11 July 2006

Through the Wardrobe

Read: Henry V
Watched: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V

This is a fun message today! I’m about a week and a half behind relating what’s going on here in Oxford, but since this is a conceptual, and not a narrative, blog, I’m sure you won’t mind a bit. So, I’m going to tell you all about the adventure G & I had here last weekend with C. S. Lewis.

On Saturday first we found the Eagle & Child Pub (familiarly known as the Bird & the Baby; where the Inklings met, as you know) and took the requisite pictures outside. We didn’t go in; I’ll probably go back and have a meal there, since they’re probably sick of rabid Narnia/LOTR fans coming in and asking to see the napkin with Lewis & Tolkien’s signatures!

Next, we took a little non-Lewis detour to the Ashmolean museum to look at beautiful pictures of Oxford and some Turner paintings. But lo and behold, I heard they had a Millais, so I went, and ! they have a whole room of pre-Raphaelites. Wow. Holman Hunt, Leighton, Millais, but no Waterhouses (I’ve since seen two of his at the Tate Britain, but more on that another time).

Then we came back for lunch, and made an appointment to go tour The Kilns, Lewis’s home. So we rushed to a bus, and sped through 90 degree heat to his home. We had no idea what to expect. We kind of thought we’d be getting the little tour, here’s where he ate, here’s where he wrote, here’s where he died. Well, that was part of it, but wait. When we first arrived, a gentleman came out, introduced himself as Kim Gilnett, took us into the lovely garden, and asked why we were there. Yikes! He asked what I know about CSL, what work I’m doing, what my interests are, what bios I’ve read (I don’t think I’ve read any all the way through! Eek!)—in other words, why should he let me into the house. I told him about the Independent Reading Project I want to do on CSL for Bread Loaf, so that got us in. Whew.

First we sat in the “Common Room,” so familiar from photos and (yes, I admit it) the movie. This is where Lewis generally held conversations and often worked. Kim told us lots of stories about CSL, Warnie, and Joy, and a lot about the renovation of the house. He kept asking if I had any questions, and of course I couldn’t think of a single thing on the spot. If I’d known it was going to be so formal, I’d have come prepared! But I did find out the two most important things. First, I asked him what has not been done yet in Lewis studies, what needs to be published or worked on. He pulled out a huge volume of Lewis’s letters, the first (and smallest!) of three and said that somebody needs to do some work on the letters, because there is the heart of Lewis’s thought. So, I got my assignment! Now, don’t anybody take it on me. And the other necessary and strangely illusive fact: Jack did call his wife Joy, not Helen. But Kim didn’t know if Lewis saw that as a great divine joke on him. He must have, yes? How could he not? All his life he had been Surprised by Joy!
So, then we got the tour around the house, including where each person ate and studied and died. Then we left and wandered down to the pond behind the house. Lewis owned 9 acres and it was very wild in his time. Now it’s a nature sanctuary, including a lovely Narnian pond.

Next, we started walking back into town to look for the church where he attended & is buried. Kim came driving by and gave us a lift, so that was funny and nice. Saw the pew, saw the grave stone, got the little stories about Lewis being a grumpy old you-know-what, always leaving after communion and letting the door bang behind him.

Finally, we hopped the bus back into town, saw another of his pubs on the way, and went to Magdalen College (pronounced Mahd-lyn), where CSL taught. The paths through the deer park are nearly imaginary, they’re so perfect: along these paths, in chat with Tolkien & Owen Barfield, Lewis made one of the most important leaps towards his conversion. There, they persuaded him that Christianity is the one true myth that happens to be historically true—and suddenly gave him that longing glimpse into the beauty of the Gospel as a story, as a legend, as a long-ago-and-far-away wistful tale that is also here-and-now and solid and applicable. For the first time, he tasted its beauty, and it resonated with the Joy he’d been searching for. Very soon this idea would lead him, as he rode on a bus up Headington Hill home to the Kilns, straight to Christ.
And on these paths I walk and run and pray and rejoice!


Ariel said...

Fantastic post! You're describing the trip I want to make some time... Thanks for sharing the photos and stories. Are you studying at Oxford, or just visiting?

Iambic Admonit said...

I hope you get to take this journey sometime, especially in light of your own blog, 'Spiritual Journeys.' Yet, although being here is an enourmous blessing, I get the greater thrill reading the books. Seeing the Kilns, the pond, the deer park paths in Magdalen -- all these were wonderful and sparked sehnsucht because of their association with Narnia, Middle-Earth, Thulcandra, and Logres. Otherwise they are just beautiful buildings and parks like many other buildings and parks. So, in a way you've had the enjoyment already! Thanks very much for your comment.

I'm studying in Oxford this summer; a six-week course on Shakespeare as part of my Master's Degree program. It'd be nice to come back without study duties to wander all day long in these fictionalized places.

Ariel said...

"Seeing the Kilns, the pond, the deer park paths in Magdalen -- all these were wonderful and sparked sehnsucht because of their association with Narnia, Middle-Earth, Thulcandra, and Logres....So, in a way you've had the enjoyment already!"

That's an excellent point, and one sure to console the person who hasn't yet "been." Thanks. :)

MatDonna said...

Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. I enjoyed the Lewis/Kilns post, having stayed there a couple of years ago when my daughter was resident. She also worked at the Eagle and Child for a bit, but after she quit she told people that though the Inklings corner was interesting, the food at the Lamb and Flag across the street is better!

Have you ever read Connie Willis's comic time travel novel, To Say Nothing of the Dog? Highly recommended-- Oxford and the river are the setting, a la Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.