Saturday, May 19, 2007

C. S. Lewis Society

There was a fine newspaper article today in the Daily News Record of Harrisonburg, Virginia about our Harrisonburg C. S. Lewis Society. Ray Schneider, pictured above, was one of the members of our group interviewed by Luanne Austin of the Record. To read the article click here: Daily News Record. To learn more about our C. S. Lewis Society click here: C. S. Lewis Society.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Old Inn

As a follow-up to my last blog about the C. S. Lewis Trail I thought some of you, who might consider a trip to Belfast, would like to see some more photos of the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, County Down. C. S. Lewis once said that his vision of heaven was of Oxford picked up and set down in the middle of County Down, so that should give you an idea of how beautiful the countryside is. I think I would have to agree with CSL. The Old Inn is the place where Lewis took his wife Joy on their honeymoon and it is set in a lovely part of the county.

To my mind, Ulster (Northern Ireland as a whole) is the best kept secret in Ireland, at least among Americans. During our visits there we were struck by how few Americans we met along the way. Many from Europe have discovered the beauties of Northern Ireland, but I think many Americans are put off by memories of "The Troubles" in the news. Our experience in touring Northern Ireland was that it was a peaceful and breathtakingly gorgeous part of the world--not to be missed on any trip to the British Isles.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The C. S. Lewis Trail

The C. S. Lewis Trail is a path around the environs of East Belfast, and beyond that to Crawfordsburn, which takes the walker and/or driver around the major sites associated with C. S. Lewis in Northern Ireland. Maps of the C. S. Lewis Trail may be obtained from St. Mark's Church, Dundela. Click here for more info: C. S. Lewis & St. Mark's Church.

I have been "on the trail" on three occasions: by myself in 2002, with my wife in 2003, and with my children in 2004. The photos above are from my visit in 2002. Clockwise from top left are photos of: The Old Inn, Crawfordsburn; the blue plaque at Lewis's birthplace, a view of Belfast, the childhood home of Arthur Greeves (no longer standing), Campbell College (the boys' school Lewis attended for a brief time, the C. S. Lewis sculpture by Ross Wilson in Strandtown, the sign near Dundela Flats (where Lewis was born).

My wife and I especially enjoyed our stay at the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, where Lewis often stayed on vacation and where he honeymooned with his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham. The Old Inn is truly the oldest inn in Ireland, thatched roof and all. They have some simply exquisite rooms with four-poster beds and enchanting views of the village. The Inn also has award-winning cuisine. It must be pretty good since George Bush, Sr., stayed there some time ago. One can take a leisurely stroll from the Inn through Crawfordsburn Country Park and down to the beach along Belfast Lough. From there one can look across the water to the location of Carrickfergus Castle (definitely worth a visit in and of itself).

On the visit with my children they especially enjoyed seeing the C. S. Lewis sculpture; who wouldn't be fascinated with wardrobes after reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? My children also enjoyed seeing the inside of St. Mark's with it's grand baptismal font, lovely Lewis window and impressive hammer-beam vaulted ceiling.

All in all Belfast and its environs is well worth a visit to anyone on a "C. S. Lewis pilgrimage" and the Old Inn, Crawfordsburn, is definitely the place to stay on a romantic weekend for two. Of course, if you have the family in tow, you might try what we did, camping along the Antrim Coast. More on that in a future blog. . . .

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Severe Mercy--The Movie

Great news! I just read today that a company has purchased the rights to develop A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken into a film, and someone is beginning to work on a script for the movie. To read more about it click here: A Severe Mercy.

A Severe Mercy is one of my favorite books of all time. I was blessed to correspond with Sheldon Vanauken and meet him twice during the last year of his life. To learn more about him and the book click here:

Monday, May 07, 2007

George Sayer

In 1997 my wife and I led a C. S. Lewis Tour to England. George Sayer, C. S. Lewis's former student, friend and biographer, helped us plan what we would do for our visit to Great Malvern, the English country town where Lewis attended preparatory school between the ages of 12 and 15. Sayer told us just what we should see and even where we could go on one of Lewis's favorite walks. To top it all off, Mr. Sayer met with our group and gave us a delightful lecture on Lewis and his work, followed by a tour of Malvern College, where Lewis had been a student and Sayer himself taught English, in more recent years.

To my great joy I discovered today that Dick Staub posted an interview with George Sayer on The Kindlings web site. I listened to the first part of the interview earlier today and felt like I just had a visit again with Mr. Sayer. My one regret about that visit to Great Malvern was that we had so little time together. I told Mr. Sayer that I wished we could spend a lot more time together so I could pick his brain. He said, "Whatever is left of my puny brain you are welcome to it!" There was indeed a lot left to the brain of this erudite man who subsequently, and sadly, developed Alzheimer's and died a couple of years ago.

To listen to the interview with George Sayer click here:

George Sayer Interview

To read George Sayer's obituary click here:

George Sayer Obituary

Sunday, May 06, 2007

St. Mark's

Above is my scrapbook page of St. Mark's, Dundela, Belfast, the church where C. S. Lewis was baptized and in which he had his early training in the faith. (The picture below shows the baptismal font in the center.) Lewis's maternal grandfather was the first rector of St. Mark's, and thus Lewis's mother, Flora, grew up in the Rectory (above left). Lewis could see the tower of St. Mark's (above right) from the third floor window of Little Lea, the window at the opposite end of the house from the Little End Room.

Lewis wrote the following about his early church experience in Surprised by Joy:

"If aesthetic experiences were rare, religious experiences did not occur at all. Some people have got the impression from my books that I was brought up in strict and vivid Puritanism, but this is quite untrue. I was taught the usual things and made to say my prayers and in due time taken to church. I naturally accepted what I was told but I cannot remember feeling much interest in it. My father, far from being specially Puritanical, was, by nineteenth-century and Church of Ireland standards, rather 'high', and his approach to religion, as to literature, was at the opposite pole from what later became my own. The charm of tradition and the verbal beauty of Bible and Prayer Book (all of them for me late and acquired tastes) were his natural delight, and it would have been hard to find an equally intelligent man who cared so little for metaphysics. Of my mother's religion I can say almost nothing from my own memory. My childhood, at all events, was not in the least other-worldly."

Then later on in Surprised by Joy Lewis writes:

"My relations to my father help to explain (I am not suggesting that they excuse) one of the worst acts of my life. I allowed myself to be prepared for confirmation, and confirmed, and to make my first Communion, in total disbelief, acting a part, eating and drinking my own condemnation. . . . It is true that I did not and could not then know the real nature of the thing I was doing: but I knew very well that I was acting a lie with the greatest possible solemnity. It seemed to me impossible to tell my father my real views."

(C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955, pp. 15, 153.)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Little Lea

One of the greatest joys of my life has been touring C. S. Lewis's Ireland and England, so I thought I would share a bit of that tour with you here in this blog, starting with Lewis's childhood home, Little Lea, on the outskirts of Belfast. Lewis writes of that home in Surprised by Joy:

"In 1905, my seventh year, the first great change in my life took place. We moved house. My father, growing, I suppose in prosperity, decided to leave the semi-detachd villa in which I had been born and build himself a much larger house, further out in what was then the country. The 'New House', as we continued for years to call it, was a large one even by my present standards; to a child it seemed less like a house than a city."

The key phrase in that last paragraph is: "to a child". What Lewis tells us in Surprised by Joy is told from a child's perspective. The house is large, but not so large as Lewis makes it sound. But to a child it would have been huge. I'm sure every person who has revisited their childhood home after not seeing it for many years has had the same experience--it seems much smaller in reality than in memory. Thus Lewis continues:

"I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstair indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noises of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books."

"Out of doors was 'the view' for which, no doubt, the site had principally been chosen. From our front door we looked down over wide fields to Belfast Lough and across it to the long mountain line of the Antrim shore--Divis, Colin, Cave Hill."

"And every day there were what we called 'the Green Hills'; that is, the low line of the Castlereagh Hills which we saw from the nursery windows. They were not very far off but they were, to children, quite unattainable. They taught me longing . . ."

Below is a photo looking down the "long" upstairs corridor to the "Little End Room" from which Jack and Warnie had a view of the Holywood Hills.

Of that "Little End Room" Lewis wrote: "I soon staked out a claim to one of the attics and made it 'my study'. . . . Here my first stories were written, and illustrated, with enormous satisfaction."

(C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955, pp. 14-19.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Fantasist, Mythmaker & Poet

Volume 2 of C. S. Lewis: Life, Works & Legacy focuses on Lewis's work as fantasist, mythmaker and poet. It contains thirteen chapters with essays by various Lewis scholars on subjects ranging from Lewis's Cosmic Trilogy to Narnia, and Till We Have Faces to Screwtape.
One feature of this volume I especially appreciate are the essays by Don King on Lewis's poetry. King is undoubtedly the world expert on this aspect of Lewis's work. I found King's third essay on what he calls Lewis's "topical" poems quite helpful. Rather than surveying Lewis's post-conversion poetry in chronological order, King leads us through, what I consider to be the best of Lewis's poetry, in a topical manner. King concludes with an evaluation of Lewis's explicitly religious poetry. King calls this "perhaps the finest body of poetry he [Lewis] produced."
I would have to agree with King's assessment. Of these religious poems one of my favorites is The Apologist's Evening Prayer:
From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle's eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.
(C. S. Lewis, Poems, San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1992, p. 129.)