Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lewis and Lewis in Oxford

Walking through Oxford makes C.S. Lewis' life and writing that much more vivid. His rooms were in this building in Magadalen College:

And you start to realize that of course you could walk through a wardrobe and straight into Narnia when you haunt a town on the edge of a wood with little chairs cut into the fallen trees and where Mr. Tumnus is at your shoulder when you walk out the door:

Since it had been on my list for a while, this finally seemed like the moment to start reading Lewis' Space Trilogy. It's lovely. The Chronicle of Higher Ed. had billed it as an academic novel, but I think that's rather missing the point. It's not an academic roman-a-clef a-la David Lodge's Campus Trilogy or Alexander McCall Smith's 2.5 Pillars of Wisdom Trilogy (which is about to become, as Douglas Adams had it with the Hitchhikers' Guide books, an increasingly-incorrectly-named trilogy). It's satire, sure, but it's more pitch-perfect. It's sympathetic. It's more about the passions that grow out of the intellectual endeavor than the petty squabbles over imagined territory. (Of course, in a work of science fiction that deals with space travel, that theme can't help but be writ large; Lewis handles it with a very light touch, though.) Well worth a read.

Among the guiltiest of my pleasures is watching Inspector Lewis on PBS, a really well-done police procedural/murder mystery series set in Oxford. I didn't set out to do the Morse/Lewis tour of town (though apparently there are a variety of options), but it's been fun to stumble into some of the places I recognize.

A colleague recommended some lunch spots, and the first day I was here, I walked into one, The Vault and Garden, and realized I recognized it as the cafe where Hathaway inadvertently drank the poisoned coffee in "The Gift of Promise":

I did make a point, though, of visiting the gallery in the Ashmolean where Lewis and Hathaway interview Philip in "And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea":

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