life. She is too caught up in logic and a desire to turn everything into an equation to let imagination have a part. I’m a numbers and logic person too—not quite to the degree that she is, but enough that it was strange to me that she was so against imagination. I thought there was going to be a much deeper reason for why she was confused and questioning things so much, but it didn’t come to that like I expected it to. The story on its own is sweet, but a bit more drama-filled and with a bit less of a clear conflict than I apparently prefer in my stories. There was a moment near the end, though, that was emotional and made me mentally cheer, and I love moments like that.
Overall, I think I just didn’t really connect with Megs, who is the main character in the story. She’s also the main narrator, which leads me to bring up my frustration with the format the author used throughout this book. Megs’s POV was first person, present tense (I don’t generally care for present tense books, but that’s just personal preference). When Megs tells George stories from Jack’s life, it switches to George’s POV for a few paragraphs as he slips into the story. Those sections are third person, present tense. And then the actual stories about Jack’s life are third person, past tense. All of this gets to be a bit jarring/muddling and sometimes just weird. I think these differences in perspectives could have been handled a lot more smoothly.
Since I’ve already mentioned my recommendations for this book above, I’ll close by explaining that I have read very little of C.S. Lewis’s works. My experience extends to my very first reading of, so far, the first 2 Chronicles of Narnia books earlier this year. I can’t honestly say for sure that how much Lewis one has read would make a difference in enjoying this book, but I do believe it would.
Thank you to Netgalley and Harper Muse for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Find out more about Once Upon a Wardrobe
If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!