To transform

The garden at the Kilns, where lovely weather and lawn chairs awaited us.

“He had a way of using all that he read and experienced to transform the way that he lived. There was no such thing as purely academic knowledge for him…”John Bremer

As it happens, I’m taking a break from working hard on a “purely academic” paper on C. S. Lewis that’s due in a couple of days, but I remembered it was time to post. So it seemed appropriate to share one of the photos I took on our visit to his Oxford home, the Kilns, where one of our class sessions was held.

Lewis lived most of his life in this modest but lovely little home, sharing it first with his adopted family (and for a time, some British children evacuated from London during World War II, who were said to have inspired his Narnia books), then with his brother and later, his wife Joy. The house is now maintained by the C. S. Lewis Foundation, and scholars-in-residence make it their home for months or even years at a time.

My ten days in Oxford were a rare privilege that now feels more like a dream than reality. As time goes by I’ll tell you more about it, but for now, suffice it to say that if one must write an academic paper, which is definitely my least favorite kind of writing, there is no more appealing topic. Despite his fame and popularity, Lewis predicted shortly before he died that he would be forgotten by five years after his death. But he remains as influential as ever, and he is one of a very few authors of his generation whose works have never gone out of print. Apparently, in transforming his own life, he was able to help others transform theirs as well. Isn’t that an encouraging thought?

 

63 Comments

  1. JillBortell

    Byes, yes Julia it isn’t! Love you, Darling Girl. Keep up the encouragement of other and of yourself, such a Sweetheart you have always been. I have many fond memories of my times with your babies and you.

    • Thank you, “Mama Jill” — you are every mother’s dream of the ideal caregiver, and I know the world is a better place for all the sunshine you brought to the lives of our kids and us!

  2. Ann

    Julia, you haven’t lost your touch with photography or with words! Strangely, I’ve never read any books by C.S. Lewis although I certainly know who he is. Can you suggest a book to get started?

    Welcome back😀😀❤️😀

    • Hi Ann, it’s great to “see” you again! Oh dear, where to start for Lewis? I guess it depends on what you like to read, because he wrote in pretty much every genre except plays. His Narnia series (for kids of all ages) inspired countless authors including J. K. Rowling, who (it is said) wrote 7 Harry Potter books in tribute to the 7 Narnia books. The Chronicles of Narnia are a delightful series although some people find it too overtly Christian (unlike his pal Tolkien’s masterpiece, Lord of the Rings, where the spiritual message is more subtle). But some readers love that aspect of the series, and others (such as Rowling) say they didn’t see that at all in the books until it was pointed out to them. The Narnia books are his most famous works, but having said all that, even though I loved reading them to my kids, they are probably among my least favorite; it’s just that his other stuff is so, so good. I am smitten with his logic, his humor, the breadth of his knowledge of history, his humility and his brilliance. For most people, I think The Screwtape Letters is a good starting point. In case you don’t know– the premise is that a senior devil is writing to a junior devil about how to win his “patient” (a human) away from God and over to the Dark Side. It’s so engaging and full of insight of human nature. It was his most popular work in his lifetime, but interestingly, he said it was the only thing he didn’t enjoy writing, because taking on such a horrible persona was exhausting and difficult for him. If you like mythology, as he did, Til We Have Faces is said by literary critics to be possibly his best work, and it was his favorite. I’m not familiar enough with myth to appreciate his re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche story, though. It was OK but far from my favorite; a bit over my head. I love his practical books, too, and Mere Christianity might well be my favorite book of all time. Back during my years as a youth services librarian, when those “READ” posters with celebrities holding a book of their choice were so popular, I always thought that if I was famous and was on one of those posters, I would have been holding a copy of Mere Christianity. Lewis was a prolific correspondent, too, who believed he had a duty to respond to all the huge numbers of letters people wrote him. Reading his letters (not just to fans, but especially to friends and family) will give a more everyday look into his personality. But probably most people would find them a bit boring. I just like letters as a literary form, and believe our culture has lost something if we forget that practice completely.

      • Ann

        Julia, thank you for this wonderful response. I’m heading to the library today to see what I can find!

        • Good, Ann! Let me know what you find. 🙂

  3. Carolyn

    Hope you have a great week end and maybe the nice weather will stay awhile longer. We are suppose to have temps in 80’s. Porch time. Love and hugs.

    • Carolyn, porch time indeed! Actually, we just had our York deck stripped and refinished — a project that was WAY overdue — so I don’t even have any furniture back on there yet, but the weather really has been sublime the past few days. I hope it stays like this til December! 🙂 Not to be overly demanding or anything. It does make SUCH a difference having cool mornings and evenings. Hope you have a great week coming up! Love you to and Terry.

  4. hilzonsix

    Lovely thoughts, Julia. C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers. His thinking makes me think!

    • Yes, and no matter how long I have been reading him, he still sends me to the dictionary more than almost anyone else. Although sometimes I can’t find the meaning of some of the Greek or Latin or whatever ancient phrases he throws in now and then. The beautiful thing about Lewis was that he could write on any level, seeming to genuinely enjoy communication with everyone, from children, to uneducated adults, to the middle classes, to his degree-laden peers at Oxford and Cambridge. To me, that’s the essence of both intelligence and character.

  5. MaryAnn

    Beautiful, peaceful & inviting photo! LOVE to “hear” your voice, as you share insightful things to ponder. You bring a breathe of fresh air! Much love to “my” Denton family!

    • Mary Ann, thanks– I’m glad you can hear my voice (if you can stand it 🙂 ) Sending you much love too! Matt and I just mentioned your name in our prayers tonight.

      • MaryAnn

        What a warm sensation came over me, hearing about those prayers! Thank you!

        • 🙂

  6. What an amazing place to spend time, Julia. I’m looking forward to hearing details when time permits. What a gorgeous photo, and what a fascinating man.

    • Yes on all counts, Alys. The place really did seem very much like one would imagine his home, except it is a lot neater and cleaner than he supposedly kept it (he was the quintessential absent-minded professor, with burn holes in his pocket where he put his pipe in it without remembering it was still lit, and used the carpet for his ashtray because he believed that the ashes kept roaches out…which makes sense, since chalk keeps insects away, but still…). I really do need to sit down and write out as much as I can remember of all the details of my trip, because it was such an intense experience that I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of it already. But the photos, of course, will help.

      • Julia, what fun and funny details. Ashes in the carpet. I can hardly imagine it. Photos truly help with our memories and you are such a good writer, too. I know it will all fall into place when you sit down to put it all together.

        • Thanks Alys, you are so kind. Yes, the details add so much life to any picture. One thing all writing teachers tell students is to use detail.

  7. A giant of a thinker and believer. Thanks for sharing that picture–how wonderful that you got to see the place. Best of good fortune for your paper’s success. Is it for an advanced degree program?

    • Hi Cynthia! Yes, I’m just beginning my second year of a PhD program in Communications, so I have quite a long ways to go (it takes most people 4-5 years if they go full time). I have no idea whether I’ll be able to keep going with it — a lot will depend on whether I’m able to find any sort of regular help with Matt — but right now I’m just taking it one semester (and one day) at a time. The Lewis course was an elective, and though it’s part of the Communications department, there were students from a variety of programs including theology, cinematography, theater and counseling. A very fun blend of different ages and backgrounds, too. Most remarkable is that, out of fewer than 20 students, two others were relatively young widows– none quite as recently bereaved as I am, but less than two or three years. The three of us had some lovely walks and therapeutic sharing of experiences. They both gave me helpful advice.

      • Surely a good thing to aim to complete. How wonderful that God seems to have planted people in your life who are supportive, caring and possible friends. Best to you in your ongoing endeavors!

        • Thank you, Cynthia. Sometimes I think I’m crazy to be in school at all right now, but other times I think I’d be crazy NOT to be. So far, it has been a blessed distraction despite all the added stress. My classmates have definitely been the best part of it. I couldn’t have made it even this far without them. I appreciate your encouragement.

          • Always go for what you value most. I quit my work in mental health and addictions treatment in order to WRITE!… and do other creative things, enjoy being outdoors more, and with those I love.

            • Cynthia, this reminder is timely and helpful for me. I’ve been really struggling with how to prioritize my time, and as much as I enjoy school, there are other things I enjoy more. As Matt and I adjust to re-building our lives in the aftermath of Jeff’s death (and several other loved ones) I am striving to remember that the seemingly obvious or default decision is often not the right one. Thanks for your encouragement to choose wisely!

  8. LB

    Julia! I’ve been thinking of you and wondering how your time in Oxford was. Can’t wait to hear about it!
    I enjoyed reading your thougthts on Lewis, too.

    • Thank you, Laurie! I have been thinking of you and hoping you are having a wonderful summer. I have really appreciated your lovely cards. ❤

  9. Good morning, Julia! I love that photo – I’m just crazy wanting to run ’round the bend and see all that I can see there!
    Please tell me – was there any art on the walls? Framed pictures? I’m so curious what Lewis would have liked at every day.
    “Once upon a time there were for children. Their names were Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy, and this is a story of what happened to them when the were sent away from London because of the air radius. They were sent to live with a professor in the heart of the country, x miles from the nearest rail station, and y miles from the nearest post office …..” (something like that; my copy is a thousand miles from here, but forty years ago, I could quote the entire first chapter and part of the second from memory, and I would tell it to kids that I baby-sat so that they would get interested enough that I could bring the book with me the next time, and read them the rest!)
    Although I’m not knowledgeable in mythology, either, “Til we have Faces” is my favorite, too.
    The one that I didn’t much enjoy was “That Hideous Strength.” Ug. It was hideous. It often have me a sick feeling in my stomach.
    Lewis could certainly convey feeling. I remember feeling cold one summer while reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” when Lucy was in meeting the faun and Beaver!
    I’m currently looking to read a book of his poems; I haven’t yet started. But again – I just have to find out what’s “’round the bend!”

    • Hi Susan, I’m so happy to know you are a Lewis fan. Sadly, none of the furnishings in the Kilns are the originals. On the death of Lewis’s brother “Warnie” (who died several years after Jack died) the Kilns passed to Lewis’s “stepsister” Maureen (she was not officially his stepsister, but that was their relationship in actual practice) whose mother had co-owned the home with Jack and Warnie. Through a curious twist of fate of the kind that sometimes happens in British lineage, Maureen had quite unexpectedly become a Scottish Baroness, the Lady Dunbar, through a distant relative from her father’s side, who died without heirs. Having a castle, she had no use for the Kilns, and rented it out for a time before it was eventually given or sold, I’m not sure which, to the C. S. Lewis Foundation. They restored it to be as authentic as possible, but most all of the furnishings were long since gone, and not even the books were originals. Still, from the few photographs extant that show the interiors while the Lewis brothers and the Moores (and later Joy) lived there, they have tried to keep it as close as possible to the character of the place while Lewis and family lived there. They even placed a large wardrobe in the hallway in tribute to the original that inspired the Narnia story. A framed photograph of the original wardrobe hangs near the substitute.

      That Hideous Strength was not my favorite of the Space Trilogy– I liked Out of the Silent Planet more– but I think it might be interesting to read them all in fairly close sequence. It was many years between each title for me, when I did read them.

      One of my favorite poems is by Lewis — it’s called “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer.” BTW, if you haven’t read God in the Dock or The Weight of Glory — I recommend both!

  10. Mike

    Do we get to go to Oxford for your graduation ceremony? Looking forward to it? Where are you going for the eclipse? My son is going to someplace in So.Carolina?

    • HA! As if!! I couldn’t get into Oxford if I tried. This was just a short course held there, though we did get to hear from some Oxford faculty for a couple of our classes. As for the eclipse, I’m not going to go anywhere, but a new friend we just met is going to South Carolina for it. Apparently that’s going to be one of the prime viewing areas.

  11. Mike

    Actually I think the only thing I have read from his is “Mere Christianity” and maybe one of the Narnia books with my kids. Did he write everything out longhand? I would assume so -or did he dictate a ton?

    • Mike, Lewis did write longhand (he was unable to type very well; he was never good with his hands) and his brother Warnie typed everything for him in later years. Warnie (a retired military officer and lifelong bachelor) was quite the archivist and preserved most of the Lewis family papers, letters, etc. The originals are at the Wade Center at Wheaton, but the Bodleian Library at Oxford has copies of everything. If you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, you simply must. I think you would really like it. God in the Dock (a collection of essays gathered from various sources) is good too. Pretty much everything he wrote is good, in my opinion.

  12. Mike

    The Bill Moyers interview on NPR at age 83 has also inspired me. He plans to stay'”connected to the world,” as long as he can.

    • I’m not familiar with Moyers, but I do find it encouraging that so many his age and older remain quite active. Look at how well President Carter is doing, despite his brain tumor. A long life is a mixed blessing, because it means losing so many loved ones along the way, but it’s still a blessing most of us would choose.

      • Mike

        Moyers was lbjs press secretary and also ran the peace corps during that time. Probably before ur time. Also did s nice series on Genesis.

        • I wish I could say LBJ was before my time, but I remember his presidency very clearly, even though I was only in second grade when he took office. I remember our family going to see him (from a great distance among a huge crowd) when he came to Atlanta not long after JFK was killed. What I most associated with LBJ was, not surprisingly, the Vietnam War, and fearing that the draft would take my brother. And I remember wondering why everyone was so surprised that LBJ chose not to run in 1968 (as I saw it, who would have wanted that job with everything that was going on at the time? And that was even before MLK and RFK were assassinated). I don’t remember Moyers, of course, since I was only an elementary school student the time, but his name is one I heard a lot over the years, just mentioned in passing. I just haven’t read anything of his, and didn’t even know he wrote about Genesis.

  13. Mike

    I think I did read “Scewtape letters,” a while back. Should check it out again. Yes Carter has always been an inspiration to me since I read his early book, “Why not the Best.” But I gather that not all Georgians are in accord. But his huge pict is still up at the airport arrival gate last time I checked.
    Set a dry record in Seattle of 53 days. It is a rare day in Seattle when you hear folks complaining about the heat. Of course here no one has A/C, though some are choosing to add it.

    • Mike, many Georgians (myself among them) were disappointed with Carter’s presidency, though quite a few of us feel that not all the problems can be laid at his doorstep. It may be forgotten now, but many in his own party were against him, particularly when he ran as an incumbent president and was seriously challenged for the Democratic nomination. But all that is water under the bridge…However, many who do not share his political views do admire that he is trying to make a positive difference in the world. And some of us still hope one day to attend the Sunday School class he still teaches in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. It’s a fairly long drive from Atlanta to Plains, but sometime you and Verie might want to try going. Who knows, we might end up there the same Sunday.

      Yes, even an ideal climate sometimes has days when A/C is needed. In Hawaii much of the base housing was not air conditioned, even the large homes on “General’s Row.” We could have chosen some much more Hawaiian-looking quarters nearer the water and the palm trees, but we opted for a newer, much less charming town home mostly because it had air conditioning. In Hawaii it was not just a temperature thing; supposedly the giant cockroaches were much worse in the homes that didn’t have A/C. At least that’s one problem I bet you don’t have in Seattle! 🙂

  14. That’s a beautiful photo, Julia! What a wonderful place it must have been to visit. I read some of his books many years ago, fiction and non-fiction. My favorite has always been The Magician’s Nephew. I hope you’re doing well in the class and having fun! 🙂

    • Patsy, the class is (as of this week) officially over, and I did enjoy it immensely. My final grade (based on the points posted in Blackboard, the online system used by the University) should be an A, but most importantly it was a great experience and will always be a fond memory.

      • Wow, well, that’s great! So are you taking any more classes?

        • Actually, Patsy, I just quit this past week. I got out while my GPA was still high, hee-hee. Seriously, given the ongoing uncertainty of Matt’s situation and the huge amount of time school takes, I came to the realization that it was grueling at best and insane at worst for me to try to keep going. At my age and in my situation (with no academic career at all behind me) I have no incentive for a degree other than personal satisfaction, and I just didn’t find it rewarding enough to keep going. Academic writing has always been repugnant to me and I just couldn’t learn to love it. I did, however, mostly enjoy my experiences in school, and my time in Oxford definitely made the first 1.5 years worth it!

          • Well, it sounds like you made the right decision for yourself and Matt, Julia. School does take a huge amount of time at the college level; I remember it well! I did it in my 30’s after working all through my 20’s, and it was difficult! Well, I am glad you enjoyed it while you were there. And yes while the GPA is high, that IS a good time to get out! Ha, ha. 🙂 I am enjoying the teas you sent me. Except for the one with pepper in it. That one was strange. But I sure appreciate that gift. I think about you every time I get a cup of tea.

            • Patsy, did I sent you one with pepper in it? I LOVE tea with pepper but I usually save it all for me 🙂 since I know not everyone likes it. Now I’m wondering whether I have some new tea bags that have pepper in them and I just didn’t know. I have actually thought about putting actual pepper in my tea, but haven’t yet tried it. I think of you every morning when I see those lovely roses on my kitchen wall!

              • Hi Julia, yes you did! I never knew anyone made tea with pepper! I drank it but it was strange. 😉 I can’t remember the name of it though. Thanks for thinking of me. I’m glad you like the roses. I think of you in the mornings too and wish you were here to chat with when I’m drinking my coffee. Do you ever drink coffee? My mom used to have coffee and chat with her neighborhood girlfriends when we lived in Georgia. I only remember them doing it in the summer, but I think they also got together after taking all of us kids to school. I’ve never had that, though. Have you?

                • Patsy, I went hunting around my tea collection (no small feat) and found the one I must have sent you. It’s the Tazo “Thrive” flavor. It’s green tea with spearmint, rose hips and…black pepper! Now I have to try it again and see if I can taste the pepper this time. Surely I would have remembered it if I had noticed it before. No, sadly, I’ve never had the morning coffee chats either, though my Mama did. She would get together with the lady across the street or the lady next door (both of whom I loved) and I never knew what they talked of because we kids were sent outside, but we had fun out there so it was good all around. I did start drinking coffee during the long weeks at Walter Reed when Jeff was recovering from various surgeries. They had free all-you-can-drink coffee and tea, and I needed the coffee for energy. There weren’t many places to eat and none of them were close to where Jeff was, and I never wanted to leave for very long. Eventually I learned to drink it black and actually kind of like it, especially when it’s iced, but nothing compares to tea in my book. When my sister was with me last week, we kept the coffee pot out and I drank coffee the way I normally drink tea, all day into the afternoon. By the third night I was having a hard time getting to sleep so I had to cut back. 🙂 Hey we can have imaginary coffee chats out on the Verandah. Sheila might even know some interesting coffee flavors to bring. When cold weather comes on I’ll be needing some coffee since the sun won’t be out early enough to help me wake up. 🙂

                  • Julia, I think the tea you mentioned is the one you sent me. I drink coffee in the mornings. I usually make about 2 to 3 cups…sometimes I only drink 2. I drink iced tea during the day in summer and decaf tea in the evenings all year. I like both equally. But I can’t drink coffee black. Also if I drink either one in the late afternoon I am awake longer at night too.

                    • Patsy, the week after my “coffee-binge” time with my sister (in which consumption of it was prolonged for me because we love to sit and chat, hee-hee) I decided to cut way back on caffeine to see if I could get my sleep normalized. I started drinking less strong tea and more sparkling water with just a dash of fruit juice. Of course, for me, “less tea” would still be way more than most people drink! But my sleep has definitely improved. If you like spicy tea, I highly recommend Bengal Spice by Celestial Seasonings. It’s totally caffeine free and it’s my favorite for afternoons and evenings, especially in the winter.

                    • I don’t think I’ve seen the Bengal Spice, Julia. Thanks. I kind of like spicy, but not as much as I used to. I usually drink their Mint Medley. I used to be able to drink Peppermint, but it gave me hot flashes which was strange. The spearmint doesn’t. I do like green tea and a blend of green tea with mango flavoring, but I have to drink that very early in the evening since it has some caffeine.

                    • Bengal Spice is REALLY spicy (sweet too, but no sugar) so if you don’t like a lot of spice, you might not want to try it.

                    • Okay. Thanks for telling me. I have a few boxes of tea that are ones I either didn’t like or just got tired of.

  15. Mike

    No giant roaches here in Seattle. Lots of spiders here this year. And in Aberdeen where I have my part-time hospice job they have a neew problem with mountain lions that are coming in town and preying on the deer, which are all over the place this time of year.I have never seen one in person- but hope to one day. Not too close though.

    • Wow, mountain lions! I never saw one in the wild, but I heard talk of them being seen on the trails at Vandenberg AFB. Lots of deer there too. Northern Virginia has way too many deer and it’s becoming a hazard, to the deer themselves most of all.

  16. Isn’t that the sweetest walk to a door that could possibly be? I’ve always loved the English Garden. Look at those roses on the garden wall ! Wouldn’t it be fun to travel Oxford but not as a student with work at hand? Or maybe that was an awesome part of it too? I shouldn’t let my laxie-daisy scholastic thoughts paint your experience 😀 It’s interesting how many artists and writers enjoy big careers after they’ve departed. It’s like that song by Joni Mitchell, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. I wonder if
    C.S. thought about his writings being made into a Hollywood movie? Certainly not 50 years after his death?! I wonder which contemporary will be celebrated long after we’re gone? You’re posts make me ‘wonder’ a lot, LOL xo K

    • K, I had the very same thought as mentioned, which is part of why I decided to quit the PhD program after the end of summer semester. As much as I enjoyed the school part of it, I kept thinking how fun it would be to just BE there without the pressure of having two HUGE papers waiting for me when I got home. Plus, many of my favorite things about the trip had nothing whatsoever to do with the coursework. About which, more later in an upcoming blog. Suffice to say that I LOVED both my summer classes, and even the papers were a labor of love for me, but the experience of doing them did convince me that I’m not cut out for a life in academics. As an aside, Lewis himself had his own difficulties with the academic world, too. He struggled to establish himself there, and even after he became famous, some of his Oxford peers were critical of his enormous popularity with the less-educated. Hmmph. Oxford never even granted him a professorship, but Cambridge fixed that problem by creating a chair just for him. I think his critics were just jealous. I love that song by Joni Mitchell. I used to sing it all the time (and like many of her songs, it’s hard to sing with all those high and low notes but luckily nobody ever hears me). 😀

      • oh hey?! Ending your PhD program will certainly free up your schedule. Canada, June 2018? 😀 Please know you’re always welcome to visit, I would love to host you. June is pleasantly mild still but sunny and the students are still busy in school…silly them 😀 xox

        • K, this sounds great to me, and also like an unreal dream. But then again…so did hosting four of you from literally all over the world, and YOU made it happen! If June is the best time to visit, we’ll make that a goal. Visiting you in Alberta is infinitely more interesting than writing endless papers with nit-picking citations, hee-hee. Silly them indeed! 😀

  17. A guest room awaits! ❤

    • 😀

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