A February sunset casts an elegant shadow of the Magdalene College tower on the still water of the flooded college water-meadow. Even amidst the serious side of this academic city and seat of learning there is much creativity in the air here for poets, writers and all who are willing to let their imagination flow in this beautiful place.
The Worlds of Lewis and Tolkein
Lewis was a Fellow of Magdalene College here for 30 years. When he came to Oxford he was a convinced and outspoken atheist. By the time he left to move to Cambridge 30 years later he had become one of world’s most influential Christian writers. See my earlier post ‘December turned to May‘.
In spring the water-meadows of Magdalene College are famed for their beautiful Snakes Head Fritillaries, the county flower of Oxfordshire. They are not easy to establish in a dry garden, as I have proved, but in water-meadows like this they thrive spreading everywhere. Opposite the college is the Oxford Botanic Garden one of the oldest in the world and well worth a visit.
Any literary pilgrimage to Oxford must include ‘The Kilns’, home of CS Lewis and now a museum/study centre owned by the CS Lewis Foundation. The lane leads to the site of an old brickworks. But something better than bricks was being fired here – the imagination of a young lecturer in Medieval and Renaissance Literature!
Opposite the house, as part of an 8 acre estate, lies this CS Lewis Nature Reserve. Lewis walked in these woods while the Chronicles of Narnia were being written in the early 1950’s. Narnia doesn’t seem very far away here!
Wardrobe Worlds and Middle Earth Mysteries
Of all the Oxford dreamers Lewis, Tolkein and the other members of the ‘Inklings’ stand out. They were a small group of dons and academics who met together in the Eagle and Child pub into the early hours discussing their ideas and writings on the theme of what makes us truly human. An unlikely situation, but here Lewis and Tolkein found themselves drawn into ‘the shires of Middle Earth’ and into the ‘wardrobe worlds’ of Narnia. This led to some of the greatest modern story writing, including Tolkein’s ‘Ring’ trilogy, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and much else. Of Lewis’s many other books the most readable and popular must be his superb Mere Christianity based on his BBC talks on Christian Faith and his ‘Surprised by Joy’.
It was Lewis who was the first person to whom his friend Tolkien showed the manuscripts of the work he had been developing since his time in the First World War. Lewis’s encouragement upon seeing the manuscript helped Tolkien to go on with publishing what became The Ring Trilogy.
Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were written in part for his special God-daughter Lucy. An Oxford don writing children’s stories needs some explanation! What a treat for her to read about the adventures of her own namesake ‘Lucy’ in Narnia.
This is from his delightful letter to her :
“My Dear Lucy
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,”
Yes, happily we are never too old for reading fairy tales, but the results can be quite surprising. They might include meeting the real ‘Aslan’ and being ‘surprised by joy’!
To hear more about the legacy of CS Lewis today I recommend a visit to the C.S. Lewis Foundation.
For those interested in the ‘Inklings‘, Malcom Guite has a series of fascinating youtube seminars.
Top featured photo by Ian Musa – geograph
2 thoughts on “C.S.Lewis and J.R.Tolkein – Oxford Dreamers”
I re-read ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ very recently. We read it in primary school – the only one of the series we read – and I always remembered the enchantment of it. Tolkien, on the other hand, I could never get away with. But it must have been wonderful to be part of such a creative group.
‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ must be everyone’s favourite. Tolkein’s massive work is a much harder read. In Tolkein I miss the positivity of the figure of Aslan, especially the delightful way he relates to each of the children in the Narnia stories.
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