What could possibly be interesting about a wardrobe? It’s quite probably one of the humblest of furnitures you’ll ever find, but literature has a way of turning the ordinary into the magical. On exploring the various instances this piece of furniture has taken centre-stage in the literary world, you find a lot of significance attached.
Well, of course, the first reference that strikes you would be the erstwhile author C.S.Lewis’ creation, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. But before we analyse the symbolism of the wardrobe in that fantasy novel, I have to tell you that Lewis was not the first to use the wardrobe as a portal to a magical land. Yes, he was beaten to it by E Nesbit, who wrote his story ‘The Aunt and Amabel’, way back in 1912. This charming short story, one in a series of twelve, is about a young girl who finds her way into a magic world through a wardrobe. Much like Narnia, for the story is often credited as inspiration for Lewis’ novels.
And that brings us to the wardrobe that functions as a gateway to the magical land of Narnia. The wardrobe is one of the centre-pieces of the novel, the place where the entire journey begins. We know that Narnia doesn’t actually exist behind the wardrobe, the wardrobe is merely a portal to get you there. But you cannot help instinctively feeling that the wardrobe holds Narnia inside it and this makes it an object of much adoration. Lucy chances upon the wardrobe and enters Narnia but when she tries to take her siblings through it, the gateway seals itself. However, the subsequent times they end up there, once with Edmund and the time when all four hide in the wardrobe to escape the housekeeper Mrs.MacReady’s wrath, the wardrobe opens up for them. Of course, as we realise later, you only get to Narnia when you are not actually trying to get there.
Moving on, we find the wardrobe again, in Harry Potter! Where? Rack your brains hard and it’ll come to you. Yes, the Boggart! The Boggart in the Wardrobe. The Boggart in the wardrobe that changes form according to what you fear the most. In a sense, the wardrobe represents our fear of the unknown. The dark, confined space of the wardrobe is where the boggart chooses to seek refuge, a metaphor to the way we try to conceal our fears behind a veil of other thoughts, a place deep enough from where it is difficult to dredge them up. It is in fact, a double concealment. The wardrobe hides the boggart and the boggart, in turn, hides its true form by assuming another shape.
Also, in another instance, when Professor Dumbledore shows Harry how he convinced Tom to join Hogwarts, we see Dumbledore setting fire to Riddle’s wardrobe, where he has accumulated all his stolen possessions. And similarly, Harry hides the Half Blood Prince’s potions book in a wardrobe in the Room of Requirement, keeps a tiara nearby for the purpose of identification. The tiara, of course, is a Horcrux but Harry doesn’t know that then. And during the Final Battle of Hogwarts, this wardrobe is destroyed in a fire, alluding (probably), to Dumbledore doing the same to a younger Riddle’s possessions.
Analysing all such references to the wardrobe, it is apparent that wardrobes have served the purpose of concealment. Concealment of fears, magical lands and what not. Who knows, the next time you see a wardrobe, you might just be inspired to create yet another literary allusion to it.