Behind the scenes of 'A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War'
By Mike Haynes
“Too much, Hannah!”
Those were some of the first words Hannah Dye heard in her first experience as an assistant working on a professional film. She was operating a smoke machine that, as she wrote in her blog, was “to give the scene a foreboding aura.”
Actor Alex Bird, in costume as J.R.R. Tolkien, and
Hannah Dye of Canyon pose during work in Oxford,
England, on the documentary film series,
“A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War.”
(Photo by Hannah Dye)
The scene needed that ominous atmosphere because it showed a young C.S. Lewis, played by Max Polling, in 1917, walking in and out of Keble College at Oxford University, “when he was called up into service during World War I … preparing to be sent off to the trenches,” Dye wrote.
Lewis is the reason for the “Wardrobe” part of the title of an in-progress documentary series called, “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War,” produced by the nonprofit Eastgate Creative. The endeavor was founded a century after that great war by California filmmakers Ralph Linhardt and Jock Petersen and New York author Joseph Loconte, upon whose book of the same title the films are based.
During four days of filming in Oxford last November, Dye, then 22, got a taste of the film industry and of the true story of how Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” author, both served in World War I, later met as Oxford professors, or dons, and became fast friends and famous authors.
Kirk Manton, production services director at Amarillo’s Trinity Fellowship and a volunteer staffer with the C.S. Lewis Foundation in California, made the connection between Dye and the film people.
Dye’s father is Darren Dye, pastor of Freedom Fellowship Church of Canyon, part of the Trinity Fellowship Association of Churches. Manton had invited Hannah Dye to Amarillo meetings of the C.S. Lewis Underground and knew she had moved to Oxford, England, to pursue her music education after graduating from West Texas A&M University.
Manton also was friends with Linhardt and Peterson, so he suggested that Dye work with them as a volunteer on the Lewis-Tolkien film. She did everything from producing smoke to making tea to taking behind-the-scenes photos to setting up props in an English pub.
One day, she even sat in a bicycle-pulled cart with a pile of leaves in her lap, transporting the leaves from one sidewalk location to another.
At The Plough pub, the crew shot Tolkien, played by Alex Bird, and Lewis either reading or writing, “with a mug of beer in one hand … and a pipe in the other,” Dye wrote. She said Linhardt had to teach the young actors how to smoke a pipe, something both authors did throughout their lives.
Although Dye had been in Oxford a few months, she had not visited The Kilns, the home of Lewis for more than 30 years until his death in 1963. But the film called for shooting at the suburban house, which the C.S. Lewis Foundation owns, so she got to visit rooms where Lewis wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia” and most of his other Christian works.
A highlight for Dye was observing an interview with an elderly woman who was one of Lewis’s students. The crew drove north of Oxford to her country home and did the interview in her art studio.
“One thing she repeated several times was that she didn't think Lewis looked like a don but like a grocer,” Dye wrote. “She also described how Lewis could fill a room with his lectures because many people wanted to hear him speak. I was in awe the entire time, hanging on her every word. I felt so honored to be there and listen to her.”
The focus of the film series and Loconte’s book is the relationship between the two literary giants and the impact World War I had on their writing. For example, Tolkien’s combat experience at the Battle of the Somme obviously influenced his vivid battle scenes in the “Lord of the Ring” stories. Lewis also saw death and destruction in the trenches of France, and the gloom of the war only added to his reasons for doubting the existence of God.
Lewis and Tolkien met at a 1926 faculty meeting, and although Tolkien was a confirmed Catholic, their interests and intellects otherwise coincided. Tolkien is given partial credit for Lewis’s conversion to Christianity a few years later, and they critiqued and influenced each other’s writing.
Rather than follow the literary trend of pessimism and despair that so many writers embraced between the world wars, these two marched forward with traditional ideals of brotherhood, duty and hope, all themes found in their fantasy tales.
Loconte’s book and the film series explore the common experiences of these two men and the epic achievements that resulted. And if that isn’t enough to attract you, the film credits will include the name of a young woman from Canyon, Texas.
Follow these links for more information:
http://hobbitwardrobe.com/ (film website with trailer and link to donate to the project)
https://anamericaninoxford.wixsite.com/blog (Hannah Dye’s blog)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwdwlhUBUTI (June 8, 2020, interview with author Joseph Loconte).