Book Review: Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

About the Book

Once Upon a Wardrobe

Title: Once Upon a Wardrobe

Author: Patti Callahan

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Megs Devonshire is brilliant with numbers and equations, on a scholarship at Oxford, and dreams of solving the greatest mysteries of physics. She prefers the dependability of facts—except for one: the younger brother she loves with all her heart doesn’t have long to live. When George becomes captivated by a copy of 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, Megs soon finds herself taking tea with the Oxford don and his own brother, imploring them for answers. What she receives instead are more stories . . . stories of Jack 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 Meg 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.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

My Thoughts

I absolutely fell in love with Once Upon a Wardrobe. And, as I look at that sentence, I wonder to myself “how can someone love something that contains so much pain?”

I think it’s the same way we fall in love with life. It’s the same way we love new friends, knowing that sometimes friendships end with bitterness; it’s the way we love places, knowing that they are constantly changing and we may never go back once we leave. It’s the way we choose to be brave when we may not reach our goals.

But it doesn’t happen in a void, and that is what this book hints at and what C.S. Lewis spoke of often.

I wish that I were the kind of person who could pull out quotes from books I read years ago at just the right moment, but I don’t have any of Lewis’ books memorized. I can, however, tell you that talk of the deeper meaning of the world permeates his writing (both fiction and nonfiction). Once Upon a Wardrobe only goes so far as to argue for fiction as meaningful and even essential, and I have no qualms with that. Fiction can show us truths about the world that we wouldn’t easily listen to in another context, and it enriches life in so many ways, and brings adventure and a way to interact with philosophy in a much less intimidating environment. But Lewis, in his actual life, advocated for a specific “deeper meaning” of life. I would have liked to see more of that, but I suppose it may have made the book longer than the author or publisher wished.

Once Upon a Wardrobe works two timelines together very well. The primary story is that of Megs, a young college student doing everything she can for her ailing younger brother George – including meeting and, eventually, befriending the famed author C.S. Lewis. Of course, he is only beginning to be “famed” when Megs meets him. The Chronicles of Narnia is currently the only book in its series published; more have been speculated about, but not yet written. The second timeline is Lewis’ childhood and adolescence. In response to George’s question about the origin of Narnia, Mr. Lewis tells Megs stories of his own growing up and the times when he encountered the beginnings of the elements which would become pieces of Narnia. We see these sections through Lewis’ eyes while Megs is recounting them because of George’s powerful imagination – it’s difficult to explain, but this brings the two stories together beautifully and makes the transition from one to the other entirely painless and smooth.

Personally, this was definitely a case of the right book at the right time. While I may not have an ailing sibling, the continued world health situation and its repercussions had been weighing more heavily on me when I started reading Once Upon a Wardrobe. While it doesn’t contain the answers, it was a surprisingly comforting companion. This book is deeper than I expected, and looks more deeply at things that I did not anticipate. Perhaps some of its beauty lies in that surprise.

The Verdict

Once Upon a Wardrobe is, without question, one of the best books that I have read in quite a while. The historical and literary voices resonate with the topic. The writing style is such a pleasure to read. Even the unnecessary romantic side plot was enjoyable. I recommend this book to any fan of Lewis who is willing to remember that this is fiction and, while well-researched, there are undoubtedly some authorial liberties. It’s also recommended to readers of historical fiction (1950s Great Britain), those looking for something easily readable that touches on deeper subjects without sacrificing the narrative, and anyone who is skeptical of dual timeline stories but willing to give it another go. I’m giving Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan five stars.

Have you read this lovely book? It came very highly recommended to me, and I am glad that it lived up to all the positive chatter. I should probably also note that I expected Christmas to play a more significant role in this book than it did. If you’re looking for cozy family introspection, this is your book! But if you’re looking for blatant Christmas motifs, you may be disappointed with the background role they play. This could be a good first book if you want to ease into reading Christmas stories next season.

Until the next chapter,


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