On Erin’s second-to-last day in Oxford, we took a literary pilgrimage to the Kilns.
Before this, we searched out the lamppost from Narnia- yep, the one Mr. Tumnus was under with his books in Lewis’s first images of Narnia. It is in an area called Parson’s Pleasure- a park with wonderful hiking and bike paths, and much to Erin’s delight, baby swans.
The Kilns was CS Lewis’ home for the last thirty years of his life, so named because it was previously a brick making plant, and the super hot furnaces in which they used to bake the bricks were known as kilns. The CS Lewis Foundation has spent the last decade or so restoring the home, and it is now a center for Lewis scholarship and seminars. Kate Simcoe is the current steward of the Kilns, along with Kim Gilnett, and she graciously invited us to come over for a tour at 2.
Following the “friendly” advice of a local bus driver, I took the 7C bus from Oxford to Headington, instead of the 9. This meant a bit of a hike to the house, but let me tell you, it was well worth the hike.
Lewis’s home is off Kiln Lane, tucked into a corner at the end of the street. It is, in a word, beautiful. Gravel crunched under my feet as I made my way to the front door, the heady fragrances of flowers wafting from the ornate English gardens. I joined the tour as they were meeting each other in the Common Room, where Lewis often greeted visitors. Kim ran through the history of the house, and led us through each room telling Lewis anecdotes and filling us in on the role and function of each. We saw Lewis’s study, Joy’s room, Warnie’s study and bedroom (Lewis’s brother), the Music room where Lewis collapsed in 1963, dying within one hour of JFK. The Kilns also has the original sign for the Eagle and Child Pub (aka the Bird and Baby).
Erin joined me after completing a tour in Oxford, and we trekked up Shotover Hill behind the property and got a great view of the countryside. We got a little goofy with the pictures and- I swear- a Sound of Music reenactment (singing courtesy of yours truly). From there it was about a ten minute walk to Holy Trinity church, Lewis’s final resting place. The light gray stone marker is adorned with a simple cross and the dates of Lewis’s birth and death, with the quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear “All men must endure their going hence.” His brother Warnie lies right beside him.
After a number of years intently reading Lewis’s works, it is still hard for me to articulate the impact this author has had on my life and faith. There’s a hearty handshake and an offer to sit with him with a pint, and after a bit of conversation, and some anxious questioning on my part he jumps up and says “Let me show you something,” and leads me out the door to show me the landscape of faith, with its towering mountains, leafy glades, and roaring seas. We go hiking, swimming, climbing- and he knows or has struggled with every root in the path, every crested wave, and scrambled to find every foothold. And the best part is after a day’s journey finding an out of the way pub, where we sit and he pontificates on the sheer joy of the landscape and breathing the fresh air. He is not there to revel in the obscurity of it all, but the remarkable clarity of all things.
Coming across Puddleglum’s assertion to “Live like a Narnian,” in The Silver Chair, the peeling off of Eustace’s dragon skin in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wormwood losing his patient in The Screwtape Letters, longing for the irrigating of deserts in The Abolition of Man, tin soldiers becoming New Men in Mere Christianity, and impatient chargers stamping their hooves in Miracles, and Aslan’s roar throughout…there is much much more, but these images and situations have resonated within me, urging my soul to look up instead of down. Lewis allows the world to become larger because he sees the eternal beyond it. Not many writers do that nowadays. Lewis still does. And I say still not in the sense that he is still here among us, but in that larger sense a good writer attains when his/her work is around long after they have passed.