A Narnian Christmas Treasure, a Professor and Africa
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Discovering Narnian Treasure
I walked in the fragrance of a hundred Christmas trees. On my way to the mailbox, living, sun-warmed cedars lined the path and dropped their needles, creating the scent of the holidays with each step I took.
Everyday journeys have become an adventure since I moved to a 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 the parcel locker. The space revealed a box sent from the Rose City—Portland, Oregon.
Once home again, I opened the heavy package to reveal 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 is also a very good friend of Narnia.
What does Narnia have in common with the Rose City and the Land of a Thousand Hills? And, how did a large C. S. Lewis book 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 visit and 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). 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
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 University, 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
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" and help bring healing to a country with a troubled past but one with hope for the present and future.
Then, 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. I'm reminded of Narnia and hope every time I pass by the built-in bookshelf in my home—handcrafted by my husband when we moved to the house in the middle of the cedar trees.
My "Miniature Aslan's How" 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 so heavy!), an Oxford mug, Mr and Mrs Beaver and Dr. G's book:
C. S. Lewis in Africa
Dr. Friesen donated most 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.
Every year between 1950 and 1956, a new Narnia book became available just in time to unwrap for a new reading adventure on Christmas day.
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
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 hiking, reading, visiting lighthouses and more adventures.