The Golden Sessions: A Trip to Oxford, England - Montreat College

By Anastasia Howland

Over spring break, I had the incredible opportunity of traveling to Oxford, England with four other Montreat College students, Montreat English Professor Dr. Don King, and his wonderful wife, Jeanine. Our purpose? To experience the world of C.S. Lewis—to walk where he walked, eat where he ate, and study where he taught. Each of us five students had been working on an independent topical study of Lewis’s writings throughout the semester, and this is where our research would come to life.

We visited Lewis’s home, The Kilns, where he lived from 1930 until his death in 1963. It was here that he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia—and even received inspiration for one of its characters from the gardener’s personality.

We dined at The Eagle and Child pub, affectionately known as the “Bird and Baby.” This is where Lewis and friends such as Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien—collectively known as “The Inklings”—would meet weekly over lunch to read aloud their works in progress. Among the works discussed were The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Lord of the Rings. You know, no big deal.

We attended Lewis’s church, Holy Trinity, and sat in his pew, which was off to the side and behind a column; he didn’t like being the center of attention. And we were also given access to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library System—one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and the second largest in Britain—to continue our research on Lewis and his writings. Finally, on an uncharacteristically sunny English day, we toured Lewis’s college—Magdalen College—and walked the path on which his conversion back to Christianity began.

The night before we returned to the U.S., I opened my curtain to look out at the courtyard beside my second-story lodgings. I watched with a smile as snow drifted down gently around the warm glow of an old lamppost. It was as if we were ending our journey by beginning another in Narnia.

Since returning to the U.S. I have missed the early morning strolls to the library, the exclamations of “Cheers, mate!” as I hold open the door for someone, and the fish and chips enjoyed at pubs centuries older than our country. However, when asked the customary question about my trip after returning from it— “What was your favorite part?”—it was none of these with which I replied. I have been unable to reply with anything other than “the friendships.” I did enjoy experiencing C.S. Lewis’s world: the countless shelves of old books, the green meadows of Oxford. But what I enjoyed most was experiencing it with the others who had come along on the trip. Each day’s journey was enriched by the company of another’s laugh, help, or story.

Several nights we even held our own Inklings meetings—reading our finished works, works in progress, and embarrassing old works from the dusty depths of high school, all over shortbread cookies and Reese’s. We sat up discussing literature, sharing songs, and relating our life experiences to one another’s. On such meetings of friends, C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves:

“In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk.”

Our evenings of reading and sharing in Oxford were certainly golden sessions.

Each night at dinner, I looked around the table at the faces of those with me, laughing and reflecting on the day’s events—and I was perfectly content. Lewis writes, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” There is great wisdom in these words. For did we experience the world of C.S. Lewis? Yes. Could we have experienced it on our own? Yes. But my favorite part about the trip is that we experienced it together, all as newfound friends.