Narnia in Oxford

By Ajnos Gamgee

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being at three high-profile CS Lewis related events in Oxford. On Tue 20 October, I attended a book launch at the Oxford CS Lewis Society of Lewis and his Circle, a work which has been more than eight years in the making. It contains lectures and memoirs based on talks given at the Society (started in 1982). The three editors, Judith Wolfe, Brendan Wolfe and Roger White shared with us the process during which they selected the 19 talks which are published in the book. They are all derived from tape recordings of lectures given to the society; sometimes of rather poor audio quality. The process of both transcription and contacting literary executors for permission to publish the works was quite laborious on the part of the editors, and they deserve much credit for their hard work in bringing us this volume. Only previously unpublished pieces were included in the book. Some of the talks were by high-profile people including a piece by one of the Inklings, John Wayne, on Lewis’ brother Warnie’s writings and memoirs, Elizabeth Anscombe’s final word on the debate she had with CS Lewis on his work on Miracles, personal memories from Joan Murphy, a Lewis family cousin, and a talk by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on That Hideous Strength.

On Wed 21 October, the three editors of the volume were joined by a fourth Lewis expert based in Oxford for a panel discussion celebrating 65 Years since the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, held at The Story Museum at Oxford. Attendees were invited to visit the small Narnia exhibit at the museum, which took you through a wardrobe door into a snowy wood with an empty sleigh, a lamp post and an image of the White Witch. The panel discussion was driven by quotes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and included discussions on Lewis’ idea of subcreation and invented worlds, and how he used them to investigate spiritual themes. The speakers also discussed Lewis’ use of various mythological elements, his portrayal of Aslan as a Christ-figure and his use of talking animals among other topics.

Finally, on Tuesday 27 October, the CS Lewis Society hosted a Q&A session talk with Douglas Gresham, CS Lewis’ stepson. Gresham shared that he was not legally permitted to reveal much about ongoing work on The Silver Chair film except that the screenplay was close to completion and the search for a director would begin shortly. He also shared various memories of life as a young boy living with Lewis, his mother, Warnie Lewis and Fred Paxford (the gardener at the Kilns, on whom Puddleglum is said to have been based). He shared some of the pain of his own life during the move to England and during his mother’s fight with cancer. He shared how Lewis lived an inspirational Christian life with an emphasis on charity and doing simple small acts of kindness over “being religious”. As an example of this, Gresham mentioned that he once met a young Egyptian man while giving a talk in America, who revealed that Lewis had paid to enable him to complete his Oxford education when a change in leadership in Egypt had led to the withdrawal of expected funds. Apparently he was one of many young students who benefited from financial aid of this kind.

There has been a growing interest in CS Lewis and his legacy in recent years both in Oxford, where he spent much of his academic career, and around the world. These three events give just a sample of the continued interest that the man and his works attract over half a century after his death.

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