I can't remember a time when I didn't know the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Realistically, it probably wasn't the first book I ever read, but I have no memory of it being new to me, of not knowing this book, and then discovering it for the first time. Looking it up online, I discover that the BBC's Sunday night family drama adaptation of this book was aired in November 1988 - or just after my third birthday, and before any but my very earliest memories.
I do remember being told that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a Christian allegory and that Aslan represented Jesus in a fairy-tale setting. Being a good little Sunday School girl I just nodded and thought, "but of course!" though I don't know if I'd worked it out myself before being told, or whether it just made sense. Quite probably, the word "allegory" was not one I would have used myself at such a young age, precocious child though I may have been.
There is no doubt that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe played a crucial part in forming my love of reading. It kick-started my realisation that stories could help me to understand the world and opened up to me the world of possibilities, to the magical nature of a really good book. Like War Drobe in Spare Oom, books could take me to far away lands. I wanted so much to discover Narnia for myself. For many years the back of my own wardrobe was decorated with a childishly-drawn map of Narnia, with movable figures: a Lucy, a faun and of course the lamp post, tiny figures to give the idea of perspective, that this was a "simply enormous wardrobe" containing a whole world. Even as an adult, if I stay in a new bedroom, I have to check the wardrobe. Just in case. Four or five years ago, I went on holiday with my family to Ireland. On the first night we stayed in a wonderful guesthouse that seemed to have come straight from a children's book, with delicious food, a kitchen that seemed to belong in a Famous Five adventure, and in one of the bedrooms a magnificent wardrobe, the sort of wardrobe where Things Happen. My sister and I (aged 18 and 20 at the time) took one look at each other - and raced each other to the wardrobe. Of course, there was nothing there - but there could have been.
I have read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe probably more often than any other book in my life (except perhaps Anne of Green Gables) and still it doesn't lose its charm. The details are as fresh as ever - exactly what Lucy had for tea with Mr Tumnus, and all the different varieties of toast - a detail that was not lost on the makers of the latest film adaptation. Lewis's narrative voice is another important part of the book's magic - he writes as if he were a favourite uncle, which adds a cosiness as if being read to. Indeed, I feel that this is a book meant to be read aloud, and sometimes baffle my family when they hear my voice reading aloud and they are well aware there's no one else with me. I am adopted-aunt to my friend's twin daughters and I am looking forward to the day when they are old enough for me to read this book to them. When I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I feel that I am eight years old again, in an endless summer holiday, and that the door into Narnia is just a few metres away, through my very own wardrobe. This is not just a story for me, but an intrinsic part of my childhood. I am quite sure it is part of what made me who I am today.
I haven't yet found my way into Narnia through my own wardrobe, but nevertheless, the books crammed onto its top shelf open the doors into many other worlds.