If there’s a mecca for me as a writer, it’s C.S. Lewis’s home in Oxford.  I’ve always wanted to visit.  To wander through the home of the man who wrote the most moving words I’ve ever read on faith, love, death, doubt – on life.  No one else has ever been able to put into words for me how I feel about God, what it means to be Christian.  Trying to describe faith to someone – WHY you believe what you believe – is like trying to describe the sound of a shadow, or what laughter looks like.  Impossible.  And yet Mr. Lewis has done just that.  His writing on grief helped me through the loss of my mother.  His writings on faith continue to inspire me on my journey closer to God.  And even more than his Narnia tales, I love his science fiction trilogy – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.  Soooo good.  Like Narnia for grown-ups.

Lewis’s home is called The Kilns because it’s on the site of an old brick-making place.  What’s wonderful about it is that it is NOT a museum.  You can’t just go there on any day and see it.  You have to make an appointment, and they keep the parties very small.  When I arrive, there are only 15 people in ours.  The house now functions as a residence for students and artists, so they only show it once a week or so.  Our guide is Amanda, a student in residence, and she starts the tour in the garden by giving us a brief history of Lewis’s life.

Then we step inside the house.  I just can’t tell you how incredible it feels to be moving among the same spaces as the person who penned so many of my favorite words – surreal, moving, and comforting all at the same time.  Like being wrapped in a big warm blanket.  One of the lovely things about the tour is that Amanda shares personal stories with us about Lewis and his life in the house.  When Lewis and his brother had the house to themselves, before his wife Joy moved in, it became a real bachelor pad.  Both of them used to smoke but there were no ashtrays in the house.  They instructed guests to just tap out their ashes onto the rug and grind them in with their heels.  Lewis claimed it kept the moths away.  Or the story about Lewis’s old cat Tom.  Once Tom had lost all his teeth, Lewis’s housemaid suggested they have him put down.  Instead, Lewis instructed her to go to the market every other day and buy a fresh fish, mash it up and give it to Tom.  Lewis told her Tom had taken care of them all his life by keeping the house free of mice.  Now it was their turn to take care of him.  “He’s a pensioner, now.” Lewis said.

After seeing the house, I walk down a wooded path to what’s now the Lewis Nature Reserve.  There’s a pond where he used to swim every day, and a bench on which he used to sit with his friend and fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien.  Many people don't know that it was partly through his conversations with Tolkien that Lewis became Christian.

Then I catch a bus into Oxford’s city center.  Walk around the most ancient university town in the English-speaking world.  See the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest in Europe – beautiful.  See the spot on Broad Street where Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley were burnt at the stake for refusing to renounce their Protestant beliefs.  But it’s when I leave Broad Street that I see something so strange.  After wandering among so many ancient buildings, I turn the corner and suddenly I'm in the midst of a thoroughly modern shopping center.  There’s a KFC, Burger King, Clark’s shoes, some clothing stores, and even more fast food chains.  Weird.  Proof that time marches on, and nowadays all roads eventually do lead to a McDonald’s.  Even in Oxford.

Ugh.

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The Kilns - that top door is Lewis's bedroom

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Lewis's living room

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  His bench by the pond, where he sat with Tolkien

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Brasenose Lane, Brasenose College - Michael Palin went to school here!

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 The Radcliffe Camera (a library) - St. Mary's in the background

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           Church of St. Mary the
             Virgin, where the
           Oxford Martyrs were
           tried and sentenced to
                     death

 


Zell
08/25/2013 8:13am

Ha! Yes, the modern alongside the ancient. I dearly love the town of Oxford. Okay, I have a confession: I don't think I've read any C.S. Lewis. (My head is hung in shame.) But I do understand the surreal, otherworldly feeling that can overcome a person when they're suddenly standing in the midst of a historical icon's home! Amazing. (When I visited Florence Nightingale's apartment in Istanbul, I touched the handle of her desk drawer. The knowledge that HER hand had touched that exact spot did nothing short of electrify me!) I'm glad you got to visit your beloved writer's home.

Reply
Vicki
08/25/2013 9:17am

Oh dear, Zell, you are sorely missing out. I recommend you start with his sci-fi trilogy if you want to try him out. I know what you mean about touching something Florence touched! None of the furniture in Lewis's house belonged to him, but Amanda specifically pointed out a door to us that she said has the original old wooden knob on it. I wrapped my hand around it and thought, "I'm touching something that Mr. Lewis himself did probably hundreds of times." So great. A little silly, too, but we have to have our heroes, right? lol

Reply
Zell
08/26/2013 7:38pm

Indeed!




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