Book Review: Once Upon a Wardrobe

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.

As a fan of CS Lewis’s writing, I was delighted to see a historical fiction title that explores his life and events that influenced the writing of his Narnia books. Author Patti Callahan has obviously done her research on Lewis (and is the author of other historical fiction books about him), and it shows in all the little details she brings to life on the page.

The story is set in 1958, by which time Lewis was lecturing on literature at Magdalen College in Oxford, and had published several books including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The main character, Megs, is studying mathematics and physics at the sister college of Magdalen, and while she is a young woman securely entrenched in facts and details, she seeks out Lewis at the request of her younger brother, George, who is only 8 and living as an invalid due to a heart condition. Megs comes to know Lewis (and his brother, “Warnie”) and Lewis tells her stories about his growing up. Megs is disappointed that she cannot answer her brother’s questions about how Narnia came into being, but she begins to see that the stories Lewis is telling her are more than just stories, and Megs begins to see there is more to life than just the black and white numbers in a calculation.

The book focuses more on Lewis’s younger life than his writing, although the two are obviously closely intertwined. It traces his upbringing from his youth in Ireland and the loss of his mother at an early age to his move to a boarding school in England, and his experience overseas in World War I. The glimpses he gives Megs during their “story time” together help build his character as a real person and I enjoyed getting to know him better through Megs. Megs’s story is one of learning about oneself and struggling through difficult times to find good moments and the light at the end of the tunnel.

A lovely story, well-written and researched that brought the characters to life for me. I’d definitely be interested in reading her other book, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, that focuses on Lewis’s adult life and his late marriage. A recommended read for historical fiction lovers and fans of CS Lewis and his writings. Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for providing me this ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.

This is book 13/24 for the Fall Into Reading Challenge.

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