2218: Wardrobe

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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If you'd just agree to hold your meetings in here, you'd have PLENTY of time to figure things out before the deadline.
Title text: If you'd just agree to hold your meetings in here, you'd have PLENTY of time to figure things out before the deadline.


This comic references The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of children's fantasy books by C.S. Lewis (some of which were later made into movies, plays, and TV and radio shows) about a group of children from England who travel to a magical land called Narnia. In the first book of the series (by publication date), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Narnia is accessible through a wardrobe in a residence in the English countryside. Mr. Tumnus is a faun in Narnia and the first character that the first human visitor, Lucy Pevensie, meets on her first trip through the wardrobe portal. Referencing Narnia is a recurring theme in xkcd. Tumnus was depicted in the first comic to reference Narnia: 665: Prudence.

The comic also makes reference to membership in the European Union. The United Kingdom (UK) is a member of the EU at the time of this comic, but narrowly voted via public referendum in 2016 to exit the EU (a process commonly referred to as Brexit, portamanteau for Britain/British and exit), but working out the details of this separation has proven more complicated than the simple in/out vote implied.

Narnia applying to join the EU shortly after the UK, as referred to in the title text, would theoretically be possible, even if only The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was considered, since the UK joined the EU in 1973, whereas the wardrobe entrance to Narnia was discovered during World War 2, therefore in the period between 1939 and 1945. However, they would most likely be rejected due to not technically existing in Europe and having a monarchy government (EU membership requires a stable democracy).

One of the major issues with Brexit remains the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The two countries share the island of Ireland, but Northern Ireland is part of the UK while the Republic is an independent country which remains part of the EU. With the UK exited from the EU, it would have different customs regulations than the Republic of Ireland, and there would need to be some kind of customs border. The most obvious solution would be to establish a controlled land border between the two countries, but this would raise some serious difficulties and dangers.

Northern Ireland has had a long history of civil unrest and ethno-nationalist conflict. The most recent period of conflict, commonly referred to as The Troubles, resulted in over 3000 deaths between 1969 and 1998. In 1998, the UK and Ireland entered into a treaty, known as the Good Friday Agreement (overwhelmingly approved by referendums in both parts of Ireland). This treaty was intended to resolve many of the issues that drove the conflict, and has largely been successful in putting a stop to the violence. One of the agreements in the treaty was a totally open border between the two parts of Ireland. As both were in the EU, this was easily done, because they already shared a customs union. Over the following two decades, the ease of transit created major trade links between the two areas, and many people lived in one country and worked in the other. In the UK Brexit referendum, a majority of Northern Ireland voters voted to remain in the EU. Placing a hard border between the two countries would create major economic disruptions, and serious hardships for people living near the border. It would also undermine the intent of the Good Friday Agreement, which could lead to the rekindling of hostilities and the return of terrorist attacks, instead of all sides pursuing purely political means to uphold their aims of finally joining with the rest of Ireland or continuing to stay British. The Irish government raised this issue from the time Brexit was first proposed, but their warnings were not fully heeded.

The alternative to this border would be to maintain open borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but institute customs checks between the island of Ireland and the United Kingdom. In October 2019, Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, negotiated a Brexit deal with the EU that included this arrangement, but from late 2020 onwards instituted seemingly contrary rules that have not yet (as of the end of his premiership, in 2022) been resolved.

While the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border issue has received the most attention, the UK has land borders with two other EU countries. The UK territory of Gibraltar shares a border with Spain. There are also two Sovereign Bases Areas that share a border with the Republic of Cyprus.

The portal in the wardrobe represents another border of the UK, namely the border between England and Narnia. This 'border', of course, exists only in fiction, but the joke here is that it must be dealt with in the Brexit negotiations, further complicating an already messy situation.[citation needed] A further source of implicit humor is the juxtaposition of a fantasy children's tale about the magical land of Narnia with the highly contentious, political, adult world of Brexit.

Cueball suggests solving the situation by simply locking the wardrobe (which was never very accessible, even in The Chronicles of Narnia), effectively isolating the UK from Narnia and making the border problem moot. This wouldn't work even in the fictional world of the books, as new ways to enter Narnia pop up in every book, although most of them are accessible only to the kids from the first book and their friends.

The title text references the amount of time it has taken to complete the Brexit negotiations, that was three-plus years and counting at the time of the comic, and 'completed' during Johnson's term but leaving important issues (such as the above) not fully resolved. The negotiators had set a series of deadlines to complete the negotiations, but had repeatedly had to extend those deadlines because they hadn't reached any agreement. The comic was posted roughly one week before the then-current Brexit deadline of Oct. 31, 2019. However it was already expected that that deadline too would probably be extended and while the core element of Brexit eventually 'got done', there remain a number of unresolved issues. In The Chronicles of Narnia, time moves inconsistently in Narnia compared to Earth, usually passing more rapidly in Narnia than on Earth. Lucy Pevensie and her siblings enter the wardrobe as children, have extensive adventures in Narnia lasting many years, and then return to Earth to find that they are children again and that only a few minutes have passed. The suggestion here is that holding the slow, complex Brexit (and 'post-Brexit') negotiations in Narnia would take relatively little time on Earth, and the whole affair could be completed in time for any deadline.

A punchline similar to the title text, where the slower passing of time was used to take on time-intensive real world problems, was also used for one of the comics in 821: Five-Minute Comics: Part 3. The time difference was also mentioned in the title text of 1786: Trash.


[Megan is entering into an open wardrobe, while Cueball stands outside.]
Megan: I'll go ask.
Megan: You wait here.
[Cueball stands outside the now-closed wardrobe.]
[In a frame-less panel Cueball keeps standing outside the closed wardrobe with voices heard from inside the wardrobe. The characters talking are inferred from the context.]
Mr. Tumnus (from inside wardrobe): Halt! Who goes there?
Megan (from inside wardrobe): Hey Tumnus. Quick question.
Mr. Tumnus (from inside wardrobe): Yes?
[Cueball is walking away from the closed wardrobe. Voices can still be heard from inside the wardrobe.]
Megan (from inside wardrobe): Is Narnia in the E.U.?
Mr. Tumnus (from inside wardrobe): Yes, we joined after you did.
Megan (from inside wardrobe): Oh great, another border to deal with.
Cueball: I'll go find a lock for the door.

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I did a change to the explanation, rewriting every E.U. and U.K. as EU and UK. Now I noticed that Randall writes E.U. in the comic itself. I (as a resident of the EU) have never seen it with the E.U. writing before (at least I think so). Should we use Randall's version in the explanation? Should we mention this in Trivia? --Lupo (talk) 09:11, 22 October 2019 (UTC)

This idea is…nonsensical. The question of whether to write EU or E.U. is solely a question of style, and it's not something that the EU can dictate. It is up to Randall to choose his own style, and up to this blog (explainxkcd) to choose our own, though we'd likely mirror Randall. For instance, one finds the New York Times mostly writes "E.U." but sometimes writes "EU". The AP Stylebook specifies "European Union EU (no periods)." The Washington Post seems to mostly use "E.U." Regardless of what is chosen, the explanation is not the proper place to lecture readers on style preferences — Removed. JohnHawkinson (talk) 20:22, 23 October 2019 (UTC)
That's why I suggested to discuss it and to put it to TRIVIA (not to the explanation). However, writing it as E.U. seems to be mostly an American thing, which might be why Randall uses it, but I've not seen it before. By the way, of course the EU can dictate how it wants to be called. It gave the name to itself (but with a quick search I found no statement on a self-preferred-writing, but the EUs main homepage seems to use EU consequently: [[1]])
I don't want to go too-too far down this path, but, No. 1: You've misrepresented your action. You didn't suggest "discussion and to put it to trivia," you added it to the explanation itself, see 181566. 2) It's certainly not solely an American thing. The BBC seems to use E.U. a fair bit on their web site, but also not consistently. 3) dic·tate: To issue orders or commands; the EU has no authority to issue orders or to prescribe how others write punctuate their abbreviation. They can make a polite request, but it is not a dictate because they lack any such worldwide language dominion. 4) This does not belong in trivia at all. It is not trivia about this comic, it is trivia about the spelling/punctuation of a word that that this comic happens to use, and a well-known word at that. It would be as if the comic told us that "wardrobe" can mean "The excrement of the badger" (OED sense 1(b)). The fact that there are some English speakers who might not be familiar with Narnia or the way it interacts with this comic justifies a substantial discussion and discursion about Narnia and C.S. Lewis, but there is no analogous reasoning for E.U. It's my intention to remove your trivia section, but I'm conscious that doing so might give the impression of "edit warring," so I'm posting about it here first to see if there is any feedback from other editors before going ahead with it. 5) Please use an edit summary when you edit. You seem to do so sometimes, but not consistently. It helps everyone out. Thank you. JohnHawkinson (talk) 22:47, 24 October 2019 (UTC)
According to the EU style guide section 7.2 both acronyms and initialisms don't use points -- (talk) 00:25, 25 October 2019‎ (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Thanks for the extensive feedback. 1) I suggested in this initial comment in the talk page to discuss the use of E.U. vs EU, and wether or not we should dedicate trivia to it, after I made the edit you gave the link to. As I also stated in this initial comment, along with my - maybe stupid - reason. I did however not put any note about how to write it/how Randall writes it into the explanation, as I did not feel that to be the right place. However another user added it, which made it apperant to me, that others see it as I do, that it is a talking point. 2) I never said solely American. Neither did I say all of Europe uses it the other way round. 3) Of course it cannot order anyone (apart from maybe it's own employees) how to write a certain word. But most institutions and people have set a certain way how to write their name, Jern.Haukinsum. (Sorry for the missuse of the word dictate, I am (as should be clear latest by now) not a native speaker.) 4) Trivia in this wiki often contains notes on spelling errors, etc., so I figured using a -apperantly not wrong, but - unusual spelling could be included there. Do not fear an edit war. In a few hours I will go for a vacation of more than a week, and I will not do phone-edits on this wiki during that time, and likely will not put much energy into this article afterwards. :) However I of course would prefer consens in one or the other direction. So if another registered user comments here, either for or against having it in trivia, and for or against having "E.U." throughout the explanation, I would happily accept that. 5) thanks for the reminder. I tend to forget to use that, even though it is often very useful! --Lupo (talk) 08:31, 25 October 2019 (UTC)
It is perfectly valid trivia, as the comic uses one term while the actual European Union uses another. It has nothing to do with allowing the EU to control anything--it's just noting that Randall didn't use the official abbreviation, but a variation mostly used in the US.
Such trivia is not uncommon at all. If Randall does something in a nonstandard way, or a way that is common in only one country, such information is often included in the trivia section. The whole point of the trivia section is that it covers things that are only tangentially related to the comic. Anything that is *actually* related goes in the main description.
I won't do it myself, mostly because I also don't want to get into an edit war. But I do think your logic is poor, and suggest that it should be put back. Trlkly (talk) 14:09, 26 October 2019 (UTC)
Lupo, I was wrong above. I incorrectly said you "misrepresented" yourself and that's not the case. I was hasty and sloppy and should have checked more carefully before making that kind of accusation (which I have now struck through). The change was actually made in 181576 by Kynde. I apologize.
Trlkly I'm not sure what you mean when you say "valid trivia." The issue is not "validity," which would be whether the claim is true (I think!). It's whether it rises to the level of being appropriate for an understanding of the comic, or if it is irrelevant. In this case, because the question of how to spell EU has nothing to do with the message of the comic and would be equally irrelevant on any discussion of absolutely any comic, article, book, artwork, etc. that uses the E.U. spelling, it seems to me that it isn't merited. If Randall had some clever wordplay on how the EU lacked periods (some kind of sporting or punctuation pun?), that would be an example of where such a section would be appropriate. You suggest if Randall did something in a "nonstandard way" or "common in only one country" it might be appropriate; although I disagree with that standard (esp. the latter! There are plenty of things that are common only in America that Randall does that aren't appropriate for this wiki), it's not met here. There's no "standard" and using E.U. is not common only in America.
¶ I'm kind of struck by the citation from the IP editor because reading the citation makes me less convinced that the EU is trying to politely ask others to punctuate that way, rather than more convinced: "This Style Guide is intended primarily for English-language authors and translators, both in-house and freelance, working for the European Commission. …" It does not purport to even ask others to omit periods, and not even specific to "EU." It's just a general rule for EU publications: "As a general principle, initialisms are written without points."
¶ As for an edit war, well, it can't even "be put back" because it has not [yet?] been removed. It's still my intention to remove it, but I don't want to stop you from putting forth a more convincing argument. JohnHawkinson (talk) 21:41, 26 October 2019 (UTC)

Huh, that's one way to boost the Narnian tourist industry. Good idea, Mr. Tumnus. GreatWyrmGold (talk) 12:47, 23 October 2019 (UTC)

Title text

While it's clearly referring to the time remaining before 31/10, it could also be referring to the Government's proposed schedule for getting the withdrawal agreement bill through the House of Commons. (It'd still have to go through the House of Lords, and they may very well take their time.) 22:41, 21 October 2019 (UTC)


Not sure if this is relevant or should make its way onto the main page - I'm a newbie. However ... the "How To" book tour visited Oxford on 11 Oct. Oxford was the home of C.S.Lewis, the Sheldonian Theatre is maybe 200m from The Eagle and Child pub, which was the Inklings' watering hole. And during the interview, Randall was asked about Brexit. Could these things have come together to provoke this comic? Exilefromgroggs (talk) 23:15, 21 October 2019 (UTC)

That could be relevant, if not elsewhere in the trivia section. Please refrain from starting new sections in the discussion. (Another had already done so, but I also removed that) --Kynde (talk) 09:29, 22 October 2019 (UTC)

Love when he makes comics about Narnia :-) And sooo funy, if the whole brexit situation was not sooo sad... --Kynde (talk) 09:29, 22 October 2019 (UTC)

I'm bookmarking this. This is one of the best explanations of the NI border problem with respect to Brexit I have seen Jeremyp (talk) 13:54, 22 October 2019 (UTC)

Ignore the time speed difference: imagine what would the presence of armed creatures do with speed of negotiations ... especially given how I expect would they react on so many people "visiting". -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:19, 22 October 2019 (UTC)

Better yet, have the White Witch turn the entire House of Lords to stone. Cellocgw (talk) 11:54, 23 October 2019 (UTC)

How would that help? Apart from creating problems with letting any actual Brexit progress we get proceed, and all the non-Brexit issues that need to be looked at, the Lords aren't even the major intractable element here. Depending on one's perspective and the time of commentary, that's more likely to be one or more of the ERG/Rebel Conservatives/DUP/Government/everyone-but-the-Government/the-current-PM/everyone-but-the-current-PM in the Commons. But this is a polarising discussion in itself and not worth bashing around who believes exactly what in here (never mind who is right), and whether Brexit is actually a Deplorable Word or just part of the Deep Magic of the Stone Table. 19:07, 25 October 2019 (UTC)

The text currently states that Narnia would be forbidden from joining the EU as it is a monarchy. In fact, several EU member states are monarchies. This includes the UK, a constitutional monarchy. 19:59, 26 October 2019 (UTC)

The exact wording of the rule is: "Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy." This is broadly true of the member states you are referring to, since the monarch has significantly limited power over its parliament, but not true of Narnia since there is no such parliament. There are also problems with human rights violations that would disqualify it, and there is no obvious market economy either. 21:10, 27 October 2019 (UTC)