We've ridden the London Eye, visited Buckingham Palace and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, toured a couple of English manor houses, danced at a village fair, taken tea in an orchard where Nobel laureates aplenty have gathered, etc. (Along the way, lest you get the wrong idea, we've also dealt with teenaged moods, crises precipitated by a child with a ludicrously small bladder, bickering from the back seat, and multiple episodes of Being Completely, Hopelessly Lost. And that's just what's gone down in the car.)
We've seen some impressive things. Historical things. Beautiful things. But nothing we've done so far, sightseeing-wise, has moved me the way our visit to C.S. Lewis' home, The Kilns, did this past Saturday. Care to come along with us?
This is not a tourist hotspot. The house is practically buried in a nondescript middle-class neighborhood that has grown up around it on the outskirts of Oxford. I don't know that Rick Steves has been here, and you wouldn't just drive by and notice it. I heard about it from a fellow expat I met last week, immediately Googled it and emailed the C.S. Lewis Foundation, asking if we could please please please come for a peek. (We were heading to Oxford that weekend anyway for, among other things, a C.S. Lewis/J.R.R. Tolkien-themed walking tour with some lovely American folks I met online through our mutual friend Heidi.)
They said they'd arrange for a one-hour tour with a guide. But when we showed up on Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves the only guests, and our guide turned out to be the (American) director of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, Debbie Hough, who lives and works in the house. How's that for a good gig?
Arriving early (gasp!), we had some time to wander in the woods behind the house where C.S. Lewis used to go for frequent walks -- and swims! We could easily imagine how some Narnian woodland scenes filtered into his imagination. Incidentally, he had a bomb shelter built back there for the time when he was sheltering refugee children from London during the air raids of World War II.
Afterward, Debbie welcomed us in and spent two whole hours with us, regaling us with an abridged biography of C.S. "Jack" Lewis -- complete with some Tolkien anecdotes thrown in -- showing us around the house, and even serving us Turkish Delight. For real.
(From left to right: Garret room restored to look like the one where Jack and his brother Warren Lewis used to huddle as children and create their imaginary worlds; garret room with wardrobe door to reveal the snowy Narnia "woods" created by a local carpenter; desk where many Lewis books were written)
There were moments in Debbie's narrative of C.S. Lewis' conversion and unconventional romance when my arms broke out in goosebumps. Moments when I could almost smell the copious pipe-smoke and hear the laughter and singing from the ceaseless guests who passed through that living room. And a moment when, hearing how J.R.R. Tolkien described the death of his dear friend Jack, I couldn't hold back the tears. Tolkien, always so enamored of trees, said that as one ages and watches one's friends pass on, it's like watching the leaves fall one by one from a tree. But when Lewis died, it was as if someone took an axe to the trunk of that tree.
I think everyone should have at least one friend like that, don't you?
My guess is that a friendship like that came about over years of walks and talks -- of caring about the same things, like writing and mythology and history and languages, but most of all about faith. It was a friendship that wasn't always harmonious, but was about something, a friendship of "fellow-travelers," (from The Four Loves) rooted in something much deeper than a shared profession or hobby.
“In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ~ The Four Loves
Thanks for following along with us, beautiful others and fellow-travelers.
P.S. I'd write more about our Lewis/Tolkien weekend travels, but I think I may leave that to Ian, for later this week, and add a link here then. This was on his England bucket list as well as mine!