When Lions Come Calling:

The Story Behind the Wardrobe

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Patti Callahan & Amazon

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Kathryn Haig, Entertainment Assistant Editor

“Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills” (C.S. Lewis).

Can stories save the soul? Can paper and ink bring true joy? Can a string of words change a life? Patti Callahan captures the essence of Narnia, the truth of its power over the soul, in the journey of Megs Devonshire, a mathematics major at Oxford in 1950. Megs revels in the absoluteness of equations, in the knowledge that all problems can be solved with perseverance and hard work. All except one: her brother’s illness. No amount of perseverance or hard work will produce a solution for eight-year-old George Devonshire, who was born with a weak heart and will not live to see the age of nine. As a logic-driven young woman, Megs has never shared her younger brother’s proclivity for fictional tales and vibrant fantasies, but when George asks Megs to find out where Narnia came from, she cannot refuse. Determined to find a definite answer to her brother’s inquiry, Megs sets out to the home of C.S. “Jack” Lewis, author of George’s beloved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and professor at Oxford’s Magdalen College. Expecting a clear-cut answer, much like those of her equations, Megs is surprised and frustrated to find herself instead regaled with the life story of Jack Lewis and his older brother, Warnie. As she searches for answers, Megs finds far more than she bargained for as her brother’s questions morph into her own, and Narnia finds a permanent place in her heart.
Known for Surviving Savannah and The Bookshop at Water’s End, best-selling author Patti Callahan has won multiple awards for her stunning novels, including the Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year, the Christy Book of the Year, and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year. Not her first insight into the life of C.S. Lewis, Patti Callahan also wrote Becoming Mrs. Lewis, which chronicles the extraordinary love story between Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.
Once Upon a Wardrobe is an exquisite tribute to the force which is stories. Stories are the foundation of life; they are what hold us together, binding our past, present, and future. Megs, a stickler for math and science, cannot see the truth of the matter: fiction and reality are equally important, acting as the cornerstones of humanity. Facts make up the world, but stories are what hold those facts together. Novels and poems can change the course of one’s life, opening one to emotions and experiences they never knew to be possible.
Callahan also hits upon the true meaning of strength. Megs strives to be strong for the sake of her brother and parents, to be brave in the face of tragedy and smile as if all will be well. As she spends more and more time with the Lewis brothers and Padraig, a new friend who makes her heart flip and her head turn, Megs begins to see the flaws in her definition. True strength is not about keeping emotions bottled inside, resisting love and tears for fear of appearing weak or straying from one’s goals. True strength is taking a risk and letting others into one’s life in spite of fear. Some things are more important than a mathematics exam.
Reminiscent of Lewis’s classic series, Callahan’s Once Upon a Wardrobe is an enchanting tale which invokes a touching sense of nostalgia. In the words of Junior Deniz Gur, “Growing up, I absolutely loved The Chronicles of Narnia. Once Upon a Wardrobe is my chance to recapture the magic of Aslan and reconnect with my childhood.” A unique plot, Callahan creates a fictional narrative around the true life of C.S. Lewis and his possible inspiration for Narnia worthy of the famous author and his creation.
Once Upon a Wardrobe is a simplistic yet lyrical triumph suffused with Patti Callahan’s iconically quiet, profound sense of wisdom. According to Mrs. Ferro, “Callahan writes a beautiful story of hope and love between siblings. It’s a great read for anyone who loves Narnia.” As Callahan so expertly conveys, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is different from other stories. Even for those who despise tales of talking animals, White Witches, and magic wardrobes, for those who reside in the security of logic and certainty of numbers, the Chronicles of Narnia gently pry open the door of imagination. Narnia isn’t just a story, it is an entire world living parallel to our own, woven into the very fabric of our existence. Narnia isn’t just whatever you want it to be, it’s whatever you need it to be; Narnia is life and death, love and loss, hope and tragedy, and everything in between.
Perfect for fans of The Chronicles of Narnia, Once Upon a Wardrobe is a stunning winter read which radiates warmth and a light more revealing than the brightest of stars. For decades, Narnia has had a mysterious hold over the hearts of humans, one which will never be broken or deciphered; Narnia will forever fascinate us. Though this novel is not an action-packed adventure by any means, Patti Callahan dives deep into one of the greatest mysteries of the world: “Where did Narnia come from?” (Callahan 13).