There’s a Lion in My Closet by Natalie Lloyd

My first novel, A Snicker of Magic, takes place in a quirky Tennessee mountain town called Midnight Gulch. The sugar-wind blows through Midnight Gulch thanks to a famous (er… infamous, rather) ice cream factory called Dr. Zook’s. While Zook’s boasts all sorts of strangely delicious concoctions, the most popular flavor is only sold locally. It’s called Blackberry Sunrise, and years ago, the first batch was made from a crop of wild berries, sugar, milk … and memories. That’s the problem with eating Blackberry Sunrise, as my hero, Felicity Pickle, soon discovers. That particular flavor always calls up a memory. And you never know if the memory will be sweet or sour unless you’re brave enough to take a bite.

Sadly, I don’t know how to hide memories in ice cream.

But I know how to hide memories in books.

If you came over for coffee, and browsed my bookshelf, you’d see that some books look especially well-loved. Their covers and spines are so wrinkled and tattered that you might wonder if I accidentally tried to drop kick them into the far reaches of outer space.

The truth is simply this: I’ve hidden memories in those books. And the books with the best memories are inevitably the books I discovered as a young reader.

I liked The Witches by Roald Dahl because it was scary, strange and adventurous. But I loved the book because of the hero. Even while transformed into a squeaky, fuzzified mouse, he found a way to take down a monstrous witch. His victory had nothing to do with his physical strength, but his mind, and his heart. The memory stuck between the pages is one of my favorites: I read The Witches to my little brother under the chestnut tree in our back yard. We were so captive to the words that we jumped every time the bony branches above us clickity-clacked against each other.

The pastel spines of my Anne of Green Gables books are some of my favorites, too. Just being entertained by Anne’s plucky adventures would have been enough. But I felt like we’d be kindred spirits, if she were real. Like Anne, I was a little bit quirky, and a little bit weird, and I stayed tangled up in my imagination. The memory falls easily from the pages: I opened the entire collection on Christmas morning. I knew instantly that I was holding something special.

There are other examples too.

I remember where Blubber was shelved in my middle school library.

I remember buying Wayside School is Falling Down from the school book order.

Julie of the Wolves is a new copy, you’ll notice. When I saw it at the bookstore, I remembered my third grade teacher, Mr. Watson, reading it to my class after lunch. We groaned every time he put the book away; and not because we dreaded science (because he made that amazing too). His read-aloud capabilities were magical.

The Babysitters Club books made me a reader for life so those pages overflow with memories. My best friend rode her bicycle to my house almost daily so we could swap them. Our summers wouldn’t have been the same without the girls from Stonybrook.

No story stole my heart like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe though. I didn’t just read the book; I felt it. I shivered at the snow, even though it only fell within the pages. I still remember the zing in my chest when Mr. Beaver said, so hushed and hopeful, “Aslan is on the move.” My mom read it to me first. Then I read it for myself. I became so obsessed with Narnia that I packed my favorite books into a lunchbox and fell asleep in my closet, confident I’d wake up there. My brother will never let me forget that fact. (Though I’m still not convinced it was a bad idea.) Those are all sweet memories.

But Narnia holds bittersweet memories, too; Narnia was my hiding place.

I was born with a brittle bone disease that caused a few dark days. Compared to an otherwise awesome childhood, the bad days were few. But they were still significant. I broke my legs often, seemingly for no reason. And in some of the harder moments – through the pain of having the bone set again, during months of restricted movement and physical therapy – I closed my eyes, and imagined I was in Narnia.

I imagined what Aslan’s fur would feel like between my fingers.

I imagined what his roar would feel like in my chest, if it was my roar. The story was fictional, but the courage I found in the pages was real. I learned that I didn’t have to be physically strong to have a big adventure. Only in looking back have I realized the weight of that kind of book-magic. Even in less painful situations, I’ve opened the book to remember that I’m braver than I think I am. I’ve closed my eyes and imagined the roar of a faithful lion; rattling my bones, steadying my heart.

If you shake my favorite books, memories will come tumbling loose.

Memories of how stories connect me to people I love…of how words on a page made me more empathetic and aware of the world around me. And once upon a time, not so long ago, some of these books helped me find my courage. They still do.

Once a queen in Narnia, always a queen in Narnia.

snicker of magicNatalie Lloyd lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She collects old books, listens to bluegrass music, and loves exploring quirky mountain towns with her dog, Biscuit. A Snicker of Magic is her first novel.