"THEY looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big
wardrobe." Not, as it turned out, any old wardrobe, but a piece of
furniture blessed with enchantment. But why a wardrobe? Why on
earth did C. S. Lewis chose a wardrobe as a doorway into
An allegedly biographical story is told of how, as a child,
young Jack Lewis used to climb into a wardrobe in the family's
Belfast home, and, in the secret, closeted darkness, tell stories
to his brother and himself.
There are those, however, who dismiss this engaging anecdote as
unlikely, if not impossible, since Lewis was known to suffer badly
from claustrophobia. Indeed, just pages after the legendary
wardrobe has been discovered, the author is reminding his readers,
more than once, that "it is very foolish to shut oneself into any
wardrobe, even if it is not a magic one."
Whatever the truth, The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobe is now so firmly rooted in pop-culture mythology that
we no more question C. S. Lewis's choice of a wardrobe as an
entry-point into Narnia than we ask why Lewis Carroll should have
selected a rabbit hole as the way into Wonderland, or why L. Frank
Baum settled on a cyclone as the most convenient means of getting
APPARENTLY a pointless question, it is one that, I find, will just
not go away. Why a wardrobe? As a portal to another world, the door
of a wardrobe seems less than promising. It is neither a way out,
nor a way through. It is quite unlike those other literary doors of
fairy tale and fable: the hitherto unnoticed door at the end of a
dimly lit corridor in some ancient, rambling house; or the
ivy-covered, rusty-hinged door discovered in a remote corner of a
A wardrobe door should lead nowhere - other than the inside of
the wardrobe. But then, maybe, this is precisely Lewis's point:
that the doorway to Narnia does not look like a doorway at all, and
can be found only by those willing to suspend their disbelief - or,
rather, suspend their belief - in conventional rationality. An act,
if you like, of faith.
After all, because the events played out in the land between the
lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel can be seen as
allegorical, then, maybe, the access route to that world can be
Although Lewis never made such an analogy, his spiritual
conversion had parallels with Lucy's choice of the wardrobe as a
place of concealment, when playing hide-and-seek with her sister
After sudden and traumatic insecurities wrecked Lewis's
previously happy childhood - the loss of a mother taken by cancer,
isolation from an emotionally buttoned-up father, and the sudden
horrors of banishment to a boarding-school that he found hellish -
he retreated into a hiding-place that seemed secure, unassailable,
CLOSING the door on his feelings - anger and grief, a fear of life
and death, of anything and everything that made him vulnerable - he
seemed, for a while at least, to be protected both from the
hide-and-seek attentions of a God whom he had no wish to encounter,
and from the perils of that most unpredictable and
heart-threatening of emotions, love.
Then, after many years, there came a knock at the wardrobe door.
It was the God whom Lewis had so long evaded, and, as the door
inched hesitantly open, light - although at first no more than a
glimmer of understanding - began to creep into the darkness.
But, even then, Lewis did not immediately relinquish the safety
of his emotional wardrobe. After all, what is a wardrobe but a
fancy name for a cupboard? And a cupboard is simply a box for
keeping things neat and tidy and out of sight: a practical way of
avoiding unwanted and embarrassing clutter. And, after so many
years, Lewis was determined to keep his emotional and spiritual
life securely fortified.
The story of that life - the Oxford scholar, the gradual
conversion to Christianity, the acclaimed apologist, popular author
of science fiction and children's fantasies - is now well known
through his autobiographical writings, posthumously published
diaries and letters, and a veritable library of volumes de- voted
to every aspect of the author's life, works, and beliefs.
There are biographies, ranging from the hagiographic to the
iconoclastic; analyses of his ethical and theological books;
studies devoted to the land of Narnia, and all the minutiae of its
history, geography, and denizens.
AS WITH every publicly owned personality, from princes and
presidents to actors and authors, Lewis's personal life has been
subjected to microscopic scrutiny, and never more so than in
respect of his late-flowering love for Joy Davidman, a divorced,
American, Jewish writer who was struck down with the same disease
that stole away his mother.
Over the past 30 years or so, this unlikely, yet moving love
story of two lives, intrinsically different, yet unexpectedly
connecting and en- twining, has been portrayed on TV, radio, stage,
and film until it has all but entered the realms of romantic
And yet, at the very heart of this tale, real life, with all its
joy, pain, and human awkwardness, merges with this enduringly
famous literary image.
For Lucy, it was the wardrobe - dark and stuffy, filled with the
fustiness of old clothes and mothballs - that became magically
transformed into a border-crossing to Aslan's kingdom; a realm of
revelations and resurrections.
For Lewis, there was the metaphorical wardrobe, filled with
doubts and uncertainties. And there was love - first divine, and
then human, with their different claims and insistences -
relentlessly seeking out his hiding-place, prising wide the door
and leading him not out of the wardrobe, but through it, to a place
where the ordinary was transformed into the truly miraculous. Here,
fear was destroyed by faith, hopelessness gave way to holiness, and
death became simply another door.
Brian Sibley is the author of Shadowlands: The true
story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, published by Hodder
& Stoughton at £8.99 (Church Times £8.10).