After embarking on a four-year international tour, the wardrobe that allegedly inspired C. S. Lewis imagine a gateway into a world called Narnia is back at Westmont College. Westmont students and other members of the community gathered for a welcome back reception at the college last Friday to hear passages from Lewis’s writings, sip on hot tea, and pop their heads into the famous armoire.
“We just wanted to do something to celebrate Lewis by reading his work, [with] a few British-inspired snacks,” said a second-year student at Westmont, Serena Buie, who helped put on the program with the Literary Society at Westmont.
Westmont students studying abroad in England purchased the wardrobe in the fall of 1974 from the former home of Lewis near Oxford University. The wardrobe was excluded from an auction that sold most of his other possessions because it could not fit through the hallways of his remodeled home. The disassembled pieces of the famed wardrobe cost the students about 50 dollars.
The question of whether or not this wardrobe is the true inspiration for the story is still up to debate, though many believe that the features of Westmont’s wardrobe match the description in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe most closely. It has a compartment for coats low enough for the novel’s character, Lucy, to step into, two rows of hooks for coats as described in the book, and even a “looking-glass” on the interior of the door.
The Westmont community articulated their pride in their campus’s possession of this special wardrobe. “This is the first time that a lot of students at Westmont have seen the wardrobe, so it’s kind of exciting,” said Amy Cochrane, a third-year student at Westmont. Cochrane was thrilled to see the wardrobe at her small liberal arts school in a room that makes it accessible to anyone inclined to interact with it. “It’s not sitting in a closed-off room where you can’t touch it.”
“We’ve almost bent over backwards not to be adorers of C.S. Lewis, so an event like this is very good because it sort of recalls the beauty and the sharpness of his thinking,” said Randall VanderMey, English department chair at Westmont, who read some Lewis writings at the event. “He’s a master at arguing, and there are many, many dimensions to his thinking. Everyone associates him with the Narnia chronicles and thinks that he’s a children’s writer, but he was an honored medievalist and historian.”