Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pilgrimage to The Kilns

Every day and every hour the light became more brilliant and still they could bear it. No one ate or slept and no one wanted to, but they drew buckets of dazzling water from the sea, stronger than wine and somehow wetter, more liquid, than ordinary water, and pledged one another silently in deep draughts of it. And one or two of the sailors who had been oldish men when the voyage began now grew younger every day. Everyone on board was filled with joy and excitement, but not an excitement that made one talk. The further they sailed the less they spoke, and then almost in a whisper. The stillness of that last sea laid hold on them.
--CS Lewis

(Lewis' sitting room)

I was fiendishly obsessed with CS Lewis growing up. It started with that weird '70s animated movie of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which, admit, you know you've seen too) that quickly became my favorite movie and got watched, I'm sure much to my parents' chagrin, ad nauseum whenever I could get my hands on it. I then quickly progressed to the audio tapes of the whole series and, at the same time, to the books themselves. I loved the richness of Lewis' world and the deceptively simple way he told a story: something that I needed then, as these were some of the first real novels that I ever read.

(The plaque in the study where he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia)

When I hit nine or ten, I briefly forgot about CS Lewis in favor of my new obsession, the Redwall series (if you hadn't gathered that I am, in fact, a huge nerd, the picture should now be coming clear). These, coupled with Lord of the Rings and other assorted fantasy adventures carried me happily through middle school without much thought to Narnia. It wasn't until my freshman year of high school, when I was shocked to discover that CS Lewis' works had religious undertones! that I went scrabbling back to reread them and discover this (I could only imagine) covert brainwashing myself.

(The view out Lewis' window)

Instead, what I discovered was that the stories were even more full and complex than I'd remembered them. Whereas before I could only understand the plot, now I could just begin to grasp the much deeper and more complicated thoughts at play the series. Instead of staunchly rejecting the books as Christian propaganda, as I'd expected to do, I realized that I suddenly loved and appreciated them even more.

(The original sign from The Eagle and Child, the pub where Lewis and Tolkien would hang out)

Over the next few years I slowly went through as much Lewis writing as I could find. While I'm not religious in the slightest, I was deeply impressed by the clarity and brilliance of his thought, and the unbelievably simple and yet still profound way he had of putting his arguments to paper. This man was someone to respect, for sure.

Since coming to Oxford, Lewis' name has kept popping up. He did spend the majority of his life here, after all, and was a don at Magdalen (the college right across the street from the Stanford House) for over 29 years. That, coupled with his famous friendship with JRR Tolkien (who was based at Merton College, literally the next college down the street from the Stanford House, pretty much makes Oxford a Nerd's Paradise. When my TA for one of my classes discovered on Wednesday that I was a fan, he suggested that I go visit CS Lewis' house, The Kilns. I was planning a verrryyy quiet weekend otherwise, and so decided to go for it. The house isn't open to the public except on appointment, but a few emails later and I was all set to go.

(The sign at the entrance to The Kilns)

After a brisk hour and fifteen minute walk (during which time I discovered a hill that will be great for running, as I was chugging just to get up it at the walk with my double-camera-laden bag) I got to Headington and the little suburban neighborhood where Lewis' house now sits (when he lived there it would have been open countryside for the most part). I met some nice older American ladies who were in for the same tour and we were all greeted by a very friendly Oxford student (and soon to be head of the Oxford Lewis Society) who would be leading us around.

We started in the sitting room, and then made our way around the various rooms of the house, including the kitchen, the study where Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, and his bedroom. Along the way we heard stories of Lewis' everyday life, which pretty much confirmed that this was a man after my own heart.

(Lewis' pond)

Afterward, I walked up to the pond that used to be part of the The Kilns' property but is now the CS Lewis Nature Reserve. Apparently Lewis used to go swimming every single day in this pond, though from the looks of it today that seems a bit incredible to imagine. I had a very nice, albeit muddy, walk around the pond's perimeter, imagining myself following the path that Lewis and Tolkien would have taken on one of their many ambles here, and finished at the bench over the water where they were known to spend many afternoons sitting and chatting. It was awesome.

(The bench)

It was then another hour and fifteen walk back to Oxford, made ten times better by the appearance of the sun!! Seriously, I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen my shadow in over a week before that. Add that in with the crocuses and daffodils starting to pop up everywhere, and it looks like spring is finally coming to Oxford!! Seriously exciting =)

(Britain one minute...)

(...Britain the next - no wonder the Pilgrims felt at home in New England!)

(Oh herrrooo shadow! Good for you to show up again!)

(Crocuses are out with force)

(Spring is coming!!)

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