The Chronicles of Oxford: Evangel University students explore the world of C.S. Lewis
September 11, 2012 | Ian Richardson
The old adage says that to truly understand a person, you must walk a mile in his or her shoes. This summer five Evangel University students and one professor walked several as they retraced the footsteps of the lauded Christian author C.S. Lewis in Oxford, England. While they may have stayed in their own shoes, they left the class with a much deeper appreciation for the man behind some of the most cherished Christian literature of all time, including The Chronicles of Narnia series.
The trip to Oxford is the culminating activity for a summer online class that studies the literature of Lewis within the context of his life and environment. Chip Stanek, assistant professor of Communication, began offering the class two years ago after taking a similar class at Regent University. During the class, which is cross-listed through Communication and Humanities, the students studied several of Lewis’s works, sampling a variety of the genres in which he wrote, such as apologetics, literary criticism and fiction. Two weeks after the conclusion of the course, the class met at O’Hare International Airport and embarked upon a quest to learn more about the man behind the literature.
“We focus on his life and how that influences his writing and his theology,” says Stanek. “The goal of it is to get the students to examine their worldview based on their culture and how that influences their own theology.”
“The moment that I heard that there would be a class completely dedicated to studying C.S. Lewis’s life and works, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” says Sierra Sellers, one of five Evangel students to make the trip. “I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia books, so Lewis has always held a special place in my heart. Throw in a trip to England and then ask me how I could not be interested.” The other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to take the trip were Austin Jacobs, Phoebe Au-Yeung, Aryelle Caruso and Lauren McCreight.
Jacobs, like Sellers, found the trip an opportunity too good to decline. “A reading list that included some of the best stuff from one of the 20th century’s great Christian minds? Sign me up,” he says. “Throw in a trip to Oxford to see the places where Lewis studied and lived, and I was in.”
The journey involved stops at some of the most important locations in C.S. Lewis’s life, such as Lewis’s home, his grave site, the church he attended, many of his favorite eateries and the walk where he converted from atheism to theism. The group also had the chance to listen to experts speak on Lewis’s life and writings. They toured some notable non-Lewis locations in the Oxford area and spent some time sightseeing in London as well.
“My favorite stop on the trip was The Kilns, which is where C.S. Lewis lived,” says McCreight. “We got to see his home and surrounding area which enabled us to picture all the stories he told and learn more about him.”
Named after the fact that it was built on top of an old kiln, the Kilns was one of the most exclusive locations on the trip, since the place that Lewis called home for the final 30 years of his life is not open to the general public. It is, however, frequented by Lewis scholars who want to experience the same environment that Lewis did over half a century ago.
“It’s cool going in there,” says Stanek, “because you’re sitting in the same room at a similar desk that he did as he was writing.”
Along with all the history, Stanek says that one of his favorite parts about taking the trip each year is experiencing the English food. From the meat pies to a genuine plate of fish and chips, which Stanek describes as tasting like really good Long John Silver’s, the students found each meal to be a new experience.
“It was really cool to experience the different food because some of the combinations were so different,” says McCreight. “For example, one day I had a roasted artichoke, chickpea and pomegranate salad. Who would ever put those together in the U.S.?”
Among the several pubs, or public houses, that C.S. Lewis would frequent, Stanek cites one called The Trout as Lewis’s personal favorite. What made The Trout experience especially unique was how the class reached its destination. “We walk two to three miles just out in the middle of the English countryside and in cow pastures,” says Stanek. “The best thing is just talking with people the whole trip. You really get to know them on these long walks.”
Looking back on the class work and the 10 days overseas, the students have found plenty to take away from their experiences, and it is not all about Lewis.
“I learned so much through reading and studying C.S. Lewis, then to be able to go over to Oxford and experience the atmosphere not only made the writings come to life but strengthened my faith,” says McCreight. “The greatest thing I took away was going over to a different country and seeing that people aren’t that different no matter where you go. It was really cool to go to a worship service on Sunday and see that people worship God everywhere in the world and He loves everyone the same.”
“I learned a lot about myself personally on the trip and during the class,” says Sellers. “It was very spiritually empowering and enlightening to be tossed into the world of the past, especially when contrasted with the modern English way of life. I found it to be a really sobering experience to walk into the old churches and cathedrals where people worshipped a century ago and feeling the same sweet presence of Christ there to this very day.”
—Ian Richardson, sophomore English major at Evangel University (Photos submitted by Lauren McCreight)