Westmont Magazine Through the Wardrobe to Narnia - and Beyond
When “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” roared into movie theaters in December, C. S. Lewis became a household name. Long loved by Christians, he entered the mainstream culture through the magic of Hollywood.
The media has taken a sudden interest in all things Lewis, including his wardrobes (see sidebar). But the work and life of the prolific author and scholar have fascinated many in the Westmont community for years.
Gayne Anacker ’75 has served on the board of the C.S. Lewis Foundation since 1993. As academic vice president, he helps organize the periodic C.S. Lewis Summer Institute, an interdisciplinary conference intended to advance “a renaissance of Christian scholarship and artistic expression among faculty.” Papers cover a range of topics, including the integration of faith and learning and reflections on Lewis’s writings.
A proponent of Great Books education, Gayne first got involved with the foundation because of its plans to found a Christian college with such a curriculum. “My interest in Great Books began at Westmont, where I read lots of classic texts in lots of different subjects and learned to enjoy the breadth of liberal thinking,” he says. “I have a passion for holistic, integrated education.”
Lewis himself studied and taught the great authors and thinkers. He scorned the idea that recent works superseded the classics. Over the years, Gayne has developed great respect for Lewis. “He was a remarkable thinker,” Gayne says. “The profundity of his ideas and the accessibility of his delivery are stunning.”
Gayne is happy to see Lewis getting more attention. “Films like ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ can help Christians make an impact on society,” he says. “Movies are the genre of the day, the medium that catches people’s attention. You need a film with your world view to be heard in society; they can be remarkably powerful. They set the stage for important conversations. They clear space for us to raise issues in culture.”
Gayne majored in philosophy at Westmont and earned a doctorate from UC Irvine. He spent 17 years on the faculty of Orange Coast Community College in Costa Mesa, Calif. “I felt free to teach philosophy from a sense of passion about things that matter,” he says. “I enjoyed being known as a Christian professor and liked to play with people’s minds. While I promoted rationality, I also acknowledged faith in Jesus Christ, which puzzled people and gave me great opportunities.”
His work with the C.S. Lewis Foundation led to his involvement with Community Christian College in Redlands, Calif.; Gayne became founding president and professor of philosophy and religious studies. Taking a leave of absence in 1995 from Orange Coast, he devoted four years to the new institution. The curriculum he developed introduces students to the liberal arts through a carefully chosen slate of required courses. The sole employee at first, he eventually gathered a staff of four full-time professors and administrators and 45 part-time faculty.
CCC has struggled, but it survives. Gayne hopes it will be a model for similar campuses at inner-city churches. The goal is to reach students who lack exposure to a Christian world view and have little chance of attending a four-year college.
In 2004, Gayne joined the faculty at California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., where he is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I like being an administrator and setting direction and vision for the institution,” he says. “It gives me joy to make a university work.”
Campus Pastor Ben Patterson joined the board of the C.S. Lewis Foundation last year through his relationship with Gayne, who attended his church in Irvine.
“My role is to remind the board to pray,” Ben says. He’s quick to add he’s not the designated prayer. Instead, he teaches and provides a pastoral presence at seminars
“Lewis is so lucid,” Ben says. “He speaks to lay people so well. He discusses complicated matters with very little ambiguity. He has made an impact on so many pastors and Christian leaders.”
David Melvin ’91 got the opportunity of a lifetime when Disney asked him to write and direct a film about C.S. Lewis. Designed to be a companion piece to “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the feature-length documentary profiles Lewis and introduces “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“I felt picked for the job,” David says. “What was the chance that someone who loves Lewis would get to produce this film? I’ve had great studio support and resources.”
David works as a producer/writer/ director under contract with Herzog Cowen Entertainment, the company Disney chose for the film. Directing the films “Walkabout” and “Blue in Green” as well as “Into Pitch Black” for the Sci-Fi channel helped him land the job. He also directed an HBO special on the making of the movie “Traffic.”
The first thing David did was sit down with Greg Spencer, professor of communication studies. “He was my mentor in college and introduced me to Lewis,” David says. “A lot of our studies revolved around Lewis’s ideas.” Spencer appears in the film and helped David develop its content and structure. Father Walter Hooper, Lewis’s literary executor, is in the documentary as is Paul Ford, an expert on Narnia. Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson, produced it.
“My goal was to make the film accessible to everyone and to let Lewis tell his own story,” David says. “I didn’t feel I had permission to speak for him. I read all his letters to children and only used exact sentences and phrases that he actually said. I wanted to capture his voice, his language and his sense of humor.”
Through the movie-style documentary, David hopes to create a sense of longing in viewers. “I want to awaken the desire for another world, the deep desire that only God can fill,” he says.“That’s the theme of Narnia. I felt it was true to Lewis.”
A communication studies major, David minored in theater and acted in a number of shows because of his interest in making movies. After graduation, he earned a certificate in film at New York University. He started off making independent films.
He belongs to Unica, a film collective of seven people from different religions who take their faith and their craft seriously. The group produced “Blue in Green,” which deals with transcendent issues such as the nature of desire and loneliness.
David thinks the biggest problem with Hollywood is greed. “The industry does whatever will make money,” he says. “I’m more interested in telling stories, exploring issues and making thought-provoking films that remind people of the transcendent. I want to awaken something in their souls that hopefully points them toward God.”
A Door into Another World
Professor Arthur Lynip and the students on the England Semester learned about the wardrobe by chance. In 1974, Father Walter Hooper, the literary executor of C. S. Lewis’s estate, spoke to the Westmont group. After his talk, he mentioned the C. S. Lewis furniture Wheaton College had purchased, which included an heirloom wardrobe. As Lynip and the students recall, he added, “If you can say there is a wardrobe that matches Lewis’s description in the Narnia Chronicles, it is still in the house.”
Lynip and some of the students decided to buy this wardrobe for Westmont. The new owner of The Kilns, C. S. Lewis’s home in Oxford, preferred a built-in closet and sold the wardrobe to Lynip for the cost of lumber to build a closet. The Lewis wardrobe has occupied the English department office for more than 30 years.
In “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” Lewis refers to “a perfectly ordinary wardrobe” (page 22) and specifies “the sort that has a looking-glass in the door” (page 5). The Westmont wardrobe certainly matches this description.
The wardrobe left Westmont for the first time in December for a week-long display in the Cerritos Library. Other Lewis artifacts also appeared to support Operation Read — C.S. Lewis Exhibit, organized by Winnie Jackson.
“I think people are so fascinated by the Narnia stories because they open a door, as it were, to another world,” says Paul Delaney, professor of English. “The wardrobe is real. But it opens a door to a world not merely real but true.
“Lewis’s emphasis that a perfectly ordinary wardrobe was the means of access to the fantastic spiritual realm of Narnia is not without theological significance. We are closer to the realm of the spirit than we sometimes realize if we are just willing to open the door.”