Siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have been sent away from London to the countryside because of the air-raids taking place in the city—it is the height of World War II. The siblings have been sent to live with a man known only as the Professor. He is very old, unmarried, and the children all like him because they believe he will let them do “anything [they] like.” As the children settle into their new home their first night, they bicker and argue with one another—Lucy, the youngest, worries that they will get in trouble for talking so loud, but Peter, the eldest, points out that the house is so large that no one can hear anything the four of them get up to. Peter urges his siblings to go to sleep, promising to lead an expedition to explore the grounds of their new home in the morning.
Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter are thrust into a new situation and new surroundings, with only each other to cling to for support. In escaping the war, they are being shielded from horror and danger, but it is clear that their new circumstances have kicked up feelings of fear and uncertainty. This is what is causing them to bicker and take their pain and trepidation out on each other. This moment sets up the way the siblings will relate to one another, and their surroundings, as the novel unfolds.
The next morning, though, it is raining. Edmund grumbles about the bad weather, but Susan urges him to cheer up; Peter offers to take Edmund and the others exploring inside of the massive house rather than outside. As the children peek into the spare rooms, they discover halls full of paintings, musical instruments, suits of armor, and very old books. One room has nothing inside of it but a large wardrobe. Peter, declaring there’s nothing to see in the room, leads the others onward, but Lucy stays behind, curious about what is inside the wardrobe.
The old house the four siblings are living in is like a magical realm of its own, with much to explore and learn. The children are inquisitive and eager to find new adventures, foreshadowing how they will react when they are thrust into the fantasy realm of Narnia.
Lucy opens the door and finds several long fur coats hanging inside. She loves the smell and feel of fur, and so she steps up into the wardrobe to rub her face on the coats. She proceeds deeper into the wardrobe to the second row of coats. Expecting to feel the back of the wardrobe, she instead feels only empty space. She continues walking, and soon feels something crunching beneath her feet. She looks down, and finds she is walking through freshly fallen snow. Lucy soon feels that tree branches rather than coats are rubbing against her face, and eventually emerges into the middle of a snowy wood at nighttime.
Lucy’s curiosity leads her somewhere new. Though the children are being sheltered from the chaos of the war, the fact that Lucy stumbles upon a fantasy realm so soon into her stay at the Professor’s shows that sometimes chaos and the unknown cannot be avoided.
Lucy is frightened, but excited, too. Behind her, she can see the open door of the wardrobe; knowing that she can always get back if anything should go wrong, she walks through the wood. After walking for a few minutes she comes upon a lamp-post. As she stops to look at it, she hears footsteps coming toward her. Soon, a Faun (later revealed as Mr. Tumnus) emerges from the trees, carrying an umbrella. He wears a scarf and holds presents in his arms, and Lucy thinks he looks as if he has just come back from doing his Christmas shopping. When the Faun catches sight of Lucy, he shouts in surprise, and is so startled that he drops all of his parcels into the snow.
Lucy is in another world—and, clearly, it is a place where strange and mythical creatures exist. In Narnia, a Faun is a creature that is part human and part goat (similar to a centaur). Being ensconced in a fantasy world, though, does not mean that Lucy will be free from conflict and fear. Lewis will toy with the idea of escapism throughout the novel, and will subvert readers’ expectations of what it means to enter a magical realm adjacent to the “real” world.