A Narnian Christmas Treasure, a Professor and Africa
The White Witch's hold on Narnia is breaking up even sooner this year. Because of the White Witch, the land of Narnia had been trapped in winter with no Christmas or even spring to look forward to:
"Always winter, and never Christmas; think of that!"
This year, Father Christmas broke through in July. He brings with him a tale of Narnian treasure leading up to the gift of Christmas:
A Mailbox Adventure
On a sunny July afternoon, the fragrance of sun-warmed cedar trees filled the air as I walked to my mailbox. Everyday journeys have become an adventure since I moved to the Pacific Northwest forest. On this particular afternoon, I discovered a key when I opened my mailbox. What package had arrived?
I bent to insert the key in a large compartment beneath the individual mailboxes. The space revealed a box sent from the Rose City—Portland, Oregon.
Once home again, I opened the heavy package to find a Christmas-worthy trove of Narnian treasure—all collected by a professor. His name isn't Digory Kirke, the professor who makes his first appearance in C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. But this professor and his collection of treasures are also good friends of Narnia.
What do the Rose City and the Land of a Thousand Hills have in common? And, how did a large C. S. Lewis collection wind up on the African continent? This is how it all came about:
In 2001, Dr. Garry Friesen, a professor at Portland's Multnomah University, opened a new mentoring home for men students. As Dr. Friesen writes in Lion Sightings in the Rose City, his life-long love for C.S. Lewis's books led to something unusual:
"As I prepared the house for students I saw a British wardrobe and something inside of me snapped. A Narnia blitz began and the result was Aslan's How.
"The living room became the "Great Hall of Cair Paravel" and I was soon running 'further up and further' into antique shops, second hand stores and framing shops."
Soon, beyond the doorway of every room, you could find wardrobes and lampposts, C.S. Lewis books and lions.
Each room reflected one of the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia—all pointing the way to the wonder of the stories and what they represent.
Aslan's How became a social hub for students (the 54-inch television didn't hurt its appeal). Dr. Friesen also sponsored a monthly tour of Aslan's How, and over the years, thousands came to see the "Narnian artifacts, photos, books and Lewis memorabilia."
An Ending and a Beginning
The tours have ended now. This year, the collection was broken up for something new.
Dr. Friesen, or Dr. G as he's come to be known, taught for 37 years at Multnomah, from 1976-2013. He is now in his second “dream job” teaching at the Africa College of Theology (ACT) in Kigali, Rwanda.
Downtown Kigali and papyrus marsh October 2012. Photo credit: Lemurbaby, Creative Commons
Living in the Land of a Thousand Hills
Living now in Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills, Dr. Friesen made a decision:
"It breaks my heart to have to sell [the] C.S. Lewis items from my mentoring house, Aslan’s How. But the goal of the sale is mending my heart..."
All proceeds from the profits of the "C.S. Lewis in Africa" sale went to pastor training in rural churches and ABC—Africa Bible in Community.
A New Home for Narnian Treasure
Many items were offered online, and I spent a wonderful hour immersing myself in Narnia again, remembering each book as I took a cyber tour of Aslan's How. Finally, I made my selections, knowing that "every cent of profit will make the African church stronger."
Then, on that sunny afternoon, my own little piece of Narnia arrived in the mail—connecting my forest home in the Pacific Northwest with Africa and C.S. Lewis.
I hope Dr. G will feel this part of his collection has found a good home. They are now displayed on a built-in bookshelf—handcrafted by my husband when we moved to our new home in the cedar trees.
My "Aslan's How in Miniature" has the sign for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a lamppost, a mysterious wardrobe opened a crack, wonderful iron bookends in the shape of a lion (a big reason why the package was heavy!), an Oxford mug, Mr and Mrs Beaver and Dr. G's book:
C. S. Lewis in Africa
Dr. Friesen donated much of his book collection and other items to the Africa College of Theology. Now, Rwanda has one of the largest collections of C. S. Lewis books and memorabilia on the African continent. After all, connections of understanding are a real treasure, and I think C. S. Lewis would be very pleased.
Now that it's December again, Father Christmas is making his way to Narnia and our own homeland—
As Father Christmas says in the Narnia tales, "Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!"
“Once in our world, a Stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”
—C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle
More to Explore:
Next up: How did a real-life mystery girl come to the rescue of Narnia? See my blog post:
After marrying, Linda Borromeo moved from the Pacific Northwest to Berkeley, California. She worked for the University of California, Berkeley for many years before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of Mystery Shores.
Linda and her husband have now returned to the Pacific Northwest to enjoy adventures.