Guest Post by Will Vaus
November 2012 marked the 114th anniversary of the birth of Clive Staples Lewis, celebrated author of Chronicles of Narnia. That same month also saw the 49th anniversary of Lewis’ death, and my seventh visit to Lewis’ beloved Oxford, England. Lewis spent the vast majority of his life, the better part of 46 years living in this beautiful city of dreaming spires, first as a student and then as a Fellow and Tutor of English Language and Literature at Magdalen College. Therefore, there are few sites in Oxford that do not have some Lewis connection. In this post, I will focus on some of the highlights that every Lewis reader’s road trip should include….
One of the best places to begin any tour of Oxford is at the very heart of the University with a visit to the Bodleian Library. One may explore the magnificent quadrangles in and around the Bodleian at no charge. However, it is really well worth the small fee to pay for the tour of the interior of the library, including the Divinity School, which is the oldest teaching and examination room of the university (built 1427-88), and Duke Humfrey’s Library, which is the oldest reading room at Oxford dating to 1487. Of it, Lewis wrote the following:
If only you could smoke, and if only there were upholstered chairs, the Bodleian would be one of the most delightful places in the world. I sit in ‘Duke Humphrey’s Library’, the oldest part, a Fifteenth-Century building with a very beautiful painted wooden ceiling above me and a little mullioned window at my left hand through which I look down on the garden of Exeter where, these mornings, I see the sudden squall of wind and rain driving the first blossoms off the fruit trees and snowing the lawn with them.
After a morning tour of the Bodleian, you will probably be hungry and ready to rest your legs, so why not pop into the Eagle & Child in St. Giles for a pub lunch. The Bird & Baby, as the pub is known to locals, was the scene of the Tuesday morning meetings of the Inklings, the literary group that gathered around C. S. Lewis and included friends like J. R. R. Tolkien, from the 1930s through the early 60s.
Following your pub lunch, you should be ready to stretch your legs some more. If you head into the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the High Street, you can see the pulpit where Lewis delivered two very stirring sermons during the Second World War, both times to a packed house. If you pay the fee to climb St. Mary’s tower, then you will be treated to the best bird’s eye view of Oxford at the top. Don’t forget your camera!
While you are in the very center of Oxford, how could a road trip for a reader not include a visit to a bookshop? My favorite in the entire world is Blackwell’s in Broad Street. This is where C. S. Lewis bought many of the books for his own personal library and you can find an extensive collection of books by and about C. S. Lewis there today. If secondhand books are more in your line, then do not fail to pay a visit to St. Philip’s Bookshop in St. Aldate’s Street. This shop often has a number of first editions available written by various members of the Inklings.
Out of the many Oxford colleges with a Lewis connection, I would recommend an afternoon visit to at least two of them. University College in the High Street was where Lewis lived and worked as an undergraduate in the early 1920s. Univ is also home to an exquisite sculpture of the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The other college to visit is also on the High and that is Magdalen (pronounced “maudlin”). It was here that Lewis served as a Fellow and Tutor for thirty years. Lewis’ rooms were in The New Building and there is a plaque honoring him above his seat in the Chapel. While visiting Magdalen, one should definitely go for a stroll around Addison’s Walk, adjacent to The New Building. It was a conversation here in 1931 with J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson that led to Lewis’ return to Christian faith.
Oxford is certainly worth an overnight stay, if not a week-long tour. Therefore, you might want to check into a hotel after your visit to Magdalen. The most convenient and one of the finest hotels in Oxford is the Eastgate, directly across the High from Lewis’ former college. It was here in the hotel restaurant that Lewis first met face to face with the woman who would become his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham. For supper you may wish to hire a cab and drive out to the Trout in Godstowe, which was one of Lewis’ favorite country pubs.
After breakfast at the Eastgate, I would suggest taking the morning to enjoy shopping in central Oxford. One of the most interesting places to do this is in the Covered Market. If something a bit athletic is more your speed, why not hire a punt on the Cherwell River? This is one of the best ways to spend an Oxford day in warm weather. After punting, lunch at the Cherwell Boathouse would definitely be in order.
In the afternoon, I would recommend taking a cab out to Lewis Close in Risinghurst to visit Lewis’ former home, the Kilns. One may take a tour of the interior if prior arrangements are made with the warden of the Kilns; the house is now owned by the C. S. Lewis Foundation and serves as a study centre. For more information you may visit their website. After touring the house, be sure to go for a walk through the adjacent C. S. Lewis Nature Reserve, which contains the pond that Lewis once owned and where he enjoyed swimming in good weather.
From the Kilns, it is a relatively short walk across the Ring Road into the village of Headington Quarry where you can visit Lewis’ parish church, Holy Trinity. In the churchyard, you may visit the Lewis brothers’ grave. Inside the church, the pew where the Lewis brothers sat is well marked, and next to it there is a lovely Narnia window. If you are not too tired of pub grub, the Six Bells in Headington Quarry would be an excellent choice for supper.
There are, of course, many other sites worth seeing in this magnificent university town. Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy your visit to C. S. Lewis’ Oxford. I only wish I could be there to show you around.
Will Vaus is the author of Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis, The Professor of Narnia: The C.S. Lewis Story, The Hidden Story of Narnia: A Book-By-Book Guide to C. S. Lewis’ Spiritual Themes and Speaking of Jack: A C. S. Lewis Discussion Guide. Will’s books may be purchased on Amazon.com or signed copies from his web site: http://willvaus.com.
 Hooper, Walter, editor, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume I, London: HarperCollins, 2000, p. 750.