Although she was over 80 years old and in a wheelchair, in 1997 this Lewisian finally went to England.
By Loring Ellis
In June I had the good fortune to be a part of a C. S. Lewis Literary Study Tour. Arriving at Gatwick airport we were met by private coach and guide. I knew we would have people who had known Jack to talk to us but never dreamed that our guide who stayed the entire time with us would be Jack and Warnie’s second cousin. Her name is Joan Lewis Murphy and she proved to be a valuable companion. (She, George Sayer, and Walter Hooper had all attended Maureen Moore’s funeral in February.)
Our first stop was Windsor Castle, the largest castle in the world, and Eaton school for boys. When I saw the tail coats they were wearing I thought there must be some formal affair afoot but I soon learned this is standard dress. When I asked about the requirements for entering I was ruefully told “it is staying not entering that is hard.” We enjoyed a performance by the choir.
On to Great Malvern, which means bare hills in Celtic. Jack and Warnie loved to walk the foot-paths there. Absolutely stunningly beautiful country, close to Wales. George Sayer came to talk about his friendship with Jack. He took us on a tour of Malvern College where he was head of the English department and librarian. A mutual friend, Esther Schofleld, had written to tell him I would be one of the Americans on the tour, and I was pleased to have him recognize me. He is hale and hearty although “getting up in age” as they say. A charmer with white hair. Dr. Ed Brown and his wife, from Indiana, also joined us in Malvern. He told about his prize collection of Lewis first editions.
After two nights in Malvern we headed for Oxford. There one of our group found an autographed first edition of a book of poetry by Ruth Pitter. I had to sit out the Bodleian because it has no lifts, but Joan sat with me and entertained me with tales about the Lewis clan. Then we lunched at The Eagle and Child. On to Magdalen College, where gorgeous roses were blooming profusely. I was surprised to see that Addison’s Walk is a tree-shaded dirt pathway, for I had pictured it as a corridor in one of the buildings. I shall keep that memory alive always.
Douglas Gresham was with us for our three days in Oxford. Walter Hooper came one morning and talked about the plots of some of Jack’s books. He came to speak to me too, because Sheldon Vanauken’s godson, Tracy Lee Simmons, is reading Latin and Greek classics at an Oxford college and let Walter know I was there. I was beginning to feel right at home.
The Kilns came next. It looked just as if Paxford still tended the flowers. We walked to the pond where the brothers swam. I understand Shelley swam there too. Douglas said The Kilns was set in wooded acres when he lived there, but now it is surrounded by houses very closely set. We also saw where Joy lived with her two boys. Church on Sunday was of course at Holy Trinity. We saw the Narnia wlndow and the plaque telling that C. S. Lewis sat in a particular pew. After the service we saw the grave of the two brothers. Sunday afternoon late we traveled seven miles to Studley Priory Hotel to dine in a very elegant dining room. Douglas told us that Joy and Jack often came to the hotel for a retreat. The place was a Benedictine nunnery until Henry VIII closed all such places.
We traveled next day to Cambridge. George Watson, who had been a student of Lewis as well as a colleague, spoke on “The Art of Disagreement” and took us to Magdalene College. One of my most vivid memories is Kings College Chapel, with fan-vaulted ceilings high as an eye could go and stained glassed windows depicting Bible stories. Evensong was unforgettable. Here I was really touched by the spiritual quality of our tour.
The countryside is so pretty around Cambridge. I saw this when we traveled to the famous orchard in the vicinity of Grantchester. This orchard has stood for 100 years and is a favorite spot for Cambridge men to get out into the country. Some like the poet Rupert Brooke used to live at Orchard House and canoe into college. We had our tea under the branches of an apple tree. We were handed a little booklet which named some famous men who were alumni. For a starter: Coleridge, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Marlowe, Milton, Cromwell, and Spenser. Turing conceived the idea of Artificial Intelligence while rambling through the meadows. (Cambridge is now the world’s leader in scientific research.) Centuries earlier, Chaucer was inspired among these fields. I felt almost on sacred literary ground.
London came last, and we enjoyed our one night stay. But, I had seen the Dreaming Spires, heard the Changing Bells, and smelled the roses of Oxford; and London was therefore a kind of anti-climax.
Before he died in the war in 1915 Rupert Brooke wrote “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.” I found myself reflecting on two lines of that poem as I prepared to leave for home:
God I will pack and take a train
And get me to England once again.