Posted in Reading, Writing

The Library, the Witch and the Wardrobe

My latest column for the Tetbury Advertiser praises the iconic Narnia wardrobe and public libraries – not as unrelated as you might think.

Vintage cover of C S Lewis's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
This edition of C S Lewis’s classic chlidren’s story is the one I grew up with

On arrival at their holiday cottage on Brownsea Island, Dorset, the birthplace of Scouting and Guiding, what do you think was the biggest hit with my daughter’s Girlguiding unit? Spotting copious red squirrels, finding exotic tail feathers dropped by the resident peacocks, or discovering the beach at the end of the garden?

Trick question! Actually, it was finding an ancient wooden wardrobe in each dormitory.

“I’m just off to Narnia!” the girls would call, taking it in turns  to step inside the wardrobe. Their imagination did the rest to keep them entertained.

Variations on the game soon arose. “Our wardrobe takes us to Rainbow Land.” “Ours leads to Hogwarts.”

Did C S Lewis realise what a timeless icon he had created with that wardrobe? Surely the promise of a  secret world of adventure behind a mundane facade is never far from the thoughts of anyone who has ever read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – or is that just me?

When is a Library Like a Wardrobe?

Only the other day it struck me whike taking the shortcut to Tetbury Library that this winding, blinkered alleyway leading away from the hubbub of the shopping streets provides a Narnia-like transportation to a secret oasis of calm.

As when entering the  fabled wardrobe, those crossing the library’s threshold will find different adventures according to their character and attitude. But unlike Narnia, where it is always winter but never Christmas, in a public library it is always Christmas. Any day you visit, you can walk away laden with gifts: books to read on free loan, DVDs, games and invitations to courses and events. All you need is the courage to open the wardrobe door and step inside, and, with faith, you’ll find what you’re looking for. And if you’re not sure what you’re seeking, you’ll be readily assisted by expert librarians, who are not likely to resemble Mr Tumnus or Mr and Mrs Beaver in appearance, but they will share their generous and resourceful nature and specialist knowledge.

Keeping the Faith

Only if there are enough people keeping the faith will libraries like Tetbury’s survive. Otherwise they will slowly morph into just another lost mythological world. I hesitate to imagine the conversation with my grandchildren years from now.

“Yes, that’s right, dear. The books were all free. Thousands of them, there were, on every subject and in every genre.”

“Yet people just didn’t bother using them?”

“Yes, dear, and that’s why they shut them down.”

Cover of the latest Tetbury Advertiser
I’m proud to be a columnist for the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser

To me, closing a public library is as unthinkable as locking the Professor’s wardrobe and throwing away the key. Who would want to live in a society in which the most adventure to be had from a wardrobe is assembling an IKEA flatpack?

By the way. I’m reliably informed that there are no witches in Tetbury Library. I’m not so sure about IKEA.

This post first appeared in the September issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser