If there’s a mecca for me as a writer, it’s C.S. Lewis’s home in Oxford. I’ve always wanted to visit. To wander through the home of the man who wrote the most moving words I’ve ever read on faith, love, death, doubt – on life. No one else has ever been able to put into words for me how I feel about God, what it means to be Christian. Trying to describe faith to someone – WHY you believe what you believe – is like trying to describe the sound of a shadow, or what laughter looks like. Impossible. And yet Mr. Lewis has done just that. His writing on grief helped me through the loss of my mother. His writings on faith continue to inspire me on my journey closer to God. And even more than his Narnia tales, I love his science fiction trilogy – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Soooo good. Like Narnia for grown-ups.
Lewis’s home is called "The Kilns" because it’s on the site of an old brick-making place. What’s wonderful about it is that it is NOT a museum. You can’t just go there on any day and see it. You have to make an appointment, and they keep the parties very small. When I arrive, there are only 15 people in ours. The house now functions as a residence for students and artists, so they only show it once a week or so. Our guide is Amanda, a student in residence, and she starts the tour in the garden by giving us a brief history of Lewis’s life.
Then we step inside the house. I just can’t tell you how incredible it feels to be moving among the same spaces as the person who penned so many of my favorite words – surreal, moving, and comforting all at the same time. Like being wrapped in a big warm blanket. One of the lovely things about the tour is that Amanda shares personal stories with us about Lewis and his life in the house. When Lewis and his brother had the house to themselves, before his wife, Joy, moved in, it became a real bachelor pad. Both of them used to smoke but there were no ashtrays in the house. They instructed guests to just tap out their ashes onto the rug and grind them in with their heels. Lewis claimed it kept the moths away. Or the story about Lewis’s old cat, Tom. Once Tom had lost all his teeth, Lewis’s housemaid suggested they have him put down. Instead, Lewis instructed her to go to the market every other day and buy a fresh fish, mash it up, and give it to Tom. Lewis told her Tom had taken care of them all his life by keeping the house free of mice. Now it was their turn to take care of him. “He’s a pensioner now.” Lewis said.
After seeing the house, I walk down a wooded path to what’s now the Lewis Nature Reserve. There’s a pond where he used to swim every day, and a bench on which he used to sit with his friend and fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien. Many people don't know that it was partly through his conversations with Tolkien that Lewis became Christian.
Then I catch a bus into Oxford’s city center. Walk around the most ancient university town in the English-speaking world. See the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest in Europe – beautiful. See the spot on Broad Street where Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley were burnt at the stake for refusing to renounce their Protestant beliefs. But it’s when I leave Broad Street that I see something strange. After wandering among so many ancient buildings, I turn the corner and suddenly I'm in the midst of a thoroughly modern shopping center. There’s a KFC, Burger King, Clark’s shoes, some clothing stores, and even more fast food chains. Weird. Proof that time marches on, and nowadays, all roads eventually do lead to a McDonald’s. Even in Oxford.
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.