The Lewis Legacy-Issue 84, Spring 2000
The Wardrobe Wars and the Thirsks
The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing
March 1, 2000
THE WARDROBE WARS AND THE THIRSKS
Paul Willis's delightful article "The Wardrobe Wars" appeared in the Winter 1998-1999 Lamp-Post. (Willis is an English professor and writer at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA.) In his account of the friendly rivalry between Westmont and Wheaton about which one has the real wardrobe Lewis had in mind as the gateway to Narnia, he mentioned how Westmont was able to save the one they have from destruction. I responded with the following letter.
On June 19, 1984, Steve Schofield and I visited Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Thirsk at the Kilns; they had purchased the house from Maureen Moore about a decade earlier. Paul Willis says "The new owner of the house apparently cared little for Lewis, and was prepared to destroy the wardrobe..." It's pleasant to report that Mr. Thirsk, a University librarian, and Mrs. Thirsk, a University instructor, definitely cared about Lewis. They proudly showed us the Lewis brothers' huge, healthy rosebush full of little pink blooms. (I think it later died of neglect.)
In the sitting room we browsed in their copy of Kilby's Images of His
World, including the page (64) that shows his study. (I took a picture of Steve Schofield in that room looking at the picture of that room.) They were delighted when I gave them a copy of my book The Lion of Judah in Never-Never Land, which Lewis had read right there in their house, probably in his study. The house looked immaculate and had been greatly improved during the decade of Thirsk ownership. Best of all, both of their children had grown up in the Kilns knowing the Narnia books. By the way, I looked at both wardrobes long ago and discussed the one at Westmont with Arthur Lynip, the English professor who obtained it from the Kilns in 1975. I agreed with him that it fits Lewis's description.
Willis thanked me and said I might be interested to know where he got the impression that the Thirsks cared little for Lewis: partly from department tradition and partly from a 25-year-old letter from Walter Hooper to Arthur Lynip on file in the department. According to Hooper's letter, he was offended that the Thirsks were willing to chop up the wardrobe "for firewood" to make room for a built-in closet.
"The wardrobe was too large to fit out the door into the hallway because of some remodeling that had been done in the forties. That's why it wasn't sold at auction in 1973, and that's why the wardrobe would have to be broken up or dismantled if it were moved. Arthur Lynip had the wardrobe carefully taken apart by carpenters and put back together at Westmont."
The news about Hooper's 1975 letter raises some interesting questions. If Thirsks were thoughtless enough to chop up and burn the wardrobe, why would they have notified Walter Hooper? (Were they really acquainted with him? They didn't mention him to me.) How did Dr. Lynip find out about the wardrobe? In light of the fact that Walter attended the 1973 auction where he was outbid for the carved wardrobe by Wheaton College, why didn't he simply obtain the Thirsk wardrobe for himself?
The aggrieved tone in Hooper's story about the Thirsks' wardrobe firewood plan reminds me of his accounts of Warren Lewis's manuscript bonfire, the demand of feminists to edit the Narnian tales, the demand of Clyde Kilby to be the only Lewis biographer, the demand of Kathryn Lindskoog that the Southern California C. S. Lewis Society eschew the use of masculine pronouns, and the insistence of fundamenalists that Lewis didn't smoke and drink. Since the last five accounts in this list were fabrications, it is not unreasonable to suspect that that the first one was also.