Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are siblings who come to live with an old Professor in his home "in the heart of the country" during the war, since air raids are throwing London into a state of terror. Peter is the eldest, followed by Susan and Edmund, and Lucy is the youngest. The Professor is an old, unmarried man who lives with a housekeeper and three servants. Lucy is a little afraid of him when they first meet; Edmund, revealing his unpleasant personality, tries to cover his laughter at the sight of the old man.
As the four children say good night and ready themselves for bed, they exclaim over the woods and mountains surrounding the house. Lucy hears an owl in the night, and the children exclaim in excitement about the badgers, snakes, and foxes that they may discover in the forest.
The following morning, however, they awaken to rain. Following Peter's lead, they decide to explore the rooms in the mysterious house. There are many old passageways and rooms linking to other rooms and leading out onto balconies, with walls covered in books and old armor. The children then come upon an empty room with a large wardrobe, but while the others move on, Lucy, the youngest, stays behind and opens the wardrobe door. She looks in out of pure curiosity, and two moth-balls drop out. Inside, she sees a row of long fur coats. Still driven by curiosity, she climbs in and reaches past the coats, careful to leave the wardrobe door open. As she crawls further inside, surprised that she doesn't immediately encounter the back of the wardrobe, she notices that the hard floor has become mysteriously cold and soft, and that something prickly is all around her. She realizes that the prickliness comes from the branches of trees, and that the floor is covered in snow. She is standing in the middle of a wood; it is night, and snow is falling.
Fearful yet excited, Lucy looks back and sees the wardrobe door and a bit of the empty room. She walks for ten minutes, and finally reaches a lamp-post. Just as she is thinking how odd it is to find a lamp-post in the middle of a wood, she is met by a man with the legs of a goat and two horns on his head. Carrying parcels and an umbrella covered in snow, Lucy imagines that he has just finished doing his Christmas shopping. The creature is called a "faun", and when he sees Lucy, he drops his parcels and exclaims, "Goodness gracious me!"
This first chapter immediately situates the reader, pulling him into the narrative and introducing him to the wonders of Narnia. The time is firmly established: it is wartime, and the children have been evacuated to the safety of the countryside for the summer holidays. The house is a fertile place for exploration, and from the beginning the reader gathers that the children, while on holiday, are about to be educated in another way - a way that they would never experience in school.
The children's individual reactions to the Professor immediately give the readers insight into their personalities. While the Professor is described as very old and unmarried, he inspires fear in Lucy, and mockery from Edmund. The attention paid to the different views expressed by the two younger siblings foreshadows the conflict that is to come. Additionally, we immediately learn that Lucy reacts with humility and timidity to the unknown, while Edmund reacts with disrespect.
Lucy is the youngest of the children, and perhaps the most apt to believe in a fantasy. She is also the first to peek into the wardrobe that leads into Narnia. She is the logical character to choose as the primary protagonist, since she is the youngest, and thus more open to the joys of wonder, belief, and curiosity for curiosity's sake. There is nothing about the empty room or the wardrobe to spark one's curiosity; in fact, it is something that most would overlook, as is shown at the very end of the story, when Mrs. Macready, the housekeeper, skips over the room with the group of sight-seers. The fantasy world, it seems, is beyond the attention of adults, or at least of adults who do not like children. Lucy's pure, childlike curiosity, however, is rewarded by the appearance of a strange entryway, and an even stranger adventure.
By beginning the story with "Once there were four children" and concluding the first chapter with Lucy in a strange wood beyond the wardrobe, encountering a faun, Lewis successfully links the reader's own curiosity to the narrative. There is hardly any time, the reader notes in retrospect, to question the veracity of Lucy's experience. It is simply experienced. As the narrative unfolds, however, and as Lucy relates what has happened, the reality of the experience comes into question.
It is also important to note the seasonal difference between the summer holiday and the winter's night that Lucy walks into: everything pleasurable about a summer holiday is reversed in Narnia. The soft fur coats hanging in the wardrobe transform into cold, prickly fir trees. At the same time, there is still a sense of wonder. Lucy has discovered a doorway into a fantasy land, and the lamp-post, though an odd sight in the middle of a wood, strikes the reader almost like a painting in which the images do not combine on a purely rational level, and yet make sense within the context of the work. For Lucy, the lamp-post is the first signal that the wood she has entered is not a regular wood, closely followed by the second signal: the appearance of the faun.