As a six-year-old in New York, I was sophisticated enough to know what a wardrobe was when I first happened upon the term in the title of the most famous of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books. But it surprised many of my friends in Britain to hear that such knowledge isn’t universal among American kids.
The reason for this is, of course, that in most American homes, wardrobes are the exception, not the rule. Closets in which to hang your clothes, line up your shoes, and organize any and all other manner of wearable items are de rigueur. Like wardrobes, closets vary in size – though in my own experience have been much larger, some as small as a midsized wardrobe, others as large as a very small specimen of a fresher’s room here in Oxford.
But unlike wardrobes, closets are built in to a house; you can’t take one with you when you leave a house behind. And they’re something you step into, not up into – which can make all the difference to a child. I wanted my parents to go out and buy a wardrobe for months after reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – of course they didn’t, but I begged because I thought that I too could discover Narnia, if only I had the proper gateway at my disposal.
I never once considered the possibility that a closet might lead me to this land of magic in the same way. And throughout the rest of my childhood, though I spoke in the American tongue and read many books written in a decidedly British tone, I never fused the ideas of the two objects together, never quite conceptualized the notion that to have one was to replace the other, that to have both would be impractical.
Until, that is, I came to Oxford, and discovered in my room a pale wardrobe – much smaller than my closet at home. Struggling to shove all of my things into it at every possible angle, I found myself for the first time yearning for a closet instead. My dreams had come full circle – twelve years later, I was in the land that was once the home of the man who created Narnia – and I no longer wished for a wardrobe.